Thursday, October 30, 2014

Buckhorn: Medical School Could Be "Bigger Than Baseball"

WUSF's Mark Schreiner reports from a USF Board of Trustees workgroup today that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said a new medical school in Downtown Tampa could be "bigger than baseball."
Buckhorn was referring to the possibility that the Tampa Bay Rays could eventually move from Tropicana Field to another field of dreams on an empty lot in downtown Tampa.
"It's 365 days a year (vs. 81 home games for a baseball team), it creates a medical educational cluster down here," Buckhorn said. "The students that work here will fill up the buildings that will be built, the retail will follow to service the medical students. I mean, it really is a more sustainable economic engine than just an arena or a baseball stadium."

"Now that doesn't mean they're mutually exclusive," Buckhorn, who's married to Dr. Catherine Lynch, Associate Vice President of Women's Health at USF's Morsani College of Medicine, said. "I think we can accommodate both, but I think in the long run, the relocation of the Medical School is a more significant economic development project than almost anything we could imagine, including baseball."
Both a medical school and a baseball stadium could possibly succeed in Downtown Tampa, but as I suggested earlier this year, Buckhorn and Vinik have both made clear what their priorities are.

UPDATE: Jamal Thalji adds {link to Times' site} Buckhorn suggested the next-most logical site for a baseball stadium downtown would be the current site of the ConAgra plant, but "I think it is safe to say that the Vinik group has plans other than baseball for their holdings...but we have assumed that for the past year."

For what it's worth, I've assumed that since 2012...but who's counting?

Regardless, the ConAgra dream would be wonderful for Downtown Tampa - far better than a stadium on Vinik's land. It would remove one of the biggest eyesores downtown, while replacing it with something that connects two thriving parts of the city.

But the challenges remain the money.  On top of $550+ million in stadium costs, you'd be looking at a likely 8-digit fee to relocate the plant, plus an 8-digit buyout of St. Pete's contract.  Start saving, Tampa.

Romano Infuses More Common Sense to Rays-to-Montreal Rumor Mill

John Romano's Thursday column echoes much of what I've written on this blog about Montreal: the threats are empty {link to Times' site}.

It was good to see him acknowledge "it is in the sport's best interest to perpetuate the notion that a large, baseball-hungry market is just a moving van away."  As any regular Shadow of the Stadium reader knows, MLB's real business is fearmongering and threatmongering.

It was also good to see Romano evolve from his 2011 suggestion that contraction rumors may be worth paying attention to.

For what its worth, I wrote a week ago the Montreal talk was just talk.  A year ago, I wrote moving to Montreal doesn't make financial sense for MLB or Sternberg.  And five years ago, I predicted Rays ownership would quietly stoke rumors about some other MLB-starved city to jumpstart negotiations here.

But I'm glad Romano infused more common sense to what has become a mockery of a discussion.  Here's an excerpt from today's column:
The rumors exist because it is in the sport's best interest to perpetuate the notion that a large, baseball-hungry market is just a moving van away. We should know, because Tampa Bay played that wanna-be role to great acclaim in the 1980s and '90s.
But as Tampa Bay found out while wooing the _____ (fill in the blank with White Sox, Rangers, Athletics, Twins, Mariners or Giants), baseball owners are masters of the tease.

And so Montreal will soon discover.

I'm not suggesting Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is behind the whispers that talks are ongoing north of the border. It actually makes no sense for Sternberg to rattle any cages right now, because he is about to get his long-awaited chance to sniff around Tampa.

But the baseball commissioner's office likes to promote the idea of a city breathing heavily on the other end of any phone. So do most of the other owners. It's just good business for them.

But that doesn't mean Tampa Bay fans have anything to fear in the short term.

Here's why:

Baseball has used the threat of relocation to get billions of dollars in public financing for new stadiums during the past 25 years.

The White Sox were going to move to St. Pete. The Rangers were going to leave Arlington for Dallas. The Giants were also coming to St. Pete. The Astros were going to northern Virginia and the Mariners, Orioles, Indians, Brewers, Marlins, Padres and Pirates were willing to go anywhere.

But there is a huge difference between those situations and the Rays' standstill. In all of those cases, the teams either controlled or were near the end of their stadium leases. So any threat to leave at least had the appearance of being legitimate, if not the reality.

That, obviously, is not the case in Tampa Bay.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Fault in Selig's Stars

Of course Bud Selig would turn a question about Friedman/Maddon leaving into innuendo about the Rays' stadium situation.  It's his thing.

But don't believe the hype/rumormill/fearmongering.

A new stadium isn't nearly enough for medium-market teams to keep all of their stars - just ask the Indians (Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia); the Padres (Adrian Gonzalez); the Marlins (Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle); or the Mariners (ARod in 2000).

The only thing that would allow the Rays to keep their stars (on- and off-the-field) would be modernizing MLB's broken revenue-sharing model in the mold of the NFL.

In the meantime, we'll just get the league officers name-dropping Montreal and the Rays issuing statements denying the rumors {link to Times' site}:
"We are committed to making baseball work in the Tampa Bay region. We will do everything we can to make that happen and right now things are moving in a productive and positive direction. We have not spoken to Montreal — or any other city, including Tampa — about relocation at any point."
Selig & MLB have perfected their tactics...and its amazing the country hasn't caught on to the Boy Bud Who Cried Wolf.

It seems just about every stadium saga goes down the same way...and as fans of the Giants, White Sox, Mariners, Twins, Marlins, and Brewers could tell you...those threats are generally empty and the team stays.

We'd all love a productive, adult, threat-free conversation about building a new ballpark...but that just isn't in MLB's business plan.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bud Selig's Lasting Legacy: Competitive Inbalance

Many have pointed to taxpayer-funded stadiums as Bud Selig's lasting legacy on the MLB landscape.  But I'd add another legacy: competitive imbalance.

I've written before about how the influx of cash - and the league's inability to share it all among its franchises - has created an unfair system that rewards teams that happen to play in larger cities.

According to the LA Times' Bill Shaikin, Selig blamed Tropicana Field's revenues for failing to keep the Rays competitive.

Sorry Bud - for $35 million and potentially $25 million, respectively, Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon would have left the Rockies, Brewers, or Orioles too.

It's the system, stupid.

Success is not directly related to attendance, or the Rockies, Brewers, and Orioles would have been in a lot more playoff games in the last 20 years.

Selig simply hasn't fostered a culture of sharing revenues to preserve parity in MLB like we see in other leagues.  With somewhere around $9 billion in revenue this year, there is no shortage of profit in baseball - merely a shortage of sharing.

This is not the fault of Tampa Bay - this is the fault of Major League Baseball.

Why didn't the Buccaneers' struggles at the gate affect their payrolls?  And why are small-market basketball and hockey teams from San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Pittsburgh able to thrive?

It's the system, stupid.

Which is why Selig, Sternberg, and everyone else would rather focus the conversation back on the Tampa Bay taxpayers, (whom the league has been profiting off since the early 1990s when several teams used the market as leverage for new stadiums).

Shaikin describes Selig's response yesterday to a straightforward question:
Does Selig consider Tampa Bay a viable major league market?
He paused — a long pause — then declined to answer. He said he prefers to leave that judgment to the owner in each market.
Funny...I seem to remember a lot of opinions from Selig and MLB's richest owners about the Tampa Bay market...

It's the system, stupid.

A brief history of Selig and the Stadium Saga:

Yes, We Know...Sternberg Likes Montreal...but Fearmongering is Part of MLB Plan

I was completely unsuprised to see the New York Daily News' Bill Madden write about Stu Sternberg eyeing Montreal.  He writes whatever Bud Selig wants him to write about:
[T]here is growing belief that the economically depressed Tampa Bay area won’t support the Rays no matter where they play. And according to sources, Sternberg has had discussions with wealthy Wall Street associates about moving the Rays to Montreal, which has been without a major-league franchise since the Expos were transferred to Washington in 2005. As one major-league official put it to me Friday: “Say what you will about Montreal, but the Expos drew well over two million fans four times there in their heyday, while the Rays did that only once, their first year.
Of  course, Jonah Keri, baseball's preeminent expert on both Expos and Rays' history, summed it up nicely:
Expect a lot more talk of Montreal.  Not because the Rays are in danger of leaving Tampa Bay anytime soon...but because Sternberg will attempt to strike while the iron is hot.  It's one of MLB's Dirty Little Tricks.

The more fearmongering about the Rays moving to Montreal, the more willing Tampa Bay's elected officials will be to open up the tax coffers.  And the departure of Joe Maddon & Andrew Friedman will serve to distract from the big-picture problems of an MLB system where revenue-sharing is shunned.
     (hint: its working - local media fall for it every time)

Just remember, St. Pete currently has a ironclad contract with the team that prohibits it from leaving town before 2027. 

Just remember, MLB owners don't typically get taxpayer handouts without creating leverage.

And just remember, no matter how hard MLB tries, an old stadium and small payroll still haven't stopped teams like the Rays, A's, and now Royals from having some pretty awesome seasons.

A brief history of Rays-to-Montreal rumors:

Friday, October 24, 2014

Low Attendance Won't Cost Tampa Bay the Rays, but Played Factor in Friedman/Maddon Exits

It was nearly two years ago I wrote this:
Relocation and contraction are Bud Selig's pipe dreams, but the biggest nightmare possibility of inaction is the exodus of Sternberg, Matt Silverman, Andrew Friedman, and Joe Maddon.
Half the nightmare is here.

Joe Maddon's departure from the Rays today follows Andrew Friedman's last week.

Which reinforces my previous comments that the stadium/attendance frustrations weren't likely to cost Tampa Bay its team...but it was ultimately going to play a factor in the changing of a very valuable guard.

According to the Times, Maddon said he left for the money "and opportunity."  While the Rays were believed to have offered upwards of $3 million, Marc Topkin wrote he could possibly command up to $5 million a year.

A look back at Maddon's love/hate relationship with Tropicana Field:

Why Tampa's City Council Had to Reduce its Potential Stadium Funds

We seemingly have the conclusion to the City of Tampa vs. Hillsborough County tiff over TIFs...

The Tampa Bay Times' Richard Danielson reports Tampa's city council has agreed to a reduced share of future property taxes proceeds from CRA/TIF areas, including Downtown Tampa...which means there may not be as much money available for bonding projects, like a stadium:
Through 2043, the county estimates it will keep at least $280 million more in downtown redevelopment revenue than it would have kept under the terms of the deal it signed in the 1980s.

In other words, if the downtown CRA had been continued on its previous terms — all for the city, none for the county — officials say Tampa could have expected to receive an estimated $660 million over the next 28 years for redevelopment projects.

Instead, under the new deal, the county now will keep at least $280 million of that total.

That still leaves an estimated $380 million for CRA projects over a 28-year period.
On one hand, the county could easily decide to still contribute those dollars to a new stadium.

But on the other hand, once those future revenues are considered "general revenue" and could be spent on things like schools, roads, and law will be much harder, politically, for commissioners to redirect the dollars to a stadium.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rays TV Money - Like Stadium Funding - Depends on Leverage

A new post by Cork Gaines explores what the Rays stand to make on a new television contract...and echoes thoughts I've been posting on this site since 2010 about an impending windfall of TV money:
But that number may largely depend on whether SunSports is bidding against itself. Their price to keep the Rays obviously goes up if the team can get two different parties in the region to compete against each other. 

Sound familiar, politicians of Tampa Bay who want to build a new stadium?

Two Good Graphs, and Why the Bucs Need Twitter Help

In case you missed it, Cork Gaines has a good look at the Rays' TV ratings:
Then, I also noticed a cool Twitter graphic Meredyth Censullo posted, showing the somewhat limited reach of "Bucs Nation":
With 202,000 followers, the Bucs have the third-smallest Twitter following in the NFL; only Jacksonville and Arizona have fewer followers.

Of course, you should already be following tweets by @StadiumShadow!

Rays' New President Talks Stadium Saga

Brian Auld made his first public appearance as Rays' president this week, telling the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. the team wants to work with business leaders on a new park, according to the Tampa Bay Business Journal's Chris Wilkerson:
"Baseball can be a catalyst for economic development," Auld told the crowd of about 500 business leaders at Amalie Arena. He referenced cities like Baltimore and San Diego that have used stadium projects to enliven underdeveloped parts of the community.

He noted the 25-year history of Tropicana Field and acknowledged that the location of a new stadium – wherever it lands in Tampa Bay and whenever it gets built – will be the beneficiary of an economic spark.
[W]hen Auld said, "We are just getting started," it seemed to mean something else. It had less of a "think of the things we can accomplish together" feel to it and more of a "even though we've been talking about this for years, we are just getting started," feel.