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In 1992, Dick Monfort wasn’t sure an ownership stake in the Colorado Rockies was a great business proposition. At the time, the boys in purple hadn’t yet played a game, and a group of Colorado businessmen—including Dick’s younger brother, Charlie—was trying to pry the fledgling franchise away from its founding owners, who’d been accused of fraud. The new crew proved successful and would go on to reap the benefits: 70,000-plus fans frequently showed up to the team’s early games at Mile High Stadium. “I saw what happened within the first couple of years with all the crowds,” Dick says today, “and I started thinking this was going to be a home run.” In 1997, he didn’t pass up a chance to buy in, and in 2005, he and Charlie became the team’s primary owners. Before his 23rd year with the team, the Rockies’ chairman and CEO spoke with 5280 about how he’s grown in his role, the Rockies’ stewardship of Coors Field, and the impetus for the highly anticipated McGregor Square development.
5280: The Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District owns Coors Field, but you play custodian. Have you been a successful caretaker?
Dick Monfort: Yeah, the stadium district, which represents the taxpayers, paid for the stadium. There hasn’t been any more taxpayer money spent on it since then. It has all been money generated by the team. Keep in mind, it cost around $185 million to build Coors Field. To build something comparable today would probably be around $1 billion. Prudently, we make sure we spend money [on upkeep] every year. Some of it is normal wear and tear. When people walk into this stadium, though, and you tell them it is the third-oldest park in the National League, they’re blown away.
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How does the McGregor Square project affect Coors Field?
In 2017, we renewed our lease with the stadium district. We had a consultant come in who said it would cost us $200 million to maintain the park over the next 30 years. I said to them, OK, we are willing to pay more than what we are paying now, but this is a benefit to Denver, so the city might need to pay its fair share. No one loved the idea of a public vote on taxes for the ballpark. We decided we would lease the lot where McGregor Square will go from the stadium district and the money from the lease will go back into the stadium. If successful, we expect that it will generate $120 million over the next 30 years.
Why hasn’t strong attendance resulted in more playoff appearances over the past 27 years?
We are a midmarket team. We get a midmarket television deal. We get midmarket prices for our tickets. We draw well, but some of those tickets are cheap Rockpile-type seats. I think we probably do better than any other midmarket team as far as revenue goes, but one of the problems in baseball is that you have the higher-market teams that are going to be able to spend more money. We can’t get into the real high free agent market, so keeping our star players for as long as we can will always be the way for us to be successful. We were one of the first teams that said, “We are going to be a draft-and-develop team.” And on an annual basis, I think we have more of our own kids playing on our team than probably any other team.
Last year you had the 11th highest payroll in baseball and gave third baseman Nolan Arenado one of the biggest contracts in league history. Was there more money to play with?
We have pushed our revenues a little more, and that should help us compete with the majority of teams. But ultimately, our total revenue is comparable to what the Los Angeles Dodgers make on just their television deal. They also sell out every game. There are always going to be those five or six teams—the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Dodgers—that are very difficult for us to compete against. But Denver is growing. We see a lot of fans of other teams who live here coming to the ballpark. We get fans wanting to take a vacation from hot, humid places like Chicago. That all helps.
I read that you like to keep a lineup card for what the team will look like five years out. Who will be on the 2025 Rockies?
It’s actually three years out, but sometimes I do go five. A lot of the 25-man roster would be players you already know. I would hope to have guys like Ryan McMahon, Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, David Dahl, Tony Wolters, Kyle Freeland, and German Márquez still on the team.
How often are you right about those lineups?
Not very often. I was right on Todd Helton for a long period of time. I usually am pretty good at knowing which young guys are coming along. Three or four years ago, I had Ryan McMahon and David Dahl on the team. You always have some good surprises. Look at Kyle Freeland. He was an early pick, but I don’t think we ever thought he would be such a quality pitcher. Things change, you know.
What’s the toughest lesson you’ve had to learn while running the team?
Former Rockies manager Jim Leyland once told me, “Don’t fall in love with your players.” I’m sort of a homer. It’s extremely hard to part with somebody who has come up through our ranks. I remember when Pedro Astacio was pitching here. He was one of the fiercest competitors. He was never scared. There was a chance to trade him one July and pick up some really good talent. We didn’t make the trade and we maybe should have. I was part of the vote, but I had enough pull to where I nixed it because I just loved that guy. I had to learn that it’s fine to love your players, but you have to make sure that when the right business deal comes along, you’re willing to part with them.
Wave of the Future
Three Rockies minor leaguers who are likely on Dick Monfort’s 2025 lineup card.
Rodgers is the only Rockies youngster ranked among the top 100 prospects in baseball. The infielder appeared in 25 games for the big-league club this past season.
A 2018 first-round draft pick, Rolison hasn’t made it past Single A yet. But the Rockies’ most promising young pitcher should join the Denver team in the next few years.
This baseball-obliterating first baseman has the type of bat the Rockies could use in their lineup right now. Too bad they drafted him out of UCLA last summer, which means he probably needs a few more years of development.