Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon Returning...Without Subsidies

I first broke the news on WTSP today that the city of St. Petersburg will give a road race organizer a third chance to make a first impression, inviting it to bring the “St. Pete Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon” back to town in March 2017.

This blog helped expose how the Competitor Group Inc., a San Diego company best-known for its “Rock ‘n’ Roll” half marathon series, drew disappointing crowds to its events in St. Petersburg in 2012 and 2013 – despite receiving $130,000 in public subsidies each year – before pulling out of the market completely prior to 2014’s events. It also purchased the successful St. Pete Women’s Half Marathon from a local company, only to cancel the race two months before its Nov. 2014 running.

But Competitor Group Inc. (CGI) was the largest company to submit a bid during the city’s recent RFP seeking race organizers to bring a half-marathon back to Downtown St. Pete. And, unlike its previous events in St. Pete, the Competitor Group said in its application that it would not request any public subsidies at the onset of the St. Pete Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. However, it kept the option open in its application:

“CGI would be interested in a partnership with the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission should the opportunity arise.”

Unlike CGI’s robust projections ahead of the 2012 and 2013 races that never materialized, the company only projected 7,000 runners for a March 2017 Rock ‘n’ Roll half-marathon in St. Pete. It projected 7,500 and 8,000 runners for the 2018 and 2019 races, respectively.

In 2012, CGI projected 12,000-15,000 runners but only 7,021 completed the St. Pete Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. The following year, only 4,379 runners completed the race.

The race was also plagued by frustrations from runners who were hit with $15 parking fees, a $10 fee to get a ride from the finish line in North Shore Park to the starting line at Tropicana Field more than two miles away, plus another $15 for parking to simply pick up the race packet at Tropicana Field as was required in the days leading up to the race.

There didn’t appear to be any mention of parking costs or any shuttle fees in CGI’s 2017 race proposal, but the company requested a course that starts at Albert Whitted Park, only 1.3 miles from the finish line at North Shore Park. It also told the city it was open to adjusting the course.

The Competitor Group has also hosted more than a dozen successful "Rock 'n' Roll" half marathons and marathons each year since they left St. Pete, and used their national exposure and experience to set their application apart from the local companies seeking to host a race.

CGI requested a race date during the third weekend of March, which would put next year’s race on March 19, likely fewer than two weeks before the IRL’s Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The company told the city it “would be willing to adjust the race course to accommodate planned construction near the Pier/Bayshore Drive area, assuming we are allowed to return to the area once construction is completed” and it “would also consider evaluating alternate start and expo locations to accommodate Grand Prix activities.


The nipple band-aids are once again coming off!

While the city also voted to award a November half-marathon to Pinellas-based EndorFUN Sports, the process may get delayed by a formal bid protest by the runner-up, Florida Road Races.

The initial protest by Florida Road Races (FRR) cited a number of issues.

You can continue to read about the controversy here.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Why Hillsborough Remains a Rays Stadium Longshot

There's been lots of talk in the last week about Pinellas County's list of 10 specific sites the Rays may want to consider for a stadium, based on the basic criteria set out by the team.

This blog has long pointed out that anyone with a pile of dirt thinks they have a chance at landing a stadium.  But most of them are silly...even though Tampa Bay residents won't agree on which ones are silly:
I've always said you could poll 100 Rays fans about where they'd like to see a new stadium built, and 100 would agree they'd like one built closer to where they live.
But that point was echoed this weekend by a John Romano column that said there really are only two sites the Rays can consider - Downtown Tampa and adjacent to the current stadium in Downtown St. Pete. 
But that doesn't mean a move to Tampa is a foregone conclusion. There is not a perfect plot of downtown land available, and funding in Hillsborough could be tricky.

So, yes, Pinellas County is most definitely in the picture.

But you have to understand how the Rays view this. By itself, a shiny new stadium will not change the franchise's fortunes. If it's built in Pinellas, the Rays' new home has to have some way of drawing the Tampa crowd that has never flocked to Tropicana Field.
Romano goes on to say Derby Lane promise the best hope for that, except it doesn't have the highway infrastructure to ever get fans to the stadium quickly enough.

The columnist may not be aware the Selmon Expressway is expected to be extended to the Gandy Bridge by 2020, providing a lightning-fast, ride free of traffic lights from Downtown Tampa to Derby Lane.  And that the state is connecting Derby Lane to I-275 in Pinellas County with a set of overpasses, set to be completed within just a couple of years.
So don't write off Derby Lane just yet.

But Romano continues with the option of last (and most probable) resort in his mind:
And that pretty much leaves Tropicana Field's land. Between the interstate access, the growing hipster scene in St. Pete and the possibility of redeveloping the extra acres with destination-type amenities, it's Pinellas' best bet.

In baseball scouting terms, it has the highest upside.

Now this doesn't mean the Pinellas list was a waste of time. On the contrary, it served an important purpose. It successfully pointed out what should now be obvious.
The most fans are in Hillsborough, but the money's in Pinellas.  And I have a sneaking suspicion which one the Rays will ultimately choose.*

*If they choose either option at all

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

USF's Last Chance to Leave "Have-Nots" for "Haves"

Back in March, I took a close look at USF's struggling athletic financials and how conference re-alignment has really crushed the program's momentum; the difference between the NCAA's "haves" in the Power Five conferences and the "have-nots" was growing. Last week's announcement of a mega-TV deal for the ACC is just the latest reminder.

Well, there's been a lot of talk lately about the possibility of USF capitalizing on the Big 12's expected expansion.
This is USF's last chance to play ball with the "big boys."  It will get expensive, but the Big 12's TV riches make it a much better option than staying in the bargain-basement AAC, where USF Athletics will continue to struggle to balance its budget.

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Monday, July 18, 2016

Why the "Tampa" Rays Could Use a Swear Jar

Oh boy:
Of course, Poison frontman Bret Michaels is in good company, as national broadcasters and writer/bloggers have long referred to the "Tampa Rays" and their home in "Tampa."

But it's not like the Rays have exactly gone out of their way to correct the slight to "Tampa Bay" and St. Petersburg, either.  Can you imagine how FSU would react if the national media kept calling them the "Florida Seminoles?" 

Or a rival?
Heck, even their own employees do it, even if it is unintentionally

But what could the Rays do to better-represent their region and St. Petersburg's investment in the team?  How about the same thing they did when they dropped the word "Devil" from their name in 2008?

The team developed a "swear jar":

But instead of sending pleasant or funny reminders of their official team name, the Tampa Bay Rays have generally allowed the convenient slight that suggests the franchise should be playing across the bay.

It wouldn't be such a bad tip of the hat to the team's fans around Tampa Bay who don't happen to live in the city of Tampa.  And who knows, it may even help them get some positive national exposure again?

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

"The Worst Sports Stadium Deal Ever"

If the Braves' super-secret not-so-great, potentially-illegal deal wasn't bad enough, VICE Sports suggests the Braves' boondoggle may actually be "the worst sports stadium deal ever" after baseball park funding - which was not approved by voters - basically prohibited the county from spending a planned $40 million on actual parks, which was approved by voters. Oh, and about a million other things regarding hidden costs and an unforgivable lack of transparency. Never forget: Cobb Co. commissioners did everything in their power to avoid letting the public know what they were doing. Hey Tampa Bay voters, you paying attention? Because it's dangerously close to happening here too.

And if the whole "traffic sucks in Atlanta, but lets build a new stadium in the middle of the worst part, while not accounting for any new transit" thing wasn't bad enough in Atlanta, the Braves are working on running game-day traffic through suburban residential streets...which of course, isn't going over well.

Nor is the public concession from Cobb Co. that prohibits owners of private parking lots near the stadium from operating on game days?!?!

Or that private concessionaires won't allowed anywhere near the stadium, either!

Again, I ask: Tampa Bay stadium planners - you paying attention?

UPDATE: Cobb Co. appears to be backing off the ridiculous parking ban (but don't hold your breath on the concessions)

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Manfred, Montreal, and Vegas...Oh My

Ahhhh, the MLB All-Star game. A chance to see baseball's brightest executives answer questions about the hunt for new stadiums.

Commish Rob Manfred broke from tradition a bit yesterday, refusing to threatmonger Oakland and Tampa Bay and instead politely expressing his patience, support, and hope for new stadiums in two of baseball's most-challenging markets.

But he didn't miss a chance to remind everyone that Montreal won't be getting a team until the league can successfully use the threat of relocation to get new stadiums in Oakland and Tampa Bay:
Manfred said any move to add teams beyond the current 30 must wait because of the stadium searches.

"Both of those clubs need new major-league-quality facilities," he said, "and until that's resolved, I think expansion has got to be on the back burner for us."

Of course, if Montreal relocation threats weren't bad enough in Tampa Bay, some observers really want to crowbar Las Vegas into the mix too.

But as the nation's 40th-largest media market (Tampa Bay is 11th), Las Vegas would be the league's smallest, and a serious drain on big-markets' television revenues. Plus, Vegas is about to get its first big-league franchise (hockey), so there wouldn't seem to be nearly enough disposable income in the most transient of towns to add another big-league team to the mix. After all, the blackjack tables will always come first.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Transit is the Rays' Real Biggest Problem

The TB Baseball Market blog had a nice read yesterday on the Tampa Bay market's transportation challenges and how they affect the Rays.

Figured it was a good time to revisit some of this blog's transportation-related writings from the last seven years, including a 2011 post on how the lack of transportation might doom a new Rays stadium, wherever it may end up in West/Central Florida:
Floridians aren't used to driving 60 minutes for a baseball experience, and...MLB and Sternberg underestimated Floridians' desires to drive to baseball games.

If you handed someone in Connecticut a free Yankees or Red Sox ticket, there's a good chance they'd travel 90 minutes to the game. If you handed someone in Tampa a free Rays ticket, they probably wouldn't drive 30.
A couple years later, I wrote "why transit is more important than stadium location" for the Rays:
While it's all well-and-good to figure out how many people currently live within a 30-minute drive of Carillon vs. a 30-minute drive of Downtown Tampa (hint: it's the same), the region's transportation picture will be drastically different by 2035. And the presence of light rail and/or rapid-transit buses (could) reshape our impressions of a "reasonable" commute.
Then, of course, within the last two years, local voters and politicians have dealt a few considerable blows to the Rays' long-term future by killing potential transit expansions. Read here how it impacts baseball.

Finally, here are a few other posts from over the years related to the market's transportation challenges

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Teams Will Say Anything to Keep Subsidy Spigot Running

I haven't had much time to blog lately - partially due to speaking at the annual IRE (Investigative Reporters & Editors) convention about the importance of watchdog journalism in sports business.

I pushed journalists around the county to go investigate their own local stadium subsidies; to scrutinize economic impact claims; and to hold elected officials accountable.

We also talked about how the real value of new stadiums is not in more seats or luxury boxes anymore - in fact, Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan recently said a new Rays park may have zero suites. But instead, the real value of new stadiums lies in 1) increasing demand for teams' product and 2) other real estate/ancillary deals around the park.

I've always said teams are much better at this subsidy game than cities...and elected officials of Tampa should give a real long, hard look at this invaluable 1998 article (page 68) on the Bucs' $600 million "sweetheart" deal....that wound up costing taxpayers at least $26 million more this year.

Also worth reading this weekend - the Tampa Bay Times' synopsis of how stadiums "aren't built the way they used to." Kidding, they're built better. But as I wrote a few years ago, 20 is the new 40 for stadiums and teams seem to have little interest in honoring the spirit of their original 30-year leases:
What's worrisome is that baseball teams seem to be accelerating their demands for new stadiums, effectively shortening the lifespans of pricey stadiums to mere decades. Consider this a sports version of the old Space Race when the United States and Russia went wild with checkbooks trying to establish dominance above Planet Earth.
It's beyond worrisome. And an important question worth asking of Ken Hagan, Bob Buckhorn, Rick Kriseman, and other politicians talking to the Rays: how do you expect to ensure the Rays would return 30 years of investment to the people who pay hundreds of millions of dollars for their new home?


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Friday, June 10, 2016

Another Blow to Baseball in Tampa

Last night, Hillsborough Co. commissioners voted again to keep a potential transportation tax referendum off this fall's ballot, not only dealing a blow to the Rays' hopes for better transit in Tampa Bay, but also the hope that residents in Hillsborough County might be willing to spend new money on infrastructure improvements.

Of course, the case to spend money on baseball - at a time the county has a multi-billion-dollar transportation funding shortfall - gets even harder here. But as the Times' Steve Contorno reports, citizens are starting to mock commissioners for their seeming willingness to spend on sports and not roads:
One speaker, Yvette Maldonado, sarcastically suggested that commissioners may discover the will to pave roads if they were named after baseball stadiums.
"Wow," she said, "I think I found the solution folks."
Making things even harder on stadium advocates, the commission ultimately voted to look into whether tax-increment financing (TIF) could be used to earmark property taxes for transportation...which might make hopes of a stadium TIF even harder to accomoplish.

ALSO READ: Hillsborough has no idea how to pay for a stadium
ALSO READ: Land isn't Problem in Stadium Saga; Funding is.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Hillsborough, Rays Talk Stadium Locations; Still Pretend $200+M isHiding in Sofa Cushions

The Times' Richard Danielson reports today that the Rays continued their secret, undocumented meetings with Tampa-area community leaders today, ultimately bringing the conversation around to nine possible (undisclosed) new stadium locations, and the (undisclosed) tax dollars they may tap into to help pay for their new park.

And even though Rays President Brian Auld once promised total transparency on the process, and Hillsborough Commission's resident tax pledge flip-flopper Ken Hagan suggested the same, details from these meetings have been hush-hush.

Sounds about right.

Pro teams love when the headlines avoid the difficult financial talk, for they want to maintain tight control over the conversation and how it's perceived by the public. (See super-secret blueprints in Atlanta and Texas). But Danielson did include one financial nugget:
Based on where a stadium was built, officials have said there could be up to 10 different sources of funding. Along with money from the team, those could include a share of the property taxes that are already earmarked for community redevelopment in areas like downtown Tampa, rental car surcharges, a portion of local hotel bed taxes, money authorized by the Legislature, ticket user fees and foreign investment available through the federal government's EB-5 visa program.
Since the Times' Steve Contorno eloquently pointed out in a different article this morning, "There are winners and losers whenever government creates incentives," allow me to fulfill my watchdog duties by pointing out the losers for each of these possible pro sports incentives Hagan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn are discussing:
  1. Property taxes earmarked for community redevelopment: Other local projects that receive CRA/TIF money lose, from transit to parks to arts to roadways to the Ybor City Redevelopment Corporation to safety improvements.

  2. Rental car surcharges: Aside from the folks who rent cars in Hillsborough Co - regardless of whether they've even heard of the Rays - the airport also loses, as car rental taxes could help pay for more airport improvements like expansion, modernizations, or even cheaper parking!

  3. Local hotel bed taxes: Everyone seeking money for arts, beaches, museums, and other tourism-driving events lose, since tourist taxes are eligible for a wide-range of expenditures.

  4. Money authorized by the legislature: Taxpayers would lose, since this general revenue money could go to any other educational, social service, or infrastructure need in the state.

  5. Ticket user fees: The Rays lose, since this comes out of the price of a ticket...so don't expect that one to fly.

  6. Foreign investment through EB-5: Some would argue hard-working, middle-class immigrants looking to come to America would lose...while others would argue a lot of Americans lose out too.  Either way, it hasn't yet proven itself a reliable - or robust - way to fund private stadiums. 
It's worth pointing out the rental car & state money would require favors from the legislature, which has denied every stadium subsidy application that's come its way in recent years, amazingly enough.

So to summarize, Hagan hasn't figured out how to pay for a new Rays park in Tampa; he hasn't figured out how to redirect general revenue funds toward baseball without anyone noticing; and he hasn't figured out how to weasel his way out of his "no new taxes" pledge. 

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Still Shocked by New Texas Rangers Stadium Handout...but Probably Not as Much as Texas Teachers

If you thought the Braves lucked into a generous, super-secret, behind-closed-doors stadium deal to replace a 20ish-year-old facility...wait until you read up on what the Texas Rangers did!

It takes a lot of gall to demand replacing your already-modern stadium with a billion-dollar replacement...except it seems the Rangers didn't even have to try that hard. The city of Arlington worked (in secret) to negotiate paying half of the $1B price tag on a new stadium...plus property tax breaks - for The Roofed Ballpark at Arlington, or whatever they'll call their newer, better, beast that will protect them from having to play baseball outdoors.

Then, just four days later - because clearly, that's sufficient time for the public to vet and debate the deal - Arlington's city council unanimously approved the package (which even came with the traditional boilerplate questionable economic impact study!).

ALSO READ: Hillsborough Co.'s chief stadium negotiator wants a secret deal too

When it came to the Braves' super-secret deal, the silver lining is that it didn't take long for the handouts to threaten the jobs of the responsible politicians. And the silver lining in the Rangers' deal is the voters will still have a say on it at the polls...albeit it, a referendum where the deck can now be stacked against them by the team, columnists, and countless other political forces.

But, as Field of Schemes' Neil deMause writes:
This is a textbook case of “How to game a stadium vote,” and kudos to Rangers owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson for pulling it off — though the Arlington council really deserves an assist for making it as easy as possible for them to do so. Next time you’re wondering if the real cause of the sports subsidy scam is greedy owners or craven politicians, the answer is: yes.
There wasn't enough good analysis on the deal from the shell-shocked Dallas/Fort Worth media, but one column worth reading is from Star-Telegram columnist Mac Engel, who frankly sends mixed signals on the $500M in handouts....but at least he acknowledges how silly it seems to do this deal right now, long before it became necessary:
This deal is another example of our maddening paradox that makes up a large chunk of the U.S. economy; we are told to save and not buy “stuff we don’t need” and yet our financial system cracks and stalls because we are not buying “stuff we don’t need.”
A new baseball stadium in Arlington is more stuff we don’t need.

For Arlington, keeping the Rangers is always good for morale and pride, both of which have value. But at this price? Arlington plans to commit its taxpayers to a toy costing them $450 million when it already had a perfectly good one paid off.
I am only 500 percent certain, if you ask Arlington ISD school teachers and administrators, that their respective buildings and classrooms are in actual need of supplies and upgrades, but to hell with them. The Rangers need a roof.

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Friday, May 27, 2016

The Value of Another Bolts Playoff Run

Tampa Bay hockey fans may still be licking some wounds from a heart-wrenching seven-game playoff loss, but it's a good time to remember why cities invest in sports:

1) Because if we don't, some other community will and we'll lose our team(s). Crappy reason, but that's unfortunately just the way it is...

2) Because sports teams make us feel good.

I've written before about the intangible value of rallying around a home team, quoting Pete Kerasotis:
"How about that game last night?"

It was my mailman, with me standing at the end of my driveway, chatting about the Orlando Magic's dominating Game 1 win against the Atlanta Hawks the night before.

This, I thought, is what a sports team does. It brings people together with a common topic, and even a common sense of pride. It does it in boardrooms and family rooms, at the water cooler and at the checkout line.
And Joe Henderson:
Some people say Tampa is not rich enough, large enough, or passionate enough to support three pro sports teams. I think they’re wrong. People used to say hockey would never work here, either. These teams are part of the city’s fabric and identity. And when times are flush, like now, they bring people together like nothing else can.
I also recently discovered this passage from Bob Sturm with Sportsradio 1310, The Ticket (Dallas):
A favorite team is the only thing a male human feels the same about when he is five and when he is 45 and when he is 75. You will change your mind on everything else. Girls, money, hobbies. But you will always still feel the adrenaline rush of a win, and the gutting sadness of a horrible loss.
Of course, despite the public benefit of these private corporations existing, there's no reason teams should lean on the public for money...but hey, it's America!  Greed is good!

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The 2019, 2020, and 2021 Super Bowls Go To...

UPDATE: Super Bowl LIII (2019) goes to Atlanta, with Super Bowl LIV (2020) going to Miami, and Super Bowl V (2021) going to Los Angeles. Tampa appears next in-line for the 2022 game, but that depends on a 2018 or 2019 owners vote...and how many other teams may build new digs by then.

Three years ago, this blog pointed out that Florida cities were denied all bids for Super Bowls because not enough tax dollars went to stadium projects here to "earn" the "honor."

Since then, Shadow of the Stadium has tracked all the tax dollars that (needlessly) have continued to flow to the NFL, and the ensuing likelihood of the 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls going to Atlanta and Miami, respectively (even though the Dolphins suggested they wouldn't be able to land Super Bowls without the state money they never got). And, with the addition of a new billion-dollar LA stadium, Tampa's "turn" could get delayed another year.

But given the mixed economic analyses surrounding Super Bowls, losing out on the game may not be such a big "loss" for Tampa Bay.

FLASHBACK: I agree with some of the claims from the good folks behind Tampa's bid, since Super Bowls do net "heads in beds" and lure tourists to town for a week in February. But it's also not all that hard to lure people to Tampa in February; so does the game really bring hundreds of millions of dollars to town? Of course not.

Never trust an economic impact report that makes a hundred-million dollar claim from a week-long event. And never trust elected officials who make crazy claims about those studies, either.

FLASHBACK: ALSO READ: New York Hosts a Much Better Super Bowl Than Tampa*

Super Bowls are publicly-supported events where the amount of tax dollars paying for them are anything but public. We learned in 2014 that the NFL's secret demands range from significant to outrageous, and cities like Tampa, who are perceived to be underdogs in the 2019/2020 bidding, are more likely to make even more ludicrous concessions in their attempts to land a game.

I'll update this post later on today when we find out which cities "win" the bids.

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

That's a Lot of Stadium Campaigning

How long have I been covering new stadium campaigns?

This long.

Update: the Red Sox didn't leave Boston, as they threatened.  And an aging Fenway didn't devastate the franchise, also as former owners threatened.

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A Few Tweets of Caution About Counting on EB-5 Financing

And finally, a good one from last year:

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