Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Vinik Finally Puts Channelside Bay Plaza Drama Behind Him

From Richard Mullins at the Tampa Tribune, Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik will pay more than $7.1 million (but we don't know how much more) for Channelside Bay Plaza:
Vinik, officials with Port Tampa Bay and executives with the Liberty Group/Convergent Capital pair of developers all agreed over the weekend to a new legal settlement of their issues, just hours before a judge was scheduled to rule on the matter Monday. The deal now gives a green light to Vinik’s long-term hopes and dreams to remake the entire neighborhood into a gleaming mixed-use entertainment and shopping district around the Forum.
As for what happens next, Vinik’s representatives have been especially quiet about their specific plans for Channelside, but there have been some hints of where they intend to take the center.
During a June 30 meeting before the port’s governing board, Lightning Chief Executive Officer Tod Leiweke described their general hopes to make better connections around the neighborhood spanning from Florida Avenue to the cruise ship terminal.
That presentation included watercolor artistic renderings of the area it called “Channelside Live” with glass-walled bridges between parking garages, and back-lit, window-like facades of buildings, altogether giving the area the feel of an entertainment district in the vein of Downtown Disney or Universal City Walk.
Let the Rays stadium rumors continue!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Kriseman to Throw Out First Pitch

According to the calendar of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, the man who has reportedly given Rays' owner Stu Sternberg hope in recent months, will throw out the first pitch at next Saturday's game (7/26).

It will end a streak of more than four years without a first pitch from St. Pete's mayor (Bill Foster had the honor on July 10, 2010).

In those four years, Bob Buckhorn has thrown out a Rays' first pitch twice (even though the stadium resides in St. Pete).

What's the over/under on how many Stadium Saga questions Kriseman will field next week?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Selig Thinks Baseball Can Work in Tampa Bay...Maybe Because it's Currently Working in Tampa Bay?

In his annual All-Star Weekend press avail, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig reminded us he is still un-intervening in the Rays' Stadium Saga {link to Times' site}:
"It's obvious they need a new stadium," Selig said. "It's no secret. … All you have to do is look at the daily attendance figures, the attendance figure to date this year, … and you can see what they need."

Despite MLB-worst attendance — an average of 16,902 that is barely half of the MLB average (30,028), Selig said, "The demographics in the market are good, I have no question about that."

Asked later if that meant he felt that baseball can work in the market, he told the Tampa Bay Times, "I'm sure it can, but talk to Stu Sternberg."
For what its worth, Sternberg emailed the Times later and said he was optimistic of the progress with Mayor Rick Kriseman at the helm of St. Pete.

Selig also said Montreal was an "excellent candidate" to land another MLB team sometime, but wouldn't elaborate.  Why?

Because, of course, he's confident baseball can work in Tampa Bay, as long as the Rays get a new stadium!

My response would be, "is baseball working in Tampa Bay right now?"  Because the team is turning a profit, it's usually competitive, and its TV ratings are high enough the team will get a huge windfall in 2017....it would seem to be working.

So then, Mr. Commissioner, at what point would baseball in Tampa Bay stop working without a new stadium?  Are we talking 2015 or 2025?  Because that's a big difference to the taxpayers being asked to figure it out and shell out the cash.

Anyway, the latest headlines are not worth getting worked up about - they're really just fodder for sports talk guys so they can make bold statements like "it is time to quit playing around and address the Rays stadium issue once and for all" because "Montreal could be back in the baseball business by 2027."

Because we only have 13 years to solve this problem!!!

Terrible Journalism = Letting Sports Fans (or Teams) Make Economic Claims

A Cleveland politician said LeBron James' return would mean $500 million a year to the city.  And for some reason, Bloomberg printed it.

The scary thing is this number will be repeated enough that some gullible folks will believe it.  But if you want real economist opinions, I point you to The Sports Economist blog, which writes, "The Worst Economic Impact Estimate Ever?"
Even before getting into the more serious economic problems with the study, let’s look at the raw data itself. With a metropolitan area population of 2.1 million, a $500 million impact on the area would mean that every single man, woman and child the region will be engaging in an average of $240 in Caviliers related spending every year for the rest of James’ career. Possible, but unlikely.
The bigger problem with Fitzgerald’s claim is that it falls prey to one of the most serious fallacies in economic impact analysis: the failure to account for the substitution effect. Any money spent by local residents at Cavs games is money not spent elsewhere in the local economy. The extra 150,000 fans that will be going to watch LeBron next year are 150,000 less people going out to nightclubs, restaurants, and theaters. The higher ticket prices that fans will be paying leaves less disposable income to spend on Indians or Browns games, or movie tickets, or bowling, or free-style skydiving, or whatever it is that Clevelanders would do, and have been doing, without being able to watch LeBron win games. Similarly, every kid in Cleveland will be getting a LeBron jersey for Christmas or Hanukkah this winter but this doesn’t mean they will be getting more presents, just different presents. The jersey manufacturers’ gains are equally matched by losses for the makers of ugly sweaters.
If you needed more analysis, there's always Field of Schemes:
Last year the Cavs sold 710,000 tickets, and had 132,000 go unsold. Even if the team were, let’s say, to double ticket prices next year, each of those 132,000 new attendees would have to spend $3560 apiece on their visit to a game in order to generate $500 million in economic activity.
A little piece of Bloomberg's credibility died with the publishing of that piece.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rays Attendance Watch: All-Star Edition

For those of you keeping score at home, the Rays enter the 2014 All-Star Break with the league's worst attendance mark, 16,902 fans per game.  That represents an 858-fan drop from last year's mark at the very same point.

The good folks at Tampa Bay Baseball Market have been doing a good job at tracking attendance this year, which includes all of the minor league teams too:
But for the Rays, there's not a ton of good news.  They still have a number of games against the Red Sox and Yankees remaining, but with the team struggling to stay out of last place, it's unlikely they'll get out of the MLB cellar in attendance.

Brilliant Observations on the Stadium Saga

Turns out Opening Day isn't the only day you can compare Tropicana Field to the rest of the "Joneses."

This morning's must-read column in the Tampa Tribune is courtesy of Joe Brown, who contends Minneapolis' Target Field offers lessons for baseball fans and taxpayers alike:
Target Field emblematizes the fantasy of the owner and some fans of the Tampa Bay Rays: moving out of a dome into a new, outdoor, downtown ballpark. The reality, however, doesn’t always produce the imagined results.   
Brown, who also recently heralded Pinellas County's decision to rethink event subsidies, follows the lead of Trib columnist Joe Henderson, who has asked intelligent questions about the Stadium Saga.

Brown doesn't argue against a new stadium, he merely cautions (since some fans/taxpayers need a reminder) that a half-billion-dollar "investment" in a private team may not be necessary.  He also echoes many points made in this blog over the years.

New stadiums not only have little impact on performance; they also typically see attendance drop back close to old stadium-levels:
Although Target Field is a huge upgrade from the Metrodome (what wouldn’t be?), it has not improved the fortunes of the Twins on the field. The team has finished below .500 the past three seasons there. Additionally, attendance there has gone down every year since it first opened.
It’s part of what urbandictionary.com calls “new car syndrome,” where you want to wash your new vehicle every day. Once the new-car smell fades, however, not so much.

According to MLB attendance figures going into this past weekend, Target Field ranks 18th, but some other new ballparks are doing worse: the Mets’ Citi Field (20th), the Padres’ Petco Park (21st), the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field (22nd), the Mariners’ Safeco Field (24th), the Astros’ Minute Maid Park (25th), and the Miami Marlins’ new park (27th). The Rays, in case you didn’t know, are dead last at 30th.
And, TV dollars are far more important than butts-in-seats to MLB teams these days:
Recent trends in the business of baseball show that a local cable TV deal may be more important to a franchise’s profit than a new ballpark. Forbes magazine estimates that with the new, richer deals signed by many teams, local television revenue could exceed $1.5 billion in 2015.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, playing in the second oldest park in the National League, had their value soar by hundreds of millions because of a 25-year deal the team signed with Time Warner Cable that will pay an estimated $6 billion. It also allowed them to have the league’s highest payroll.

The Rays’ deal with SunSports, which pays the team $20 million a year, expires in 2016. Ratings have been some of the best in baseball the last three years, which bodes well for them when they negotiate a new contract. In this age of DVRs, networks are hungry for live, DVR-proof programming. I don’t know when the Rays will get a new ballpark, but I can almost guarantee my cable bill will go up in a few years.
Finally, Brown offers some balance, acknowledging a new ballpark "doesn't hurt."  But its also not as important as the talent in the front office:
Would Rays attendance improve with a new ballpark? Maybe, but what has happened in other cities proves it would likely be short-lived. To paraphrase the famous quote from the movie Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come — for a while.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fact-Checking Spartan Race's Charity Claims

Launched a big project last night on WTSP.com - months after Spartan Race came to Tampa, home of U.S. Special Operations Command, we checked their promises of charitable donations for local military non-profits.  The findings were not impressive in any sense of the word.

Worth five minutes of your viewing time, or 10 minutes of your reading time.

For-profit companies are well within their right to charge whatever they'd like and profit however they'd like.  But if they are going to make claims about charitable donations or economic claims, they should be able to back them up.

As a side note, the Competitor Group, which ran the ill-fated, but well-subsidized St. Pete Rock n Roll Half Marathon, failed to return numerous requests for how much their one remaining St. Pete half-marathon donated to charity.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Vinik, Port Accused of Channelside Collusion

No sooner had I suggested the legal potholes of a Tampa Port Authority-approved Jeff Vinik bid for Channelside Bay Plaza, did the losing party, Liberty Channelside LLC, file a motion in court claiming collusion.  This, according to the reporting of Jamal Thalji {link to Times' site}:
Liberty is trying to scuttle Vinik's winning bid while also proposing a new deal to the judge overseeing the Channelside auction: Liberty offered $10 million for the fading downtown Tampa mall.

Liberty will present its case to U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Sontchi on July 15. The judge is handling the liquidation of Channelside's owner, the Irish Bank Resolution Corp., and still has to approve Vinik's winning bid.

Even before the auction started, Liberty indicated that it would challenge the result. Liberty attended the auction in New York but didn't make a bid. It made the $10 million offer in Tuesday's court filing.

Where Could the A's (and thus, the Rays) Relocate?

Field of Scheme's Neil deMause writes for Sports on Earth today that the A's can leave Oakland as of 2018, but have few options for relocation.  An excerpt:
Portland, Charlotte, San Antonio, Sacramento, etc.: Every time there's an MLB team unhappy with its current situation, speculation gears up around what could be called the MLB Lite cities, those big enough to be on the cusp of big-league status without ever having landed an MLB team...The problem with all these cities, aside from none having stadium plans that are any further along than Oakland's, is that they're relatively puny by MLB standards. Sacramento, at number No. 20 among U.S. cities, is the largest TV market of the lot, with Portland (No. 22), Charlotte (No. 25), and San Antonio (No. 36) trailing behind. (And Sacramento looks less promising when you consider that its NBA franchise is limiting the number of luxury suites at its new arena because "we have zero Fortune 1000 companies.") Any of these cities could possibly be a marginal baseball market -- the two smallest current MLB markets are Milwaukee (No. 34) and Cincinnati (No. 35) -- but they all pale in comparison beside even a slice of the Bay Area, which nearly has more TV households than Sacramento and Portland combined.
Montreal: Since the move of the Expos to Washington in 2005, there has been only one major North American market without a major-league baseball team, and that's Montreal, which if it were in the U.S. would be ahead of Seattle and Minneapolis. And the city did nearly sell out two exhibition games between the Jays and Mets this March, and Warren Cromartie is really really excited about getting a team back someday. Unfortunately, MLB deliberately slammed the door on Montreal when it moved the Expos, plus the city also has probably the only stadium standing that Lew Wolff would rather play in less than the Oakland Coliseum, and attempts to build a new one for the Expos went nowhere fast. Montreal should get another baseball team eventually, but it's hardly a ready-made move threat for a team like the A's.

New York: Yes, now we're getting silly. But it's worth pointing out: If you're going to consider San Jose as a place for the A's to move, why not New York City as well, which similarly has no stadium and is in the designated territory of another team, but which is absolutely bursting with rich people. If San Jose's lawsuit really does succeed in tearing down MLB control over franchise territories -- and not just in getting MLB owners to let the A's move to the South Bay in exchange for dropping the suit before things get to that point, which seems slightly more possible -- then there would be nothing stopping Wolff from heading east and building himself a stadium in Williamsburg, at least if half a dozen other teams didn't get there first.
A few good points from deMause:
  1. Just as it may be in MLB's best interest to pay off the Giants so the A's can go to San Jose, it may be one day in the league's best interest to pay off the Yankees and Mets so a third team can go to NY/NJ.
  2. Montreal remains perhaps the most likely candidate for the "next" relocation, whether it be the A's or the Rays...although:
  3. There are still no good relocation options for MLB teams right now.  Good news for Rays fans in Tampa Bay....although:
  4. None of this will prevent franchise owners from still threatening to move.  Why?  Because it works.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Pinellas County Examines Special Event Handouts

This week, the Pinellas County Tourism Development Council (TDC) took a step in the right direction by putting a little more scrutiny on claims of "beds-in-heads" for the events that get tourist tax dollars each year.  The Trib's Josh Boatwright reports:
The tourism council on Wednesday approved $982,500 for eight events, which reported drawing more than 440,000 people and giving their host cities exposure on national television.

Applications for a science fair and a music festival in St. Petersburg were rejected because both fell below the baselines of 15,000 attendees or 5,000 hotel room nights.

The county's biggest so-called elite event, the Honda Grand Prix, was approved for $250,000 after reporting attendance of 130,000 people and more than 27,000 hotel nights during the IndyCar race, held in March.

The new requirement helps county officials better evaluate the economic benefit of sponsoring these events, St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau Director D.T. Minich said.

"I think it was more of just a verification that the numbers were there - that they had the attendance or the room nights that qualified them," Minich said.
But sadly, the system is still steeped in the honor system:
Applicants were required to explain how they tabulated attendance, but it's still difficult to independently verify the numbers because they are self-reported, Minich said.
Regardless, the more scrutiny, the better.  Especially after this blog showed how the short-lived St. Pete Rock n' Roll Half Marathon failed to deliver on its tourism promises, but still got to keep the tax dollars.