Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Bringing the Magic Back!

More than 1,500 articles over 10 years. This blog has seen a lot of writing...but unfortunately, still not a lot of closure on the Rays stadium saga.

Much of my writing has been moved over to WTSP.com/stadium. But I’m going to be bringing some of the classics back here as well, so if there are any specific posts you’d like retrieved, reach out to me on Facebook or Twitter and I’ll do my best!


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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Breaking News: Rays Will Spend More Money on Stadium if Someone Gives Them More Money

This isn't breaking news. In fact, it isn't even news. And even the facts behind the headlines you're seeing this week don't even seem to be all that accurate.

But after everyone in town was reporting that Stu Sternberg was now offering up to $400 million toward a new Tampa stadium (he wasn't), it's worth posting the link to John Romano's Monday column on that non-offer offer.

Romano pretty much echoed what this blog wrote last week: the Rays definitely aren't getting a $25 million/year naming rights deal in Tampa, so they definitely aren't offering "halfsies" on an $800 million stadium:
It would sort of be like wondering if injured pitcher Nathan Eovaldi is going to win 25 games this year.

"You get me 25 wins from Eovaldi, and we’ll win the World Series.’’

If Sternberg had said that, everyone would laugh.

And you should probably laugh at the $400 million, too.

I’m not suggesting Sternberg was being untruthful or playing word games. In fact, I think his overall position has been remarkably consistent from the beginning.

As far as the Rays are concerned, the funding of the stadium has always been a sliding scale proposition.

If, for instance, team officials are convinced they can make $50 million a year more in Ybor than they are making in St. Petersburg, then a $400 million investment is not outlandish.

If it looks like their revenues in Ybor will only go up $15 million a year, then even a $150 million investment is less attractive.

Philosophically, that is the message Sternberg made in November, and it’s the same message he delivered at Tropicana Field on Thursday.
I guess the big question is, how executives who have been so astute to statistics, prognosticating, and getting every little edge possible can claim they don't have legit estimates to share on what kind of new revenues a new stadium will bring them.  Sternberg and Brian Auld have both told me that over the years.

I also find it hard to believe an astute businessman is going to all of a sudden commit tens of millions of dollars more to a project if a nonprofit group secures non-binding "commitments" from local businesses to buy tickets and luxury boxes.

Most importantly, if projected new revenues from a stadium right now only warrant a $150 million contribution from the team ($12 million per year, or so), why should the public spend $50 million a year when it will only increase Rays payroll by say, $15 million a year?  It'd be better to just cut the team a check each season to cover operational expenses.

That's why my 2012 post on how many fans the Rays really need to make a difference has aged so well.

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Articles That Aged Well: How Many Fans Do the Rays Need? (Oct '12)

Reposted from October 2012 (links may not all work):

It's been a busy three weeks in the Stadium Saga, especially for columnists and editorial boards. Sunday, Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano wrote that the Rays are as good as gone from St. Pete and Mayor Bill Foster should use his leverage now to negotiate financial compensation....before it's too late. 
That column drew the ire of Rays blogger "Schmitty," who wrote "An Open Letter to John Romano and the Tampa Bay Times About the Rays Stadium Situation."

(For what it's worth, Romano wrote in April about how the Rays' contract with St. Pete is "very close" to ironclad)
And today, the Tampa Tribune editorial board authored a blunt recommendation to move the Rays to somewhere more centralized in Tampa Bay.  Where, you ask?  They did not specify.
But the editorial brought up several good points:
  • "The region must get it right because it's highly unlikely we'll get a third chance."
  • "Wherever the Rays play, some fans are going to have to drive across the bay bridges," implying fans should get over it.
  • "Cut 15 minutes off the time it takes most fans to get to the stadium and the Rays still will have empty seats."
The Trib contends the goal is getting out of the league's attendance cellar, but that strikes me as setting their sights extremely low.  A $500-600 million stadium to lift the Rays from 30th place to 26th place doesn't seem to me like a good investment.

So how many more fans are needed to warrant the investment? 

Thirty-thousand?  That would bump the Rays up to 15th out of 30 teams and would mean an extra 870,000 fans a year.  But 30,000/game seems unsustainable given the fact that the Marlins only drew 27,400 in their first season and playoff teams like Cincinnati and Baltimore only drew 28,978 and 26,610, respectively, this year despite their modern stadiums.

Twenty-five thousand?  That would bump the Rays up to 24th in the league in attendance and mean 465,000 more fans a year.  But there's a big question if the Marlins could draw that many next year or if the Rays - by moving from a county with 900,000 residents to a county with 1.1 million residents could either.

Twenty-three thousand?  Is it worth $500-600 million for 303,000 fans a year?  If the ticket average is $25, that's $7.5 million a year for the Rays.  Add parking and concessions and maybe it's $15 million a year for the Rays.  Might just be cheaper for Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties to hand the team an annual tax credit.

Back to the Trib, the editorial board implies a Rays departure from St. Pete is imminent: "Because its attendance is the poorest in Major League Baseball, the Rays will not remain in Tropicana Field much longer, regardless of the lease with St. Petersburg."

That's a bold assumption given no track record of MLB teams breaking seemingly ironclad contracts.  But the Trib probably was right when it conceded, "Whatever compensation (St. Petersburg) negotiates, or is awarded, it likely will be much less than the value of keeping the Rays as a regional asset."

Which begs the question, "Do the City of St. Pete and Pinellas County owe it to Tampa Bay to give up the equity they've built in the Rays?"  And should the rest of Tampa Bay (i.e. Hillsborough Co.) pay them for it if they hop across the bay?

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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Forbes' #SportsMoney50 List

Just to toot my own horn a little bit - but also in an effort to share some outstanding resources out there on Twitter - I point you to Maury Brown's annual #SportsMoney50 List on Forbes.com, which includes some of the must-follow accounts for sports fans and sports business fans.

It's the third year in a row he's included Shadow of the Stadium, calling it this year, "indispensable", and "keeps reporting on course and doesn’t get caught up in homerism. For good or bad, Shadow of the Stadium presents it unvarnished."

If only we could now remove the homerism from all sports and sports business reporting!

Regardless, tons of good accounts to follow in that article, so check 'em out.

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Land isn't Problem in Stadium Saga; Funding is

Despite the rhetoric that plays out on message boards, talk radio airwaves, and newspaper columns, the decision on the long-term home of the Rays has very little to do with location and everything to do with financing.

As Pinellas County officials take baby steps toward a possible funding structure for a new stadium, Hillsborough County can do nothing but sit back and watch. Since Raymond James Stadium and the St. Pete Times Forum are sucking up the bed taxes until Jan. 1, 2027, most commissioners acknowledge there just isn't any public funding available for a new baseball park.

Sure, a Tampa ballpark would be more easily-accessible for the majority of Rays fans.

Sure, there's land available in Downtown Tampa. And at the Florida State Fairgrounds. And sure, the land would likely be given away for free for a MLB stadium. (For what it's worth, land would also essentially be free at the current Trop site and a Toytown/North St. Pete site.)

But $70 million in land is a drop in the bucket for a $500-600 stadium and no developer is going to start paying for a stadium structure on top of a land giveaway.

Two stadiums have been built in the last 40-plus years without public funds. How'd those turn out? The owner of the Columbus Blue Jackets admitted it was a terrible idea and he's going broke. While the owners of the San Francisco Giants admitted soon after opening Pac Bell Park that they caught lightning in a bottle and a privately-funded stadium is now impossible.

So where does that leave the Rays, who would - in theory - put more butts in seats if they got a new stadium in Tampa? Stuck in a contract that isn't ideal for their business.

One-time St. Pete mayoral hopeful Larry Williams hit the nail on the head last year on the campaign trail when he said, "what's best for the Rays isn't necessarily what's best for St. Petersburg."

Most lawyers see the team's "use agreement" as a more binding contract than a lease. And, as Marlins' owner David Samson said, "a contract is a contract!" Heck, Conan O'Brien got a $34 million parting gift from NBC when those two sides decided the contract was standing in their way.

So it would seem the Rays need to work with St. Pete in breaking the current lease if they don't want to play at Tropicana Field until 2027. Which means the price tag on a new ballpark could rise. Which means Pinellas County has another advantage over Hillsborough since a Gateway/Toytown stadium wouldn't require a St. Pete buyout.

Rays' owner Stu Sternberg told me this week that he's looking for a regional approach to solve the financial issues. And although he didn't cite examples, one has to look toward collaborations like Tampa Bay Water and a potential three-county light-rail partnership as evidence that Tampa Bay is coming together as a single region. Previously, it's been city vs. city and county vs. county.

St. Pete officials maintain they aren't holding the team hostage, but merely looking out for the return on investment promised to the community years ago. Since they're taking a hard line this offseason and not even Pinellas County can come close to putting together $30 million/year for a new ballpark right now, it doesn't appear a quick resolution is on the horizon.