Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Yawn Pt. II

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn appeared on WDAE-AM's "The Sports Page" Tuesday morning, and said he was "happy" that Rays owner Stu Sternberg thought Tampa was an attractive possible future home for the team (Yawn Pt. I).

Other big news this morning: the sun rose and the sky is still blue.
“I think everyone recognizes that its not going to work in its current configuration,” said Buckhorn. “To know that Tampa is a serious option for him (Sternberg) whether its downtown or any other location I think is good. When that day comes this community and this region needs to be prepared to put its best minds to the task to figuring out how to make this work.”
After he touted the viability of a Downtown Tampa stadium, Buckhorn then acknowledged paying for one would be a “very difficult lift.”

So on the bright side of things, Tampa is at least on level playing field with Montreal right now!

Latest Spring Training Subsidy Speculation

Earlier this week, I wrote how proposed new legislation aimed at retaining Florida sports teams could actually have adverse effects and put taxpayers at a greater disadvantage by encouraging shorter leases & lower penalties for teams that break those leases.

And even though some Senators seem to recognize the state is handing out money to merely move teams from one side of Florida to another (Nancy Detert, R-Sarasota, at 1:07:00 in this clip), the giveaways continue.

For instance, the Nationals, a team that would never seriously consider moving to Arizona, is still in line for tens of million dollars in handouts sp they can move with the Astros to West Palm Beach.  The subsidies are not because the Nats are threatening to leave the state, but merely because several other Florida communities - bolstered by state dollars - may ultimately try to outbid each other for their services.

It's not exactly the kind of wise state spending taxpayers would expect.  But then again, it's not like Governor Rick Scott has any interest in reeling it in.

Yawn.

From the Associated Press:
NEW YORK (AP) -- Six years after saying they wanted to explore alternative sites to downtown St. Petersburg for a new ballpark, the Tampa Bay Rays still are in search of a location.

"Tampa is obviously very, very attractive on the list, and we expect to at some point, hopefully sooner, look there as well as some other parts of the region," Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said Tuesday during a panel at the MLB Diversity Business Summit.

Sternberg took control of the team after the 2005 season, and in November 2007 the Rays proposed to replace Tropicana Field with a 34,000-seat, open-air stadium at the downtown site of Al Lang Field, a longtime spring training ballpark. They withdrew that plan the following June, and Sternberg said in June 2010 he wanted to explore potential sites throughout the Tampa Bay area.

The Rays' lease at Tropicana Field runs through 2027. Tampa Bay hasn't drawn more than 2 million fans at home since its first season in 1998. Despite winning 90 or more games in each of the last four seasons, the Rays haven't topped 1.6 million in any of the last three years.

"We haven't had the greatest success in attracting the what we call enough fans relative to the success we've had on-field, and we would like to explore other part of the region, specifically Tampa and parts of St. Petersburg," Sternberg said.

He said the Rays need to undertake "a full-out exploration" of transportation and access issues.

"Until we're able to do all the work that's necessary there, I won't really have an answer for it," he said.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Fla. Legislature Will Try to Make it Easier for Pro Teams to Take Hostages

So I guess the good news for Florida taxpayers is the state isn't adding any new money to its already-robust spring training-earmarked fund this year...but some legislators sure are hell-bent on reducing the state's negotiating power with MLB teams.

According to Isadora Rangel from the Tribune/Scripps Capital Bureau, the seemingly-annual Senate stadium bill includes provisions that would make it even easier for teams to land taxpayer handouts (as if it wasn't easy enough already):
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, cleared the Senate Appropriation Committee on Thursday and allows incentives approved last year to be distributed over a shorter period of time — 20 years instead of 30 years for one-team facilities and 25 years instead of 37 1⁄2 years for two-team facilities.
...
Last year, the Legislature approved a fund that grants $20 million per spring training stadium over 30 years and $50 million for two-team stadiums over 37 1⁄2 years. Local governments have to match that amount.
This blog has gone into great depth about how the state incentives actually encourage Florida counties to try and out-spend each other, as well as re-allocate possible beach and marketing dollars to new stadiums.

But the new legislation would actually put taxpayers at a greater disadvantage by encouraging shorter spring training leases, thus encouraging more-frequent MLB demands for upgrades and more-frequent threats of relocation.

GOOD JOB FLORIDA!

Update: As I watch more committee hearings on SB 1214 (around 51 minutes in that clip), it appears Latvala is pushing another change that would be a huge benefit to pro teams looking to leverage taxpayers.  Right now, if a team leaves a lease a few years early, they presumably owe damages on the entire contract.  Lavala wants to amend it so teams only have to pay damages on the years they bail out early, drastically reducing the incentive for teams to actually honor their contracts.  Can only imagine the Rays would stand to gain greatly from this law.

In that same hearing, Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, addressed criticisms of the bill with three counterpoints:
  1. "We are not giving (teams) money from the state revenue source unless they generate the sales tax."
  2. "Generally, these stadiums go in blighted areas initially, and it brings economic expansion around these stadiums."
  3. "It's a major lift of quality of life to see what goes on around these stadiums," citing Daytona Int'l Speedway and "Tampa Stadium" as examples.
Not sure if Simpson was referring to the quality of life around Raymond James Stadium (home of Mons Venus) or the much-criticized quality of life around Tropicana Field, but his home region isn't the best example of subsidy success stories.

It was also funny Simpson accidentally called the subsidies "giveaways" before correcting himself...but that was the most accurate thing he said during the whole hearing.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rays to Portland? Fat Chance Pt. II

Following last fall's Shadow of the Stadium post on why the Rays won't be moving to Portland, Maury Brown of the Biz of Baseball provides more reasons why the campaign in Oregon is much more dream than reality.  The biggest of Portland's many problems is that, unlike in the early 2000s, there is no MLB-owned team actively seeking relocation:
This simple, yet critical aspect, is why any discussion of the A’s or Rays relocating is a non-starter. Because without that, what you have are owners trying to leverage a ballpark deal, first in their market, and then only with the blessing of the league and a clear message that says, “Team up for sale,” does relocation to a new market occur.
Brown also identifies the pesky Giants/Mariners TV rights issues, the lack of a suitable stadium option right now, and of course, the complete lack of funding for a future stadium.

And while Brown doesn't complete discount Portland as a possible future MLB market, he does contend plans are a loooong way from fruition:
It’s those damned details that are getting in the way of the fun. Details that move efforts from “dream” to something closer to “reality.” When I was first approached about this current effort, my biggest advice was “work quietly behind the scenes.” That in doing so, politicians, MLB, and owners like Lew Wolff would not be placed in an uncomfortable spot of having to publically address MLB to Portland before anything substantive had been pulled together.

As it was in 2003, so should it be now. When the Expos were up for relocation, it provided Portland an opportunity to take a detailed examination of the market and report the findings, regardless of what club might actually land here one day. Focus on the “market viability” not “baseball has a problem, and we have a solution that has no answers to the major questions.” The former, not the latter, is where efforts to bring MLB to Portland should be. Until then, the dream will likely continue.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sensationalized Spring Training Supposition

The Grapefruit League's annual attendance recap made headlines this week, as 1.45 million fans passed through the turnstiles this spring.  The 6,882 average was just off last year's 6,965 average, thanks largely in part to weather and a lack of exhibition games at the 36,742-seat Marlins Park.

But a Tampa Tribune story goes looking for deeper meaning in the numbers, suggesting a nearly 200,000-fan drop from last year signifies more Florida teams will head to Arizona for spring training.

This is an aboslute baseless assumption that neglects basic facts:
  1. Attendance was down significantly in Arizona too.
  2. Teams are chosing to play fewer spring training games than in previous years.
  3. Arizona stadium capacities are significantly bigger than Florida's.
  4. Few East Coast/Midwest teams would ever consider training in Arizona.
The Trib even acknowledges some of these points, but still prints its sensationalized lede and headline, "Arizona outslugs Florida" in attendance (which was changed online to read, "Arizona edges Florida").

For a more thorough analysis of spring training numbers, the new Tampa Bay Baseball Market blog has been wonderful:
Follow them on Twitter...they're a good resource for Rays attendance stats throughout the season too!

Guest Blog from Reader Comments

I've always asked rhetorically, if it doesn't make economic sense for a private team owner to completely pay for his or her own stadium, why would it make sense for a municipality to do so?

Shadow of the Stadium reader Scott Myers, whom I wouldn't exactly call a Malcolm Glazer or Stu Sternberg sympathiser, elaborates on this point in response to a state effort to specify which professional teams and leagues will get tax dollars:
[I]f the project is capable of having a positive return on the state’s investment, why would any of these projects need state support at all? Why would the private entities applying want to share the profits with the government? So I do not see this as a good use of up to $12 million per year of taxpayers money.
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I think it is interesting to note that the net worth of the 8 owners of the sports franchises (already receiving state subsidies) range from a minimum of $500 million to a maximum of $7.2 billion.
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So instead of giving this money to billionaires, I suggest that these funds (up to $16 million) could be better spent on replacing broken down school buses, increasing the pay of special needs aides, reducing the cost of after school care for working parents, and other such 'mundane' needs.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Trib Editorial Backs Florida Stadium-Ranking Bill

This week, the editorial board of the Tampa Tribune penned a piece on proposed legislation that would force pro sports teams and leagues to "compete" for taxpayer subsidies, possibly even capping them at $12-$13 million per year:
The proposals make sense and should be supported by lawmakers. Agreeing on a process for evaluating funding requests puts each of the teams on equal footing. It gives the owners and the fans in a particular city a better understanding of why a request is approved or denied, and it establishes accountability measures to ensure the teams are living up to their end of the bargain.

Professional sports is big business in Florida, and the state can justify making sensible investments in the facilities where the teams play. Successful teams generate sales tax revenue and attract overnight visitors who pay bed taxes. The teams also help promote the state and the cities where they play.
The question about laws passed during Florida's short 60-day legislative session is always about unintended consequences.  Will this bill actually make it harder for teams to prove their economic impact to the state...or easier?

The Trib explains a new Orlando MLS team will bring Florida's major league franchise total to 10, plus 33 minor-league teams and 15 spring training teams.
The state already awards $2 million in sales taxes each year for the facilities where eight of the major league sports franchises play, including Tropicana Field and Raymond James Stadium. The bills being considered would replace the piecemeal process of awarding the state money and replace it with a defined set of rules for teams to follow.

The state’s Department of Economic Opportunity would rank the proposals based on a team’s ability to have a positive impact on the state. Among the criteria: the length of time a team has agreed to use the stadium; the number of signature events a facility is likely to host; a facility’s multiuse capabilities; how many Floridians a facility is projected to employ; and how well it will draw tourists.
Ranking the proposals is great...but will the state still give the money out if none of the proposals are terribly convincing?  Will the state do its own economic studies or trust the team's rosy projections?

Will Florida consider factors like likelihood of relocating (Rays slightly higher than NASCAR) or the team's financial committment (Dolphins spending more than the Bucs)?

These are questions that seldom get answered in Tallahassee in the rush to push through legislation.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Column: Selig, MLB are Victimizing Rays, Tampa Bay

Howard Bryant from ESPN The Magazine, who penned this gem from 2011, delivers another great take on the Tampa Bay Rays in 2014:
By almost all standards, the Rays are doing it the Right Way; the only one they've failed to meet is extracting a new stadium from taxpayers, which happens to be the only one that matters on Park Avenue. Their reward for all this is being ignored by the commissioner's office, which has declined to consider a number of inventive options to sustain the Rays economically and competitively.

When Tampa Bay was granted a franchise, the other owners split up $130 million in expansion fees. The problems the Rays have now -- difficult geography, terrible stadium, transplanted fan base with allegiances to other teams -- existed from the beginning, but baseball's leadership paid no mind. The short money was available, and Bud Selig and the owners took it.
Bryant has sympathy for neither Major League Baseball nor Bud Selig. And much like I wrote in 2011, the fact that the Rays may ultimately lose guys like David Price and why they may not be able to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees in the long-term is not the fault of Rays fans, but the fault of the league.

But Bryant does have sympathy for Rays’ owner Stu Sternberg and his push to re-organize the draft order based on revenues, not records.  And the possibility of re-aligning divisions based on revenues:
Tampa Bay's owner may enjoy beating out big-money teams for a playoff spot, as the Rays did last season, but he'd much rather leave the AL East, where his team will forever be at a massive payroll disadvantage to the Red Sox ($163 million) and Yankees ($203 million). The solution is staring Selig in the face. With a $162 million payroll (fifth in MLB), Detroit is a big-spending club. Baseball could realign and move the Tigers back to the AL East, where they resided from 1969 to 1997, with the Rays shifting to the AL Central and fighting only one megamarket team, Chicago. But baseball has ignored this conversation too.

In our many discussions on this topic over the years, Selig has professed to me his interest in the future of small-market clubs, pointing out that he's a former owner of one himself. But his inaction speaks louder than his words -- the man who was able to quickly introduce instant replay and interleague play has only two stalled economic committees to show for the issues in Oakland and Tampa Bay that have existed for nearly 20 years. But it's a problem that can't be sidestepped forever. Baseball and Tampa Bay are stuck with each other, and if leadership is more than just a slogan, Selig and his office should be considering creative ways to sustain the Rays instead of the current plan: waiting for an unfair system to run a good team into the ground.
Meanwhile, ESPN’s Buster Olney, who in the past has criticized anyone who criticizes Rays fans for watching on TV instead of in-person, indicated MLB is choosing to let their huge “problems” in Tampa Bay and Oakland go unresolved:
If baseball’s owners and Selig don’t feel the need to strong-arm the Giants into making the best possible territory deal they can make and carve out a home for the Athletics in San Jose, Calif., that’s their choice. Until Major League Baseball -- the teams and the central office -- places the Athletics’ status at the top of its to-do list and prepares all the necessary horse-trading, nothing will change.
Of course, he name-dropped Montreal, Portland, and Nashville too as possible future homes of the Rays, so there’s that.

By the way, for those of you claiming traffic is bad in St. Pete....

Monday, April 7, 2014

Kriseman, Silverman Chit-Chat About Stuff

Sometimes, you just happen to be out of town when there’s news to be blogged about.

That’s the situation I found myself in when Christopher O’Donnell reported St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman met with Rays President Matt Silverman last week (sans Stu Sternberg).  So, better late than never:
“I think we made good progress today,” Kriseman said. “We’re having very open and honest dialogue with each other.”

The hourlong unannounced meeting, the second Kriseman has had with the team since taking office in January, was at the Trop ahead of the Rays’ game against the
Texas Rangers.

Kriseman said both sides have agreed to keep talks confidential. Talks in 2013 between the Rays and former Mayor Bill Foster stalled after city leaders claimed that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig had instructed the Rays not to offer the city any compensation if it broke its contract.

“Both sides have agreed we are going to keep our conversations in confidence and private so we can continue to have a solid element of trust in each other, so we can make progress,” Kriseman said.
A day earlier, Kriseman was slated to meet with one of his closest allies and stadium advisors, St. Pete businessman Craig Sher.  And a day before that, the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board fired a shot across the bow in many ways {link to Times' site}, warning that sooner or later, it expects the mayor to solve the Stadium Saga (among other issues):
Vision statements, pillars and values are good. The bigger questions for residents remain what concrete steps the new mayor will take to replace the Pier, resolve the baseball stadium stalemate, build a police headquarters, hire a new police chief, bring jobs to downtown …