Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Former Mayor Bill Foster Warns Hillsborough About "Savvy," "Ruthless" MLB Owners

As Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan makes moves to prepare Tampa's side of the bay for a possible Rays courtship, the one guy who may know more about the Stadium Saga than anyone is issuing a warning.

"Mr. Hagan has no idea what he's up against," former St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster said.  "(Tampa Bay and the Rays) are up against 29 other owners who do not want Major League Baseball in Florida....they're savvy; they're ruthless; it's going to be very interesting."

"The only way to protect the taxpayers of (St. Petersburg) would be a binding, unambiguous, clear, concise buy-out provision," Foster said, indicating the Rays weren't interested during his term as mayor.  Ultimately, the prolonged episode may have cost him last fall's election against now-mayor Rick Kriseman.

Foster has prodded Hagan before, so its no surprise the Hillsborough Commissioner dismissed Foster's concern that allowing Rays to look in Hillsborough would weaken St. Pete's contract and would allow the Rays to flee town.

FLASHBACK 2011: What's going on inside Bill Foster's head
FLASHBACK 2011: Foster weary of MLB's "tricks"

Foster tells me he's rooting for Kriseman to strike a deal that both protects St. Pete taxpayers and keeps the Rays around for decades to come.

"If not," Foster said, "the Rays will have a maple leaf on their jerseys" - a nod to the Canadian city of Montreal, where baseball fans have started calling for the Rays to relocate.

Hagan, Hillsborough Inch Closer to Rays Negotiations

Hillsborough County's Ken Hagan got unanimous support from his fellow commissioners Wednesday to form a select committee to work on possible stadium negotiations if - and when - the Rays work out an amendment to their current contract with St. Pete.

Hagan indicated the committee would operate under the umbrella of the Tampa Sports Authority (TSA), and would include himself, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, TSA CEO Eric Hart, and one member of the private business community.

"It's critically important that our community is unified," Hagan said after the vote.

He also got 7-0 commission support to line up a list of financial institutions to qualify and bid on potential debt service on the stadium, even though he admitted he didn't know how much taxpayers might ultimately be on the hook for.

"We know back in 2008, (the Rays) were amenable to investing $200-$250 million in a stadium," Hagan said. "(We don't know if) they're still considering that...(but) when you're considering a $500-$600 million facility, you're certainly going to have to have a considerable portion of that come from the team."

When asked if a similar $200-$250 million commitment from the team would be enough to get a Tampa stadium deal done, Hagan said, "I think it gets us in the game."

"(A new stadium) will certainly require multiple funding sources," Hagan continued. "It's going to be critically important for not only the team, but also the private sector to participate in any stadium, (regardless) of where its located."

Buckhorn added that the financial challenge was "huge," and indicated the jury was still out on whether it would make sense for the city to contribute public funds. He speculated the process would be "complex," & "not without its drama."

Buckhorn has always claimed Major League Baseball wants the Rays to play in a new downtown stadium, but in recent weeks, he has been much more hesitant in his support of a Downtown Tampa stadium.   The timing coincides with Jeff Vinik's exciting new plans for new office, hotel, retail, and possibly even university buildings downtown.

"It will be tough to find sites downtown that make sense," a reserved Buckhorn said Wednesday afternoon.

Hagan campaigned in 2010 on a platform of building the Rays a new stadium, although he said at the time he didn't support any public financing for the project. In the years since, Hagan has shifted his platform to "no new tax revenues," while repeatedly "flirting," as he calls it, with the notion of luring the team to Tampa.

But after years of talk, elected officials in Tampa are still waiting for the Rays to negotiate their "out," as well as indicate how they expect to finance a new $500-$600 million stadium.

Hagan added that St. Petersburg's Mayor Rick Kriseman "has to protect his city and do what's best for his constituents," but also "he sees the big picture and the opportunity St. Pete has to really do something special (by redeveloping Tropicana Field)."

That, of course, raises the question, if Tropicana Field is more valuable as something other than a baseball stadium...wouldn't the same go for land in Tampa?

Continue reading this story on

Why Rays Players, Managers Speak Out Against Trop

We know how Rays executives feel about Tropicana Field, and thanks to guys like Joe Maddon, Evan Longoria, and David Price - we also know how the guys in uniform feel about it.

This week, Maddon was quoted by the Times as saying, "To not have a legitimate major-league ballpark would be the only minus within the whole organization.  And the moment we're able to get a new ballpark on the ground and running that's when this organization has a chance to really (turn into a top organization)."

Then, he followed up the comments at his season-ending press conference, as reported by Martin Fennelly:
"I’ve also stated that the new ballpark is a situation that we would like to get done here, and I’m not going to back down from that at all."
But it wasn't Maddon's first foray into the Stadium Saga.  A brief history of comments from him & his players:
The frustrations are understandable, but they don't help the situation...they only inflame it.  And over the years, you'd think the team would have had enough time to hone its message.

A closing reminder from Buster Olney:

Malcolm Glazer's Death Ends Family Run on Forbes 400

With Malcolm Glazer's $4+ billion fortune now presumably split among his kin, the Buccaneers' owner - and his family - no longer make the Forbes 400 list of richest people in America.

The new richest sports owner in the world is now Steve Ballmer, of Microsoft fame, after he purchased the Clippers.  The $2 billion purchase price was just a fraction of his estimated $22.5 billion overall wealth.

Ballmer supplants another Microsoft product at the top of the franchise-owner list, Paul Allen, who owns the Seattle Seahawks, but is worth just a paltry $17 million.  His value is up more than a billion dollars since 2013...not a bad year.

Other notables include Miami Heat owner Mickey Arison ($6.4 billion) and the Dolphins' subsidy-seeking owner, Stephen Ross, whose value was up more than 10% ($6 billion).

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Blogger: I Donated to Buckhorn So He Will Take the Rays Off St. Pete's Hands

Local blogger/political operative/troublemaker Peter Schorsch writes on Saint Petersblog that he donated $250 to Mayor Bob Buckhorn's (somewhat uncontested) re-election campaign so he can essentially take the Rays "off of St. Pete's hands":
Buckhorn gets re-elected in a landslide. Mandate in hand, Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner persuade pols on that side of the bay that they must build a stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. By this time, St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman will have given in and let the baseball club pursue building a new stadium in locations outside of Pinellas County. By all accounts, Kriseman’s ready to give that up like a slutty prom date.

The Rays announce they are moving to Hillsborough. Suddenly eighty acres of prime real estate just west of the boomingest downtown in Florida is on the market. Developers and land use lawyers crawl all over each other for the rights to this land, which, by the time the Rays actually leave, will have light rail running along side it.

Another five or ten thousand residents would be added to St. Petersburg’s bustling downtown corridor, which would stretch from the waterfront to the interstate. A nine-square mile section of real estate home to hundreds of restaurants, art galleries, condominiums, health care offices (All Children’s, Johns Hopkins, and Bayfront being some of the most interested parties in the land currently occupied by the stadium), and so many other small businesses.

Meanwhile, Pinellas County, no longer burdened by paying to finance the bonds for Tropicana Field, is able to plow even more money into arts programs, beach renourishment, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and dozens of other projects.
Addition by subtraction in St. Pete?  Might be just the kind of thing Rays fans in Hillsborough County are hoping for.

Trib Editorial Board Says Build Rays a New Stadium...or Else...Boogeyman

The Tampa Tribune has a rich history advocating for taxpayer-funded stadiums, and for the last five years or so, that's included a new Rays stadium:
This morning, the Trib editorial board again applauded Commissioner Ken Hagan's new efforts to launch Tampa stadium talks (just as it did in a similar editorial in June 2011).  The paper also continued to play to the boogeyman fears of every Rays fan in Florida:
As we’ve been saying for well over a year, there is no more time to wait for stadium discussions to begin. Getting a new stadium built, whether in Hillsborough or Pinellas, would be a gargantuan task taking years of negotiations and labor.
Long ago the Rays, and Major League Baseball, grew weary of the empty Tropicana seats. Another season or two with the lowest attendance — and with no plan in the works for a new stadium — is an invitation for the team to leave the market. And each passing year lessens the penalty the Rays face for breaking the lease.
It's not clear why the Trib thinks the Rays would do what no other team in memory has ever done: break an ironclad contract to flee town.

And its not clear why the Trib ignores the questions it posed in August 2013 that questioned whether a Tampa stadium would fare any better.  Or how it would be paid for.

But what is clear is that the Rays are winning the battle of public perception, despite their strong track record of making money and offering few details about how a new stadium could possibly be paid for.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Kriseman Meets with Rays Again, "Hopeful" for Deal by End of Year

Charlie Frago reports today in the Tampa Bay Times:
Kriseman and Rays president Matt Silverman met for about an hour at Tropicana Field on Friday afternoon, the latest in a series of "good" meetings that haven't yielded any concrete steps toward resolving the long-running saga of finding a new stadium site for the major league baseball team that finished a losing campaign Sunday with (depending on how you tally the numbers) MLB's lowest-attendance.

"Now that the season's over, they can have more meetings and more productive meetings," King said.

Another meeting between Kriseman and Silverman is being scheduled and should take place soon, he said.

Kriseman officials say they remain hopeful that a deal can be reached by year's end.
The previous mayor, Bill Foster, was also hopeful he could strike a deal, but ultimately said the Rays were unwilling to compensate the city in exchange for a contract amendment allowing the team to look at stadium sites in Hillsborough County.

The current mayor, Kriseman, said on the campaign trail the Rays must pay if it wants its contract amended.   His campaign website also said he wanted a plan in-place within nine months of taking office.  That didn't happen.   This didn't happen either.

What a tangled web we weave...

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Vinik Addresses Rays Rumors

Jeff Vinik faced the inevitable Rays-to-Vinikville Downtown Tampa rumors yesterday at Lightning Fan Fest, and told Tom Jones on WDAE radio (around the 5:55 mark here), "a new ballpark for them has been discussed long before I got here five years ago, and one thing I know is that we've got a lot on our plate, and we've got vision here on- and off-the-ice to do hopefully really good things."

"I think its critical for this region to keep baseball," Vinik continued when asked about the Rays' long-term viability in Tampa Bay.  "Personally, I love the sport of baseball - not as much as I love hockey- but I love the sport of baseball and I love this region.  And obviously, the development we're doing shows how much potential I think is here. And I think its important for a region to have major league baseball; to have football; to have at least one winter sport, hockey.  It's important for a region to have all three of those sports."

Pulitzer Prize-winner Will Hobson followed up with more {link to Times' site}:
Asked after the radio interview if he was opposed to a baseball stadium in Tampa, Vinik declined to answer the question, or any others.

(Commissioner Ken) Hagan said he doesn't believe Vinik's plans are a hurdle to a Rays stadium in Hillsborough. However, he acknowledged that a sense of urgency has been created by the prospect that Vinik's developments and others could vie for city money that might otherwise help fund a baseball stadium.

"There's going to come a point in time here where Major League Baseball and the Rays say enough's enough, and consider relocating outside of Tampa Bay," Hagan said. "We're going to reach a point where we're past the point of no return."
Of course, Vinik's non-committal answers likely means he's either working behind-the-scenes to make something happen with the Rays...or...

UPDATE: Other reporting on Vinik's plans include Jamal Thalji's story with Vinik's top deputy, Tod Leiweke {link to Times' site}.  Leiweke said building up downtown will make the Lightning opposed to the prevailing concept of a stadium making local businesses profitable:
Leiweke said Tampa Bay is an "unconventional market" for an NHL team, the "marketplace is spread out" and that there's not "tons and tons" of corporate support. The Tampa Bay Rays have similar concerns about the market for baseball in St. Petersburg.

The key to making the Lighting money, Leiweke said, is to lure major employers to set up shop around Amalie Arena. That will bring people who will live, work, shop, eat and drink in the Channel District — and buy hockey tickets.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Good Weekend Reading: NFL's Non-Profit Status, Rays TV Ratings, White Flight in Atlanta

Check these out if you have a few boring moments this weekend:
  1. SaintPetersblog: One US Senator is renewing efforts to challenge the NFL's "non-profit" status, something touched upon on this site over the years.  After all, how many other non-profit CEOs can you name that make $44M/yr?  Of course, the NFL spends enough lobbying to make sure the threat disappears.
    • UPDATE: Field of Schemes and Bloomberg point out the NFL may be essentially passing its tax-exempt status along to its teams...which doesn't pass the sniff test, even if it is exploiting a legal loophole in the law
  2. SunSports: Rays television ratings continue to kill it, propelling the network to a No. 1 rating among all cable TV channels in primetime this season.
  3. Vice Sports: Race is a huge challenge to the Atlanta Hawks and their fellow ATL sports teams.  That's the real reason why, as I wrote last year, the Braves are moving to the 'burbs.

What We Should Make of Latest Rays-to-Tampa Rumors

Once again, the cover story on page 1 of the Tampa Tribune plays directly into Rays fans' fears of losing the team: "Rays About to Be Wooed."  In much smaller type, it indicates the wooing would be done by Hillsborough County.

Not like the Trib really needs "news" to plaster a good Rays-to-Tampa headline across its front page.

Today's article explains that Hillsborough's biggest Rays advocate, county commissioner Ken Hagan, wants to form a new committee, under the umbrella of the Tampa Sports Authority, to help make a Tampa stadium happen for the Rays should they St. Petersburg allow it.  Hagan also suggested the TSA get involved in 2010.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman called Hagan's push "premature" and potentially "problematic," according to the Trib.  It's a similar reaction Hagan has received every time he "flirts" with the Rays, who are contractually bound to St. Petersburg until 2027:
Working through the Tampa Sports Authority actually makes a lot of legal & financial sense if Tampa/Hillsborough want to build a Rays stadium.  But not at the expense of burning the figurative bridge between Tampa and St. Pete.

And, Hagan doesn't want to leave it up to the Authority's board to talk with the team - the Trib reports the commissioner wants the agency's director, Eric Hart, to join him and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn on a select committee that would work with the Rays.

It's not clear how much support Hagan will enjoy from his fellow commissioners - some of whom are running for re-election this fall - when he pitches the next step in negotiations this coming Wednesday.  Many of them have pledged no tax dollars for a stadium.

RELATED: Where Hillsborough commission candidates stand on the stadium

Some of the questions will be over the commission's continued debate over subsidizing retail-type jobs (like those at a stadium) versus high-paying/high-tech jobs, which the board has indicated are a priority.

Hagan also once pledged "no public dollars" for a stadium, but has since essentially shifted to a "no general revenue dollars for a stadium" stance, indicating CRA/TIF funding could be justified "as long as it did not lead to new property taxes."

Hagan also acknowledged on-the-record in 2012 that the buy-out of St. Pete's contract would likely cost "tens of millions" of dollars on top of stadium costs.

Ironically, I’m hosting a Hillsborough County candidate debate Tuesday night, featuring many of the county commissioners. Safe to say, there will be at least one question about this hot-button topic. So please come join for the 7 p.m. event at the Junior League of Tampa building on Davis Islands!