Friday, September 19, 2014

Rays Donate Another $25,000 to Greenlight Pinellas

Maybe the Rays are warming up to the idea of staying in Pinellas County with the possibility of a transit referendum passing?

According to election records, the team has now made another $25,000 donation to the Friends of GreenLight campaign, fighting to get light rail and improved bus service to Pinellas County.  This blog has previously reported how the Rays, Bucs, and Lightning have all donated $25,000 to the campaign, which leaders on both sides of the bay have suggested would be a great step forward in solving the region's transit woes.

Earlier this week during a Twitter chat, Rays VP Matt Silverman said this:
Transit would certainly help the team regardless of where it were to play in the bay area.  However, with Hillsborough County lagging behind in transit planning, maybe the Rays are stepping up their commitment to Pinellas a little more?  It is, after all, where I've always said the team would end up long-term....

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Handicapping the Kriseman/Edwards Battle of the 'Burg

As the dust settles over Al Lang Stadium and the brouhaha that's still brewing between the city of St. Pete and its biggest businessman, Bill Edwards, the Times' Charlie Frago reports on the collapse of a proposed settlement over stadium control {link to Times' site}.
Edwards had pledged to put $1.5 million of his own money into upgrades at Al Lang last week in a deal touted by Kriseman as a "win-win" for the city and Edwards. The four-year agreement also would have given Edwards the right to host outdoor concerts at the stadium and end a century of baseball at the waterfront park. Edwards also would have dropped his lawsuit against the baseball commission over the condition of the aging waterfront stadium.
Shots were fired across the bow, and as SaintPetersblog writes, "war between (Edwards and Mayor Rick Kriseman) could be on the horizon":
It’s suspected one of the reasons this deal has fallen apart is that the Kriseman administration got a case of buyer’s remorse. The mayor has heard from some in the community, even those partial to Edwards, and the Tampa Bay Times editorial board that having him in control of Al Lang Stadium, Sundial, The Mahaffey Theater, and so many other key projects is putting too many of the city’s eggs in one basket.
SaintPetersblog points out tensions have been high in St. Pete ever since Kriseman not-so-subtlety took jabs at Edwards on the campaign trail (his mortgage company was hit with a monster FTC fine).

Additionally, this blog has gone into great depth several times since March about Edwards' push for a new, taxpayer-subsidized stadium.  Naturally, Kriseman has pushed back.

Behind-the-scenes, some of St. Pete's biggest power-brokers tell me that Edwards - along with his chief deputy, former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker - put the "bully" in "bully pulpit."  That's why Kriseman and some city councilmembers want to slow the flow of tax dollars to Edwards and his projects, like the Rowdies and Baywalk/Sundial.  Expect that one to boil over at some point.

Meanwhile, John Romano - honored as Best Columnist by Creative Loafing - summarizes the next great St. Pete stalemate well {link to Times' site}:
Like the Pier, Tropicana Field, the police station and the master downtown waterfront plan, we might be stuck in the weeds when it comes to the future of Al Lang.

That would be a shame, because the proposed deal with Edwards has promise. It moves the city away from the tired search for quality baseball events, and it put the success or failure of soccer squarely in Edwards' hands.
...
[I]t is up to Edwards to convince us a soccer stadium on the waterfront is worth the investment. Pro soccer has had too many false starts in the United States for St. Pete to commit either land or money prematurely.
...
Yet Edwards cannot mistake a baseball stadium's demise as a positive affirmation for soccer. If he believes in soccer's future, he needs to make the necessary investment.

And if he decides he wants to take his team and go somewhere else, that is his right, too. Somehow, I think St. Pete will survive.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Matt Silverman Takes to Twitter: Questions He Answered and Questions He Avoided

The Rays held a Twitter chat today with President Matt Silverman:
He actually fielded some tough questions:
You won't find many team presidents willing to step in front of screaming liners like that, but there were a few doosies not even Silverman wanted to touch:

Monday, September 15, 2014

What USF's Stadium Dreams Mean for Rays

In addition to all the issues I pointed out this weekend about a possible football stadium on USF's campus, there's one more: it would make things more difficult for a new Rays stadium in Tampa for a few reason:
  1. There are only so many tax dollars available for a stadium. If USF decided to build its own stadium, the school would undoubtedly ask Hillsborough County - and maybe also the city of Tampa - for contributions.  And the school's talented lobbyist, Mark Walsh, would court the state legislature.  But these are the same troughs the Rays would have to draw from.
  2. There are only so many private dollars available for a stadium. If USF is to make a stadium happen, it will have to lean on Tampa's biggest corporations for donations, sponsorships, and ticket commitments.  There aren't many big businesses in Tampa, and the Rays are hoping to one day leverage them into contributions too.
  3. If USF leaves Raymond James Stadium, the NFL will pressure for upgradesIt's only a matter of time before the NFL tells Hillsborough County a 100%-financed stadium isn't enough and "if you ever want another Super Bowl again," tens of millions of dollars of upgrades will be necessary.  Granted, this isn't a very good time to ask, but if USF ends its RayJay relationship for any reason, the NFL could pounce.
So a USF stadium would not be good news for the Rays.  Unless, of course, a county commissioner and one Tampa Trib reader get their wishes: a dual-use Rays stadium on USF's campus.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Paper Reports New Stadium Not Only Possible Use for Tampa Tax Dollars

This blog has long documented all the hungry mouths anxious for a cut of the public dollars supposedly available for a new Rays stadium.  In Downtown Tampa, there could be up to $150 million available.

But of course, there will be competition for the money, and Richard Danielson wrote this weekend {link to Times' site} that Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is in the mix:
The University of South Florida, now exploring the idea of moving its medical school downtown, could be another.

Buckhorn made clear he still likes the idea of a downtown ballpark, but the city has not committed its downtown development money to that project.

"I'm not going to spend seven years waiting for a stadium deal when we have an attractive option in hand," Buckhorn said in an interview at City Hall. "We're going to try to be as helpful as we can to make these things happen."
Vinik, if you remember, forewent tax dollars in 2011 and 2012 when he made approximately $45 million in upgrades to the Ice Palace Forum Amalie Arena.

But this is not the first time we've seen a "Tampa stadium money in jeopardy" kind of headline.

In fact, its similar to an old post on this site that theorized what Tampa could do with its downtown TIF revenue once the convention center is paid off in 2015:
[O]f course, if you don't spend the money on a stadium, it could go to a variety of other projects such as roads, the Forum, Channelside, or as County Commissioner Victor Crist suggests, renovated blighted neighborhoods.
But the debate, which comes after a similar one started in neighboring Pinellas County, drives home the real urgency in the Stadium Saga.  It's not a race to prevent the Rays from leaving town (their contract runs through 2027), but a race to claim available funds before some other project does. 
We should also keep in mind $100 million doesn't go very far in this equation and might simply be the cost of buying out St. Pete's contract a decade early
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is also quoted in Danielson's article echoing a point I've made countless times on this blog - that a stadium may not be highest-and-best use of downtown development opportunities (especially if the team doesn't plunk down the majority of the cost):
Asked which he thought would give downtown the bigger economic boost — a stadium or the medical school — Buckhorn didn't hesitate.

"In the long run, I think the med school," he said. "That's not to say we won't pursue a stadium given the opportunity with equal vigor."

But unlike a stadium, which would sit empty most days, a medical school would create "a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week environment that would attract thousands of young professionals" who would fill up apartment towers, shop and dine out downtown, Buckhorn said.
The Rays never comment on these kind of watercooler newspaper stories, but the more the topic appears on the front page, you can bet, the happier they are.

USF Looking Into Whether Replacing NFL Stadium with Campus Stadium Could Cure Ills

Even though students have all but stopped attending USF football games and the USF community in Tampa is making its disgust with the lowly program known on social media, the school is forging ahead with plans to explore the costs and benefits of a possible on-campus football stadium.

USF plays 20 minutes from campus at the Buccaneers' NFL-quality Raymond James Stadium, while its nearest rival, UCF is enjoying successes from its new on-campus stadium.

However, media outlets so often miss the fact that UCF's stadium has burdened its students with a huge amount of debt, which every single kid who takes a class pays via student fees.  UCF is just about the only big college that relies on its students to balance its budget more than USF, which will tack $1800 onto most students' bills by the time they graduate, even if they don't attend a single sporting event.

Willie Taggert is right: an on-campus stadium adds to atmosphere.  But its also in incredible risk.

It will definitely increase student attendance by thousands - if not tens of thousands.

But last year, UCF's budget listed $4.6 million on stadium bonds, maintenance, and rentals.  USF spent $877,372.  So that nearly $3M annual difference would have to be made up by students and private donations - another area USF has been woeful.

This is a good opportunity to revisit the problems wanna-be football powerhouses face:  enormous costs with limited returns as well as the soon-to-be-growing cost of D-I football
 
So even though USF's attendance may climb with an on-campus stadium, the construction could also handcuff the school - and students - for decades.  Difficult issues like these are the exact reason fundraising expert Mark Harlan was recently named the school's new AD.  Good luck, Mark.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Tropicana Field Re-Financed, Stadium Negotiations Back On

In case you missed it today,
St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman said he talked stadium with Matt Silverman recently and will talk again soon.  He's told Frago the two sides may finally write the next chapter in the Stadium Saga this off-season, and things have gone so well because "both sides have kept them private."

Last week, the mayor's office said talks were on-hold in recent months because the city was refinancing bonds on Tropicana Field.  But the Re-Fi is complete, and now the real fun can begin!

For-Profit Racing Company Buys St. Pete Women's Half Marathon, Then Scraps Race

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - A racing company that failed to fulfill its promises after taking public subsidies for its Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon series is now scrapping a second St. Petersburg race, just two years after purchasing it from a Tampa Bay-area company.

The San Diego-based Competitor Group, which purchased the locally owned-and-operated St. Pete Women's Half Marathon in 2012, notified registrants this week of the cancellation of the 2014 race, scheduled to be run on Nov. 23.

According to a message on the company's website, Competitor Group "had to change our plans for this year and refocus all of our resources and attention to building a completely new and unique series for 2015."  However, a company spokesperson tells 10 News the race is merely "postponed" so the group can re-launch the series under a new vice president.

Runners who already signed up for the St. Pete Women's Half Marathon or 5k race have the options of transferring registration to another Competitor Group race or receiving a full refund.

The cancellation comes a year after the company announced the cancellation of its St. Pete Rock n' Roll Half Marathon race after just two annual runnings, despite receiving tens of thousands of dollars in public subsidies.

10 News first questioned the Rock n' Roll projections in 2012.  The inaugural race ultimately failed to live up to its promise of 12,000-15,000 participants.  In 2013, the numbers were even worse.

The Competitor Group also failed to respond to numerous requests about its charitable claims this summer.  10 Investigates revealed how for-profit companies often fail to put significant dollars in the hands of the charities they claim to help.

The St. Pete Women's Half Marathon was to benefit the Edith Sanford Breast Cancer Foundation. The Scottsdale race, scheduled for Nov. 2, was also "postponed" until 2015.


Company spokesperson Dan Cruz said "no dates or markets have been decided upon for the 2015 series," but hoped to know by the end of the year.

"The Women’s Running brand is experiencing a time of tremendous growth on social media, digital traffic and increased print magazine subscriptions," Cruz added.  "Brand editor Jessie Sebor was recently promoted to Vice President, now overseeing the Women’s Running event series and it became apparent the races were falling behind the brand standards of everything Women’s Running has come to represent.

"Therefore we made the difficult decision to postpone two events in 2014 - Scottsdale and St. Pete – and look forward to coming back in 2015 with an innovative, bigger and better Women’s Running Series."

Numerous runners complained on the company's Facebook page about travel plans that could not be cancelled, but Cruz says "We’ll certainly cover the costs for anyone who booked non-refundable travel."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Stu Sternberg, Who Doesn't Like to Talk Payroll, Says Payroll Will Drop

Rays executives used to frequently say they didn't like to forecast payroll numbers because they didn't want their opponents to have the intel.  However, not a season goes by these days that we don't see some comment from Stu Sternberg or Andrew Friedman about the team's struggles to compete financially. 

Marc Topkin reports {link to Times' site}:
Sternberg said the 2015 payroll is "clearly going to be lower" than this year's franchise-record $80 million, and he pointed out — albeit a small sample size — that they have had the most success when they have spent least.

"We've run payroll into the ($40 million range) and gotten into the World Series and well into the playoffs, and our two highest payrolls … the years we stepped it up (percentage-wise) were 2009 and 2014, and those are the only two years we haven't played significant September baseball," Sternberg said. "That doesn't mean you're not going to go at it again if you can, but we spent some money on a couple of big signings, for us at least. It still comes down to performance for all 30-35 guys at least."
Sternberg echoes a point this blog made prior to the 2014 season, that talking payroll is largely pointless, since the team said they had "no flexibility" in payroll prior to 2010, when they won the AL East.  And after that season, Friedman acknowledged modest success and competitive teams may in fact be sustainable.

As I've always said, its a huge testament to the Rays' front office.  And of course, with more tools, Friedman would certainly craft a better product.

But talking payroll is also an excuse to bang the stadium drum another time.  Sternberg also told Topkin, "I don't know what'll dramatically push the attendance up. And I do believe that a number of years of really losing baseball, we're in jeopardy.''

What's ironic is, back in 2012, Sternberg said adding payroll showed "the faith we have in this market."  So is he implying a reduction in 2015 payroll indicates a reduction in faith?

Maybe, but he also said in 2012 the team was "sustaining [financial] losses," which we know isn't true.  So take everything he says publicly with a grain of salt.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

This is How Fables Become Facts

If you repeat an economic claim enough, people will start to believe you.

The tourism advocacy group "Visit Tallahassee" put out a report about the economic impact of FSU football.  That report went unchallenged.  Warchant.com reposted it.  Then statewide group "Florida TaxWatch" quoted it in a report of its own. 

Without getting into the nitty-gritty, I can dispel the report's credibility simply by pointing to its assertion that the FAU and FIU football programs are operating in the black.  If you regularly read this blog, you know students at those schools have to pay hefty subsidies to make up for all the money the programs lose.  So let's just assume there are plenty of other things the report isn't telling you.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Business Journal takes a closer look at the University of South Florida's Under Armour deal, which pays approximately $1 million in product and another $625,000 cash annually.

While the contract includes some potential bonus incentives, its nothing compared to some of the other deals profiled by sister publication Portland Business JournalCheck it out - there's a searchable database of contracts for the country's biggest football powerhouses, including FSU ($4.4M/yr from Nike) and UF ($2.3M/yr from Nike).