Monday, May 25, 2015

The Rays Stadium Saga News You May Have Missed on Memorial Day Weekend

Rays reducing ticket prices during Lightning playoffs               

This blog has long-documented how Rays' attendance struggles when the Lightning are in the playoffs (as well as in the fall, once football season starts).  The sad truth is the Tampa Bay market is stretched a bit thin, especially given the region's lukewarm interest in pro sports.

So just how bad are the Lightning playoffs hurting the Rays?
Now, those numbers for the most recent playoff round have rebounded a little bit for the Rays since the original tweet Saturday morning, but the team is trying to stop the bleeding with $7 party deck tickets through the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

However, there's been little-to-no promotion of the discount, causing sportstalk hosts and bloggers alike to question whether the Rays care if attendance continues to plummet, as long as folks keep watching on TV.

The theory may be a bit far-fetched, as the lack of promotion may have to do more with concerns about de-valuing their product, especially after three $15 general admission games when the Orioles had relocated their series to the Trop on short-notice.

Rays not the cool kids on the block

The bottom line is Rays games just aren't the kind of event fans want to cut out of work early for.  The Trop isn't the kind of venue fans want to brag about with photos on social media.  And Stu Sternberg hasn't made his team very "cool."

In comparison, Jeff Vinik made the Lightning and Amalie Arena "cool."  It's more about PR and social media than it is infrastructure.  It's why Vinik has a rubber stamp in Tampa and Sternberg is seen as the enemy in many parts of St. Petersburg. 

My friends are sick of me repeating this mantra, so I'll just direct you to a Tom Jones piece in this weekend's Times. He writes, "Tampa Bay is not considered a great sports market...We become a good sports market when one of our teams gets really good and following that team becomes the cool thing to do.  Right now that team is the Lightning."

The Rays' self-fulfilling prophecy?

The Rays are now drawing an average of 15,215 fans per game, about 3,000 off their mark from the same time last year.  Across the state, the Marlins aren't doing much better, posting 20,126 per game, 28th in Major League Baseball.

Across the board, MLB attendance is actually up about 2% this year - almost entirely due to huge crowds in Kansas City.  There are also some big gains in Cleveland, Seattle, San Diego, Kansas City, and Oakland.  There are big drops in Anaheim, Philly, Texas, Atlanta, and of course, Tampa Bay.

The Trib's Chris O'Donnell wrote this weekend that there are lots of reasons the Rays are struggling, but it was nice to see my self-fulfilling prophecy theory in print:

The Rays were drawing 23,000 fans per game when I first suggested things would start to get ugly...but I'm not sure any of us knew just how ugly it would get in just a few years.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Rick Scott and Jeff Vinik: BFFs?

In case you missed Steve Bosquet's story, "The perpetual campaign of Gov. Rick Scott" in the Tampa Bay Times this weekend, he detailed how the governor will be term-limited out in a few years...but is still operating his political action committee, the Let's Get to Work PAC, as if he's still on the campaign trail.

Among the big-time donors who recently gave to Scott: the Lightning's Jeff Vinik.  According to state records, he donated $100,000 to the governor's PAC in early April.

Maybe that's why Scott tweeted congrats to Vinik & the Bolts four times through two-and-a-half playoff series!
To be fair, it's not uncommon for Gov. Scott to congratulate Florida teams and Floridians who win championships.  But not even the Seminoles during their BCS Championship run got the kind of love (four tweets and a video) the Bolts are getting...and the Stanley Cup playoffs aren't done yet, either!

LOOKUP: Political donations by athletes & owners

Vinik's been a long-time GOP supporter, cutting campaign checks in recent years to the likes of Mitt Romney, Pam Bondi, and the Republican National Committee. 

But maybe another $100k from Vinik could get Scott to grow a playoff beard?

ALSO READ: Gov. Scott still mum on state stadium spending

Don't forget, gubernatorial sports tweets are all in good fun...but they're also in good politicking!

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Author Suggests Sternberg is "Absentee Landlord"

Well-known St. Pete author Peter Golenbock, who wrote a George Steinbrenner autobiography, penned a piece for Creative Loafing this week that basically summarizes the Stadium Saga: a bunch of logical reasons fans aren't coming to the game, and St. Pete's logical refusal to just let the Rays walk for cheap.

But Golenbock goes where few have gone before - suggesting Rays owner Stu Sternberg could turn things around simply by moving (at least part-time) to St. Pete.  An excerpt:
Stu is rightly viewed as a haughty absentee landlord, unlike Jeff Vinik and Bill Edwards, the owners of the Lightning and the Rowdies, who have invested heavily in their communities, not only with money but with their hearts and souls. Vinik is building a multi-million-dollar complex near Amalie Arena. Edwards has rented Al Lang Stadium and has spent millions fixing it up for soccer. He has even bought a sports bar up the street from Al Lang where Rowdies fans can congregate before and after the games. Compared to the millions Sternberg has spent to fix up the once-dingy Trop, it’s small potatoes, but Vinik and Edwards have spent their money on making their customers happy, and their customers are buying tickets and supporting their teams.

To my mind, Stu Sternberg can make baseball successful in Tampa Bay all by himself, but he has to show his fans that he cares about us.

Rent an apartment in St. Pete. Come to games at the Trop, shake hands with the fans and tell them how much you love them. (For almost ten years all we’ve heard is that you’re unhappy with us and the attendance. How’s that working out for you?)

Yes, we know you're pissed because St. Pete didn’t buy the new open-air stadium at the old Al Lang Stadium. Get over it.

Show us a little love, Stu. That’s all you have to do, and if you can do that as this team of talented youngsters develops and grows, so will the attendance. By leaps and bounds. We’ll buy your beer, park in your parking lot, and even build a statue of you near the rotunda.

What do you say, Stu? Give us a little love, big guy.

Do that, and I promise we’ll love you back big time.
Interesting piece.  But didn't he mean, "long time" instead of "big time?"

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Friday, May 22, 2015

Rays Will Help St. Pete Study Trop Redevelopment

The Tampa Tribune's Chris O'Donnell has a good scoop out of St. Pete:
In another attempt to end the deadlock over Tropicana Field, city leaders and the Tampa Bay Rays want to partner in a study on how the Trop site could be redeveloped without a baseball stadium.

The study would be conducted by the Urban Land Institute, a non-profit group regarded as a center of excellence in planning and land-use. Councilman Karl Nurse, one of those pushing the proposal, said it would highlight how redevelopment of the 85-acre site could dovetail with downtown’s expansion. Mayor Rick Kriseman and Alan DeLisle, city development administrator, have also been involved in the discussions, Nurse said. Rays officials have indicated the team would pay part of the cost.

“The intent is to show people this really could be a dramatic redevelopment project for the city but either way you’ve got to start the conversation,” Nurse said. “You can put virtually a billion dollars of redevelopment on there.”
Continue reading here.

St. Pete's council is scheduled to hold a workshop on the stadium saga this coming Thursday - no word yet if the Rays will attend.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Flashback Friday: To The Days Where the Rays Only Dreamed of First Place

Since there's no decent Rays stadium news to talk about, how about a flashback, to seven years ago, when I was looking for a job in Tampa and the Rays were looking for their first winning season?

It worked out well for both of us later that year.

Hey, if you need another reason to watch, how about a Boof Bonser cameo?

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hillsborough Officials Promise No More "Sweetheart" Stadium Deals, Then Negotiate to Make Existing Deal Sweeter

Remember when I wrote how the NFL dangles Super Bowls in front of communities to convince them to spend tens - if not hundreds - of millions of dollars to subsidize their now-for-profit business?
[W]ith Atlanta getting a new stadium soon, as well as eventual Miami renovations down the road, Tampa may be playing an awfully long waiting that might even lead to the league "suggesting" the region rehab RayJay if it wants another Super Bowl?
We already knew there would be some taxpayer-funded improvements at Raymond James as part of the bid to land the 2017 BCS championship, but with Tampa Bay named a finalist for the 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls, the Tampa Bay Times' Greg Auman says it could get more expensive:
How much would Raymond James' overall face lift cost? That's still being negotiated, with the county, the TSA and the Bucs willing to share in the investment.

"The uncertainty lies in the level and degree of improvement. To use an example, is it Rooms to Go or is it Ethan Allen?" Hagan said.
Everyone in Hillsborough County talks about "never giving out another sweetheart deal" like the one the Bucs got in the late 90s.  Yet apparently, the county is negotiating with the team to sweeten the pot even more.

ALSO READ: Tampa Sports Authority Exploring State Stadium Funding for Bucs and/or Rays

Part of it for Hillsborough County is contractual: it's obligated to keep Raymond James up-to-date with other NFL venues of similar age.  And because a bunch of other teams have similar language in their stadium deals, municipalities across the country are stuck forking over money to a bunch of billionaires (see: The Stupid Sports Stadium Clause That's Screwing You Over).

The other part of it for Hillsborough County is the Glazers: worth a Forbes-estimated $4.4 billion, they just want taxpayers to help their business model more.

But don't be fooled into thinking this will help you land the 2019 or 2020 Super Bowls, Hillsborough County - the next two awards are going to Atlanta and Miami, two cities with new (or newly-rehabbed) stadiums.  Those cities, along with Tampa Bay and New Orleans, make up the four finalists for the 2019 and 2020 games.

So the county should ask itself if the prospect of a 2021 or 2022 Super Bowl is worth tens of millions of dollars in stadium enhancements now.  Hillsborough is still paying off the bonds for the stadium's construction, and the Bucs are free to walk after the 2027 season.

Would this new, negotiated renovation agreement include a contract extension to lock the Bucs in past 2027?  If it did, do teams actually honor contracts anymore anyway?

It'd be nice for Tampa to win another Super Bowl bid, and the effort is in the very capable hands of Rob Higgins at the Tampa Bay Sports Commission.  But are big-time renovations worth the price?  Not like there aren't millions of dollars in other hidden taxpayer-funded incentives cities can handout to the NFL instead!

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Monday, May 18, 2015

MUST-READ: Baseball Isn't Dying, It's Simply Growing Out of the Ballpark

You've got to take three minutes to read Maury Brown's latest over on Forbes.  The short, but interesting article details how more and more fans - in all baseball cities - are choosing to watch the games on TV.

An excerpt:
Wednesday was a playoff bevy for sports fans with playoffs in both the NBA and NHL, and a great baseball game nationally, but in 14 of 24 markets, it was not hockey or basketball or even that Mets-Cubs that people were watching, but Major League Baseball on their local regional sports networks.

In a sign that baseball continues to be a regional phenomenon, from Cincinnati to Seattle, Boston to Tampa Bay, Baltimore to St. Louis, and more, it was regular season baseball games that crushed all comers in their respective markets over the NBA and NHL playoffs, as well as the nationally televised MLB game on ESPN.
Remember, baseball isn’t dying. It’s simply becoming more of a regional draw.
Maybe the most amazing discovery in the article is that a higher percentage of Tampa Bay households were watching sports last Wednesday than households in Boston...and the Rays game drew a higher rating than the Red Sox (and many other MLB teams in their home markets).
CLARIFICATION: The Sox played at 3:05pm that day, which explains their lower-than-normal viewership.

No matter what, Brown's post is an encouraging read for a Rays fan...certainly more than Dick Vitale's sad interview on Trop attendance or all the rumormongering that will stem from next week's meeting between MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Tweet of the Week

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Here We Go Again...

Players have a history of Tweeting their disappointment with Rays attendance, but it often gets deleted.  So in case Archer's Tweet gets deleted, here's a screengrab from 1:12pm:

For what it's worth, I was at the game last night too, and 12,000 tickets sold didn't seem to result in 12,000 butts in the seat...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Times Loves Corporations That Share Wealth; Except for Maybe Pro Sports Teams

Sometimes living in Florida feels like living in the Twilight Zone.

This week, conservative governor Rick Scott is advocating for-profit hospitals share their profits "like Major League Baseball teams" to help support hospitals that treat the poor.

That prompted the Tampa Bay Times to write a half-sarcastic editorial calling Scott, "Florida's Socialist Governor," suggesting all the private enterprises profiting off Floridians (utilities, insurance companies, charter schools, etc.) should also share and kick some of the profits back to the taxpayer.

But for some reason, the Times didn't mention all the pro sports teams that profit off Florida taxpayers.

ALSO READ: Times Hates Corporate Welfare; Except for Maybe Pro Sports Teams 

The Times editorial board loves the idea of corporations sharing their wealth with taxpayers like MLB teams do with each other...just as long as those corporations aren't MLB teams themselves.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook