Sunday, January 14, 2018

FSU Sold Fewer Bowl Tickets Than USF

TAMPA BAY, Florida – A post-bowl report by Florida State University reveals the Seminoles’ disappointing football season resulted in the school having to “buy out” the overwhelming majority of tickets it was tasked with selling ahead of its Independence Bowl appearance.

According to the FSU report, the school sold just 1,132 of the 6,000-plus tickets it was required to sell to the Dec. 27 game in Shreveport, La. – fewer than the disappointing number of tickets the University of South Florida sold to the Birmingham Bowl, held four days earlier. 

The Seminoles won the Independence Bowl, 42-13, over Southern Miss, to cap off a 7-6 year, FSU’s 41st consecutive winning season.

FSU’s total allotment for the game was 6,064 tickets, so the school gave 2,126 tickets away to local charities and members of the armed forces; 2,438 tickets went unused; and the remaining 400 or so were used by the university.

Schools like FSU typically receive millions from their conferences for simply appearing in a bowl game, and the conference sometimes helps pay for unsold tickets.  But poor showings at a bowl box office, where ticket guarantees can sometimes climb north of 10,000 tickets, can still eat away at hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue a school would have otherwise been able to put back into its programs.

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Monday, January 1, 2018

No, the Outback Bowl Did Not Rain $55 Million on Tampa Bay

A more conservative estimate pegs the Outback Bowl economic impact at $30 million a year. But that figure came from the non-economist "economist" Mark Bonn, who I previously exposed for using bogus and inflated numbers.

Real economists suggested the impact is closer to 1/10 of Bonn's estimates. But that's not the kind of number that gets tax dollars flowing to your private bowl game and funding the $993,000 salary of said bowl game's CEO.

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Thursday, December 28, 2017

The "Template" Hillsborough Wants to Use for a Rays Ballpark is Breaking the Bank in Georgia

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution took a look at what Cobb Co. residents are paying - and getting in return - for the Braves' new stadium.  And the numbers aren't pretty, as Field of Schemes succinctly summarizes.

Basically, Cobb Co.'s absolute best, most liberal accounting scenario is a $5.2 million boost in revenue related to the ballpark.  Unfortunately for taxpayers, they're paying nearly $9 million a year out of their general fund for the stadium, plus tens of millions a year in associated financing costs, and tens of millions more in transportation costs associated with the stadium.

That's not good ROI to simply lure the team from an Atlanta home they weren't threatening to leave.

And the kicker, is that Cobb County just doesn't have that kind of money available:
Cobb County is currently in a fiscal crisis — as Lutz notes, “Since the first pitch in April, fees for everything from senior centers to business licenses have gone up. Libraries are in danger of closing, and there’s talk of a new penny sales tax to fund the police.” None of that is solely the fault of the stadium, as she notes, but starting each year with an extra $20 million-plus hole in your budget does not help at all.
Let's remember that the Rays' biggest stadium cheerleader in Tampa, Ken Hagan, has called the Braves' secretly-negotiated, more-expensive-than-anticipated stadium a "template" for a new ballpark in Hillsborough County.
There is no price too great for some politicians to get a new stadium where they'll eventually get free tickets.

And not to dismiss the certain intangible value of having big-league teams in your community...but out leaders really should be asking more questions about the ROI on the Rays' nine-figure "ask."

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Forbes' #SportsMoney50 List

Just to toot my own horn a little bit - but also in an effort to share some outstanding resources out there on Twitter - I point you to Maury Brown's annual #SportsMoney50 List on, which includes some of the must-follow accounts for sports fans and sports business fans.

It's the third year in a row he's included Shadow of the Stadium, calling it this year, "indispensable", and "keeps reporting on course and doesn’t get caught up in homerism. For good or bad, Shadow of the Stadium presents it unvarnished."

If only we could now remove the homerism from all sports and sports business reporting!

Regardless, tons of good accounts to follow in that article, so check 'em out.

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Friday, December 22, 2017

USF Sells Just 12% of Ticket Allotment for Birmingham Bowl

Don't expect a lot of green in the stands Saturday at the Birmingham Bowl...or in the USF Athletics budget after they have to eat the cost of 8,800 unsold tickets.
With the Bulls spending a second straight bowl season in Birmingham, not exactly a desirable vacation destination for the already-sparse USF fan base, the school has sold just 12 percent of its required 10,000 ticket allotment for the game, as the 10-2 Bulls will take on 6-6 Texas Tech.
It means USF will eat the cost of more than 8,800 tickets, likely worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. 
According to USF Associate Athletic Director Brian Siegrist:
  • The school sold 1,162 tickets;
  • Distributed 1,635 tickets internally to the band, staff, and guests of players/coaches;
  • Distributed 4,505 to Birmingham-area charities;
  • Gave 2,698 tickets back to the bowl as unused.  
The bowl pays teams for appearing in the game - approximately $1 million each, according to published reports - but the money gets shared with the American Athletic Conference (AAC).
It's also not cheap sending hundreds of players, staff, and band members to a bowl game; according to athletic department filings with the NCAA, USF spent $627,371 on last year's Birmingham Bowl.
However, football and men's basketball are the only sports at USF that run a surplus on annual revenues and expenses, due to substantial television money coming in through the AAC.
I've previously covered the university's growing problems balancing its athletic budget, as teams in small-conferences find it harder and harder to keep up with big-spending teams in the country's five major conferences.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Tallahassee's Leading Stadium Supporter Resigns

Although his scandal is related to sexual harassment, powerful State Senator - and onetime gubernatorial hopeful - Jack Latvala has resigned his seat after just about everyone had called on the Pinellas lawmaker to step down.

The news comes less than a day after a retired judge released his investigation into sexual harassment claims against Latvala, finding probable cause and potential criminal violations.

Latvala's departure strikes a blow to pro sports teams in leagues in Florida hoping to curry favor in Tallahassee, as he helped rewrite laws in their favor, preserve funds for new stadiums, and was expected to champion state funds for both the Rays and Rowdies.

In exchange for his favorable treatment, Latvala has routinely received big campaign checks from teams and their wealthy owners.

Recently, legislative leadership has been very anti-stadium subsidy, and its unlikely to change in the near future with Latvala out of the picture.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Sarasota County's Multi-Million Dollar Timing Hiccup with the Braves

With the U.S. House attempting to finally eliminate the federal subsidy of bonds used to finance stadium construction, Sarasota County bit the bullet and took out $21.6 million in bonds to help pay for the Braves' new 8-week-a-year home in North Port.  The bonds were sold on Dec. 13 at a 3.7% rate.

Unfortunately for Sarasota taxpayers, the Senate erased the proposal from the federal tax plan two days later, meaning the county failed to take advantage of the subsidized rate that sports owners - and the governments that support them - typically enjoy when financing stadium construction.

But a county spokesperson told me Sarasota had no choice but to take out the taxable debt due to "uncertainties" related to the tax cut bill, including the possibility of the stadium subsidy elimination going into effect retroactively, from the date the legislation was first introduced, Nov. 2.  The county had to meet a closing date on the deal of Dec. 21.

In essence, that means instead of having all Americans subsidize their stadium debt, Sarasota County will fund its portion of the debt all themselves.  And that bad timing likely will cost taxpayers of Sarasota County several million dollars, as the difference in financing charges on tax-exempt bonds and taxable bonds is substantial.

That said, there's good news to the North for Rays fans, as the tax exemption basically remains in place for all future U.S. stadiums (note: Montreal is not in the U.S.), and it won't cost Hillsborough or Pinellas quite as much should they decide to try and bust their budgets to make a new stadium work.

But, before I go, some final irony:

In the same editorial the Tampa Bay Times criticized Congress' new tax plan as raising debt and primarily benefitting "businesses and the wealthy over the poor and middle class," the Times also applauds the abandonment of the tax-exempt bond reforms.  Which is kind of befuddling, since the tax exemptions for investment profits related to pro stadiums is another handout that benefits the rich, not the middle class.   Hmph.

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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Pinellas May Give Blue Jays Free Pass on Lease Guidelines

PINELLAS COUNTY, Florida – In a lucrative deal to renovate and expand the Blue Jays’ longtime spring training home in Dunedin, county commissioners appear likely to waive county guidelines that suggests only contributing to expansion projects that lock the tenant in for 30 years or longer.

The Blue Jays and city of Dunedin have been negotiating only a 25-year extension in exchange for an $81-million project, funded mostly by county and state taxpayers. The failure to meet the county’s minimum guidelines for length of lease was first brought up on this blog more than a year ago, but the length of the extension has not changed.

County staff tells me the guidelines can be waived by commissioners, who have now affirmed their support for the project three times in the last year or so;   however, the Blue Jays and city of Dunedin have not yet locked down all the specifics of the deal, so it will still require one more commissioner sign-off.

That means the good people of Dunedin and Pinellas County are still waiting to enjoy all the made-up economic benefit the project will bring.

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Ybor City Coalition Concerned about Rays Stadium Funding

The Ybor City Development Corporation (YCDC), a citizen advisory board to Tampa's Community Redevelopment Agency, sent a letter to Mayor Bob Buckhorn last week expressing concern that taking land for a proposed new Rays stadium off the county tax rolls could have adverse impact on property tax revenues that help fund local projects in Ybor City.

"The YCDC Board of Directors looks forward to being a part of the process and welcomes the opportunity to weigh in on stadium discussions that pertain to the Ybor City National Historic Landmark District," the letter wrote.

RELATED: 14 ways taxpayers could be asked to fund Rays stadium

While the city of Tampa - and the Community Redevelopment Agency - would both have to be involved in funding discussions, it has been Hillsborough County staffers and Commissioner Ken Hagan who have taken the lead.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn's office said Wednesday they had not responded to the YCDC letter.

RELATED: Hillsborough's chief stadium negotiator mum on details...time and time again

Read the text of the entire letter here on

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Some Perspective on the $61 Million Deal Between Hillsborough Co. & the Lightning

So you probably saw that Hillsborough staffers have lined up a deal that would extend the Tampa Bay Lightning's deal at Amalie Arena for an additional 16 years, through 2037.  The cost?  $61 million dollars worth of renovations, or $3.8 million per season.

Field of Schemes' Neil deMause acknowledged it wasn't the worst stadium deal in recent memory, especially since many teams (like the Bucs, for instance) get cash without a promise of extending their lease at all. 

However, deMause also makes a good point about Hillsborough's ROI:
"(Vinik) already has innumerable reasons not to flee town, even before handing him $61 million as a bonus. Far be it from me to tell Hillsborough County officials how to do their job, but are you guys sure you’re good at this whole lease negotiations part of it?"
Two days later, deMause added:
The Tampa Bay Times insists that giving the Lightning $61 million in tax money to upgrade their arena in exchange for a lease extension isn’t really a subsidy, because it’s tax money that couldn’t have been spent on teacher pensions anyway. Seriously, guys, how many times do we have to point out that money is fungible, so the hotel-tax money could be spent on some other tourism-related expense, and that could be used to free up cash for other things, including, sure underfunded teacher pensions?
This is actually something I've written about extensively, as stadium cheerleaders have consistently mislead the public on what bed tax dollars can be used for - far more than just stadiums.  In fact, Attorney General Pam Bondi recently opined that it is legal to use tourist tax dollars for things like transit, since duh, tourists can benefit from that too. 

Also, Hillsborough has been paying for things like the cross-bay ferry and certain events with general revenue funds, when they could be using bed tax money.

There is even momentum in Tallahassee to remove all restrictions on bed tax funds, so they can be used on things like police or roads or even, heck, schoolteachers too.

So by inking a new deal with Vinik now, Hillsborough might prematurely commit away funds that could soon be eligible for more pressing needs.  Of course, that's part of the reason why the Lightning want the deal now.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Rays Sue Former Concessionaire Centerplate

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – The Tampa Bay Rays have filed a federal lawsuit against its former concessionaire, Centerplate, for a breach of contract, alleging they “surreptitiously cut corners, underreported gross receipts, concealed performance issues, underpaid the Rays, and underperformed under the Concession Agreement to the detriment of the Rays and their fans.”

The Rays did not renew their contract with Centerplate, owned by Volume Services Inc., after the 2017 season. In August, a Sports Illustrated article ranked Tropicana Field as the major league’s worst when it came to concession health inspections.

The lawsuit, filed Friday, alleges “Centerplate consistently failed to perform and neglected its obligations despite the Rays’ repeated calls for improvement” and failed to “deliver the requisite quality of service and standard of performance required…to properly operate and maintain the concessions equipment and facilities…to keep or provide accurate records to the Rays regarding revenues and commissions owed… to pay the Rays its agreed-upon share of the revenues from concessions (and) to indemnify the Rays for Centerplate’s negligence.

“As a result of Centerplate’s frequent contractual violations, its pattern of misconduct, and overall mishandling of the Stadium’s concessions, the Rays have suffered significant harm. Centerplate’s inappropriate actions and glaring failures sullied the Rays’ brand and reputation, shorted the Rays on considerable revenue and other sums due and owing, caused significant lost profits, and inflicted extensive out-of-pocket costs.”

The lawsuit also alleges:
  • Despite complaints from the Rays following critical 2010 ESPN and 2013 ABC News stories on the stadium's concessions, Centerplate failed to remedy problems and demonstrated a "pattern of inadequate senior level oversight and accountability."
  • Disputes over revenue include "Centerplate further admitted owing over $200,000 for
    credits that were 'incorrectly recorded' from 2007 to 2009."
  • "Not only did Centerplate cause significant damage to the Rays’ brand and reputation through its operation and management of the concessions and resulting media  attention, Centerplate’s chief executive created additional backlash and brought further harm to the Rays through his personal misconduct" when a video surfaced of the man, Des Hague, kicking a dog in a Vancouver elevator.
  • Centerplate has refused to pay legal bills related to a concession sign falling on a fan's head.
  • "In early 2017, the Rays learned that Centerplate had incorrectly advised employees
    of zoning laws and attempted to serve alcohol at the Stadium before the time allowed by local law."
  • "In cleaning up Centerplate’s latest mess, the Rays have found countless new cleaning and maintenance issues, damaged equipment, and concealed neglect requiring extensive repairs, replacement, sterilization, and other out-of-pocket expenses," including to stadium beer lines.
This story was first reported on, and I will continue to post developments, as well as the lawsuit, there as I wait for the Rays and Centerplate to return comment.

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Rays Want to Put No More Money Toward New Stadium Than They're Paying Wilson Ramos

The latest stadium news from Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg was that he was standing by his $150 million contribution figure, but that it "could change" if season ticket, sponsorship, and other business partnerships exceeded the team's projections for a new stadium.

ALSO READ: Sternberg Tries Tricking Tampa Bay with Sticker Shock

Exceeding the team's expectations seems like a longshot at this stage in the game, but it was a call to Tampa to put its money where its mouth is and start coughing up either stadium money or season-long commitments now.  But Marc Topkins details:
The $150-million...allows them "to make a contribution, pay off our debt over 25 years – whatever it has to be – and still do what we want to do, which is put a more successful product on the field. … For us to be able to go in and break even again at a $65M payroll, it doesn't make sense. We want to be able to jump the payroll if we're taking that sort of risk."
$150 million, paid over 25 years, with tax-free municipal bonds, is only like $8-10 million a year.  The Rays want to pay just $8-10 million a year for a new stadium.

That's what they're paying catcher WILSON RAMOS next year.

It's a good time to turn the clock back 6.5 years to a Shadow of the Stadium post from 2011, "What Stu Sternberg is Thinking."  An excerpt:
A new stadium could represent $200 million in value to the Rays, including tens of millions in revenue in each of the first few years. And while Sternberg would put a portion of that money into his own pocket, the rest would undoubtedly go back into the team, creating a better product for fans. He sees it as a win-win.

But the problem is that a new stadium would cost substantially more than $200 million. So Sternberg needs help.

private developers may be eager to donate land for a new park, there’s no financial gain to be had from building the actual stadium for a team. That leaves a funding gap for a retractable-roof stadium of approximately $300 million.
The numbers may have grown due to inflation, and we honestly may never know what percentage of new revenues Sternberg will put toward payroll versus toward franchise investors.  But one thing's for sure: that funding gap is monstrous and Hillsborough County still has no idea how to make up the difference in Tampa.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Times Editorial Passive-Aggressively Suggests Taxpayers Should Cough Up Hundreds of Millions for Rays Stadium

I really can't believe how easy some are making it for Stu Sternberg and the Rays to leverage taxpayers.

Days after I warned how the Rays' initial low-ball $150 million offer and inflated $800 million estimate on a stadium was designed to reduce the expectation of how much the team should ultimately contribute...the Tampa Bay Times dedicated its lead editorial to explaining how Tampa Bay should only expect Sternberg to contribute "in the $160-$280 million range," since "recent history shows the typical team paying 20 to 35 percent of the cost of a Major League Baseball stadium."

Except that figure includes incredibly unpopular and lopsided deals where teams screwed taxpayers, like the potentially-illegal, "worst sports stadium deal ever" in Atlanta where the Braves suggested taking on approximately half of their new stadium's cost, only to pile a hundred million dollars on taxpayers later, reducing their load significantly.

Or the Marlins' deal, which the Times' called "one of the most ridiculed deals in recent memory," before suggesting the team's 24% contribution to the stadium was a model to be copied.

In a contrasting opinion piece in the same paper, former sports columnist Joe Henderson writes Stu Sternberg should go find a few more pennies in his sofa cushions:
By the way, how did the price jump to $800 million? The Oakland Athletics, the Rays' roommate at the bottom of baseball's attendance list, recently announced plans for a $500 million stadium that, get this, THEY WILL PAY FOR!

That's right. A team struggling nearly as much at the ticket counter as the Rays said its new home will be privately financed. That's how it should be.
Unfortunately, that won't be how it goes down in Tampa Bay.

For, as I've written since 2009, the whole Rays Stadium Saga (and almost every other pro team's stadium campaign) has been designed as a showdown between competing communities to see who will offer the team more money.

Except, Tampa doesn't have much to offer.  So, expect a few more years of hardball negotiations, leveraging, and posturing - there's no happy ending to the Stadium Saga on the immediate horizon.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why 20 is the new 40 (RIP, Georgia Dome)

Tomorrow morning, Atlanta will blow up a perfectly-good stadium because, mostly, it has a roof that doesn't retract.

The stadium, fit to host Super Bowls and decades worth of SEC championships will be imploded after just 25 short years...once again proving that stadiums have pretty much zero equity (or in the case of Atlanta or Montreal's domes, negative equity) once a team decides its done playing there.

Let's flashback to my "20 is the new 40" post:
For a long time, stadiums were considered investments that would pay dividends for 40 or more years. That includes buildings such as Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, and Dodger Stadium. Like a skyscraper, the facilities were simply built to last.

But the pressure on cities to "keep up with the Joneses" has slashed the perceived lifespan of a stadium in half, often eliminating the net benefits to the communities that spend huge amounts of money to build them.
Few pro teams stay in one place for more than a dozen years now without demanding more taxpayer-subsidized upgrades.  And by the time a stadium turns 20, it's already time to plan its replacement.
New stadiums are more state-of-the-art than ever...which makes it all-the-more ironic that society feels the need to replace the half-billion-dollar buildings every 20 years.
Before you dismiss this as just crazy Georgians being Georgians...check out this 2010 Shadow of the Stadium post that suggests no city in America is safe from the 20-year-old itch:  "Replace the Georgia Dome" Talk Troublesome

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Stu Sternberg Hits Tampa Bay with Sticker Shock So He Can Deal a Numbed-Down Blow Later

I first thought this Tampa Bay Times article was from 2008:
But then I realized the news of Stu Sternberg estimating the Rays would put only $150 million toward a new stadium in Tampa Bay was published Wednesday night.

That means the team seems to want to fund a smaller portion of a new stadium than they were in 2008, when they offered up the same $150 million for a less-expensive stadium in St. Pete.  Adjusted for inflation, their 2017 opening bid is actually 13% less money than they were willing to spend ten years ago.

Longtime columnist Joe Henderson asked if Sternberg was joking.   And one Pinellas County Commissioner reacted this way:
No matter what you thought, money has always been - and remains - the biggest problem in the Rays' Stadium Saga.  But we can draw a few conclusions from Sternberg's comments:

1) The funding gap is ENORMOUS; and maybe bigger than even this blog thought
Commissioner Ken Hagan has repeatedly said there would "never again be a sweatheart deal" like the one the Glazers got at Raymond James Stadium.  Except, as this video shows, the Rays' stadium is likely to be WAY more expensive, even when adjusting the Buccaneers' 1998 haul for inflation:

There is no way Hillsborough (or even the deeper-pocketed Pinellas) is coming up with $650 million in public cash for a new stadium, so they two sides had better start hawking peanuts to private donors who may have a sweet spot for baseball.

2) Sternberg knows $650 million isn't happening
So why did he hit everyone with the sticker shock of $650 million this week?

Either because it's the next step in Sternberg's exit plan, finally coming clean that not even a new ballpark means significant new revenue unless someone else pays for it (as this blog has written dozens of times)...

And/or he's setting public expectations high - and his initial offering low - so that coughing up $350-400 million in public money later may seem like a deal.  It's a topic this blog covered in 2016:
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.
But Sternberg knows there is no appetite to fund major subsidies for a new stadium in Tampa: not on Hillsborough's county commission, where four of seven commissioners have already spoken out against any tax funding for a stadium;  not in Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's office, where he just had to fight for a controversial tax increase to pay for basic city services and wastewater upgrades; and not in the statehouse, where several bills aim at banning all sorts of stadium subsidies and the biggest proponent of stadium investment, State Sen. Jack Latvala, is sitting on the sidelines as allegations of sexual misconduct play out.

So what does Sternberg do with that?  Well, a savvy negotiator creates leverage.  And he's doing his best.

Sternberg is well-aware there are at least 14 different types of public subsidies the Rays could target to subsidize a new home.

3) Transparency from Rays??
Sternberg said the $150 million figure was based on the team's estimated revenues from a new stadium - something he told me five years ago the Rays don't do.

So, I guess now in 2017, the team all of a sudden knows what kind of ballpark they want to build and generally what kind of revenues it can expect from it?  Does that mean the Rays will finally be a little more forthcoming about financial issues?

Because three years ago...
If Sternberg was serious about only contributing $150 million, at least he's being honest (although I'm not convinced).  Because so far, the only real money talk we've heard from the Rays and MLB is how taxpayers had better start coughing up money.

Transparency has not been a priority here, and little has changed since I said this 12 months ago:

We know from the Marlins' new stadium that a new park, even in the wrong place, will increase a franchise's value by hundreds of millions.  So c'mon Stu, show us the money.

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