Thursday, August 27, 2015

Taxpayers on Hook for Tigers Spring Training Overruns

Remember the $37 million Lakeland spring training renovations that were getting funded 100% by taxpayers?  Well, they still are.  It's just going to cost a lot more.

The Lakeland Ledger reports soil problems will add indefinite costs - and delays - to the project:
Under the terms of the contract, unexpected costs do not relieve either side of their obligations, though it expressly calls for mediation or renegotiation if the terms cannot be fulfilled.
Mayor Howard Wiggs said the project will hit its (2016 & 2017) deadlines.
The additional costs appear to be on the shoulders of the city and for those of you counting at home, the Tigers' share of Tigertown upgrades has now climbed all the way up to zero.

At least they're not the Orioles, who are already seeking more public money to upgrade the "next-generation" Camden Yards....

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Gators Having to Groupon

The Gators are turning to...well, not Groupon, but the deal-site's competitor, Living Social, to help fill seats at The Swamp.  Two $25 tickets to the New Mexico State or FAU games for $39.

While it's not a firesale, it's another sign the University of Florida (and other universities) are experiencing the same issue a lot of NFL and MLB teams are facing: competition from the living room.

I wrote about it at UF in 2013, and USA TODAY is among the national outlets doing some good work on the topic more recently.

But I'm hoping the silver lining in the bursting of the attendance bubble is a more affordable ticket for the sports fan.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What Tonight's St. Pete Election Results Mean to the Rays

No big surprises in St. Petersburg tonight, as the two frontrunners to replace city councilman Wengay Newton both advanced to a November run-off.  Newton's brother, Will, garnered 35% of the vote, second only to Lisa Wheeler-Brown's 37%.  There were five total candidates listed in the primary.

Depending how you view the Stadium Saga, Wengay Newton has been the top Rays obstructionist or St. Pete protectionist in his eight years on council, refusing to consider any of the deals that would have allowed the team to look at stadium sites in Tampa.

His brother, Will, has more or less echoed Wengay's stance, saying the city at least needs better compensation before it considers amending its deal with the Rays, which locks the team into Tropicana Field until 2027.

But Wheeler-Brown won the endorsements of both papers, in part to her early support for Mayor Kriseman's negotiated deal that would let the Rays leave the Trop early for payments to the city likely totaling less than $2 million per year.

ALSO READ: In Trying to Advance Interests, Newspapers May Do Opposite on Rays Stadium

The Wheeler-Brown/Newton showdown gets more interesting now, however, as the whole city will be able to vote in the run-off...not just South St. Pete, which decided the D7 primary.

Less than two months until we see where the rest of St. Petersburg stands on the issue(s)...and whether the Rays will continue to stick to their promise of not getting involved

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Franchise Owners Still Rich; Taxpayers Still Supporting Them

I've enjoyed reading Joe Brown's occasional stadium columns in the Tampa Tribune, like today's "Taxpayers being held for no gain":
The NFL is awash in money from its television contracts, and with a salary cap it’s nearly impossible for a team to lose money, even if no one shows up at home games. Still, some owners want to fleece taxpayers for newer stadiums to host games that most never will go to see.

In football terms, owners are prolific scorers while taxpayers are being held for no gain. On second thought, being sacked for a loss might be more appropriate.
It's not a new topic, but it's one worth printing in Tampa Bay newspapers every single day.

That's because the Tampa Sports Authority is still negotiating with the Buccaneers on how many of your tax dollars they'll get for Raymond James Stadium improvements.

Hopefully you've already read "The Glazers' Sweetheart Deal Keeps Getting Sweeter."

Here's another story you should bookmark and read too: "Why Taxpayers Are Getting Shut Out Of Stadium Debates."  It's about the way leagues and politicians work together to avoid putting half-billion-dollar expenditures before the voters.

It's a real possibility, Tampa Bay - Commissioner Ken Hagan has already pointed to the Braves' super-fast, secret, not-so-great, potentially illegal stadium deal with Cobb County as a model deal Hillsborough County could follow.

And in case you had sympathy for those baseball owners whose franchises are worth half of what their NFL counterparts' franchises are worth....they're about to top $10 billion in revenue too.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Rays Attendance Watch: August 11 Edition

The Tampa Tribuine's Chris O'Donnell wrote this morning, "maybe Tropicana Field isn’t so hard to get to after all."

His front-page story about the Rays' recent attendance surge, attributes the team's recent uptick to a number of factors, but primarily the free "honor pass" given to active and veteran servicemembers:
Other factors are also likely bumping up crowds at the Trop such as cabin fever following the 11-day deluge of Tampa Bay that eased up a little for last weekend’s series against the Mets.
Attendance also has risen since the end of the Lightning’s playoff run to the Stanley Cup, and the team typically sees bigger crowds during July and August when school is out, said Michael Lortz, a freelance market analyst and author of the Tampa Bay Baseball Market blog.

Filling more empty seats makes economic sense for the Rays even if that means giving away tickets, said John Vrooman, a Vanderbilt University sports economist.

More fans coming through the turnstiles results in only marginal cost increases for the Rays such as extra turnstile operators or security staff. But the extra fans will significantly boost sales of concessions and parking revenue as well as improving the atmosphere inside the stadium.
Vrooman told O'Donnell the Rays can still clear $17.50 per fan from concessions, parking, and other revenues, even if the ticket was given away for free.

Right now, the team's attendance sits at 15,902 fans per game - an 11% drop from the same time last year.  But it's an 11% increase from the end of the Stanley Cup Playoffs two months ago:

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Rays Flirtations with Hillsborough Continue

Rays President Brian Auld, who said two weeks ago said the Rays wouldn't get involved in political races, dropped by Hillsborough County's regular commission meeting today to talk about the team's successful new "Honor Pass" program for military servicemembers and veterans.

But the Times' Steve Contorno reports the discussions didn't stop there, of course:
“The team’s performance and efforts for a new stadium are well documented but I want to thank you for your commitment to improving the quality of life for our community,” (Commissioner Ken) Hagan said. “The Rays organization is certainly a model corporate citizen, and I close by saying: Look forward to seeing you here in the not too distant future.” 
(Auld later said) he has met with “all the candidates who have asked to meet with me” in the race to replace St. Petersburg City Councilman Wengay Newton, an opponent of a deal that would allow the Rays to search for a new stadium in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and a key swing vote. Those candidates are Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Aaron Sharpe, he said.

“We've had pleasant conversations but as I've said before the Rays don't elect city councilmembers, the citizens of St. Petersburg do and we don't want to exert an undue influence on that process," Auld said.
ALSO READ: Hillsborough Stadium Deal for Rays Could Mirror Cobb Co's Secret, Not-So-Great, Potentially-Illegal Deal for Braves
ALSO READ: Hagan: "Hillsborough County isn't going to build it and taxpayer won't be asked to pay for it."

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The Rich (MLB Owners) Keep Getting Richer

Maury Brown, now writing for Field of Green (not to be confused with Field of Schemes), writes today that MLB owners are getting richer and richer thanks to massive new revenue streams:
Revenues from television and digital media rights are flowing into Major League Baseball at a rate that is far outpacing how much is getting spent on players. Sure, there’s the occasional mega-contract (stand up and take a bow, you 13-year, $325 million contact that the Miami Marlins and Giancarlo Stanton reached late last year), but in the overall, the amount of revenues going to player salaries has dropped dramatically over the years, from 56 percent of revenues in 2002 down to just 38 percent last year.

And this downward trend will certainly be seen again this year as new revenue sources are coming into MLB. Yesterday, a media rights deal that sees MLB Advanced Media purchasing content from the NHL will cost MLBAM $100 million annually for six years, but in the end that deal will be the start of something that will involve billions more flowing back to MLB when they spin-off a new media company called BAM Tech.
Continue reading here.

ALSO READ: Forbes estimates Rays worth $625 million

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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Times: We Want Rays to Look in Tampa, but Pinellas Should Raise Taxes Now Anyway Just in Case

Never missing an opportunity to push for a new taxpayer-funded Rays stadium, the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board opined this weekend that Pinellas County should increase its tax on hotel and resort guests...but not spend it on anything in particular.

"The emphasis should be on remaining flexible rather than on locking in specific allocations of the revenue for tourism advertising and construction projects," the board wrote, all in an effort to remain in position to help fund a new Rays stadium in Pinellas County.

Of course, the paper has also advocated moving the Rays to Hillsborough County....but heck, if Pinellas County is newly-eligible to raise taxes on tourists, what other option would there be?  Besides not raising taxes, of course...

ALSO READ: In Trying to Advance Interests, Newspapers May Do Opposite on Rays Stadium

While the Times may be advocating county leaders keep their options open, it is also continuing to push the region into a potential bidding war over the Rays' services, which would only serve to provide the team more leverage over taxpayers.  But by now, we all know that's the end game here anyway, right?

To the editorial board's credit, the Times has maintained its position that Pinellas County should save up its pennies for a possible Rays stadium.  But on the other hand, it has all-but-ceased its one-time push for the Rays to open their books and actually show a financial need for public help.

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But fear not - even if Pinellas doesn't fund a new Rays stadium, the newspaper suggests plenty of other private businesses would be eager for taxpayer handouts, "including a new spring training home for the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin and a soccer stadium for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in St. Petersburg."

Maybe they missed what happened in Orlando?  Or Boston?

UPDATE 8/4: Pinellas Commissioners voted 5-2 to increase the bed tax {link to Times' site}, but without any limits or direction on what it can be spent on.

A brief history of Times editorials on the Stadium Saga:
The history goes further back than that, but for a good synopsis, watch my 2010 piece on newspapers cheerleading for new stadium projects.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Bass Pro Got Your Money; Why Shouldn't a Baseball Team?

In case you missed it, good column in today's Trib from Joe Brown, opining that the monster crowd at yesterday's Bass Pro Shop demonstrates Hillsborough County probably didn't need to give the private sector $6 million to make it happen.

It's a topic I delved into quite a bit in 2013, writing the Rays are just like Bass Pro: a private business that creates the exact kind of job the county admits it shouldn't be subsidizing...yet it does anyway:
Bass Pro isn't all that different from a pro sports team: a big-time retail business that makes hard-to-prove and potentially misleading claims about its value as a tourist attraction.   In fact, a month ago...Rays' vice president Michael Kalt identified the team as a "retail business" that had trouble getting people to drive more than 30 minutes to visit.
Then, I asked if commissioners would also just roll over for the Rays the way they did for Bass Pro:
On Wednesday, the Hillsborough County Commission heard every argument imaginable against public subsidies for a new Bass Pro Shops complex.  Then they asked Bass Pro to more or less "open its books" and reveal its annual sales numbers.  And promptly after Bass Pro said "no," commissions approved the $6+ million subsidy anyway, 6 votes to 1.
After all, why should a private business open its books to demonstrate need, ROI, or job creation when elected officials could just take their word for it?

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Single Most-Important Man in the StadiumSaga is Retiring

The city of St. Petersburg will say goodbye to a legend this week: city attorney John Wolfe, better known as The Man Who Drafted the Ironclad Agreement with the Rays.

So how important is this man to the 8-year-long (and counting) stadium stalemate?  Not only does MLB's commissioner praise the city's contract, but so does the Sultan of Subsidies, Neil deMause!
Wolfe was also the steady force in city hall advising against letting Rays look in Tampa more than a decade before their contract expires in 2027, for fear it would only weaken region's leverage to keep team.

So his departure is welcomed by many frustrated Rays fans in Tampa...but it's not clear if much will change in the Stadium Saga.  Wolfe's mentee, Jackie Kovilaritch, takes over as the city's top attorney.

She's no stranger to Rays discussions; Mayor Rick Kriseman tasked her - not Wolfe - with drafting the tricky Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) he negotiated last fall with the team.  And numerous attorneys I spoke with complimented her handiwork, including Wolfe:

So while it's a new day in St. Pete, it may not necessarily translate into a new chapter in the Stadium Saga.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Rays Announce Big Radio Ratings; Contract Extension

According to an afternoon Rays press release, radio ratings are up substantially from 2014:
The Tampa Bay Rays and iHeart Media today announced a multi-year extension that will keep game broadcasts on WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM. The Rays and iHeart Media have partnered for all 18 seasons of Rays baseball. 

“We are very excited about the extension of our partnership with the Rays,” said Sam Nein, iHeart Media Market President. “We have been the Radio home for the Rays since game one when Wilson Alvarez threw out the first pitch in the team’s history and we look forward to being with the team and part of many more historic moments in the years ahead!”

“The Rays and iHeart Media have enjoyed a terrific, long standing relationship,” said Rays Senior Director of Broadcasting Larry McCabe. “Our Rays Radio flagship station delivers consistent coverage and continuous promotion for our games that Rays fans enjoy. We’re also excited to introduce new FM listening opportunities during the second half of the 2015 season.”

Beginning in early August, Rays play-by-play will also be available for fans on Thunder FM for all Friday, Saturday and Sunday games.

In addition, the team released Nielsen Audio ratings for games through mid-June that showed a marked increase compared to the same period for 2014. Ratings have increased 27 percent for adults 18 and older, 21 percent for persons 6 and older and 51 percent among women listeners.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Top Tweets from Brian Auld's Tiger Bay Appearance

Rays President Brian Auld spoke to St. Pete's non-partisan political club, Tiger Bay, today and had a few interesting responses. Especially the last one:

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New Rays Stadium Verse, Same as the First

Add another chapter to the eight-year-long Stadium Saga that will probably mean very little in the long-run: St. Pete's council approved a land study of the Tropicana Field site to either "show the Rays what advantages exist within Tropicana Field" or "tell us a bunch of things we already know,” depending which councilmember you ask.

Mayor Kriseman and the Rays still have to sign-off on the study, however, since the $125,000 cost would be split between the team and the city.

Also in "didn't this already happen?" news, the Times endorsed Lisa Brown-Wheeler for St. Pete's pivotal D7 council seat.

ALSO READ: In Trying to Advance Their Interests, Newspapers May Do Opposite on Rays Stadium

I wrote in May the Times would endorse "the first candidate to support the mayor's deal with the Rays" and sure enough, they did.  But the question remains if it will matter since most of the paper's readers can't vote in the St. Pete municipal elections.  Allowing the Rays to look in Tampa isn't the most popular stance in St. Pete.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

In Trying to Advance Their Interests, Newspapers May Do Opposite on Rays Stadium

Flashback to a May post on this blog:
It's pretty much guaranteed the first candidate to support the mayor's deal with the Rays (when {Wengay} Newton would not) would a shoo-in for both the endorsement of the Times and potential political muscle of the Rays.

That may explain why Lisa Wheeler Brown, the only candidate in District 7 who has filed a campaign report so far, said 
she would likely support the mayor's lead on the issue

Even though St. Petersburg is a complicated city with nearly a billion-dollar budget, the newspapers have, of course, made the upcoming August city council elections about a single issue: the Rays.

The five-way District 7 race will likely determine if the mayor gets his necessary fifth vote to allow the Rays to explore stadium sites outside of St. Pete, or whether the proposal continues to fail along 4-4 lines.  Chasing endorsements along the campaign trail, four out of the five candidates have now said they'd approve the mayor's compromise.

The Times hasn't released its endorsements yet (Wheeler-Brown is a virtual lock), but the Trib printed one endorsement today:
Lisa Wheeler-Brown, a community activist and past president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations, says she will support a deal like the one Kriseman negotiated. In contrast, Winthrop “Will” Newton, a retired firefighter and brother of Wengay Newton, says the deal Kriseman struck with the Rays wasn’t good enough.
Making the whole endorsement about a single $25 million-or-so dispute between the city and a single business entity kind of undermines the brains and capability of Wheeler-Brown, who is capable of a much more comprehensive undertaking.

But it also may not do her any favors in St. Petersburg, where voters are currently enjoying the services of the Rays and may not want to let them leave.  Remember, most readers of the Tampa Tribune can't vote in city elections.

In fact, a recent poll showed the frontrunner in District 7 is the guy who's raised a paltry $1,250, Will Newton, who happens to be the only candidate opposed to the Rays compromise as currently proposed.
We'll see if the Rays follow the strategy I laid out in March: influencing the election with hard or soft political money
We'll also see if the newspapers ever write an editorial suggesting the Rays simply cough up a few million more dollars a year (the price of a middle reliever) to break the stalemate and move on with their search.

UPDATE: Florida Politics reports councilman Steve Kornell, who also said it would take more money to get a "yes" vote out of him on the stadium deal, issued his endorsement or Will Newton.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Glazers' Sweetheart Deal Keeps Getting Sweeter

You know that "sweetheart deal" the Bucs got at Raymond James Stadium, where they basically pay for nothing and keep all the profits?  The Times' Rick Stroud reports it's about to get better as the county will spent $25 million more to upgrade the place "as a part of a bid that landed the January 2017 college football title game for Tampa."

More significant upgrades are still on the table, however, as the Bucs and Tampa Sports Authority (TSA) are also dangling the "Super Bowl" carrot over taxpayers, since you know, you can't get those big community "benefits" without paying the NFL's ransom upgrade demands first.  And clearly, Super Bowls demand far more from a facility than the NCAA championship game would.

But don't worry, taxpayers will totally benefit from RayJay's new scoreboards and flat screens and seat cushions since you know, otherwise, Raymond James Stadium wouldn't be able to attract top-notch events to Tampa. 

Oh wait, what's that you say?  Taylor Swift tickets are selling like hotcakes for the October RayJay show?  Even without those upgrades?

Maybe Hillsborough County could get great economic returns from an unrenovated Raymond James Stadium after all!

Oh wait, what's that you say? The first $2 million of profit from the Swift concert - and 50% of everything after that - goes to the Glazers even though a concert has nothing to do with football?

That is one helluva sweetheart deal
But don't worry, elected leaders swear it'll never happen again...

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