Saturday, November 22, 2014

Weekend Reading List: Pinellas Bed Tax Dollars, Women's Final Four in Tampa

  1. Tampa Tribune: Pinellas Co. will cap stadium subsidies at approx. $5.25M/yr (for now...with another $7M potential from increasing bed tax)
  2. 10 News: Tampa lands NCAA Women's Final Four in 2019
  3. Times Editorial: Region shines in hosting big sporting events

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Florida Teams Claim State Dollars Will Make Already-Underway Stadium Projects More Magical

We knew Florida's new stadium subsidy process would be a non-binding/rubber-stamp kind of exercise, but nevertheless, teams are still jockeying for that "high-priority" label that would earn them up to $3 million a year in state tax dollars.

So what were the good reasons the Jaguars, Dolphins, Orlando Soccer Club, and Daytona Int'l Speedway argued were worth adding state dollars to complexes that are already being built or renovated?

According to the News Service of Florida, renovations to EverBank field in Jacksonville will help lure more tourists from England.

A $110 million soccer stadium in Orlando (which only cost $84 million the city approved it) would increase tourism from South America, and would be a "one-of-a-kind downtown venue."  That, of course, must make the Magic's new Amway Arena feel like crap.

In Daytona, a $90 million contribution to the already-underway $400 million speedway renovation would all of a sudden mean the venue could start hosting "non-sports events" that bring "thousands of visitors to Florida."  Because that's worth $90 million in state dollars...

And the Miami Dolphins want $90 million too, even though their owner is one of the richest men in the world.

Care to read more?  The News Service of Florida may dissuade you:
The intent of the review process is to reduce lobbying for stadium projects.

Based upon sheer paper volume, Orlando and Jacksonville would be the front-runners in the new funding process.

The application from Jacksonville, supported by the Jacksonville Jaguars, stands at 954 pages.

Orlando, working to assist the Major League Soccer expansion Orlando City Soccer Club with a new 18,000-seat stadium, submitted a 1,144-page application.

Less bulky, Daytona International Speedway LLC filed a 110-page application. South Florida Stadium LLC, filing for the Miami Dolphins' home, submitted 219 pages of material.
I'm completely shocked - and unshocked - by what I read, so when you have a quiet moment alone to laugh out loud...try and read the whole story.

Buckhorn Retreats More from Rays Stadium Flirtations

Yesterday, Mitch Perry - formerly of Creative Loafing, now working in the political blogosphere - wrote about Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's likely approach toward a new Rays stadium.  And as this blog has started to document, the mayor has muted his longtime support for a Downtown Tampa baseball stadium:

2011: Buckhorn says Downtown Tampa is best location for new stadium
2011: New stadium in Downtown Tampa "would be absolutely transformative"
2012: New stadium may be only three years away
2012: Next stadium "needs to be in Downtown Tampa"
2013: Rays stadium "integral" to Channelside redevelopment
2013: It's Downtown Tampa or nothing for a new stadium in Tampa

Obviously, more recently, Buckhorn acknowledged a new USF Medical School (1/6 the cost of a new stadium) could be a much bigger & better fit for Downtown Tampa.

That said, there still is one very promising piece of land for a stadium downtown - the home of the old (but still operating) ConAgra plant.  But Buckhorn tells Perry relocating ConAgra could add $70 million to the price of the project:
“I’m still committed, given the opportunity, to focus on an urban stadium. I think what MLB and the Rays want. I think there are other sites in downtown that could work,” he says, including the Tampa Park Plaza area running north of Channelside toward Ybor City on Nebraska Avenue.
But outside of the downtown core, there are few city TIF/CRA property tax dollars available for a stadium.  Perry continues:
[I]n the aftermath of Greenlight’s wipeout, Buckhorn says flatly that he would not propose a referendum to pay for any construction costs because “it won’t pass.”

“I think this will be a monumental lift to find a financing mechanism that would work,” he said. “I think the Rays would have to come to the table with serious money. I think it would have to be a smaller stadium, 30,000-35,000. I think the financing would be multi-layered from multiple sources. It’s not going to be simple like Raymond James (Stadium) was, which was one source of revenue that’s bondable over 30 years.”
Buckhorn will sit on a stadium search committee with county commissioner Ken Hagan should St. Pete come to an agreement with the Rays allowing a search.

But dreams of a Downtown Tampa stadium may be giving way to the realization that something closer to the Howard Frankland Bridge (and future bay bridges) may be a better option.

Also, for Buckhorn, one of the state's brightest future political stars, it may not be in his best career interests to stick his neck out on this issue and take unnecessary political risks in his second term.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sheffield Group Fails to Meet Another Deadline, Forcing Commissioners to Change Deadline Again

Last month, I detailed how a group of developers led by Gary Sheffield failed to meet a deadline - for the second time - to secure $23 million for a new baseball complex in Pasco Co.  Only upon coming up with the cash, will the group get an $11 million payout from county bed taxes to complete the project.

Sheffield and his partner, James Talton, tried to convince commissioners that $3 million in cash and eligibility for another $20 million in EB-5 financing would suffice.  Of course, being eligible for a loan and actually securing one is a much, much, much different ballgame.

Realizing this, commissioners were unimpressed...but apparently not enough to kill the plan, according to a story today from the Tampa Tribune.  In fact, they granted a third extension:
On Tuesday, they set a drop-dead date of Dec. 5 to guarantee at least $3 million for the design and permitting of the park. They'll decide on Jan. 13 whether to accept the deal or terminate the contract.
This is the last extension because we have commitments we have to make,” Chairman Ted Schrader said. “I think we all agree it's a fantastic location, it's a great project. We just have to make sure we have the right partner.”

Sheffield said he's confident he and Talton will be able to secure the funds by January. “We're close. We're so close it's not even funny,” he said.
I've always said the ambitious 100-acre project near Wiregrass Ranch was overly-ambitious for a private developer, but when a small community has big-league dreams...nothing will stop it from extending deadline after deadline.

Rays Stadium Negotiations Non-Update Update

In case you missed this tweet:
The Tribune's Chris O'Donnell reports lobbyist records show the Rays are quietly meeting behind-the-scenes with Pinellas County Commissioners...but the commissioners interviewed seemed to think the two sides were still a ways off from announcing a deal.

I checked again to see if St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman or city legal staff had any draft drawn up yet, but I'm told no public documents exist yet on negotiations.  Read into that what you will.

But Kriseman's Chief of Staff, Kevin King, tells O'Donnell the mayor is "determined to meet his self-imposed end-of-year deadline to announce a deal."

Stay tuned...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Rays' Payroll Disadvantages Could Get Worse

$100 million for Pablo Sandoval?
$140 million for Jon Lester??
$325 million for Giancarlo Stanton???

We are seeing teams throw some silly dollars at free agents this offseason...and we can expect the madness to continue for a long time. 

Actually, it's not so mad considering how flush the league has become with television money.  As I've been saying for years, television dollars are surging for sports teams and everyone is getting rich off it.

You'll notice there haven't been any teams claiming "losses" in recent years - instead, they've changed the messaging on new stadiums to "the rich teams are demanding we make more profit...or else."

So the big problem isn't a lack of profits - it's that the league isn't sharing them like its counterparts in the NFL, for instance.

Which is why Bud Selig's real lasting legacy is competitive imbalance.  The money is pouring in, but it's not getting distributed equitably.  And the discrepancies will only get worse as the league - and its biggest owners - get richer. 

Joe Henderson just wrote about the impact of salary inflation on the Rays:
It won’t be long before a player who costs $7 million a year now will cost $12 million or more. It doesn’t take too many of those to eat into the profits.
The Providence Journal also addressed the issue this weekend, actually suggesting great parity across the league, with television contracts as an equalizer.  Not sure I believe any of it, but Cubs GM Theo Epstein was quoted as saying Chicago's next TV deal in 2019 would be "the magic bullet, the paradigm-shifter."

The brightest light at the end of the tunnel for the Rays is that Selig's successor, MLB C.O.O. Rob Manfred, is intimately familiar with the revenue sharing problem and could take steps in future bargaining sessions to close the gap.  It won't fix the plight of the middle-market team, but it certainly will help.

Now That's Just Crazy!

Metro columnist Earnest Hooper writes this morning, "Sometimes crazy ideas leap from my mind and can't be contained. Even when they should." {link to Times' site}

Among the crazy ideas:
What if the next transportation initiative includes multiple counties and funding for a new Rays stadium? Yes, it could draw even more opposition from people opposed to public financing of stadiums, but it also could draw baseball fans to the ballot who otherwise would sit out
What's even crazier - the idea leaping from Hooper's mind actually appeared in this very blog nearly three years ago.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Henderson: New Stadium May Make Us a Better Place, But Won't Make Rays a Better Team

Joe Henderson hit another home run on the Rays' Stadium Saga today, penning a column that puts the difficult decisions in proper perspective: don't build a stadium to make the Rays more competitive; build a stadium because you want the team to play in Tampa Bay for generations to come.
As franchises in all pro sports like to say, it’s about being “competitive.”

If you look at the numbers, though, I’m not sure the way the Rays have to do business changes that much with a new stadium. They would have more money, yes, but at the same time, revenues are escalating in many franchises around the majors.
This is a point I've written about ad nauseam:  a new stadium might draw 25,000 fans, but it won't make much of a difference to the Rays' bottom lines.  I may have tweeted it a few times too:
Henderson's Sunday column continues with a look at all that TV money:
The real difference-maker for franchises is in the rights fees they draw from cable companies because, unlike national TV money, it isn’t shared with other franchises.
Their ratings have generally been strong, ranking in the upper half of MLB teams for the last several years. Even if the Rays can negotiate a deal that doubles their Fox Sports money (a major assumption) though, how does that stack up with $340 million a year the Los Angles Dodgers will receive through 2038 from SportsNet LA?

Do we have to ask why former Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman bolted Tampa Town for a job running the Dodgers in Tinsel Town?
This is the exact problem which led me to write about Bud Selig's lasting legacy of competitive imbalance last month.

Which leads Henderson to conclude "scrap(ing) about $700 million together to build" a stadium has nothing to do with making the Rays more competitive:
For all the talk about the Rays as a crown jewel for Tampa Bay, no one has yet come up with a regional idea to pay for a new stadium.
Mention regional cooperation on something like this and it’s like when the waiter brings the bill for dinner, and everyone at the table looks the other way or reaches for their cellphone until someone finally gets stuck with the check.

I’ve always felt there is only one reason that any city gets involved in projects like this. Raymond James Stadium was built because voters decided they wanted professional football in town, not because of the alleged economic bonanza these franchises bring to a community.

If the Rays get a new stadium, it will be for the same reason. One side of the bay will have decided we’re better off with baseball than without, and we’d all like a better place to watch the games.

It won’t be for the economic impact, and it certainly won’t be because the Rays will start spending like the Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Take it or leave it on that basis.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fallout From Rays "Imminent" Deal - Day 2

A new Tampa Tribune editorial echoes much of what we've already heard through the first few days of this week's Stadium Saga rumor cycle.

But let's hone in on a few key passages:
The 85-acre Tropicana site is ripe for development and is off the tax rolls. Developing the area, with or without the team nearby, would boost tax revenues and stretch the downtown east into a rapidly developing area.
So the Trib claims replacing a stadium with something else would boost tax revenues?  Then why would Tampa want to reduce its tax revenues with a new stadium??  Don't stadium proponents claim new facilities tend to boost everyone's bottom line???  Questions worth asking as we move forward.
Of course, any agreement to let the Rays explore other sites needs to protect the taxpayers and hold the team accountable. But those provisions should be achievable, and the team should be allowed to enter into discussions about a site that it believes will bring the greatest chance of success.
I'd like to know what "hold the team accountable" means, because almost nobody has been calling on the team to make a good-faith financial offer, or even open its books to show it needs public help.  Let's hope that changes.

Elsewhere, NewsTalk Florida's Chris Markowski & Jenna Laine shot this quick video discussion on the topic, raising some good points along the way.

Markowski likened the Stadium Saga to buying a new Maserati, but asked, "can we afford a new Maserati?"  He also questioned Florida's commitment to baseball, suggesting a Tampa stadium may not draw much better.

Laine said workers in Downtown Tampa "can't make the drive" to Downtown St. Pete for a game, although the Rays have openly questioned why the hell not.

I'm not sure being "the butt of jokes" nationally - as Laine suggested - is a good reason to plunk down hundreds of millions of tax dollars to replace The Trop early.  But Laine and Markowski at least asked the question if Hillsborough residents would be OK with spending on a third big-league stadium (fourth if you count Steinbrenner Field).

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

X-Rays Spex: An Open Letter to Stu Sternberg

"An open letter to Stu Sternberg," reposted from X-Rays Spex:
Dear Stu,

While you’ll deny the rumors you’ve been in contact with New York investors regarding a potential relocation to Montreal, you’re adopting the same tactic other owners have used for years now: Exploiting another city — in this case Montreal — as leverage in the fight for a publicly financed stadium. Is Montreal a legitimate threat? Who can really say?

What I will say, you’re not making the organization that I love very likable. Perception is everything, and if the Bay Area perceives you to be less than honest — especially since you haven’t come forward with any evidence the organization is losing money — there’s no way that either side of the bay will vote in favor of a new facility for the Rays.

(And yes, I believe they deserve a new stadium)
In the end, if both Pinellas and Hillsborough voted down their respective publicly funded mass transit referendums, there’s no way a publicly funded stadium will be approved if the organization isn’t up front and honest.