Friday, December 24, 2010

"I Guess the Glazers aren't Broke"

A quick follow-up to yesterday's post about the Glazers possibly selling Manchester United:

After the Bucs denied the report, news broke out of Chicago that Bryan Glazer was buying a $8.6 million condo.

That left 620 WDAE radio host Dan Sileo to Tweet me, "How funny..I guess the glazers aren't"

Thursday, December 23, 2010

British Tabloid Says Glazers Selling ManU

While its direct impact on the Bucs is unclear, The Sun in England is reporting this morning that the Glazer family will sell soccer team Manchester United, the more valuable, yet more indebted, of its two franchises. The Bucs have since dismissed the reports.

In recent months, other reports out of London indicated the Glazers were bleeding money on the team, but had begun paying off some of the debt, estimated as high as 100% of the value of the team.

The Sun reports that the Glazers will sell to "the Qatar royal a ($2.3 billion) deal." Qatar, of course, just landed the 2022 World Cup.

If the report is true, the Glazers would double their investment on the team, leaving them with up to a billion dollars cash profit after paying off their ManU loans. That's money they could sink back into the Bucs...or pay Bryan's enormous Davis Islands water bill.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Update: Tampa Chamber Wants to Advance Stadium Saga

Citing a need for SOMEONE in the Tampa Bay region to step up and help solve the Rays' stadium saga, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce decided Thursday afternoon to forge ahead with an effort to further study how to build a stadium in the current economic climate.

"You can kind of get away right now from location," said chairman Chuck Sykes, echoing a comment I made earlier this year. "We don't think that's the way to approach it right now. We think we need to look more at finances."

"Debt is very difficult to get a hold of, taxes - people don't want, what else can you do?"

Sykes said there were other funding alternatives to explore, some of which could even potentially keep the Rays in St. Petersburg for generations to come.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What Tampa Bay Can Learn from Milwaukee

Nice short read from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here on how the Brewers used a five-county tax (just 0.1%) to successfully finance Miller Park.

As Stu Sternberg knows, a similar effort could get a new Rays stadium funded, but it's an uphill battle in a region that's got a long history of city-versus-city competition.

Last month, I wrote:
One has to look toward collaborations like Tampa Bay Water and a potential three-county light-rail partnership as evidence that Tampa Bay is coming together as a single region. Previously, it's been city vs. city and county vs. county.
Convincing Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Manatee counties to work together for a regional asset is still the best hope for the Rays. And if I'm Sternberg, I spend my time this offseason figuring a way to make it happen - potentially piggybacking on the effort to get regional rail.

I think a new Rays stadium will still have to go at Toytown or similar Mid-Pinellas site, but that's the least of the problems in the Stadium Saga. Remember, land isn't the problem; funding is.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rays Price Out Some Longtime Season Ticket Holders

Even in a down economy, it isn't completely surprising the Rays are raising prices on 38 percent of their tickets next year (some tickets actually drop in price too). But the most surprising thing about the 2011 ticket prices at The Trop is how much some tickets soared in price.

By reclassifying "Loge" seats (the few rows immediately behind the concourse in the lower bowl) as "Lower Box" seats, longtime season ticket holders there were told their tickets would cost 65 percent more next season.

"They complain that nobody comes, then they take an entire section and tick us off," said die-hard fan Sharon Greene, who has held season tickets since MLB announced a team was coming to Tampa Bay. "I understand prices going up (but) I don't really understand prices going up when the economy is so bad."

The rest of this story - including the video that explains why Greene is so upset - can be found here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Player Movement Focus of 2010 Winter Meetings

Amazing what you see in the lobby of the MLB Winter Meetings. Beat reporters looking for nuggets of info. Agents looking for leverage. College kids looking for jobs. But the best thing I saw yesterday at the opening day of the industry's annual convention was the shocked look on one GM's face when he got a text saying, "Jayson Werth - 18M x 7 yrs."

I honestly don't expect much this week from the Rays and/or commissioner when it comes to the team's push for a new stadium. As I've said before, the economy and political climate may have slowed down their timetable a bit.

If there's any big news off-the-field Rays or MLB news, I'll post as soon as I can. But in the meantime, as player personnel moves dominate the headlines, I'll defer to Maury Brown from the Biz of Baseball for MLB business news and the fine folks from DRaysBay for Rays player news.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

MLB Winter Meetings Kick Off

I'll be spending a day or two down the road at the MLB Winter Meetings this week where I'll be...well, doing what every professional does at his/her annual convention. Socializing.

I will not be attending any clinics, I will not be signing any contracts, and I will not be discussing trades with 29 other GMs. If something big happens, I'll be there to cover it.

But since conventions (of all types) are more about networking than anything else...just look for me at one of the hotel lobbies or bars where everyone else is perfecting the art of convention-attending.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Vocal Minority Will Continue to Plague Rays

If you polled Tampa Bay taxpayers, I bet a majority would oppose spending tax dollars on a new Rays stadium right now. But the numbers would be close. And, depending on how the funding broke down, you may even be able to get a majority to support the idea.

But the small group of anti-tax advocates in Tampa Bay are getting louder by the day and will be very hard to overcome.

Example 1: At last night's Pinellas Commission meeting, where the board made the tough decision to extend the tourist tax at five cents until 2021 for tourist-related funding, a half-dozen residents yelled at the board for considering a handout to the Rays.

The only problem was that - while the bed tax extension kept the funding structure in place for a possible future stadium - yesterday's vote was specifically about reserving money for the new Dali Museum, beach renourishment, and tourism marketing.

Nevertheless, the continued overtures to a Rays stadium made several commissioners visually uncomfortable and no matter how many times commissioners and St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster reminded folks that a new stadium plan would require multiple future votes, the explosive issue could not be diffused.

Example 2: While I was doing our 11pm liveshot (it was a MARATHON meeting), I missed a confrontation between the Tea Partiers in the audience and Mayor Bill Foster. St. Petersburg Times writer David DeCamp explains:

But the night certainly created fireworks. At the end, Foster got nearly nose-to-nose with tax opponent Hamilton Hanson in a hallway. Hanson accused Foster of secretly engaging in talks with the Rays.

"It's not taking place, I'll tell you that straight to your face right now," Foster said before seeking an elevator.

Leaving the county building, several of the loud opponents cursed the Democratic process to me as well.

What this shows is that - after the 2008 stadium debacle - the stadium conspiracy theorists aren't going away. And, after the 2010 election, they feel more empowered than ever. Any effort to work toward a new Rays stadium won't have to just overcome monsterous funding issues, but also elected officials' fear in addressing the issue.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Social Media Becoming Important Negotiating Tool

If one needs any evidence of how social media can spread rumors of imminent signings, look no further than the Jon Gruden-to-University of Miami incident from Sunday night. It's broken down well here by Sports by Brooks.

Teams, players, coaches, and agents have always negotiated through the media. (See Yankees vs. Jeter) And none of those parties is afraid to drop a bad tip, either, to create leverage.

But now, with the growth of social media, the significance of these tactics have grown exponentially. The second a middling reporter (myself included) posts something remotely controversial or surprising, Pandora's Box has been opened and there's no turning back.

It goes to show that nowadays, when there is smoke, there may not necessarily be fire.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Report: City is Not Turning Profit on Rays

After posting a Tampa Tribune article that indicates the Rays are able to turn profits at Tropicana Field if they work hard enough, Stephen Nohlgren from The St. Petersburg Times writes that - no matter how hard it has worked - the City of St. Pete has not turned an operating profit on Rays baseball:
Though city officials originally hoped the monetary benefits of putting on baseball games might defray the $6 million in annual payments for Tropicana Field, the opposite has occurred.

Operational costs have outpaced revenue, forcing the city to shell out more than $1 million a year on top of debt payments.
Unexpected insurance increases after Sept. 11 and the 2004-05 hurricane seasons were largely to blame (all Florida property owners felt that pain).

Nohlgren's article shows that the Rays' disappointing attendance costs the city just as much as it costs the team. However, by focusing exclusively on operating losses, it does not address the payback the city gets on its investment: an increase in visitors, spending, and national notoriety.

We should remember that governments routinely subsidize everything from roadways to sewer lines to other utilities. But St. Petersburg is paying the price for a poor contract negotiation in the 1990s, where the Rays got a large share of stadium revenue.

After all, "a contract is a contract."

Report: Rays Can Turn Modest Profits in Tampa Bay

You could debate the headline for hours:

"Can the Tampa Bay area sustain baseball?"

Michael Sasso from The Tampa Tribune explores the financial challenges facing the Rays and then proceeds to knock his conclusion out of the park:
"To be sure, none of this means the Rays can't turn a profit. The team may just need to work harder than most."
Stu Sternberg knew when he bought the Rays five years ago it was a reliable source of revenue...but it may never be a cash cow like the Yankees or Red Sox. He would have to work. And he has.

The Rays have made (almost) all of the right moves in the front office. They've made (almost) all of the right moves on the field. And while they haven't been perfect in the court of public opinion, they're still as popular as ever in Tampa Bay.

Sure, the Rays aren't making overnight billionares out of Sternberg & co. (although indications are the franchise has climbed in value by more than $100 million if - and when - they want to sell). But they had to have known that coming in. They had to have known it would be a harder challenge than if they had simply taken over the Yankees or Red Sox.

Sasso makes some great points about the unique obstacles the Rays face in drumming up revenue, but it's hard to sympathize with the claim that Metro Tampa/St. Pete has the fewest fans within 30 minutes of any MLB team. Stu Sternberg - and Vince Naimoli before him - had to have known that when they bought the franchise.

They had to have known teams like the Yankees and Red Sox draw fans from way outside their metro regions. Some travel great distances to go to a game; others contribute by buying merchendise and watching games on TV (as Rays fans did in great numbers this past season).

Sternberg told me last week he wants Tampa Bay to think regionally in order to best support the team. But the team also needs to think regionally. Spring Training in Port Charlotte was a great move. But ownership needs to continue to cultivate its fans in places like New Port Richey, Lakeland, Sarasota, Fort Myers, and Orlando.

It will take time to grow the fan base and passion of MLB in Florida. While fans in New York or Boston think nothing of traveling over an hour for a game, it hasn't always been that way.

It isn't impossible to change the mentality of Floridians...but as Sasso said, the Rays will just have to work harder than most.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Land isn't Problem in Stadium Saga; Funding is

Despite the rhetoric that plays out on message boards, talk radio airwaves, and newspaper columns, the decision on the long-term home of the Rays has very little to do with location and everything to do with financing.

As Pinellas County officials take baby steps toward a possible funding structure for a new stadium, Hillsborough County can do nothing but sit back and watch. Since Raymond James Stadium and the St. Pete Times Forum are sucking up the bed taxes until Jan. 1, 2027, most commissioners acknowledge there just isn't any public funding available for a new baseball park.

Sure, a Tampa ballpark would be more easily-accessible for the majority of Rays fans.

Sure, there's land available in Downtown Tampa. And at the Florida State Fairgrounds. And sure, the land would likely be given away for free for a MLB stadium. (For what it's worth, land would also essentially be free at the current Trop site and a Toytown/North St. Pete site.)

But $70 million in land is a drop in the bucket for a $500-600 stadium and no developer is going to start paying for a stadium structure on top of a land giveaway.

Two stadiums have been built in the last 40-plus years without public funds. How'd those turn out? The owner of the Columbus Blue Jackets admitted it was a terrible idea and he's going broke. While the owners of the San Francisco Giants admitted soon after opening Pac Bell Park that they caught lightning in a bottle and a privately-funded stadium is now impossible.

So where does that leave the Rays, who would - in theory - put more butts in seats if they got a new stadium in Tampa? Stuck in a contract that isn't ideal for their business.

One-time St. Pete mayoral hopeful Larry Williams hit the nail on the head last year on the campaign trail when he said, "what's best for the Rays isn't necessarily what's best for St. Petersburg."

Most lawyers see the team's "use agreement" as a more binding contract than a lease. And, as Marlins' owner David Samson said, "a contract is a contract!" Heck, Conan O'Brien got a $34 million parting gift from NBC when those two sides decided the contract was standing in their way.

So it would seem the Rays need to work with St. Pete in breaking the current lease if they don't want to play at Tropicana Field until 2027. Which means the price tag on a new ballpark could rise. Which means Pinellas County has another advantage over Hillsborough since a Gateway/Toytown stadium wouldn't require a St. Pete buyout.

Rays' owner Stu Sternberg told me this week that he's looking for a regional approach to solve the financial issues. And although he didn't cite examples, one has to look toward collaborations like Tampa Bay Water and a potential three-county light-rail partnership as evidence that Tampa Bay is coming together as a single region. Previously, it's been city vs. city and county vs. county.

St. Pete officials maintain they aren't holding the team hostage, but merely looking out for the return on investment promised to the community years ago. Since they're taking a hard line this offseason and not even Pinellas County can come close to putting together $30 million/year for a new ballpark right now, it doesn't appear a quick resolution is on the horizon.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Selig, Sternberg Keep Meeting Details Quiet

Bud Selig and Rays' owner Stuart Sternberg had an opportunity to catch up Thursday at the MLB Owners' Meetings... but the rest of the world may never know if they did.

When asked how much face time Sternberg got with specific individuals during the meetings, he quickly answered, "whatever's needed."

But in October, Selig indicated a conversation with Stu was most definitely needed because of concerns for "clubs that are winning whose (attendance) is consistently below (the league average)."

Reports also surfaced that he advised the Rays to play hardball with Tampa Bay.

Continue reading story here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Chat with Stu Sternberg

In his first television interview since the Stadium Saga really kicked up, Stu Sternberg didn't want to talk much today about what's next in the search for a stadium. He did acknowledge he was hoping for a regional discussion sometime soon on the topic.

But he also admitted his approach to the debate may lead some Rays fans to form misconceptions about his loyalty to Tampa Bay.

See our story here.

Sternberg, Rays Hoping MLB Provides Some Relief

With all 30 owners and all 30 general managers all in the same building, the Rays' front office is hopeful for some good news on their future.

While Rays' majority owner Stu Sternberg didn't want to push the stadium issue, he said he was hopeful the next Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement would provide relief to teams constantly outspent by division opponents.

Commissioner Bud Selig is expected to address competition issues this week, including possibly expanding the playoffs by another wild-card team in each league. Changes would likely take place in 2012 or possibly even 2011.

Continue reading here.

Another Baby Step Toward a Pinellas Stadium

On Tuesday, a new Board of County Commissioners in Pinellas discussed extending the bed tax available to stadium projects past its current expiration date of 2015. While they didn't even mention replacing Tropicana Field, the extension is seen as a vital step in protecting the county's funding infrastructure for a new stadium.

It's infrastructure that Hillsborough County and Tampa don't have, as the bonds on Raymond James Stadium and the St. Pete Times Forum don't expire until 2027.

However, from the tone of the anti-tax emails Pinellas commissioners have received, you'd think they'd already broken ground on The Trop 2. Read the emails and more on this story here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Report: Glazers Pay Down Huge Debt

If a 6-3 record wasn't enough to get Buccaneers fans excited, how about this sign that the team's owners may be doing better financially than previously indicated?
A person familiar with the situation says Manchester United's American owners have agreed to pay off more than a third of the club's debts.

The person says payment-in-kind (PIK) loans of around 220 million pounds (S$460.8 million) will be paid off by the Glazer family, which owns the club. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because an official announcement is yet to be made.

United is set to confirm the repayment of the loan in the latest set of accounts for Red Football Joint Venture on Tuesday.

The loans carry an interest rate of 16.25 per cent and fueled fans' protests against the Glazers.

After repaying the PIK loans, the club would still have debts of around 520 million pounds.

United had no debts before Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer took control in 2005.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Replace the Georgia Dome" Talk Troublesome

This past Thursday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell dropped a non-threat threat on the City of Atlanta: build a new stadium or you're not getting another Super Bowl.

If you thought Tropicana Field was obsolete quickly, how do you think Falcons fans feel about their 18-year-old dome being called inadequate? Taxpayers in Georgia will be paying for the stadium through 2020, but Goodell and the Falcons have made it clear they'd prefer to have a new open-air stadium before that:
"The bar has been raised because you're getting great facilities around the country in great communities," Goodell said during a reception before (Thursday's) game, held on a rooftop overlooking Centennial Olympic Park. "(Super Bowl) games are a tremendous value to the communities, so there's a lot of competition for it. So I think a new stadium with this great community would be beneficial to bringing another Super Bowl to this community."

The Falcons have been pushing for a new facility to replace their longtime home, contending the Georgia Dome no longer produces sufficient revenues to keep up with newer stadiums around the league. The state, which owns the downtown stadium along with a massive convention center next door, has proposed a major renovation and even discussed the idea of installing a retractable roof to meet the team's desire to have an open-air facility.
It seems from the arguments put forth that the Falcons aren't worried about losing money on their billion-dollar franchise, but simply think they deserve to make more because other teams in the league are making more.

The price for the team to make a few more million in annual revenues and the NFL to make a few more million on a Super Bowl game? Approximately $750 million, a large portion of which would presumably come from public funds. We can only assume tickets in a new stadium would cost fans more, too. (Might just be wiser for the City of Atlanta to deal the Falcons a bigger cut of Georgia Dome proceeds!)

Furthermore, one can only wonder if Goodell will imply Tampa needs a new stadium down the road if it wants to host another Super Bowl. Raymond James Stadium, after all, has 7,000 fewer seats than the Georgia Dome. It opened in 1998, six years after the Georgia Dome, and it will be paid off on Jan. 1, 2027, also six years after the Georgia Dome.

Want other Atlanta/Tampa Bay similarities? Just substitute the word "Rays" in for "Falcons" in this Atlanta Journal-Constitution story.

FSU Comes to Agreement with Florida High School

It's a scenario that will have copywright lawyers debating for years: do high schools have the right to "borrow" logos from college teams?

One brouhaha that recently brewed over in Bradenton, Fla. came to a peaceful end Friday when Southeast High School and Florida St. came to terms on a five-year agreement that allows the high school Seminoles to continue to use the FSU-like logo for free. In August, FSU and the Collegiate Licensing Company threatened legal action if Southeast didn't change its logo, uniforms, scoreboards, etc.

The deal wasn't unexpected, but the last few months haven't been kind to FSU on the playing field of public opinion. I expect this episode to blow over quickly, but what about all the other teams with similar logos, color schemes, uniform templates, and fight songs to colleges? Will the Collegiate Licensing Company and/or NCAA force thousands of high schools across the country to sign similar contracts? Surely, they won't all be as peaceful as the Southeast/FSU deal.

Tougher question: if you're a superintendent of a district with some of these possible copyright conflicts, do you make plans now to phase out the "borrowed" logos to avoid problems down the road?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Naples voters celebrate Rick Scott, mourn Cubs

While many Floridians in and around Naples are celebrating the gubernatorial win of hometown boy Rick Scott, there was another election Tuesday - 3,000 miles away - that was also of great significant to the area.

Voters in Mesa, Ariz. approved Prop 420 by an overwhelming margin, allowing the city to spend up to $99 million for a new Cubs spring training facility. The team already has the largest park in spring training and its only 13 years old, but when investors in Naples started making a move for the team, Mesa officials agreed to build a new spring training complex, bigger and more expensive than any other ever seen. The Tuesday vote all but finalized the project.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Would a sports profit tax help build stadiums?

After South Florida Sun-Sentinel sports columnist Dave Hyde suggests municipalities charge a "profit tax" to sports teams that get tax dollars for a stadium, Neil deMause from Field of Schemes pitches a better idea:
Put (a tax on profits) in the stadium lease: If you want public money, agree to share any resulting profits with the taxpayers. On the few instances elected officials have had the chutzpah to suggest this, though, team owners have roundly rejected it: It would require them to open their books, it would prevent them from re-signing Dan Uggla, etc.
He's certainly right - owners would never go for it. Having to share the new revenues from a new stadium would largely defeat the purpose of building it.

Anyone got any other ideas how to pay for a Rays stadium?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

NFL Scandal du Jour

"Excuse me, Flo? What's the soup du jour?"
"It's our soup of the day."
"That sounds good. I'll have that."

The NFL's soup du jour is the ongoing Brett Favre sexting scandal, but it just as easily could have been the controversial stance on helmet-to-helmet hits or the impending 2011 lockout.

The scandal du jour could also have been the countless blackouts plaguing the landscape of the league. Columnist Joe Henderson writes a great column this weekend in The Tampa Tribune arguing the archaic blackout policy is bad business for the increasingly-embattled league:
The only one hurt by this is the NFL. Beyond being a minor annoyance, this sure doesn't hurt you.

The NFL policy is designed to coerce fans into buying tickets. When you end up in a situation like the Bucs and Tampa Bay are in, though, keeping the games off local TV just reminds fans they really can live without football. The NFL is a ritual for so many people, but that habit has been interrupted now and it might not be easy to change it back.
Henderson doesn't mention next year's possible (probable?) lockout, but if he's right about the NFL losing its luster, the league is making a huge mistake.

Because the once-comparable NFL, whose owners think they can walk away from fans for a year and pick right back up in 2012 where they left off, could suffer for years much like baseball did after the 1994 strike.

Friday, October 15, 2010

St. Pete Adds Another International Team

You can add one more international squad that will spend Spring Training 2011 in St. Petersburg: the Koreans.

Last week, Mayor Bill Foster said St. Pete's Al Lang Field would host a slate of games next spring between squads from Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, and their MLB counterparts. The addition of a fourth team - from a country loves baseball - significantly raises the profile of the project.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Light Rail and Stadiums

Just returned from Phoenix, where I was reporting on how light rail has changed the region in the 22 months since it opened. Ridership is high, it's the primary form of transportation for many fans going to Diamondbacks and Suns games, and most of the initial critics have been quieted.

One of the interesting concepts that proponents in Arizona (and here in Tampa Bay pushing for light rail) bring up is that even though rail is heavily-subsidized by tax dollars, almost everything "public service" we use is. Roads are subsidized by gas taxes, excise taxes, and federal dollars. Buses are too. Parks, libraries, and water lines are all subsidized.

You can lump ballparks into that group too. Subsidizing a new stadium with tax dollars is an investment in the community. However, I'll leave the question of "what is that value worth" for others to debate.

The Catwalk Conversation Again

With the Rays opening up 5,000 more seats for tonight's ALDS decider, the controversial catwalks are in the news again. Even though MLB took the rings out-of-play for the playoffs, the lowest ring will partially obstruct the view of the field.

But how is the view from the actual catwalks? It's a good time to revisit my harrowing trip to the Top of the Trop.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Glazers Bleeding Money on Manchester United

The good news for the Glazers, owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - their British soccer team, Manchester United, is turning record profits (clearing 100 million pounds for the first time).

The bad news - the franchise is still bleeding money because of the massive interest rates the family is paying on debt service for the team. USA Today reports:
Manchester United posted an annual net loss of 83.6 million pounds ($132 million) after costs associated with the huge debts racked up by the club's American owners wiped out record revenues.

In the financial results released Friday for the year ending June 30, United reported record revenues of 286.4 million pounds based on the strength of marketing and broadcasting income. The club's operating profit exceeded 100 million pounds for the first time.

But the impact was largely erased by the payments to manage the club's debts, which are around 750 million pounds, and costs related to a controversial bond issue.
It's been reported that the Glazers cannot refinance to a lower interest rate because they are too leveraged by debt.

Another Grass-Roots Group Rises, "Save Our Rays"

You can add to the list of grass-roots groups trying to move the Rays to Tampa. Much like Build it Downtown Tampa, the new website indicates the team is likely to move away if it isn't moved to Tampa. It also has a Facebook page. However, "Save Our Rays" also offers a chance for fans to show their support by buying a $20 T-shirt (plus $4 shipping) adorned with the message.

It also features a cartoon of St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster driving a moving truck.

Rays Avoiding "Financial Investments" in Tampa Bay?

Shocking (but not surprising) article on today about the Rays' stadium saga (h/t Cork Gaines at Rays Index):
According to sources, baseball commissioner Bud Selig has instructed Rays management not to make significant financial investments in the area until attendance indicators improve, suggesting the team could be investing in potential relocation sites.
I have no idea if it's true, but if it is, it would explain why some people around St. Petersburg are ticked the team hasn't utilized outdoor advertising as much it has in the past and why it didn't even communicate with the city in planning an airport pep rally.

I also suspect the "tip" someone (presumably from MLB) dropped to ESPN doesn't actually have to do with spending money in other cities as much as it has to do with creating leverage in the current situation. Remember, teams don't get stadiums until the region fears losing them.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Selig on Tampa Bay's Baseball Viability

When asked about Tampa Bay as a viable baseball market on Tuesday's Mike & Mike show on ESPN Radio, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said:
"I've talked a Stu Sternberg, the owner (of the Rays) - who has done a terrific job, by the way - about this subject and he and I are going to have a lot of conversations in the offseason about it. I mean, they have produced a remarkable organaization...The average Major-League club in this year drew 2,436,000 people. And so, for those clubs that are winning whose average is consistently below that, you always have to wonder why and there has to be concern. So, we have some work to do, and as I say, Stu and I have had a lot of conversations and will continue to have."
Selig will be asked a LOT about Rays' attendance this fall and it's clear he's not afraid to suggest (ever-so-slightly) that the team could move. It's also clear that while Sternberg isn't eager to talk about the subject to the media or St. Petersburg's mayor, he has been talking to Selig about it behind-the-scenes.

Fortunately, the issue shouldn't occupy too much of our time until after the playoffs...

Update on Cubs Spring Training Movement

Remember how Arizona was going to charge all the other Spring Training teams to build a new stadium for the Cubs in Mesa?

Today, we get this update from Neil deMause at Field of Schemes:
The hotel tax hike requires voter approval, and in advance of the November 2 referendum, the Goldwater Institute — which has already gone after the proposed Phoenix Coyotes lease concessions — has been raising questions about the plan, last week with an Arizona Republic op-ed noting that the proposition authorizes spending "greater than $1.5 million" without any spending cap, and this week noting that it's unclear how much the Cubs would provide, beyond "benefits to be determined."
In this economic - and political - climate, it will be a very difficult sell to the voters. Which may mean a revival of the Cubs-to-Naples (Fla.) campaign. Of course, the more probable situation is the "players" behind the stadium push in Mesa will just have to work a little harder on their game.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rays Stand to Make Huge Revenue Windfall

All the talk that Rays attendance is suffering because fans would rather watch the game on their own HD sets isn't necessarily a bad thing. On the heels of a monster billion-dollar television deal announced by the Texas Rangers, it's becoming clear that the Rays - assuming they stay in Tampa Bay for the forseeable future - will soon be in position to sign a comparable deal.

It's amazing to think the Texas Rangers (playing in the country's fifth-largest metro area with a state-wide following) aren't considered a "large-market team." But as Pete Toms from The Biz of Baseball writes:
The Rangers current deal with FSSW was concluded in 2000. That deal pays the Rangers $17-$20 million annually (some reports cite $300 million over 15 years, others $250 million over the same) for their local cable TV rights. Only 10 years later Fox has agreed to QUADRUPLE (or more) their rights fee for Rangers baseball. This enormous and rapid increase in the value of the Rangers local TV rights is the most recent example of the critical importance of Regional Sports Networks (RSNs) to the biz of baseball. In 06, the Angels agreed to a 10 year/$500 million deal with FSN West. In 07, it was the Mariners and FSN Northwest agreeing to 12 years/$500 million. In 08, it was the Tigers turn when FSN Detroit agreed to pay a reported $400 million for 10 years.
There's no reason to think the Rays, whose contract with FSN/Sun expires after the 2016 season, won't reap a similar reward.

As I've written before, the Rays aren't a small-market team either, and if they don't alienate their fans with the stadium saga, they stand to increase their television revenue exponentially when the current deal expires. Or sooner.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Trop Catwalk Rules Changing

After the team appealed to the league, MLB granted a ground rules change before the ALDS. The two highest catwalks at Tropicana Field will now be out-of-play. The new rule reads:
Batted ball that strikes either of the upper catwalks (known as the “A-ring” and the “B-ring”), including any lights or suspended objects attached to either of those rings and including the masts that support each of those catwalks as well as any angled support rods that connect the “B-ring” to the masts that support the “C-ring,” in fair territory: DEAD BALL and the pitch does not count. Any declaration of an Infield Fly after the hit shall be nullified
Of course, the controversial catwalks were the hot topic earlier this year, prompting my 190-foot climb to the top.

Spring Training Returning to St. Petersburg

For the first time since the Rays moved to the redeveloped Charlotte Sports Park in 2008, St. Petersburg's Al Lang Field will host Spring Training baseball in 2011.

Mayor Bill Foster will announce on Monday the signing of three international teams to train and play a slate of games at the historic field next spring. Details of the schedule for the Canadian, Dutch, and Australian teams are unknown, but it is expected exhibitions would be scheduled against some of the Major League Baseball teams training in Florida.

For more, continue reading here.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Rays Need to Market the Trop, Protect Fans' Reputation

Had a good discussion last night with a couple of Rays fans in Tampa. Aside from the fact that they swore the team was moving to Channelside in a few years, they made a couple of good points.

One of the fans, who grew up in Tampa Bay, expressed his love for Evan Longoria, David Price, and owner Stu Sternberg for giving him so much to root for in recent years. But he also blamed the trio for recent embarrassment.

He wasn’t talking about the kind of “embarrassment” Evan Longoria experienced after only 12,000 fans showed up on Monday night. He was talking about the repeated bashing of Tampa Bay sports fans by the rest of the country.

When someone like Longoria or Price makes a controversial statement on attendance, columnists and sports-talk hosts nationwide rant about how the fans of Tampa Bay don’t deserve a team. The proud feeling fans get when their team succeeds is then negated by the fact that their counterparts in Boston, Chicago, or Los Angeles still mock the situation.

The fan I met last night also said that since the Rays renovated the Trop, it’s a better baseball experience than some of the newer stadiums. He admitted some of his friends who “hate” the Trop can’t name a single attribute that takes away from the game experience. And the dome ain’t so bad either since climate-controlled baseball is a necessary evil in Florida.

And just as a comment from Longoria can diminish fans’ excitement for the team, the years of “inadequate stadium” talk from Sternberg can build the perception that the baseball experience there is sub-par. I maintain it is top-notch.

Sternberg should also realize no business owner is ENTITLED to a profit on his investment. If the Rays were a guaranteed cash cow, his group never would have been able to buy a controlling stake of the team from Vince Naimoli for $65 million. (Forbes estimates the value has more than doubled since then.)

So just as the Rays need to step up their game on the field to overcome the extreme spending of the Yankees, the Rays executives needs to step up their game to overcome the perception that the stadium is too far for fans to visit. It’s not always easy making green.

Instead of reminding fans of all that’s bad about The Trop and its location, the team needs to do more to market its positive attributes.

I can see next summer’s ad campaign already: “Rainy afternoon? Skip the movie, come to the Trop! Same price and same a/c! Less predictable and less sticky floors!”

For now, lets stick to the "Longo and Price and pray for ice" mantra to get the team through the first round of the playoffs. Go Rays.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rays Wrap Regular-Season Home Schedule

With tonight's freebie-influenced full house at Tropicana Field, the Rays will finish the season averaging about 23,000 fans per game, good enough for 22nd in the majors. That's a 1 percent drop from last year's 23,147 average, but their best finish in the MLB since their inagural year, 1998.

There's no definite answer why the Rays - and other good teams - are having trouble drawing fans this year, but the New York Times postulates:
But baseball officials and analysts say that many fans are still pinching pennies, even if economists have declared the recession officially over. With more games broadcast in high definition and the price of flat-panel televisions declining, more fans are content to watch their teams at home and perhaps save money for playoff tickets.

“It’s still a hangover from previous years when everyone was worried about the economy,” said Jon Greenberg, executive editor of the Team Marketing Report, which publishes the Fan Cost Index. “People realize they can do without as many games.”
“We might be a lot better baseball market than people realize, but we don’t have the history,” said Philip Porter, an economics professor at the University of South Florida, who said that the Rays were seventh in attendance when adjusting for the region’s population. “There are so many things to do in Florida. We get outside, go to the beach, so we’re not as easily seduced by baseball as somewhere else.”
Here are some other good takes on the Rays' attendance issues this week:

Darren Rovell, CNBC: Free Tickets For Rays Fans Is A Bad Idea
Cork Gaines, Rays Index: Player Comments On Attendance Were Premeditated
Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports: MLB Shares Blame for Rays' "Support"
Joe Henderson, Tampa Tribune: Maybe Tampa Bay Really is a Lousy Baseball Market
Ray Ratto, Blame the Team, Not the Fans
Eric Glasser, 10 News: Free Rays Tickets Gone in 90 Minutes
Michael Van Sickler, St. Petersburg Times: Mayor Foster waits - and waits - for call from Rays

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Not All Sympathetic Toward Rays' Cause

ESPN's Buster Olney compared the Rays' attendance problems to a bagel shop owner complaining about his lack of sales:
Can you imagine if the owner of a bagel store -- and I worked as a baker in bagel stores in West Lebanon, N.H., and in Nashville during my college years -- in St. Petersburg were to talk like Longoria?

"You know, I've never made bagels as well as I'm making them now," the bagel man would say. "The lineup of sesame seed, cinnamon raisin and pumpernickel is the deepest I've ever had. We have more speed in our counter service than ever before, and the bakers -- that is a group that has been clutch all summer.

"For us to go a full season of baking great bagels, it's kind of like, what else do we have to do to draw customers into this place? It's actually embarrassing for us."
A bagel-store owner who says something like that would be laughed out of town. Folks who run a business -- any business -- put a product up for sale, and would-be patrons have the right to decide whether they want to buy the product. Nobody is obligated to buy the product, just as the Rays are not obligated to commit to staying in St. Petersburg forever.
And NBC Sports columnist Bob Harkins writes there are plenty of good reasons why fans didn't go to last night's game at The Trop:
1) It was a Monday night game against the Orioles, and there was football on TV!
2) Unemployment in the state of Florida rose to 11.7 percent in August. People just don't have as much expendable cash as they used to.
3) The Trop, by all accounts, sucks.
4) The Rays are almost certain to be in the playoffs anyway. So if you're going to spend your hard-earned dollars on baseball, why not save up and spring for playoff tickets?

Rays' Attendance Reason to Celebrate

Bear with me here...

After listing the reasons yesterday why the Rays may not want to go too crazy with their playoff-clinching celebrations when the Yankees are just a half game out of first, I'm beginning to understand why the team would want to break out the champagne.

Even though the team could end up popping the corks twice in one week, only one of those celebrations could possibly come at The Trop. And if yesterday's comments from Evan Longoria and tweet from David Price are any indicator, the players have noticed the fans may need more than first-place baseball to get them to the stadium.

So why not give them a little party the day they clinch a playoff berth? Why not play it up in the locker room for the cameras to remind folks how exciting October 2008 was?

The celebration the team has tonight (or tomorrow or whenever) they clinch won't be as much for the players as it will be for the fans.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Rays Playoffs: To Shower or Not To Shower (in Champagne)

Is it just me or does a locker-room champagne-fest to celebrate a playoff berth seem a little silly when the fate of the pennant is still very much in limbo?

The Rays lead the defending World Series champs by half a game in the A.L. East, but can clinch a playoff berth with a win over Baltimore tonight. The team is preparing for another champagne-soaked celebration like the kind the team enjoyed after clinching a playoff berth, then the division, then the ALDS, then the ALCS in 2008.

But as thrilling as it was for players, fans, and even us reporters - it seemed a tiny bit repetitive after the fourth time. Some people in my newsroom wondered out-loud if the ALCS celebration wasn't as special since the team had already celebrated in the exact same way so many times. A World Series title would have meant a fifth champagne shower.

I don't have any strong feelings on this, but I'm curious what fans think. Should the Rays celebrate clinching at least 2nd place? Should they celebrate with champagne if they clinch via a Red Sox loss instead of a Rays win? Will the second-place Yankees celebrate with champagne when they clinch a playoff spot or will they be focused on first?

Just some food for thought...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Rays Payroll Dropping, Repeats Sternberg

It's a chorus he first sang last December, but Rays' principal owner Stu Sternberg repeated Tuesday that the team's payroll will drop below $70 million next season, regardless of their playoff outcome this year. He also told the St. Petersburg Times that the team "won't come close to turning a profit this year," a statement that will face a little bit of extra scrutiny coming on the heels of a Times editorial urging the team to reveal its full financials in good faith in stadium discussions.

But while the comment boards rail Sternberg for adding more fuel to the fire in the stadium saga, Times columnist John Romano writes that Sternberg showed a bit of humility when asked about his decision to cut payroll next year:
"(Being less competitive and impressive hurts me) worse than it hurts anybody else," he said. "It's who we are; it's who we have to be. We took every shot we could at not having to have this happen. Along with the great fortune in 2008, along with what looks to be great fortune this year, we put everything in place to have it happen, to put us in a position so we'd be able to keep adding, keep signing, (doing) more long-term deals, stuff like that. It wasn't meant to be."
In other news, make sure to follow Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter as well as becoming a fan of it on Facebook.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Few Can't-Miss Links

I'm on the road this week, so passing along some can't-miss links from the sports vs. news world:

Didn't need to tell Rays or Red Sox fans this, but apparently, criminals like to wear Yankees hats. In the words of Rays fan and 10 News Producer Matt Sinn after Derek Jeter's phantom hit-by-pitch Wednesday night, "cheaters and steroid users wear them." ZING!

And an aspiring Ph.D. candidate in New York penned a paper that indicates crowded stadiums help a team score more, and thus win more. I don't think I believe it, but the author said a 48 percent increase in attendance means an extra run per game for the home team. So an entire season of sellouts would have helped the Rays win an extra four games. Discuss amongst yourselves.

And I've said before the Bucs wouldn't have attendance problems if their fans cared as much as fans of Manchester United, the Glazer family's other team. Here's a view of the Bucs situation from across the pond (hint: it's pessimistic).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rays Attendance Problem Mimicked in San Diego

Looks like the Rays aren't alone...

The first-place San Diego Padres - with their state-of-the-art Downtown ballpark - are having the same problem the Rays have encountered: a fantastic season has resulted in soaring TV ratings, but not soaring ticket sales:
"This is ridiculous,"” said Isaac de la Fuente, a Dodgers fan who attended Tuesday’s 2-1 Padres win against L.A. “You’re in a pennant race, (playing) against your most hated rival and you can’t come close to filling your stadium.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune suggests the economy may be the biggest culprit, but it also suggests a problem not only the Rays but also NFL teams are encountering across the country:
Why pay for tickets that cost as much as $61, plus $8 beers, $5 hot dogs and $10 for parking when you can watch the games on your big-screen, high-definition TV with your feet propped up in the comfort of your living room?
The Padres are still averaging 26,038 fans per game - good enough for 19th in the league. The Rays, meanwhile, have sagged to a 22,679/game average - 23rd in the league and the worst of any playoff contender.

At this point, it is reasonable to conclude the Rays are battling the (first-place-for-now) Bucs for the few expendable entertainment dollars available in Tampa Bay.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sen. Brown Sends Letter to NFL on Blackouts

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown sent this letter to (hat tip to the Sports Fans Coalition).

He urges Commissioner Goddell to reconsider the NFL's blackout policy, citing "the average price of an NFL game ticket is $77 - nearly ten times the hourly minimum wage."

The letter focuses on the Ohio teams - Cincinnati and Cleveland - but probably applies to half the teams in the league (especially the Bucs) as they struggle with ticket sales.

Another thing to keep in the back of your mind...I believe every NFL team plays in a stadium partially- or entirely-subsidized by public dollars. It doesn't necessarily give taxpayers the right to watch the games inside, but it could be a leverage point politicians bring up if they decide to get as involved in the blackout debate as they did in the steroid scandals.

Bucs Blackout Confirmed; Other Thursday Tidbits

Just got a press release from the Bucs regarding their first regular season blackout of the season:
In accordance with NFL guidelines, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers home game against the Cleveland Browns this Sunday, September 12, will not be televised in a 75-mile radius of the Tampa metropolitan area. NFL rules require host teams to declare their sellout status no later than 72 hours prior to kickoff, at which time the public is notified that a television blackout will occur if remaining tickets have not been sold.
This will be the third blackout of the season if you include the team's two preseason games, but indications are its next game - at home against Pittsburgh on Sept. 25 - is selling better.

In other news, Tim Tebow's first 24 hours on Twitter netted more than 22 thousand new followers. For those of you who don't tweet, that's an astonishing amount (especially for a third-string QB). It's also an astonishing amount of marketing value.

And since George Steinbrenner's passing, Derek Jeter remains the most influencial member of the Yankees residing in Tampa. Now, it seems he's ready to move full-time. His NYC bachelor pad is on the market for a whopping $20 million. That should help pay for the Great Wall of Jeter going up on Tampa's Davis Islands.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bucs Blackout Likely Again

We should know in the next day or two if the Bucs' season-opener will be blacked out in the Tampa Bay area... is reporting the game won't be sold out, meaning the opener will be the first of (likely) many blackouts over the course of this season.

This should come as no surprise to the area, neglected in some respects by both the economy and the Bucs' on-field product in recent years, but it remains a disappointment nonetheless.

Here's to hoping sales pick up in the next day or so. Either way, you can watch me on our 10 News season-opening special at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tropicana Field Catwalks Off Joe Maddon's Bad List

The Tropicana Field catwalks are no longer Public Enemy No. 1 of Rays' manager Joe Maddon. After winning last night's game on a fly ball that came somewhat close to the catwalks - much like the ball that cost them the game a few weeks ago - Maddon took some of the credit (via Roger Mooney):
"Since then I've made amends with the building. I promised to not whine again, and I think because of that, that ball missed something, because it was going to hit something. But it missed. I think I actually saw the catwalk move several inches to avoid that ball."

Maddon joked that he's left roses on the catwalks and sent worker up to wash the roof.
I don't know about cleaning the roof, but I can attest - from my story on the catwalks last month - Maddon didn't send any roses up there. He did, however, post on Twitter the following:
"most recent whine was my getting on Trop roof, have since apologized to said roof and r now on much better terms, maybe best ever..."

Tampa Yankees to Orlando? The Story with Endless Punchlines

I'm kind of hoping Orlando businessman Armando Gutierrez, who promised to bring MLB to Orlando, hangs a giant "Mission Accomplished" banner today when he holds a press conference announcing negotiations with the Yankees to buy half their Florida State League (FSL) team.

Mission Accomplished

The Yankees say the deal isn't done; Gutierrez says it basically is. Regardless, one baseball insider told me any deal that convinces the Yankees to move their FSL team out of Tampa will be a bad one for the investors.

FSL teams traditionally play in spring training parks because their sparse crowds don't warrant stadiums of their own. Simply put, FSL baseball is amazing baseball that nobody watches because Florida's summer weather is just miserable.

The same insider said the $25 million Gutierrez promises for a new stadium "won't go very far," but "good luck."

Gutierrez quit his bid for Congress earlier this year (which was failing because of his "carpetbagger" reputation) to focus on bringing Major League Baseball to Orlando. Then he realized he was in over his head and focused on bringing ANY baseball to Orlando. But he's once again showing he's just a rookie in Central Florida:

"Until (Major League Baseball's) ready to send us a franchise," Gutierrez told the Tampa Tribune, "minor league will satisfy the sports fans."

Think Gutierrez knew Orlando had minor league baseball for more than 30 years before the Rays pulled their Double-A affiliate out after the 2003 season (poor attendance)? Or that the area has had the Gulf Coast Braves (which nobody watches) for a number of years?

I wish Gutierrez the best of luck in negotiating with the Yankees, but he may want to give Scott Boras a call. It's the only way he might make out in the deal.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Baseball-to-Orlando Guy's Back; Settles for Consolation Prize?

After getting laughed at publicly by several MLB teams for suggesting he might be able to lure the Brewers or Rays to Orlando, one-time politician Armando Gutierrez is back. Although it seems he has given up on his MLB-to-Orlando crusade and is willing to settle for ANY baseball team there.

WFTV in Orlando first reported that Gutierrez and Orange County were ready to make a major announcement regarding a relocation of the Tampa Yankees, the high-A affiliate of the big club.

The Yankees say things are very preliminary and a new stadium would be required, but Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty told WFTV that he could see building a $15 to $25 million stadium for the team. One baseball insider told me, "$25 million would be a pretty small stadium in Orlando."

WFTV also went a little too far by asking:
Another big question is, if the minor league team moves to Orange County, will the New York Yankees come to Orlando for spring training?
Not only did the Yankees scoff at that notion, but all logic (and the team's current lease with Hillsborough County) indicates that won't be happening this decade.

The big question WFTV may have missed is, "why would Gutierrez or Orange County want to bring the Tampa Yankees to Orlando?" The team is fifth in the Florida State League right now with 1,519 fans per game. While they might be able to fare better in Orlando, Gutierrez may be more satisfied with the potential Yankees fanfare than the financial windfall.

UPDATE: The Yankees released a statement that read, "Reports today that the New York Yankees are considering moving the spring training facility from Tampa are completely erroneous. The Yankees are in very preliminary discussions regarding the possibility of a partial sale of their Single-A Tampa minor league affiliate to a potential group of Orange County, Fla., investors. The investors will make an announcement tomorrow."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Gammons: MLB Needs to Be Able to Blackmail Cities

Some pretty racy comments from Hall of Fame writer Peter Gammons today on the "Joe & Evan Show" on New York's WFAN radio.

After criticizing the Rays' attendance, he criticized MLB for putting a team in St. Petersburg in the first place. One of his reasons: it reduced other owners' ability to leverage their cities for new ballparks. (The good stuff starts at 8:50 on the 8/31 podcast)

"The Giants could always threaten to go to St. Pete," Gammons said, pointing out that the Giants, then the White Sox, used a hungry Tampa Bay market as leverage to get new ballparks built.

"You need to be able to blackmail people," Gammons continued. "There's no place that you can say, 'I'm moving there.' "

There's no better expert than White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who explained years later, "a savvy negotiator creates leverage. People had to think we were going to leave Chicago."

UPDATE: Thanks to loyal reader Joe D, who emailed me with a few other anti-Rays episodes from Gammons.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Another Reason Why Leaked MLB Financials May Work Against Rays

Just when I thought most of the dust had settled from Major League Baseball's leaked financial documents, journalists and columnists in Miami keep hammering the Marlins' front office.

Upset that the team may have misrepresented its financial situation during stadium negotiations, local leaders are seeking to amend the deal.

Conversely, here in Tampa Bay, the leaked documents added credibility to the Rays' claim that they made small profits in '07 and '08 and lost money in '09. That led to a St. Pete Times column insisting the leak would be a good thing for the team's uphill campaign for a new stadium.

However, the more I see the Miami situation unravel, the more I think the episode will work against the Rays in the long-term by making local politicians skittish.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist Michael Mayo says the blame shouldn't be directed at the team, but Miami-Dade politicians who let them get away with it:
The Marlins simply did what every sports team — and any shrewd business — could do. They milked the public to the max. They'll pay a fraction of the overall cost yet keep nearly every dollar in revenue from the stadium, which will ultimately cost taxpayers billions in bond repayments. ...

"The Marlins aren't to blame for this," said Norman Braman, the Miami auto magnate who sued unsuccessfully to stop the project. "The fault lies with the politicians."

Politicians like Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez and former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who could have at least demanded to see the Marlins' books before agreeing to such a lopsided deal.

"If you read the depositions in the suit, you'll see they never even asked," Braman said. "Alvarez said, 'I didn't think it was necessary.'"

That's just bad business, and bad leadership.
On one hand, the now-partially-open books may improve trust between Stu Sternberg and the local leaders he's counting on for support. But on the other, any politician looking to make his or her legacy on the stadium issue has to be aware of the embarrassing situation the leaders on Florida's East Coast now find themselves in.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Maybe MLB, not Tampa Bay, is to Blame for Rays' $truggles?

One week after the baseball world was turned upside down by leaked financial documents, most analysts agree - to varying degrees - that the Rays cannot sustain competitive payrolls without new revenue sources.

But here's a tough question - why is that Tampa Bay's problem?

With support and excitement for the team at an all-time high, one could argue the team's struggle to balance competitive and financial issues isn't a product of the market...but of Major League Baseball's business plan.

As the leaked documents showed us - especially in the case of the cash-rich Pirates and Marlins - the revenue-sharing system is broken. ESPN's Jayson Stark quotes a high-ranking executive:
"We're sharing $450 million and very little of it is going to competitive balance. We need to get back to the original goal -- to provide enough money for small-market teams to spend an appropriate amount to be competitive."
Right now, you have teams like the Rays - very well-run and successful in player-development - that still can't compete in the standings every year because they can't compete on the free agent market.

This is a serious flaw in the game right now.

Whether the problem lies in revenue sharing or the league's inability to reign in the spending of major-market teams, the result is the same - teams like the Rays have no choice but to settle for long-term mediocrity...or plead for public dollars.

That's not the fault of the Rays' front office or its Tampa Bay fan base.

That's the fault of the Yankees, the Red Sox, Major League Baseball, and the mighty MLB Players' Association; all the parties that let the businesses' overhead (player salaries) grow faster than many cities can bear.

If Only Bucs Fans Cared This Much...

If only Bucs fans cared about their team as much as Manchester United fans did...Saturday night's game wouldn't have been blacked-out.

While the Buccaneers struggled with attendance again in their preseaaon tilt against the Jaguars, possibly drawing fewer fans than the Rays (36,973) for the first time ever, rabid soccer fans across the Atlantic continue to delve into the finances of the family that owns the Bucs.

Brit Andy Green has made it his side job to rip apart the Glazers for allegedly using Man U as "their personal piggy bank." He cites some of their property loans which have recently gone delinquent as well as massive interest payments on the loans the family used to buy the soccer team, the most valuable sports franchise in the world.

The Glazers remain typically quiet on the issue, and the Tampa Tribune says Green "doesn't appear to be giving the Glazers the benefit of the doubt." Many of the Glazers' delinquent loans on U.S. shopping centers aren't more than a month late yet.

But regardless of what happens to those questionable loans, you can expect to hear lots more about the family's finances in upcoming months as long as die-hards like Green are unhappy with how Man U is run.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tampa Bay Bucs' Franchise Value Slips

In case you missed it, the latest numbers from Forbes indicate the Bucs are still a cash cow...just not as much as in previous years.

Looks like winning will be the only thing to lift the team back into the elite tier of NFL teams.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Re"Discover"ing the Orange Bowl

Determined to get out of the proverbial cellar among America's big-four credit companies, Discover Financial Services is buying the title sponsor rights to the Orange Bowl.

It may not mean much to fans since most still choose to call it the "Orange Bowl," but I'm guessing most could still name the company Discover displaces as title sponsor. The answer is FedEx, which had been the title sponsor for an astonishing 21years previously.

The bowl and ESPN will now call it the "Discover Orange Bowl" through 2014...even if fans refuse to. The four-year deal could be worth close to $80 million.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

More Fallout from MLB "Leakgate"

Two interesting schools of thought with regards to the Rays' leaked financial documents. Columnist John Romano of the St. Pete Times makes some good points that the team's owners are NOT getting rich fast.

He writes that the documents should give Stu Sternberg ammo that the team needs a new stadium to maintain competitive payrolls over the long-term. But in making his argument about the Rays' limited television revenue, Romano ignores the fact that the problem is likely to remedy itself in a few years.

From 2009 to 2010, Rays' television ratings have soared more than 70 percent. And while it doesn't mean a ton of extra money right now, it will in 2017 when they begin a new yet-to-be-negotiated television contract.

Then you have public-financing watchdog Neil deMause of Field of Schemes who provides an even sharper dissenting view:
So let me see if I can follow the logic: Tampa Bay taxpayers should give money to the Rays for a new stadium because, even though the team right now is both winning and turning a profit, there are other teams that are able to win the same and turn a profit while spending more? Does Florida have some sort of citizen right to throw $16 million a year at A.J. Burnett that I don't know about?
Only time will tell which viewpoint is more accurate - and I happen to think there's validity to both - but the best perspective on the issue (echoing what I said two days ago) comes from Martin Fennelly of the Tampa Tribune:
I don't see why a sports owner doesn't have the right to a profit so long as he upholds the unwritten social contract with the community that demands that they try to put a winner on the field. The Rays have done that.
The challenge to Sternberg now is continuing to balance that social contract with his bottom line...while increasing the pressure on local governments for a new stadium.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bucs Facing Another Blackout

Just heard from our newsroom that the Bucs will be blacked out on local television again this weekend. Half the stadium was empty last week for their preseason tilt against Kansas City and could be a similar situation this weekend against Jacksonville.

Get used to it, Bucs fans - the question isn't "if" regular-season games will be blacked out, but "how many?" The season-opener is in serious jeopardy.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Rays Stadium Saga: Leaked Financial Documents

Today, Deadspin released some uber-exclusive MLB financial documents that relate directly to the Rays...and therefore, their campaign for a new stadium. Continue to watch Maury Brown at the Business of Baseball, he'll probably have the best analysis anywhere over the course of the week.

As for my thoughts, I think the biggest damage is to MLB's psyche. The league guards these documents (if, in fact, authentic) extremely carefully and - as evidenced by its "no comment" today - can't be happy with their release.

There don't appear to be any monumental surprises with regards to the Rays' documents. Despite The Trop's limited revenue streams and less-than-stellar attendance numbers, the team still manages to turn a profit.

Rays fans should also relish the fact that the team is pouring much of its revenue back into the product - apparently better than the Pirates and their smallest-in-the-MLB payroll.

The Pirates took the very unorthodox step of releasing additional numbers yesterday when the story broke in an attempt to "show their hand" and explain their penny-pinching ways.

Just don't expect the Rays to open up any more of their books anytime soon - they too had a "no comment" today.

The documents showed the Rays made modest profits in 2007 and 2008, but compared to the profits of many NFL teams, they were rather small. It's just the nature of the sport and business model.

Some fans' will nevertheless react negatively to the documents if they feel baseball owners owe something to the communities their teams play in. Some believe owners should spend every available cent on making their team a winner. Others believe there's no obligation whatsoever since it's a private business.

Personally, I'm somewhere in the middle, which is why the modest profits don't really surprise me. Stu Sternberg and the Rays have done a good job of maintaining both their business plan and a successful team.

However, I'm also expecting this episode to come back to haunt the Rays at some point if their standoff with the City of St. Pete gets nasty this off-season.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Glazers Start Paying Huge Debt on Man U.

While many of their NFL-related dealings remain secret but to a select few, the Glazers don't have the same privacy overseas.

That's why we get articles like this one in London, reporting the family that owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Manchester United this week starts paying a whopping 16.25 percent interest on a $312 million loan.

Tough to tell if the family is hurting since Forbes just ranked Man U. the most valuable sports franchise in the world and the Bucs 12th. Of course, if you ask them, there's nothing to worry about at all.

Just don't ask this week. They didn't return Bloomberg's request for comment.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ryan Nece Working Harder Than Ever for Tampa Bay

He must have been one of the guys Tony Dungy was referring to when he said there were a lot of former athletes doing great things.

Former Bucs star Ryan Nece has spent his post-football days improving Tampa Bay through his "Power of Giving" charity. And honestly, his "pay it forward" motto has reaped rewards across the country.

You can read more about his charity here or see our story about his new ambitious project here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bucs Face First Blackout

According to, the website for the Bucs' flagship station, WFLA-TV, this weekend's preseason game against the Chiefs will not air on local television because of poor ticket sales and the NFL's rules.

It will be the Bucs' first blackout since Raymond James Stadium opened in 1998.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tropicana Field Catwalks: My Trip to the Top

They've been a source of discussion, ridicule, and controversy. But despite all the recent coverage, Tropicana Field's catwalks also remain a source of intrigue.

After Minnesota's Jason Kubel helped the Twins beat the Rays on Aug. 5 by drilling a single off the dome's uppermost "A" ring, I set off to scale the stadium's scant structure and find the spot - 190 feet above the field - that just two balls have ever reached during a game.

Sitting that high over the infield with nothing under me other than a metal grate, I couldn't stop sweating profusely. Sure, it was nearly 100 degrees up there and humid...but my heart was also pounding away from the fear.

You can read more here or watch the video below:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dungy Being Dungy

Spent a nice afternoon covering the end of Tony Dungy's book tour.

The coach remains one of the most humble and committed ex-athletes out there and you can see our story here.

It didn't make the piece, but I asked Dungy why we didn't see more "Tony Dungy's" coming from the sports world. Ever-so-modest, he said there were lots of great role models and lots of guys doing great things under-the-radar. The media just tends to focus on the bad apples.

Not sure I completely agree since I've known a number of ex-athletes content to disappear into their own private worlds after retirement, but I admire Coach for wanted to spread the credit. He also points out the current Bucs team is filled with guys who are very active in the community.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Vinik Rolls Big Into South Tampa

As long as I'm going to keep track of the Glazers' real estate purchases, I may as well follow the grand expenditures of new Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik.

The millionaire may single-handedly revive Tampa housing numbers by purchasing a South Tampa home appraised at $3 million for $6 well as the smaller home next to it for another $3 million. No word on what he plans to do with the adjacent properties.

Elsewhere in the sports world, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is apparently once again considering a ban on caffeine since studies show it enhances performance.
"Caffeine was on WADA’s list of banned substances at one time, but the agency delisted the popular substance in 2004 because it proved too difficult to determine if caffeine in the human body came from the incidental use of coffee and soft drinks or from supplements."
The knee-jerk reaction from WADA comes after an athlete in Australia reportedly suffered a bad reaction from mixing pills. But caffeine abuse is hardly an epidemic. It doesn't create an unlevel playing field. The benefit an athlete gets from the chemical diminishes after 200mg, which is about as much caffeine as is in two cups of coffee.

So the long and short of it is, I wouldn't read too much into the WADA's possible ban. It's not like any of the U.S. leagues would follow suit with caffeinated beverages such a large sponsor of sporting events.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Catwalk Fallout: Day 2

There are people who periodically argue that the Trop is just fine. They just lost the argument. The Trop is not fine. The Trop needs to be bulldozed, replaced by a stadium where the players – not flawed engineers – determine who wins and loses.
The Tampa Tribune's Joe Henderson makes a fair point following yesterday's catwalk catastrophe for the Rays.

And even though I've written in the past that The Trop isn't as bad as the team makes it sound, I admit: it's a less-than-ideal home for a baseball team. Local leaders need to start the process of planning a new park now.

The problem is, those same leaders have their hands full with more pressing issues. Are two catwalk accidents in 13 years enough reason to force the $500+ million issue immediately?

The St. Pete Times' John Romano writes that the timing of Joe Maddon's complaints are "off."
The stadium situation is too important and too volatile to be politicized at this moment. It would sort of be like Mayor Bill Foster saying the Rays don't deserve a new stadium when Carl Crawford leaves as a free agent.
As I said yesterday, the catwalk plays the same for both teams just like a small strike zone, the wind blowing out at Wrigley, or Fenway Park's monsterously-tall-but-monsterously-shallow left field wall.

After all, I don't remember hearing stories of Don Zimmer calling for a new Fenway in 1978 after a Bucky Dent pop-up cost the Red Sox the division...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Catwalk Giveth, Catwalk Taketh Away

Tough day when your stadium costs you a possible win. The Twins scored the game-winning run this afternoon when what seemed to be a jam-escaping pop-up in the top of the 9th ricocheted of one of the catwalks in The Trop. The (fair) ball fell to the ground and Jason Repko scored.

"It totally indicates why you need a new ballpark in this area regardless of where you put it," Rays manager Joe Maddon said, according to the St. Pete Times. "It just needs to be a real baseball field."

A catwalk ricochet just as easily could have benefited the Rays as it hurt them. It's like instant replay or a bad strike zone; at least it affects both teams the same way.

But yes, it's easy to understand Maddon's frustrations with The Trop when an unnatural occurrence costs your team a game. At least it was 72 degrees and clear inside the stadium...the skies above St. Pete opened up not-too-long after the game ended.

UPDATE: The Tampa Tribune reports it's just the second time a ball has struck the super-high "A-ring" of the catwalk, but Maddon called it "the perfect commercial advertisement for a reason to have a new ballpark."

He acknowledges it works both ways, but "to lose a game in a pennant situation like that because of a roof truly indicates why there's a crying need for a new ballpark in this area," he said. "It just needs to be a real baseball field where, if you lose the pennant by one game and look back at a game like that because the roof got in the way, we'd be very upset."

Proof the roof giveth and taketh away: the only other time a catwalk has directly affected the outcome of a game was three years ago when Carlos Pena's "single" off the B-ring helped the Rays score the winning run. That incident was also in the final inning (10th) and ironically, against the Twins.

UPDATE 2: Yahoo's Big League Stew points out that the Yankees' Mark Teixeira predicted the catwalks would decide a game some day: "I know in (Cowboys) Stadium, the punters were screwing around in preseason hitting the scoreboard, but they said it was a dead ball and you re-punt it. It seems to me if a guy skies a ball and it ricochets (off the catwalk) ... I mean, what if that's the seventh game of the World Series? Really, that ball is an out 999 out of 1,000 times."

Stew added back in April that "hitting the higher rings is rare enough of an occurrence that I have no problem with the catwalks remaining one of those quirky things about baseball." Of course, things like the ivy at Wrigley, the Green Monster at Fenway, and the hill in Houston are all quirks that don't play favorites when they affect the game.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Texas Rangers Auction

Incredibly interesting stuff out of Dallas this morning as a federal judge holds a bankrupcy auction for the Texas Rangers, just the second MLB team ever auctioned.

The two biggest bidders are expected to a group led by Rangers' great Nolan Ryan, and a group led by Dallas Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban. Bidding is expected to top $323 million.

If Ryan's group wins the auction, the MLB process to approve the sale and allow the team to chase free agents like Cliff Lee in the offseason is expected to be swift.

However, if Cuban, the outspoken billionare who ruffles feathers on a regular basis in the NBA, wins, the process could take more than nine months to complete. It could mean disaster for the 2011 Rangers. And a much longer, more painful problem for the team if Cuban is rejected by the super-tight MLB-owners network.

Cuban is already trying to force the issue with what could be considered a semi-hostile takeover of the process. And if MLB puts up a fight to a winning Cuban bid, some of their deepest, darkest secrets - such as revenue sharing numbers - could come out in court.

I wish this kind of thing was televised as it's way more interesting to me than many actual sporting events. But since it's not, I'm following CBS 11's live blog. Afterward, Maury Brown's Biz of Baseball site will be the place to be for analysis.