M's report first loss since Safeco move

SEATTLE -- The Mariners lost money last season for the first time since moving into Safeco Field, dropping $4.5 million.

"A significant loss," Mariners president Chuck Armstrong called it, before the report was filed.

The Mariners also lost 101 games -- their most since 1983 -- and drew 2.3 million fans. That was 340,000 fewer than the previous year, when the team reported a profit of $17.8 million.

Last year was Seattle's lowest home attendance since moving to the $514 million retractable-roof ballpark, built with both public and private funds. Coupled with a team-record $120 million player payroll, an increase of $7 million, it was a forgettable season for the Mariners.

"Even though 2008 was a disappointing year for our fans and our organization, fan interest has been enthusiastic as we work hard to build the team for 2009 and future seasons. We sincerely appreciate the support," Armstrong said in a statement Tuesday.

The team filed documents Monday as part of an annual requirement to the Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District, which built and arranged the financing for Safeco Field's construction. The loss was for the fiscal year ending Oct. 31, just before the recession intensified. The figure did not include depreciation of the stadium, player signing bonuses totaling $14.6 million in '08 and capital expenditures.

It also pales in comparison to the $200 million loss the team's current ownership -- led by chief executive Howard Lincoln and Japanese billionaire Hiroshi Yamauch -- reported from 1995 until the move to Safeco in July 1999. The owners have since recouped all but $51 million of that loss, according to the documents.

The team's lease requires it to share profits with the Public Facilities District after it makes up the rest.

"This is a classic example of a successful public-private partnership," Armstrong said. "The Mariners and the PFD both are looking forward to the day when the losses have been recovered, and we begin to share the team's profits with the public."

Armstrong said last month season-ticket sales for 2009 were down "substantially." That was before the Mariners signed 39-year-old Ken Griffey Jr. to return to his first big league team. The Mariners averaged about 2,000 tickets sold per day this winter, until Griffey signed. They sold 23,000 tickets in the first two days after Griffey's decision.

Griffey's contract has a base salary of $2 million and is filled with bonuses tied to attendance.

Armstrong said the Mariners, who last made the playoffs in 2001, expected to draw about 2 million in the struggling economy before they signed Griffey.

"If he plays and we draw and we win, he ought to get more money," Armstrong said last month. "I hope I write those checks."

Sales of tickets to individual Mariners games begin on Saturday. Tickets purchased between March 14 and April 10 will be discounted $1-$2 off regular-season prices. The team said Tuesday there will be no general ticket price increase from 2008.

The team is hoping Griffey's presence allows them to sell out their home opener on April 14.