Friday, March 27, 2015

St. Pete Releases New Deal with Rays (and a fancy infographic!)

St. Pete Mayor Kriseman sent a memo to city council Friday afternoon regarding his new and improved deal with the Rays. 

Still needing council approval, Kriseman says this deal addresses the December concerns about redevelopment revenues.  And he adds, "failing to support the MOU will almost certainly assure that the team will likely leave St. Petersburg and the region.  It will mean that the City will have to wait at least 12 years to redevelop 85 acres."

But the sky isn't exactly falling...and the claims are a little bit contradictory. 

Either the city keeps the Rays for 12 more years...or the city gets to redevelop the Trop sooner.  Kriseman wants to indicate this is the very last chance to get something done, but as I pointed out after the last last chance, the Rays are a loooooong way from giving up.

Click below to read the entire memo:

 
The city, which had said no public records existed on the negotiations up until this point...even whipped out a fancy infographic today to try to sell the deal!

This is a better deal than the previous one.  The Rays made some necessary concessions.  And Kriseman made it clear he wanted a deal done by Opening Day (I wrote why it was a bad idea to set a deadline).  So a vote could come up next week...if the mayor can drum up five of eight council votes. 

However, the more likely scenario is the issue gets tabled for a while so Kriseman can continue to work behind-the-scenes to cut deals for the votes he needs.

Lesson No. 1 of Stadium Negotiations: Don't Set Deadlines for Yourself

I just can't get over the first line of Chris O'Donnell's story, "Deal to expand stadium search looking doubtful for Rays":
In what seems a last ditch effort to salvage a deal before opening day, Mayor Rick Kriseman will this week unveil a revised agreement to let the Tampa Bay Rays explore new stadium sites across Tampa Bay.
Kriseman wouldn't have to make a last-ditch effort before anything if he hadn't set a (second) arbitrary deadline of Opening Day in the first place. 

I've previously written how the mayor's self-imposed deadlines only serve to reduce his negotiating power with the Rays.  There's nothing to gain; deadlines could only make him - not the Rays -  look bad if they're missed.  In fact, it may have led to the unpopular deal the mayor couldn't get through city council in December (ahead of his first self-imposed deadline, Dec 31).

Now, a second missed deadline could further shift public opinion against the city/mayor and allow the Rays to gain more negotiating leverage without making any further concessions.

For Mayor Kriseman, setting an arbitrary deadline for a deal when you've got the upper hand on negotiations is like holding a vote on a future pier design without a plan of what to do if the voters don't choose your favori...wait, nevermind.

To the Rays' credit, it seems the team made a concession on the new deal; O'Donnell reports St. Pete will now get 100% of Trop redevelopment money instead of just 50%.  I'm guessing the team would still have to sign off on any new Trop development as long as they're still there...but wouldn't be a big issue if things are amicable.

ALSO READ: 3 Things the Rays' Stadium Saga Needs in 2015

Times' columnist John Romano advocated approval of the MOU, and the Times' Charlie Frago reported councilman Charlie Gerdes will work to persuade his fellow board members to approve it too.

But O'Donnell's informal poll of the eight councilmembers indicates there doesn't seem to be enough support to change the four firm "no" votes right now.
A quick check of the five council members who scuttled Kriseman’s original deal in December suggests Kriseman will still come up short, with only councilwoman Amy Foster saying she was close to changing her mind. Approval of the memorandum requires five votes among the eight-member council.
“I don’t have the feeling that it’s done and dead forever,” Foster said.
The four other council members – Steve Kornell, Bill Dudley, Jim Kennedy and Wengay Newton - said Wednesday they still oppose the deal.  
Recent reports that the Rays' value continues to soar makes it even less likely some councilmembers will be satisfied with the approx. $2/million "severance" offered by the Rays.
“Evan Longoria makes more than that,” Dudley said. “The city is worth no more than you pay a ball player? I find that hard to believe.”
Including interest on construction loans, taxpayers still have to pay another $58 million toward the stadium through a combination of city, county and state taxes.

By the time that debt is cleared, the final bill on the stadium will be $338 million, a figure that does not include millions more spent on upgrades and maintenance.
Kriseman can't afford another "no" vote from the eight-member council, so backing off the Opening Day promise may be in his best interests.

After all, the Rays may prefer to avoid stadium discussions during the season, but if Kriseman happened to work out a deal in May, the Rays would be happy to sit back down to the negotiating table, Bob Buckhorn's dinner table, the Seminoles' blackjack table...or just about any other table that might help them get out of Downtown St. Pete.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

MLB Commissioner Asks Local Governments to Help His Billion-Dollar Business; Admits Boogeyman Helps

The Tampa Bay Times' Marc Topkin reports from Port Charlotte that new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred called on "local government to provide assistance in resolving the situation."
"You have to conclude that the stadium issue is the key issue because the Rays have put a great product on the field consistently for a really long period of time,'' Manfred said during a visit to Rays camp this morning. "It's not a situation where you can blame a lack of support on the fact you don't have a good product. (Baseball operations president) Matt (Silverman), (principal owner) Stu (Sternberg), the whole Rays team has done a fantastic job in really difficult circumstances putting a competitive product on the field.''
...
"From our perspective it is very difficult to get a new stadium done without cooperation, help, assistance from local government,'' Manfred said. "We're hoping - we're hoping - that Stuart gets that kind of help so that they can get a facility that will keep the Rays and keep them competitive for the long term.''
...
Manfred says the Athletics and Rays stadium issues are  "1 and 1-A, they're a single entry in my mind.''
Actually, I give a lot of credit to Manfred for his transparency;  he admits Bud Selig's Boogeymen are quite the asset in threatening local governments into offering stadium subsidies:
Asked in general about the other viable markets seeking a team, Manfred said, "obviously having a market that wants baseball, that could support a team, provides leverage to a team that's trying to get something done somewhere.''

Romano Writes His Semi-Annual Column Urging St. Pete Council to Advance Stadium Discussion

Tampa Bay Times sports-turned-metro columnist John Romano writes today it's time for St. Pete's city council to approve Mayor Kriseman's latest pitch for a Rays deal, which reportedly addresses the redevelopment issues that lead to December's rejection:
It's in the city's best interest.

All these months later, those council members fail to see that. They're too hung up on today's details, and they're not considering the bigger picture for the city.

They cling to the stadium use agreement as if it is the only thing St. Petersburg has going for it. And, yes, it's a powerful document that should be given its due weight.

But any bureaucrat can enforce a contract. True vision and leadership requires looking beyond the facts to understand the ramifications.

And playing hardball with the team today makes it more likely that St. Petersburg suffers in the long run.
Romano has advocated for a deal for a long time - even when he admits the money the Rays are offering "stinks."

But for as much as everyone in the region wants St. Pete to stop playing hardball, we shouldn't forget the Rays are playing even harder.

Offering somewhere in the ballpark of $2 million/year to break its current contract is the equivalent of asking St. Pete to short sell a home with significant equity on it.  And if Forbes is to be believed, where the Rays lack in income, they make up for in mortgagable equity.

Romano continues:
Here are the two most likely scenarios that will come of the mayor's proposed deal with the Rays:

1. The team finds a stadium site in Tampa, and St. Pete can begin redeveloping 85 acres of prime real estate at the same time its downtown is taking off.

2. The Rays discover there is no room, nor funding for a stadium in Tampa, and they discover their best bet is building on the opposite end of the Trop land nearer downtown.
I've always maintained North St. Pete/Mid-Pinellas, closer to the Howard Frankland Bridge, may be the best bet...but I digress.
Demanding the Rays pay more under the memo of understanding is a losing bet. It only guarantees the team will wait out the end of the lease, which is bad news for St. Pete.
It can dare the Rays to find a better deal in Tampa. And if the Rays do, then St. Pete continues growing its downtown while still keeping MLB in the region.

It's a gamble without much downside.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Forbes: Rays' Value Skyrockets to $625 million

This should stick a fork in the "Rays need help" argument.

According to the latest Forbes valuations, the Tampa Bay Rays are now worth $625 million.  That's a whopping 29% more than last year's estimate and almost quadruple the team's value when Stu Sternberg assumed principal ownership in 2005. (The Yankees remain No. 1, also up nearly 30% to $3.2 billion)

The bad news is that the Forbes estimates the Rays are turning just $7.9 million in operating income, their second-lowest mark in a decade....despite a record $188 million in revenues overall.

Yet, the folks at Forbes are no dummies, and the high value of the Rays reflects big potential earnings down the road.  Which is why St. Pete councilmembers may feel slighted when the team is only willing to give approx. $2M/year to get out of its current contract.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why the NFL's Ban on Blackouts is Self-Serving

Acknowledging TV revenues are surpassing stadium revenues, the NFL has announced the suspension of its controversial blackout policy for 2015.

It was just three years ago the league lowered the threshold for a blackout from a 100% sellout to just an 85% sellout.  But it was no concession to the fans...it was for the betterment of the league's bottom-line because the threat of blackouts had lost its mojo.

So likewise, this year's suspension of the blackout policy isn't a concession to fans...it's an acknowledgement that the league doesn't need to threaten fans to buy tickets as long as they keep watching on television.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sternberg Does, In Fact, Get Why St Pete Rejected His Last Offering

Taking a look back at a Martin Fennelly column from this past week, he wrote how Rays' owner Stu Sternberg "doesn't like (his) potential villain role":
He added, “I still don’t quite understand where the opposition is necessarily coming from. The one thing that came out of the (city council) was the idea about our development rights, which was never our intention, and it obviously got a little bungled there that day, but we cleared that up right away. And yet, still, there’s always something else, something else. We don’t even know what it is that we can do differently, and it’s little bit dismaying.

“I just don’t exactly know why the council people feel it’s not in the best interest of the citizens of St. Petersburg to get the land back, develop the land, have a bunch of taxes coming in, create construction jobs, create long-term jobs, still have baseball in your midst and guarantee that baseball is going to be in your midst for multi-, multi-, multigenerations. I don’t get it.”
But Sternberg does get it - he gets that council's job is to protect the financial interests of its citizens.  And many on council don't feel they're getting enough in exchange for letting the team break the terms of the deal it signed.

It's just that Sternberg's job happens to directly conflict with council's: he needs to get the Rays out of their current contract - for as little as possible - so they can explore new stadium sites in Tampa (or elsewhere) without damaging the bottom line.

And that's why we've had eight years of stalemate in the Stadium Saga.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Times' Trigaux Lists "10 Tampa Bay Projects We Can't Afford to Screw Up"

Courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times.  Pay attention to these, Rays fans.  Trigaux's grades reflect progress so far:
1. Transportation that works. Our mass transit strategy — how shall I say this politely? — stinks. Hillsborough County's plan bombed a few years ago in a voter referendum, then Pinellas County tried its own version in 2014 with equally disastrous results. Now we seem to be passing this ill-planned dud back to Hillsborough, setting that county up to go 0 for 2.

Anybody who says this area can simply keep relying on more roads clearly does not drive enough around here at peak traffic times. Even if we do build more roads, the clear trend is toward more tolls. Either way, toll roads or mass transit, transportation is going to become more expensive.

But will it become more efficient? Could Tampa Bay actually deliver a regional solution to a regional transportation problem? So far, it's proved a sadly laughable process. Grade: D
 
2. A viable next home for the Tampa Bay Rays. The small-town pettiness that's infected the debate over the whereabouts of a future baseball stadium should make you wonder if we still really want a Major League Baseball franchise here. St. Petersburg's lasting tunnel vision still limits the Rays from looking broadly across the region for a potential site that might draw more than last-place attendance numbers. Tampa and Hillsborough sound macho enough when insisting they have the sports mojo and real estate the Rays seek. Then they cry pauper when talk turns to a modern-day stadium with a price tag of three quarters of a billion dollars or more by the time the Rays clear the legal quagmire of their Tropicana Field contract. Grade: C
10. Regional cooperation. The idea of "regionalism" often prompts a backlash from local communities who see threats to their self control. Yet more than half the projects on this list could be improved upon, if not solved, with greater regional cooperation of political will, economic ambition and, yes, money. The key is to understand when working at the regional level can really help (see Nos. 1, 2, 6, 7 and 9) and when it's not necessary. Tampa Bay claims it's becoming more regionally conscious. I see modest progress on the best of days and major backpedaling on the worst of days. But good grief — keep trying. Grade: C-

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sternberg Encourages St. Pete to Move Past Those Pesky, No-Tax-Payin' Baseball Tenants

An annual rite of spring, Rays' owner Stu Sternberg offered up some thoughts down in Port Charlotte today.
On the ongoing stadium issue:

“I’ve been very animate and clear that I want to find the pinpoint perfect spot in the Tampa Bay region. I still believe in the (Tampa Bay) area more so than people at (Major League) Baseball, more so probably than the national media. I believe in it and I want to make it work, but it has to be in the right spot.

“Those who follow the game and follow the way attendance goes at sporting events, we, more than any other market, need to be pinpoint perfect on where our next facility is going to be, whenever that happens.”

*****
On if there is any new proposal to get out of the Tropicana Field contract with the city of St. Petersburg. (In December, city council rejected an plan that would have given the team three years to explore stadium sites in Hillsborough and Pinellas.)

“It could have happened. It went for a vote way back in December and much to my dismay nothing came of it. I understand we can’t just snap our fingers. But from the mayor’s (St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman) vantage point, he’s been in office for a little more than a year, true to his word he was willing to explore things toward the end of the season with us to try to hammer out an agreement. True to mine last year I wasn’t going to press on it until he got his legs under him.

“In two month’s time, we (Rays and Kriseman) are able to hammer out an agreement that I think is a bit unfair to us and a bit unfair to the city if people want to look at it that way. But certainly, at our level of where we can see to make this thing work and went before a (city council) vote in December and didn’t pass.

“So now I’d like to think the mayor has some work. Maybe there’s something else we can do. We have spent time speaking to most if not all of the people on the council. We remain open to having meetings with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week at any point in time. I still don’t quite understand where the opposition is coming from.

“The one thing that came out of the commission was the idea about our development rights, which was never the intention and obviously got a little bungled that day, but we cleared that up right away, and yet there’s always something else.

“We don’t even know what it is we can do differently. It’s a little bit of a dismay because the mayor is somebody who had a hell of a mandate coming in here to run this city and do things, and I think the mayor is looking out for the citizens of St. Petersburg, recognizing that having baseball in their mists, whether it’s in St. Petersburg, Pinellas or Tampa, is in the best interest in the citizens of St. Petersburg.

“I just don’t know exactly why the council people feel it’s not in the citizens of St. Petersburg’s best interest to get the land back, develop the land, have a bunch of taxes coming in, create construction jobs, create long-term jobs, still have baseball within their mists and guarantee that baseball is going to be here for multi-, multi-generations. I don’t get it.”
Interesting notion - if it's in St. Pete's best interest to develop land as something other than tax-free baseball land, why would it be in Tampa's best interests to do the opposite?  It's a question covered in this blog before.
On the perception that he is not being truthful about his motives to either stay in the area or move the team to another part of the country or Montreal:

“If I were a fan on the other side of it, there’s a tendency not to necessarily believe what the owner of the baseball team has to say. The walk that I walk has been what it is. I’m true to my word. I try to be as honest as I can about payroll going up, payroll going down, ‘Where do we stand in the future?’ This is not about trying to play people or anything.

“We tried to build a stadium seven years ago (in downtown St. Petersburg). We tried in earnest and it fell flatter than a flat pancake. The timing necessarily wasn’t right for whatever reason. There was some opposition. We’re still at it. We could take any of those other routes. We’re here to compete, we’re here to win, we’re here to have baseball grow in the region even though we’re last in attendance.

“It’s still a magical thing for me and my family and for the fans that follow us and the hundreds and hundreds of thousands who watch us on TV and listen to us on the radio... We have a very dedicated following, and that’s who we’re here to play for."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Pinellas Again Discusses Increasing Bed Tax for Stadium(s)

The Pinellas Tourist Development Council - in charge of the county's lucrative bed tax - spent the day debating whether there should be a cap on capital projects funded by tourists, according to the Times' Tony Marrero.

Those in favor of building a new Rays stadium and/or new spring training facilities oppose a cap;  but many hoteliers favor a cap to ensure the county's biggest tourist-draw, the beaches, money gets spread across the county's biggest tourism draw:
The council, of which (St. Pete Mayor Rick) Kriseman is a member, voted 7-4 to recommend to the Pinellas County Commission that spending on capital projects such sports stadiums account for no more than 40 percent of the revenue raised by the county's tourism tax. Kriseman wants a 50 percent cap to make more money available for projects such as renovating Al Lang Field and the recently-announced plan to build an 1,800-seat baseball stadium at Walter Fuller Field, both in St. Petersburg.
...
Wednesday's joint meeting with the County Commission was called after Kriseman and other community leaders raised concerns about a previous cap proposal. Comments from commissioners indicated there is still hope that Kriseman and allies such as Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski, who announced Wednesday that her city will ask for as much as $50 million in bed tax money for a new stadium and training facility for the Toronto Blue Jays, can convince four of seven commissioners to approve the higher cap.
But wait, there may be a way to keep everyone happy!  Except people visiting Pinellas hotels, of course:
The overall pot might grow even larger. At (Commissioner John) Morroni's suggestion, the tourist council agreed to consider approving a sixth center (sic) of bed tax that Pinellas is allowed by law to levy as a high-impact county that brings in at least $30 million in annual bed tax revenue.

Kriseman and others have said revenue from the sixth cent could be targeted for a new Rays stadium. After the meeting, Kriseman said the county should not raise the tax unless there's a specific need for it.

"Unless somebody tells me something that convinces me otherwise, I think we ought to put that sixth cent in our pocket," he said.