Sunday, February 7, 2016

Well, at Least Super Bowls aren't as Expensive as the Olympics!

If you ask economists, Super Bowls can bring anywhere from significant to negative economic impact to a region.  If you ask me, they can have a small-to-moderate impact (nowhere near what the league claims) to some business owners for the 50,000-or-so out-of-towners they bring to your local hotels and restaurants.

The problem is, if you remember this outstanding journalism from the Star-Tribune, the NFL expects some damn much from local communities that host the game, that many of the public benefits of the game are negated by the borderline-absurd costs.

For a great summary, check out Neil deMause's "Super Bowl Windfall Myth."   Or the Wall Street Journal.  We also saw similar disappointments from some in Dallas, New York, Glendale, etc.

The Glendale case is particularly interesting, because it wasn't so much that there wasn't positive economic impact; it's that Phoenix captured it all, while Glendale (45min away) paid for the events!

That's why I was actually happy to see the story last week of San Francisco was reimbursing Santa Clara for approx. $4.8 million in Super Bowl 50 costs.

Tampa Bay actually saw a similar cooperation during the RNC, where Tampa shared some of the federal security dollars with St. Petersburg for an event at The Trop.  Maybe - just maybe - it would be possible for a regional collaboration on something baseball-related too, in order to minimize any negative financial impact across a larger pool of people????   (I won't hold my breath)

Anyway, if you're looking for a little more reading before tonight's billion-dollar commercial, here are some of this blog's other top Super Bowl posts over the years:






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Saturday, February 6, 2016

The One Thing Missing From Yesterday's Rays Conversation in Tampa

It was no coincidence the Rays released their list of stadium-search critieria Thursday night, on the eve of their first official meeting with Hillsborough County officials; the document set the tone for Friday morning's meeting.

According to the Times, the parties stuck to script and spent a few hours reviewing what the document means for the team's search moving forward.  By all reports, it was a productive conversation about building a truly iconic new ballpark that revolutionizes the stadium experience, much as Camden Yards did nearly 25 years ago.

But the conversation reportedly did not include how to finance a new stadium. The Rays' dictated the agenda and VP Melanie Lenz was quoted as saying, "It's really hard to talk about financing a project that we don't know what it's going to look like and we don't know where it's going to be."

Well, I disagreed:
We've all searched for a new home or apartment, right? Or a car? Or a boat?

Isn't "what's my budget" one of the very first things you discuss?

Except, the Rays don't want it to be. As the Times' editorial board writes this morning, "this is the fun part." This is the part where the team sells a grand vision with lots of pretty pictures.

It's also the part where the team hopes the region forgets $300M subsidizing a pro sports team may not be the best use of its tax dollars.

The editorial makes some good points, and it's worth a read, but we still haven't seen the board echo it's call for the Rays to open their books - and actually demonstrate a fininancial need - since they once did in 2011.





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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rays Release Stadium Site Evaluation Criteria

The Tampa Bay Rays sent St. Pete their outline detailing how they will evaluate possible stadium sites in Pinellas & Hillsborough counties.  You can read it at the bottom of this post.


It included:
  • catalyst for development
  • local authenticity
  • regional connectivity
  • site accessibility
  • size & geometry
  • financial feasibility & development readiness
The Rays also said they'd be focused on the "regional business centers," which could mean downtown Tampa, Westshore, downtown St. Pete, Mid-Pinellas/Toytown/Carillion, or any point in-between.  It most likely does not include the State Fairgrounds near I-4.


UPDATE: The Trib's Chris O'Donnell, whom I witnessed working a marathon day yesterday, adds "There is no mention of how much a new stadium may cost or how much the Rays will contribute" and the ConAgra site may be out of the mix because of the time it would take to turn over, while the Times' Charlie Frago and Rick Danielson write "taxpayer dollars a must" and the team is looking to create the next revolutionary stadium, like Camden Yards was in the early 90s.

The Rays meet with Hillsborough County's stadium search committee for the first time Friday morning.  Expect many smiles and vague press conference responses to follow!

“This process document contains the vision and criteria which will guide our search," said Rays VP Melanie Lenz in a statement.  "We look forward to taking a fresh look at all possibilities for our next generation ballpark.”
Document posted several different sizes for different platform users:







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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Bucs Raise Ticket Prices...Just Like Every Team That Renovates its Stadium

Remember this tweet?
Obviously, the answer was yes, and as the Times' Greg Auman reported today, Buccaneers' season tickets are going up an average of 24% next year.  It's the Bucs' first ticket price hike in eight years, and they'll still be in the lower-third of NFL ticket price averages.

But this still serves as a good reminder that fans don't just pay for stadium renovations through tax dollars; they also pay through the tickets they purchase.  Tickets at the new Marlins' stadium went up 56%; tickets at the new Braves' stadium will go up 45%....hell, the Miami Dolphins even admitted as much in their application for state subsidies!

And, often, fans pay for stadiums in other ways too, as I reported two months ago:

 
Auman quoted a statement from Bucs COO Brian Ford:
"The excitement, energy and passion displayed by Buccaneers fans over the years have turned Raymond James Stadium into one of the nation's premier sports venues...as we continue to enhance the in-game experience, it is also essential that we remain competitive from a pricing standpoint while still providing our fans with some of the most affordable tickets in the NFL."
Longtime Shadow of the Stadium reader Scott Myers (no fan of the Glazer family) responded to that statement with an email to me that read:
"Competitive with whom? It should be noted that the Bucs will be receiving about $18 million as their share of the $550 million relocation fee being paid by the Rams, and they have a pretty good chance of getting one or two more windfall gifts if the Chargers and/or Raiders relocate. Does their greed know no bounds?"
 
My WTSP investigative counterpart and Bucs season ticket-holder Mike Deeson seemed unfazed by the news, since he - and many other season ticket-holders - locked in their 2016 prices at the end of last season, before the price hike. 
 
But, let this episode serve as a warning to Rays fans looking for a new Tampa Bay stadium - your tickets are going to cost a lot more than they currently do at the Trop.





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Monday, February 1, 2016

Bucs Fail to Pretend to Prove ROI on State Tax Dollars; Don't Get Any

Last week, I wrote how the Bucs' application for more state stadium dollars failed at its one job: create lofty estimates of how much return on investment taxpayers will get if they give pro teams millions of dollars for projects that are already underway.

Well, Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) released its rankings of the four applicants today, and the three teams that made lofty claims were passed along to the legislature for possible funding; the application from the other team, the Bucs, was denied on the basis that it was incomplete.
 
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, and Daytona International Speedway were each seeking between $1 million and $3 million a year for stadium renovation projects that are already underway. The legislature will get final say on the awarding of any incentives this year.

The Jaguars, Dolphins, and speedway projects all failed to secure subsidies last year, but have returned again in 2016 with similar applications promising new jobs, new income for the state, and countless other ways taxpayers would benefit by spending money on pro sports.  Even when it means removing seats and jacking up the price of tickets.

The Buccaneers' application for $12 million toward Raymond James Stadium renovations - as WTSP and Shadow of the Stadium first reported in October - was the only new application this year.
 
All three of the state's NFL teams already receive $2 million per year in state subsidies, but a controversial new law passed in 2014 expanded the state's stadium incentive program to include more money for more teams. WTSP previously exposed the poor return-on-investment taxpayers gets from the incentives, prompting many state legislators to reject all requests last year.
 
However, the 2016 rankings of the projects from the DEO - under control of Governor Scott - were drastically different than the state economist's ranking last year, estimating the Dolphins' return on investment to taxpayers at $2.22 per dollar spent; Daytona's at $1.25 per dollar, and Jacksonville's at 91 cents per dollar.  Of course, those estimates were based on data provided by the applicants.
The Bucs tell me they'll re-apply next year for the incentives, as "certain required documents" were not yet available in time for this year's rankings.
  
The Buccaneers' 2016 application lacked documentation on how its new construction project will increase jobs and taxable sales.  But the team has called its now-underway Raymond James Stadium renovation plans a "win-win" for both the team and taxpayers.  The county will pay $29 million of the planned stadium overhaul, which is expected to cost between $78 million and $100 million overall.
 
Hillsborough County owns Raymond James Stadium, but the Bucs receive nearly every penny of profit generated there, including most profits from non-football events. New subsidies - which the Bucs could re-apply for next year - could give the Bucs a million dollars per year in new tax rebates, until the end of their lease in 2027. The money would help reduce the team's financial commitment to the renovations.
 
The Orlando City Soccer Club was the only other team to have requested state money under the new incentive program, but the team withdrew its application before the end of 2015's legislative session and self-funded its new stadium project.  It did not re-apply this year.
 

Conservative political group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) lobbied against the stadium subsidies in the 2015 legislative session and plans on doing so again in 2016.

"Taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars shouldn't go to profit-seeking billionaire sports team owners that already get fed at the ticket office, concession stands, and NFL revenue sharing trough," AFP spokesperson Andres Malave told 10News in November. "AFP will continue to work with taxpayers and volunteers to hold elected officials accountable."

AFP is also supporting a longshot effort in the legislature to ban pro teams from building or renovating stadiums on public property (HB1427), but a hearing on the bill was scarpped during a House committee meeting Monday and isn't expected to get much traction.






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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sticker Shock! New Rays Stadium Will Be Expensive; Region Still Has No Clue How to Pay for It

FINALLY!  The Tampa Tribune stopped speculating about possible new Rays stadium locations long enough to have a legitimate discussion about the region's seemingly-impossible challenge of paying for it.

Chris O'Donnell writes surging subcontractor costs, land acquisition costs, and other amenities aimed at maximizing MLB profits could send stadium costs surging past $600 million.  The story also gives a great breakdown of retractable roof pros/cons and costs.

But in his limited column-inches, O'Donnell doesn't address the public revenue streams the Rays may look to tap to pay for the stadium.  Sure, there's plenty of time for that, but the real sticker shock is what the hundreds of millions of expected tax dollars could pay for instead of a baseball stadium:
  • Fixing Tampa's immense flooding problems ($250M)
  • Relocating the ConAgra eyesore from the middle of Tampa's growing downtown ($70M)
  • Extending the Selmon Xway to the Gandy Bridge ($100M)
  • The needed replacement of the Howard-Frankland Bridge ($367M)
Of course, counties can't use bed tax money to directly pay for road projects, but the general revenue (TIF/CRA) dollars that would be required for a new Rays stadium could absolutely go toward any of the above priorities...if funding community priorities wasn't so damn political.

In the broader conversation, I wonder if the focus on the expected stadium sticker shock and possible $600M+ price tag is doing the region a disservice. 

That's because the local media is already doing such a good job setting expectations for the public contribution at $300M+ on a retractable roof stadium, while the Rays - and MLB commish Rob Manfred - are simply kicking back and simply enjoying the show.  Yes, I know they are neither kicking back, nor enjoying the years of inaction...but the fact remains the team has refused to talk money.

This way, the Rays are now perfectly set up to "settle" sometime down the road for a fixed-roof stadium at a much lower overall cost...once the public has committed its chunk of the cash.

We should end the conversation about a retractable roof right now.  The Marlins' don't use theirs, the region can't afford one, and the technology has come a long way since the Rays' last stadium foray in 2008.

As for the conversation about how many tax dollars the region should spend building the Rays a new park...you could always ask five economists what they think?





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Friday, January 29, 2016

Bucs Continue to Make Traveshamockery of Florida's Stadium Subsidy Qualifications

UPDATE: For as low as the state sets the bar on qualifying for subsidies, the Bucs' incomplete application still wasn't enough, as it was rejected. The team said it wasn't far enough along in the renovation process yet and it will re-apply next year. 

Any regular reader of this blog knows the ridiculousness of Florida's 2014 stadium subsidy law, pitched as a way to vet pro teams' and leagues' requests for tax dollars...but really doing nothing of the sort, just expanding the number of teams eligible for the handouts and number of tax dollars available.

I also documented how the incentives handouts really don't incentivize a heckuva lot since the legislature denied all four applicants last year...and all four projects moved forward anyway.

Adding insult to injury, the legislation was written in a way where applicants like Daytona Int'l Speedway & the Miami Dolphins are exempt from the loosely-written requirements that teams prove their projects will increase economic impact.  So in those cases, the legislation actually incentivizes teams to reduce how many people can come to the game, in favor of more expensive tickets.

Well, as the Bucs become the latest team to ask for state stadium subsidy dollars, we again see what a traveshamockery the requirements really are.

The Bucs submitted a supplement to their ridiculous one-line original subsidy application earlier this month, only needing to show how many tax dollars they paid to the state in each of the last three years.  The number was redacted since tax figures are often exempt from Florida's broad public records laws.  But the team did not have to submit any projected revenue forecast to show what the state's cash would actually help them accomplish...or pretty much anything else, for that matter.

In fact, because the law was intentionally written in a way to make it easy for pro teams and leagues to tap that taxpayer cash, the Bucs will only need to surpass a baseline of $2 million/yr in taxes paid to qualify for additional incentives.  The state already forgives the first $2 million/yr the Bucs owe in taxes, as part of its old stadium subsidy program.

And since the Bucs bring in an estimated $4M-$5M in tax just on ticket sales alone (if you believe Forbes), they should have no problem meeting the ridiculously-low threshold.

So even if the Bucs ripped out seats, drew fewer out-of-towners to Raymond James Stadium, struggled to sell tickets, and conceivably saw a drop in future taxable revenue...they'd still be eligible for state economic development incentives.

Oh, and they'd get additional breaks - paid for by Florida taxpayers - since their contract with the Tampa Sports Authority requires the county to act as a pass-through on many of the construction costs so the team doesn't have to pay 7% tax on them, like everyone else would if we took up a renovation project.

Fortunately, the legislature still has to sign off on any state subsidy deal.  But just remember, Florida's stadium subsidy incentive program doesn't really incentivize anything at all - except maybe political contributions.






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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Be Careful, St. Pete, Stadium-Chasing Can Cost You (Politically)

Later today, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman will give his annual State of the City address, likely heralding the bright redevelopment future of Tropicana Field. 

Courtesy: Creative Loafing
But how much is Kriseman willing to spend trying to make baseball a part of that future?  The Tampa Tribune's Steven Girardi recapped this morning the sentiment Kriseman expressed to me last summer: St. Pete is willing to spend some dough on a new downtown stadium if the Rays want it.

In fact, Kriseman and some councilmembers feel so strongly about another downtown stadium, they've started to offer up subsidies to the Rays without them even publicly asking for them yet.

However, there's an important lesson to be learned from the recently-scorned St. Louis market.  In the city's losing bid to keep the Rams, it spent the amazing sum of $16.2 million on architects, attorneys, engineers, and consultants.

$16.2 million!?!!!

To the Rays' credit, they offered to chip in up to $100,000 on a downtown master redevelopment plan, but the difference in those totals shows just how expensive stadium-chasing can be...and those are your tax dollars, my friends.

So St. Pete, be careful about how far down this road you go when we already know your location isn't ideal for many fans in the bay area.  Because stadium-planning can be expensive if you let it run away from you. 

And if the prospect of a few million dollars in earmarked money for the most problematic part of St. Petersburg draws this many headlines...just think about the headlines we'll see if your city spends $16 million on a failed stadium bid.





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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Why MLB Needs to Stop Taking Tampa Bay for Granted

After my countless pleas for Tampa Bay leaders to at least ask the important question about stadium financing, Tampa Tribune columnist - and former sportswriter - Joe Henderson steps up and writes, "MLB benefits from a new Rays stadium, so it should help pay for it":
(The Rays) can dream all they want about what a fancy urban stadium would mean to growth and development, but it won’t matter unless they can figure out how to pay for it. I know where they need to start, though. Major League Baseball needs to pony up.

Don’t laugh.

A few days ago, the National Football League announced the St. Louis Rams can move to Los Angeles. As part of that deal, the league pledged $100 million for the franchises in San Diego and Oakland to find solutions to the stadium problems in those cities.

Why wouldn’t baseball want to do the same here?
...
The Rays will have to pay a big part of the bill, too, but even that won’t be enough to cover the whole cost. If the landing spot is Tampa, I’m guessing city and county leaders will cast a longing eye toward tourist taxes and rental car surcharges as a major funding source.

A stadium will have to be everything Tropicana Field is not. Fans will demand a retractable roof, air-conditioning and all the other do-dads that are a staple of modern stadiums. No sense building something unless it is done right.

The problem is, doing it right is enormously expensive — probably $600 million, minimum.
I've recently written that we shouldn't assume a new stadium will cost $600+ million; a fixed-roof option with a translucent roof (roof technology has come a long way in recent years) would be a much-more economical option, possibly in the $450 million range.

That might make a stadium possible with $200 million from the Rays; $150 million from MLB; and $100 million from tax coffers.  Of course, neither the Rays nor MLB will want to spend that much, and Hillsborough County doesn't have a spare $100 million without drawing from general property tax revenues (via CRA/TIF districts).

But it's worth pointing out  MLB is richer than it's ever been before and they're able to pay players more than they ever have before.  This is largely in part to the fact that local taxpayers are paying more of their expenses than ever before.

And, as I wrote in 2011, the Rays' Stadium Saga is MLB's Problem, not Tampa Bay's:
With $7B in revenue last year, there's plenty of profit in MLB to go around. And although revenue sharing is considered by some a crutch and a problem, it's neither; revenue sharing is a symptom of the league allowing teams to spend dollars proportional to their cities' size (because its more profitable that way).

As much as the Steinbrenners and Lucchino/Werner/Henry clans may want revenue sharing reduced, it will remain an important part of the MLB business model as long as salaries continue to grow (which they will). But since the big clubs profit more if the smaller clubs profit more, a stadium in Tampa Bay is so important to everyone in the league.

A good point is raised by Maury Brown of The Biz of Baseball, who says
MLB owners already padded their pockets on the backs of Tampa Bay:
St. Pete built the then-Florida Suncoast Dome in 1986 to try and bring MLB to the market. When it was completed in 1990, it, and Tampa Bay-St. Pete became a lever to get new stadiums around the league built. Whether it was the White Sox, Giants, or Mariners, all used relocation to the new Dome as a way to get shiny ballparks built.
The stadium debate isn't about the Rays - it's about the profits of all 30 MLB clubs. If simply building a new stadium was the instant fix some people suggest, MLB would step in to help close the $200 million funding gap Tampa Bay faces in building a $500-$600 million stadium. But it's not. Unfortunately, the stadium debate is much like the national debt debate and there's no instant fix.

The problem in Tampa Bay isn't just about the fans or the market - it's about MLB. It allowed its business expenses to skyrocket, and now it wants you to help fix it.






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Saturday, January 16, 2016

St. Pete's Approved Rays Deal - the Day After the Day After

Focus on Tampa Park Apartments
A day after the Tampa Bay Times looked at possible Tampa stadium locations, both the Times and the Tampa Tribune took a deeper dive into the pros and cons of everyone's new favorite frontrunner, the Tampa Park Apartments, wedged between Tampa's Channelside district and Ybor City.

In theory, the site makes sense...but Hillsborough County still doesn't have any money to build a stadium. 

Buckhorn Press Conference
As expected, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn touted the possibilities of a Downtown Tampa stadium, as he's done ever since he began his mayoral campaign five years ago

But calling the financing "a complicated transaction," Buckhorn also reiterated a stance we've heard more and more from him over the last 12-18 months: "I can’t tell you how we’re going to pay for this."

The mayor continues his retreat from full-on cheerleading a new stadium given the general statewide contempt for stadium subsidies. After all, a fat check from Tampa taxpayers won't do any wonders for his gubernatorial hopes.

This:





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Friday, January 15, 2016

St. Pete's Approved Rays Deal - the Day After

After St. Pete council approved the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) yesterday to allow the Rays to explore stadium sites anywhere in Hillsborough or Pinellas counties, there are a few answers to the "what's next" question.

Time to Look at LocationsThe floodgates have opened for anyone looking to sell their dog track, parking lot, or flea market! Everyone's got a great location for the Rays to play! In fact, within minutes of St. Pete's MOU approval, the Tampa Bay Times published an analysis of eight of the possibilities in Tampa.

Except every one of the locations mentioned in the article comes with a few major roadblocks.

And a lot of those roadblocks have to do with the fact that neither Hillsborough County nor the city of Tampa have many dollars to contribute toward a new stadium.  At least, not without taking away funds from other community needs...which leads us to...

...and Time to Talk Money
Stu Sternberg told my 10 News WTSP colleague Kendra Conlon yesterday he had "no expectations" regarding how a new Rays stadium could be financed.  So apparently, little has changed since 2013 when he said he had no idea what kind of new revenues a new stadium could produce for the team.

Isn't that the reason we're talking about a new stadium in the first place???
That's why the next question needs to be the very important question of: how much will the Rays contribute?  The team has routinely dodged that question, and we all know it's the ONLY question about whether Tampa will be the team's next home.

If St. Pete and Tampa keep talking money...and allowing the Rays to avoid talking money...elected officials are just negotiating against themselves.  And MLB loves when you do that.

Because if Tampa Bay lets the Rays lead this conversation and pick their "pitch-perfect" spot without addressing the financing details until they say "make this happen...or else," the cost to taxpayers is going to get a lot greater than if we address the money issue at the front end, thereby eliminating sites that may be cost-prohibitive.

St. Pete is Negotiating Against Itself
Mayor Rick Kriseman says St. Pete will clearly have the best financing package available for a possible new stadium.  And he's right.  A new stadium may even help an exploding and revitalized downtown continue its impressive trajectory.

But two councilmembers may have brought up a legit concern yesterday when they pointed out the newly-tweaked MOU negotiates away some of the possible redevelopment rights to the Tropicana Field land, when the original contract - and the original MOU - only included redevelopment rights until the day the Rays left the dome, conceivably, even if they built a new facility next door.  Kriseman even posted about it on Facebook.

Now, this could all be a moot point if the Rays don't take the risky leap of faith on a second Downtown St. Pete stadium.  But possibly more consequential, is if St. Pete and Tampa get in any sort of unofficial bidding war over a new stadium, St. Pete just upped the ante already with tens of millions of additional incentives to stay in St. Pete.

So if the city builds a redeveloped Tropicana Field 2.0, it's going to cost more than it did before. Instead of using all the redevelopment revenue to help subsidize the city's cost of stadium construction...half of it will now subsidize the Rays' cost of construction if they stay.

Ball's in Court of Hagan, Buckhorn

Things are about to get fun/tough for Hillsborough County's stadium cheerleader-in-chief, Commissioner Ken Hagan, who has supplanted Mayor Bob Buckhorn as the politician committed to making the money for a stadium work in Tampa.

According to the Tampa Tribune, Hagan already had a conference call yesterday with county staff and the law firm they hired in 2014 to help facilitate a stadium search.  And he's been burning up the airwaves for years at every opportunity to talk about the Rays.

Hagan once promised no tax dollars for a baseball stadium...then he said no "new" tax dollars...and most recently, he said only tax dollars for infrastructure around a stadium.  So we'll see how that continues to evolve.

Meanwhile, Buckhorn told me the process will be a methodical one and he doesn't expect to be mayor when the Rays finally open their new home.  His term ends in 2019.

Montreal Encouraged
As excited as Rays fans - and executives - were about yesterday's vote, apparently fans in Montreal saw it as a way for the team to exhaust any hope of a long-term solution in Tampa Bay, according to my former Beanpot beat-writing colleague Jon Paul Morosi.  Although I again remind Morosi & all readers that the Rays are not willing to compensate St. Pete for the final years of their Trop deal if they leave before 2027.

Unrelenting Editorial Board Finally Satisfied
The Times finally got what it wanted - the Rays free of their ironclad contract.  Maybe the editors are right when they say, "It is a vote of confidence in the future and a rejection of the status quo." 

They probably aren't right when they've supported the team's low payouts and St. Pete's major concessions to allow this search...and they definitely weren't right for the last five years when they claimed St. Pete was down to its "last chance" to save the Rays and the region was only losing leverage

But I did enjoy reading this excerpt:
The team should expect to make a significant contribution, and it would help if a developer chips in as part of a larger vision. The last time Hillsborough County negotiated a big stadium deal was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and that one tilted toward the team. Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan is eager to lead this effort, but it may be up to Mayor Bob Buckhorn to ensure taxpayers are adequately protected. The push to help the Rays with site selection and create a financing package should be open and transparent, and taxpayers should have a voice.
Does that mean we have hope of the editorial board revisiting its calls for the Rays to open their books and demonstrate real need for the subsidies they're sure to ask for???


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Thursday, January 14, 2016

DONE DEAL: St. Pete Council Approves Rays Deal

St. Pete - and the rest of Tampa Bay - appear to be ready to just move this dang thing forward.  And by a 5-3 vote St. Pete's council approved Mayor Rick Kriseman's Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which will give the team permission to explore new stadium sites in Tampa.

So what's next?

We know the team is anxious to explore any and all sites across Pinellas & Hillsborough counties, since there's a great need to make the next stadium site "pitch-perfect".  Everyone with a pile of dirt will be offering up their stadium ideas.  And if the Rays were to build another stadium in the wrong location, it'd be a disaster.

But why focus so much of this conversation on locations and not financing?  Building a stadium with the wrong financing package could be a disaster too (see Miami, Columbus, or Cincinnati).

Pro teams want you to focus on the boogeyman and not how much money they want from you for that next stadium. 

And it's working. 

The Tampa Bay Times published another editorial this morning urging the deal's passage - an editorial with three major flaws - and of course, there was no mention of the tax money that would go toward the next stadium. 

What's not next?

We shouldn't expect the team to willingly open their books and demonstrate a need for public help.  And even though both papers once suggested they should, we haven't heard that responsible request from the Times in years.

The exposure to the taxpayer on a new stadium is likely to be great.  Elected officials may decide the expenditures are justified.  But the Rays won't address that giant elephant, and it would just be nice to have some idea of what kind of public dollars the Rays are gunning for before we go any further down this road.





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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Will St. Pete Deal Strengthen or Weaken Hopes of Keeping Rays?

A subtle clause – requested by the team, according to St. Petersburg officials – could potentially allow the Rays to play up to 10 “home” games in a market outside of Tampa Bay once they left Tropicana Field {READ SECTION 6, ARTICLE vi OF THE CONTRACT HERE}. The 10 games are not a guarantee and could include international trips to Japan or Cuba; but the permission might also apply to other markets in North America.

The Rays’ Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with St. Petersburg sets a price for damages if the team chooses to end its Tropicana Field contract before 2027 in favor of a stadium elsewhere in Pinellas or Hillsborough Counties. However, the stadium does not need to be new and the Rays only need to sign a promise of some sort to play there through 2027.

"There's no assurances after 2027," said former Mayor Bill Foster, who could not come to terms with the Rays regarding a possible Tampa stadium search in his four years as mayor (2010-2013). "(The MOU) weakens the original agreement so much that you're setting a measure of damages allowing them to leave the region prior to 2027."

Foster said the failure to require a long-term commitment from the Rays might open the door for the team to use the 10 “home” games to test the waters of other potential MLB markets while still playing the majority of their games in a temporary location elsewhere in Hillsborough or Pinellas County.

Tampa Bay baseball fans became familiar with MLB relocation threats in the 1990s, as the Mariners, Rangers, and White Sox all used the threat of a Florida relocation to score taxpayer-funded stadiums in their home markets.

The Rays chose not to comment on the story Tuesday.

A representative from Mayor Rick Kriseman's office said Tuesday the administration didn't question the Rays' motives, and proponents of a regional stadium search have backed the Rays' claims that the MOU is the only way to ensure long-term success in Tampa Bay and they have no interest in looking outside the region for their next home.

Foster speculates that for only $24 million, the Rays could tear up their existing contract after the 2017 season and start playing 71 home games in an existing Tampa Bay minor-league stadium – potentially with additional, temporary seats – and play 10 games a year in markets like Montreal, New Jersey, or Mexico City. They would then only need to deal with the unknown legal repercussions of their new lease(s) if they wanted to leave before 2027, rather than the seemingly-ironclad contract the team is currently locked into with St. Petersburg.

"This weakens Tampa Bay's (hold on the Rays)," Foster said of the MOU, set to be voted on Thursday. "This amendment is by far the biggest weakening of the (original) agreement that we've ever seen in the past 15 or 20 years."

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers recently drew public scorn after they requested the freedom to play a second home game away from Raymond James Stadium. The team ultimately compromised with the Tampa Sports Authority and secured the right to play both home preseason games in another market.

The Rays have had a more difficult time renegotiating their contract with St. Petersburg, which has been complimented by legal experts for its crafting of the stadium use agreement. In 1998, the Rays guaranteed 30 full MLB seasons at Tropicana Field, without many of the loopholes that have allowed other pro teams to escape their respective leases early.

And when the Rays asked for permission to play three games at Disney’s Wide World of Sports in 2007, a cautious city council negotiated a one-time exception with the team, as well as a contract amendment that stipulated no “home” games could be played away from Tropicana Field without city council’s permission. Council allowed the Rays to repeat the series again in 2008.

In exchange for permission to play games in Orlando, then-mayor Rick Baker and council negotiated additional compensation for the city, as well as the promise from the Rays they would not play any out-of-market games against their best-drawing opponents, such as the Red Sox, Yankees, or Tigers.

Foster was city council chairman when the Rays first asked about Orlando in 2006.

“I remember how contentious that was (in 2006/2007),” said Foster, who could not come to terms with the Rays regarding a possible Tampa stadium search in his four years as mayor (2010-2013).

But any new contract deciding how many "home" games the Rays can play away from home in 2018 and beyond would be up to whatever governmental agency owns the facility they're playing in at the time, whether it be a brand-new stadium or a temporary arrangement.

City council is expected to approve the new MOU Thursday, after previous councils rejected similar deals by 5-3 and 4-4 margins.
   



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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Rays Ask for Final Year of Stadium Contract Shaved Off; St. Pete Basically Says, "OK"

This blog is clearly the only outlet questioning why the Rays aren't willing to compensate St. Pete for the 2027 baseball season, the final season they originally agreed to play at The Trop.

The team's got a pretty sweet offer lined up now if they choose to move to Tampa, only paying St. Pete $4M if they leave before the 2018 season, $3M/yr for the 2019-2022 seasons, and $2M/yr for the 2023-2026 seasons.  That's significantly less than what other teams have paid to break their stadium contracts.

But everyone forgets the Rays are currently obligated to also play the 2027 season at Tropicana Field.  

So I asked Mayor Kriseman last week why there was no compensation for the Rays reneging on playing that final season in St. Pete:
Kriseman said because he didn't negotiate 2027 compensation into his 2014 deal, "there didn't seem to be any sense" to trying to get them to compensate the city now. 

"The Rays were very clear they weren't going to be paying more," the mayor said.

Well then.

Of course, the Rays also said they wouldn't re-re-re-negotiate their best offer to the city after it was rejected in December 2014.  They then proceeded to re-negotiated the deal in March 2015...and then they re-negotiated it again in December 2015

But, you know, other than that, we should totally believe everything MLB teams tell us.





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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Five Pieces of Perspective on Newest Rays Deal

Yesterday we heard from mayors Rick Kriseman & Bob Buckhorn about their latest takes on the Rays' stadium campaign & St. Pete's expected approval of the newest MOU on Thursday.  But, much like the last eight years of the Stadium Saga, there were no major developments to report.

However, we can always learn something by reading between the lines:

1. Buckhorn on the Stadium Saga timeline
When St. Pete gives the Rays permission to talk new stadium sites in Pinellas & Hillsborough next Thursday, the floodgates will open for anyone looking to sell their dog track, parking lot, or flea market.  But Mayor Bob Buckhorn told me yesterday fans shouldn't expect the process to move too quickly:

2. A "transformative" project
Kriseman's confidence in the "transformative" value of redeveloping the Trop speaks to the well-documented advantages of multi-use development versus a simple retail business (MLB) taking up large swaths of valuable land.

3. A "transformative" project (Part II)
Even though Kriseman talks about incorporating a new Rays stadium into new Trop redevelopment plans, his comments seem to indicate that St. Pete's "selling low" on its contract equity is all about removing baseball from the equation.  Why?  Because there's nothing that's prohibited the city from redeveloping the majority of the Trop's footprint previously.  The Rays have actually had financial incentive to help the city redevelop for years, as they retain half the redevelopment revenues for as long as they're at the Trop. 

4. The timeline coincides with political calendars...
...and it's probably not coincidental.  Kriseman's MOU states the Rays must make a decision on their future - in writing - by January 2019.  That should ensure the issue doesn't play prominently when Kriseman and several of his council allies run for re-election in Nov. 2017.

5. Of course, another Times editorial...
...and as predicted, the Times' stadium cheerleading board called it "improved" and urged its' passing. It also tipped its cap to the Rays for not lowering the ~$2M/yr payouts originally offered several years ago, even though the board said "the team could have sought lower payments since another year has ticked off the lease."

However, this blog has dispelled that concept, as the team's offer has basically been the same for six years...all while St. Pete has enjoyed an additional 800+ games at the Trop (with 10,000,000 attendees).  So no, the Times has never been correct when it's claimed time and time again that St. Pete was losing leverage by holding firm on its expectations for compensation.

Then again, we once read in the Times the city should expect a nine-figure payout if the Rays were to leave the Trop early, so buyer beware when you read about the Stadium Saga.






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