Thursday, October 20, 2016

Lightning Named No. 1 in ESPN Ultimate Standings

TAMPA, Florida – The Tampa Bay Lightning franchise is the best. In all of sports. At least, according to the just-announced 2016 ESPN Ultimate Standings, which rank all 122 NHL, MLB, NFL, and NBA franchises “in categories that matter most to fans.”

For the first time in its 14-year history, the Ultimate Standings honor a Tampa-area team, after ranking the Lightning No. 3 in all of pro sports last year. The standings consider 25 criteria, including as ticket prices, recent on-field successes, and how owners & players show appreciation to their fans, a factor in which the Lightning ranked No. 1 out of 122 franchises.

“When Jeff Vinik bought the team in 2010, his No. 1 goal was to make this a world-class franchise (and) to serve our fans as well as we possibly could,” said Tampa Bay Lightning Executive Vice President of Communication Bill Wickett. “We feel that the ESPN Ultimate Standings are validation of that.”

ESPN The Magazine, which publishes its rankings in print this Saturday, also heralded the Lighting’s huge crowds at Fan Fest (11,000-plus), Vinik’s charitable efforts, and how the team has turned Tampa into “a hockey town.”

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers placed 73rd out of 122 franchises, while ESPN ranked the Tampa Bay Rays 90th. The San Francisco 49ers ranked last, thanks to high ticket prices, poor on-field performance, and cold owner/player relations with fans.

The entire rankings will be published on later this week.

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Weekend Reading: USF Football, Rays Stadium Funds in Hillsborough

A few sports business articles worth checking out from recent weeks:
  1. USF Football Attendance is in Crisis: With the Big 12 on the verge of announcing its expansion plans Monday, USF's last chance to make a good impression - and last chance to save its big-football dreams - has been less-than-impressive.
  2. Hillsborough Appears Ready to Raise Bed Tax: Even though the money could be used for a variety of non-stadium-related expenses too, stadium cheerleaders in Tampa are excited the bed tax could be raised a penny to potentially help fund (a small portion of) a new home for the Rays.  But Hillsborough still has a LONG way to go on financing.
  3. Dunedin's Economic Impact Claims are Worthless: This post furthers the points I've made regarding the city's campaign for public subsidies for an $81M Blue Jays spring training rehab.  It's a traveshamockery.
  4. Nobody's watching sports on TV anymore: Double-digit drops in NFL ratings, coupled with similar trends in other sports has some executives concerned...just not publicly.
  5. Everybody's still watching sports on TV: PricewaterhouseCoopers says television rights will officially surpass ticket gate revenues by 2018.  For teams like the Rays, where the cable numbers are stronger than the attendance numbers, that fateful day could come a lot sooner.

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Tampa Bay Left Out By Forbes 400 List

Forbes's annual list of the 400 wealthiest Americans includes a record 44 sports team owners.

The Glazer family has not made the cut since patriarch Malcolm passed away in 2014.  Nor has the Steinbrenner family.

But Clippers owner Steve Ballmer ($27.5B) made the list, as did Seahawks/Trail Blazers owner Steve Allen ($18.9B).  Kings owner Philip Anschutz ($10.9B), Rams owner Stan Kroenke, and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross ($7.4B) round out the top five, according to Forbes.

Ross, of course, has been asking the state of Florida for three years to help pay for his Dolphins Stadium renovations (to no avail...yet).

Other Florida subsidy-seekers making the billionaire's list include the Miami Heat's Mickey Arison ($7.2B), Jags owner Shahid Khan ($6.9B), and the Magic's Richard DeVos ($5.9B).

Neither the Rays' Stu Sternberg nor the Lightning's Jeff Vinik made the Forbes 400 list...yet.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Dunedin May Not Be Eligible for $46 Million They Assumed Pinellas Co. Would Give Them

As if the Blue Jays/Dunedin far-from-finalized $81 million spring training stadium deal hadn't already created enough punchlines, how about this one I just found?

The deal may not even be eligible for Pinellas County's bed tax dollars Dunedin's mayor promised the team (without actually asking the county first)!

Now, I'm no attorney, but according to the county's Capital Projects Funding Program guidelines, the Blue Jays' offer to extend their lease by 25 years - in exchange for major expansions of their training facilities - is not long enough to meet the county's minimum requirements.

So, if I'm reading the guidelines's time for the city of Dunedin to not just go back to the drawing board on this deal, but also time for the city to bring county commissioners into the least if it expects the county to help pay for it.

Any experts wanna lend their thoughts on this?

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Rays Fans Still Flock to TV

Maury Brown just posted a full breakdown of every MLB team's 2016 television ratings on (save the few games that remain in the season), and while the Rays felt a sting from their terrible on-field play this year, their TV ratings were much more respectable than their attendance numbers:
  • Rays games averaged a 2.95 household rating, down 28% from last year's huge 4.12 mark, but good enough for 13th out of 29 MLB teams based in the US (Toronto's ratings work differently).
  • An average of 55,000 households - representing approximately 124,000 fans - watched the Rays each night, better than nine other teams, including the Diamondbacks, Braves, Dodgers, Angels, and White Sox.
  • The Rays were Tampa Bay's third-most popular prime-time program this year, and the region's No. 1 on cable.
The most-watched teams in their respective markets, depending on metric, were the Royals (11.7 rating), Cardinals (8.5), and Tigers (7.6)...or the Mets (2.2M households), Yankees (2.0M), and Cubs (1.7M).

Brown also reports overall television numbers are up, even as ESPN bleeds subscribers.  So even if the "cable bubble" bursts, the Rays are in great shape to parlay their strong numbers into a great new TV contract soon

We just don't know when, because pro teams don't like you knowing how wealthy they are.

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Monday, September 26, 2016

How Badly Did the Blue Jays Just Walk All Over Dunedin?

The public get its first chance tonight to speak up on the just-released $81M spring training stadium deal the Toronto Blue Jays squeezed out of the good folks in Dunedin's city hall.  Of course, the deal was done behind-closed-doors (at the request of the team)...and it's the latest example of why small cities should NEVER go it alone against the MLB behemoth...and it could also impact the Rays' hopes for a new stadium too.

But the Dunedin plan still needs the approval of the Pinellas Commission, which will be asked to foot $46 million of the bill through bed tax collections.  It may not be the most popular deal among the county's influential hotel/tourism interests, either.

The public subsidy is approx. 14 times the initial 1990 pricetag for the Jays' spring training home, even when factoring in inflation, and it comes on top of the additional $12 million the park got in 2000, also mostly paid by the county and state taxpayers.

This blog has detailed how, yes, spring training brings tourist dollars to town...but never anywhere close to as many as teams claim:
A 2013 Blue Jays spring training economic impact report - commissioned by the City of Dunedin, which is trying to get county funds to upgrade the Jays' facilities - claimed $80 million in annual economic impact. 

However, the report uses questionable methods to get to that number, including trying to take responsibility for the spending of 25,000 out-of-state visitors who acknowledged they were in Florida primarily for something other than baseball.
Now, the city did include a new 2016 economic impact report in tonight's presentation...but does it use the same faulty logic?  And who paid for it? 

Here's the full report - no mention of who paid for it (I later found the city & team split the cost).  It also seems the study may not have accounted for the fact that FANS MAY ATTEND MORE THAN ONE GAME.  Yet, it seems to count nearly every ticket purchased as a unique visitor coming to Dunedin to spend money.

In fact, according to at least one academic observer, the Dunedin study may have counted the economic impact from the same fans up to 6-8 times.

You at least have to ask why taxpayers should foot the bill for a billion-dollar industry that fails to bring high-wage jobs to town....especially since the Jays, who have never trained anywhere except Dunedin, were not considered a threat to leave Florida.  And the Tigers just agreed to stay put in Lakeland for only $37 million(ish).  And Pinellas could have probably expanded Bright House Field into a two-team complex for a lot less money.

But then again, Governor Scott signed a bill that made it easier for MLB teams to extort Florida communities.....and everyone else is blowing budgets on why not Pinellas too?   Not like there are other hungry mouths chomping at the bed tax bit...

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

2016 Rays Attendance Post-Mortem

Another disappointing year at the gate comes to a close for the Rays today, as they drew 26,443 - a majority of whom seemed to be wearing red - to see David Ortiz' final game at Tropicana Field.

The team drew an average of 15,879 fans per game this year - an increase of 476 per game (3%) from last year.

The Rays' bad start, combined with a lousy year from its premier pitcher, Chris Archer, doomed attendance numbers from the start.  Excitement for another Lightning playoff run and a young, rebuilt Buccaneers team didn't help either.

So that makes five straight years in MLB's cellar, with a whopping 3,000 fans per game separating the Rays from the 29th-place A's this year.  This blog has long covered the issues affecting Rays' attendance, from the front office's self-fulfilling prophecy, the team's failure to be "cool," and of course, location location location.

Overall, we see the league's average attendance drop again this year, down several hundred fans per game, to an average of just over 30,000 with a week left in the regular season.  For every attendance surge in Toronto (+8,000/gm), Chicago (Cubs +4,000/gm), and Texas (+3,000/gm)...there's a major drop in Cincinnati (-7,000/gm), Minnesota (-3,000/gm), and Milwaukee (-3,000/gm).

But don't cry for MLB, Argentina...with TV ratings strong and the league now worth close to $10 billion on the backs of unprecedented digital growth, owners have seen their individual equities each grow by hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years.

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Why the Rays' Case for Public Dollars Just Keeps Getting Harder & Harder

This coming Monday and Tuesday, the public will have its first opportunity to see - and voice opinions - on the just-released $81M spring training stadium deal Dunedin city officials negotiated behind-closed-doors with the Blue Jays.

My quick takeaways: 1) It's never a good idea for small towns to go it alone against a pro sports team, much-better equipped for high-stakes negotiations;   2) It's hardly a done deal, since the biggest piece of the proposed funding won't come from the Dunedin officials who negotiated the pact, but from Pinellas County's bed tax...and we know from the Braves' short-lived Pinellas flirting that the Rays' future comes before Spring Training's.

But there are other threats to potential stadium funding revenues that have emerged in recent weeks.  Actually, those threats have always been there, as this blog has long pointed out potential stadium dollars could go fund a lot of other community needs.

St. Petersburg
In St. Petersburg, where Mayor Rick Kriseman has suggested no taxes would need to be raised to build a new baseball stadium on the site of the current baseball stadium...there's a pesky, stinky little problem that may need city dollars a little more urgently...the city's overflowing sewer system.

The Times' wrote this week that the city has a whole bunch of extra cash now that the Trop's construction bonds are finally paid off...but the need to spend that money on things like sewer fixes may bump the priority of a new MLB stadium down to No. 2 (see what I did there?).

Ironically, it's the most conservative member of St. Pete's City Council, Ed Montanari, who expressed the most concern about committing tax dollars to something other than a stadium right now.

And it's an even more dire situation for stadium proponents in Tampa, where this summer, the county commission chose to address its shortfall in transportation funding not with a new sales tax, but by earmarking future property tax growth for roads and transit.

And that means any potential Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) created to capture Tax-Incremental Financing (TIF) around a new stadium now means much of the stadium infrastructure money will come directly from transportation infrastructure money.

The Biggest Threat:

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Does Texting Stadium Security Work?

Last night on 10News WTSP, I took a look at how well & how quickly Raymond James Stadium staff/security responds to fan complaints when they come in via text line.

I got my hands on thousands of texts fans sent in last year, and you can watch the entire story here.

Most fans were generally content with the way game day staff responded, but response times seemed to lag during busy events.  Between the 10 Buccaneers games and six USF Bulls games last year, security arrested 18 fans and ejected 210 more.
Security at Tropicana Field is on pace to arrest 15 fans and eject 35 fans this season, according to the St. Petersburg Police Department. Security at Amalie Arena made 15 arrests in all of 2015, according to the Tampa Police Department. Amalie Arena ejections were not available for Tampa Bay Lightning games.
Both the Bucs and Tampa Sports Authority declined comment on the story, other than the TSA issuing a statement that texting "33607," which also happens to be the stadium's zip code, was "the best way to convey a concern about (the) stadium experience."

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Hillsborough County Readies Pocket Change for Rays Stadium in Effort to Outbid Pinellas

TAMPA, Florida - Hillsborough County commissioners chose an investment bank for the financing of a potential new Rays stadium even though there are no public plans for a stadium, no indication of how many public dollars may be needed, and seemingly little appetite in the county to redirect tax dollars to a third pro stadium.

Commissioners voted to name Citigroup its bank for any public costs related to a new baseball stadium, which the county's lead negotiator, commissioner Ken Hagan, said he hoped would be limited to just "infrastructure."

"We have yet to have any discussion (with the Rays) regarding any financing," Hagan said. "But it is critically important that we have the best of the best assist us when we begin that discussion."

But the lack of details about where a new Rays stadium might go - or how it would be paid - continues a trend of behind-closed-doors meetings that keep taxpayers in the dark about where their money could eventually end up.

RELATED: Where Hillsborough Commission candidates stand on the stadium saga

There's also been little to no collaboration between Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, increasing the chance the two counties might end up in a bidding war over the Rays' future home.  (Can't we all just get along?  Arrrgghh.)

Hagan, who repeatedly ignored interview requests from 10Investigates in recent months, told a 10News WTSP reporter that he had hoped to bring a plan to his fellow commissioners within six months, including a preferred site, financing plan and public uses for a new Major League Baseball stadium.

"It's not practical to discuss land acquisition in public," Hagan said. "I wish it were, but we are trying to avoid land prices escalating through the roof. So that's why it's very important (to do) some things privately."

County attorney Chip Fletcher said the negotiating group had a "long way to go" before narrowing its current list of "about 10" potential sites down to a preferred two or three.

But despite the conversation centering around potential ballpark financing, there was once again little discussion about the actual financing mechanisms on the table. Discussions about tax revenues wouldn't seem to be subject to the same kind of speculation-related inflation Hagan and Fletcher referenced regarding location acquisition.

RELATED: Land isn't problem in stadium saga; financing is

While Pinellas County has robust tourist tax revenues, which could potentially bond upwards of $200 million in stadium construction, Hillsborough County's available tourist tax revenues would likely bond no more than $75 million. Additional revenues, such as a rental car tax, have been discussed but are considered neither particularly lucrative nor politically popular.

RELATED: Powerful Pinellas Senator gets involved in stadium saga
RELATED: Where Pinellas commission candidates stand on the stadium saga

Several Hillsborough commissioners expressed different degrees of hesitation Wednesday about the lack of transparency thus far in negotiations with the Rays, as well as the questionable return on investment of a taxpayer-subsidized facility. Hagan and Fletcher both responded they would be more forthcoming this fall when discussions about money progress, but so far, public talks would be "premature."

"We don't have any idea right now what the team's willing to contribute (or) what we're willing to support," Hagan told commissioners. "But we're getting ready to have that discussion, and that's why it's important we have subject matter experts with us to assist us in that process."

Murman and Hagan were both among the sitting commissioners who pledged not to use tax dollars for a MLB stadium back in 2010.

Hagan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn both said their next meeting with the Rays would be in early October. Buckhorn was out of the county Wednesday and not available for comment.

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Editorial You'll Never See the Tampa Bay Times Print

The Tampa Bay Times' editorial board penned a piece this weekend criticizing one local county for incentivizing companies to relocate jobs from an adjacent county:
The incentive packages, though, funnel county and state tax dollars to companies already operating just down the road in Hillsborough and Pinellas. There is a better use of the public's money than paying employers to move around within Tampa Bay.
Now, don't confuse the paper's longstanding opposition to paying companies to relocate jobs 15 miles down the road...with its longstanding support for Hillsborough County incentivizing the Rays to relocate 15 miles down the road.

Which is why you'd never ever see the editorial board apply the same logic from this weekend's editorial to the Rays' campaign for stadium subsidy dollars:
It's not that counties shouldn't recruit new businesses or companies shouldn't determine their own destinies. But (the county) can tout an educated workforce and robust housing market to make the case for businesses to set up shop, not just incentive dollars. And better regional coordination in business recruitment would lessen the impact on taxpayers, who gain nothing by Tampa Bay being in competition with itself. From a regional standpoint, that's a zero-sum game.

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Sticker Shock on Latest Bucs' Franchise Valuations

Another year, another estimated surge in the value of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to Forbes.

The team followed up its 24% jump last year with a 19% jump this year, bringing its estimated value to a whopping $1.8 billion, certainly not hurt by their partially-subsidized stadium renovations.  The Rays can only salivate.

But here's where the Rays can sympathize: the Bucs have slid to 28th in the NFL in estimated franchise value.

Hard to imagine this is the same franchise that was the 12th-most valuable franchise - in any sport - in the entire world in 2010.  But then again, the sweetest stadium deal in Tampa Bay was then used to help an entire league of teams leverage their respective cities for new palatial playplaces.

Don't get too comfy, Tampa Bay, your turn for a new NFL stadium is once again less than a decade away!

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Rays Ramp Up for Offseason Stadium "Progress"

According to a Marc Topkin notes column this weekend, Rays owner Stu Sternberg actually seems more optimistic about the team's progress off-the-field than its success on-the-field, for once:
"I'd like to get a real good sense of things between November and before opening day," he said. "So somewhere in that period, while there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes, we're going to have to have some real progress."
Sternberg's satisfaction means those tough decisions for local politicians are inching closer, which begs the following questions:
  1. Will conversations be transparent and open this offseason?  We've seen some of St. Pete's ideas publicly vetted, but zero transparency thus far from Ken Hagan & Bob Buckhorn on the Tampa side of the bay.
  2. What will Pinellas Co. do about the expected spring training "ask" from Dunedin & the Blue Jays, when they probably don't have enough in their bed tax piggybank to make both the Blue Jays and Rays happy?
  3. How many financial resources will St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman offer the Rays to stay downtown?  There's a case to be made the city is already negotiating against itself since Hillsborough doesn't have many public dollars to offer at all.
  4. And finally, wherever the Rays want to build, the question lingers of how many dollars should come from the public when economists are pretty darn sure the team (worth hundreds of millions) and league (worth billions) stand to gain much more than taxpayers
Oh, and is it a bad time to mention MLB owners just sold 1/3 of its MLB Advanced Media product for more than a billion dollars???

That's a $33 million check for each of the league's 30 owners. And they didn't have to sell a single ounce of MLB's traditional business since the deal only includes MLBAM, which operates digital products for the NHL, WWE, HBO, and other heavy-hitters.

Regardless, there promises to be a lot of headlines to keep this blog busy this offseason.

And we haven't even gotten to the fun stuff, like how Pinellas or Hillsborough would guarantee the Rays ink an ironclad contract, which appears to be harder-and-harder to come by? Just ask Islanders fans:

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Rays Stadium as Tallahassee Bargaining Chip?

Last Friday, I reported powerful State Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Seminole) was getting involved in the Rays' stadium campaign, with undisclosed meetings set up for this coming week.
Latvala has shown a willingness to put regional priorities ahead of parochial battles...and state dollars might be the only way Hillsborough could ever afford to build a stadium for the Rays.  But all things considered, Latvala would probably prefer to see a new Rays stadium in Pinellas.

He wouldn't provide much information about his discussions moving forward, but the state might be able to contribute money directly toward stadium construction (as it has for numerous other pro and college stadiums). It also might be able to orchestrate a more complex maneuver:

Latvala is close to the family that owns Derby Lane, which contributed $50,000 to his PAC in 2014, and he's worked over the years to try and prop up the seemingly-doomed kennel-racing side of Florida's gambling industry.  Could there be pari-mutuel concessions so a potential "Derby Lane Card Room" wouldn't need its race track any more and could then just donate 100 of its 130 acres to a baseball team looking for land?  Pure speculation.

But it wouldn't be an enormous stretch given Latvala's record of also receiving contributions from numerous pro teams (incl. $20,000 from the Rays) and helping to bolster the state's spending for spring training facilities as well as its spending on year-round sports facilities a year later.

Latvala will be the Senate Appropriations Chair next year, and if he chooses to spend his political capital on a stadium effort, he could potentially ram a Rays subsidy through just as former Senate Appropriations Chair J.D. Alexander strong-armed the legislature into creating the unpopular Florida Polytechnic University in 2012.

But opposite Latvala on the subsidy issue is incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O' Lakes), one of Tallahassee's fiercest critics of stadium subsidies. He's even gone so far to suggest the state should have a constitutional amendment prohibiting subsidies for pro sports teams.

So like all issues in Tallahassee, it will be a slow-played battle of wits and wills.  That could mean the Rays become a bargaining chip in one of the many Latvala vs. Corcoran battles on-tap for the next two years.
You can never predict how those turn out....but a little bit of lobbying and good ole-fashioned check-writing to political committees never hurts!

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Stadium Subsidy ROI: Rich for Teams; Poor for Taxpayers

Floridians aren't quite paying enough attention to what's happening in North Texas, as the city of Arlington moves forward with a $519M referendum for a modern Rangers stadium to replace their existing modern Rangers stadium...because we are now learning baseball in hot climates requires a roof.

By all accounts, Arlington is overpaying to avoid the scary thought of possibly "losing" the Rangers to Dallas, just 30 minutes away....even though there doesn't appear to be a lot of indication relocation was either imminent or likely.  Oh, and the team's owners are billionaire oil magnates.

Tip o' the hat to my investigative counterparts at WFAA-TV for doing great watchdog work on a lease that has seven more years left on it. 
Regardless of what you think about Arlington's plan, it's a great reminder that nobody can make money by building a stadium - that's why teams rely on the public to do it for them.  Neil deMause points out "we’re already looking at Arlington putting down at least $519 million for a return of at most $60 million."

Basically, a city of Arlington analysis showed its investment would generate more tax dollars without new Texas Rangers stadium.

Sound familiar Tampa Bay?

It should - it echoes the exact thing Rays owner Stu Sternberg told St. Pete a year ago: that it's in the taxpayers' "best interest to get the (Trop) land back" and redevelop it as something other than baseball.

And devout readers of this blog will remember my post about how much economic activity Tampa might lose if it were to spend tax dollars on a new stadium downtown (using the Tampa Bay Times' own fuzzy math):

Also worth noting: a recent study in San Diego puts the ROI on that city's proposed stadium/convention center at just three cents on the dollar!

And, if you need any more evidence that stadiums don't generate profits and are only called "public" facilities so they can avoid paying property and construction taxes....Maricopa County is selling off the Diamondbacks' ballpark - lock, stock, & barrel - for only $60 million dollars, a fraction of what the stadium cost to build 18 years ago.

That's a pretty crappy return on your real estate investment during a period when the franchise's value has grown exponentially.  But the politicians out in the desert may actually have a pretty decent idea about cutting their losses.

It's a much better idea than, say, fighting with the public when you need their support for a stadium referendum:

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