Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fifty Years of Arena-Building on Public Money

Thanks to Maury Brown of the Business of Sports Network and Jason Collette of Dock of the Rays, I have my answer as to the last U.S. stadiums built without taxpayer dollars.

Looks like there have been exactly three in the last fifty years: Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium in 1962, San Francisco's Pac Bell Park (now AT&T Park) in 1993, and Columbus' Nationwide Arena.

1962 may as well have been 1862 when it comes to sports and business, so we won't even discuss that.

And while the Columbus arena has been open a decade now, the Blue Jackets are said to be in serious financial turmoil for over-extending themselves in the $175 million deal.

But in 1993, Pac Bell was built for $357M after voters repeatedly voted against stadium referendums. Tampa Bay baseball fans remember those frustrations almost led to a move to St. Petersburg. But since MLB controls where its teams play - not the owners - Bob Lurie couldn't move East.

So Lurie sold the team and the new ownership group, led by Peter Magowan, privately funded the new stadium.

However, before Rays fans get all excited that this could happen again, the team admitted in a 2002 article that his group caught lightning in a bottle, fueled partially by the booming business of Silicon Valley (that eventually went bust).
"We had a very strong economy in the late 1990s, a strong company base and a storied franchise," says Giants chief operating officer Larry Baer, who assembled $75 million in sponsorships including $50 million in naming rights fees from Pacific Bell and $75 million from 15,000 charter seat licenses.

The article also points out:
Rob Tilliss, who helped put together the $170 million loan package for Pac Bell Park, says a privately financed stadium is feasible only in cities with huge corporate bases such as New York or Los Angeles, where Dodger Stadium was privately built for $15 million in 1962.

Tampa is neither New York nor Los Angeles. No stadium will be built here without public money. Especially since $500-$600M for a retractable-roof stadium is a lot more expensive than $357M...even after inflation.

For those of you keeping score at home, that's three stadiums/arenas privately-financed in 50 years...out of about 100...and that's without getting into the minor-leagues.

Hillsborough Ain't Got No Dough

Like I said before, don't get your hopes up that the Rays will be crossing Tampa Bay.

A St. Pete Times article today does a nice job explaining why Hillsborough Co. can't afford to build the team a new stadium, even if it grants a little too much legitimacy in the Rays-to-Tampa rumors.

I've also said before I can't remember the last time a stadium was built without public dollars. People like to chat about "developers building a privately-funded stadium in Tampa."

But remember, developers typically give land so their adjacent land goes up in value. They may even give $100-$150M of land for free. But they don't kick in $300, $400, or $500 million to build a stadium too.

Even with owner Stu Sternberg kicking in a large chunk of cash for a stadium, he said he can't do it alone. It's still a question of when St. Pete/Pinellas Co. will start kicking in some cash...and how much.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Foster Talks to Rays, Then Delivers Quote of the Year

Unfortunately, I had to leave the Governor's Baseball Dinner early because of breaking news, but my whirlwind night was nothing compared to St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster's.

He met with Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, and then the brass of the Tampa Bay Rays for the first time in a very long time.

According to the St. Pete Times, he didn't talk a whole lot about stadium stuff, but he did have a priceless retort for all the MLB-to-Tampa talk:

"Am I worried about people assembling land in Hillsborough and Tampa?" Foster said. "No. I've seen their budgets. It's not leaving St. Petersburg, I can assure you."

It echoes what I wrote earlier in the day...as well as back in July '09. Lots of people will talk big, but at the end of the day, St. Pete and Pinellas County are the only groups in the running to build a new stadium. It just becomes a matter of what percentage they'll have to pay.

Credit Foster for playing this poker hand the right way.

UPDATE: Another intelligent quote this week was from Tampa Councilman John Dingfelder in the Tampa Tribune, saying, "There's always a risk that the team would use the cities to up the ante." He deserves some credit too, for offering a voice of reason when the rest of his city is piling on the bandwagon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Before You Jump on the Rays-to-Tampa Bandwagon...

Before you jump on the Rays-to-Tampa bandwagon, remember these things:

1) St. Pete has a lease with the team and neither Tampa nor Hillsborough County appear ready to go to court to break it. Pinellas County remains the most likely place for a new park.

2) Having a large chunk of land in Downtown Tampa isn't enough. You need a HUGE chunk of land. 20 acres for a stadium, 30-50 acres for parking. Having a stadium within driving distance from the center of population does the Rays no good if there's nowhere to park 10,000 cars.

3) Tampa is not Boston. Rail is not a substitute for parking.

4) Developers can give away the land for a stadium, but you still need a huge chunk of change to build the building. Developers won't offer to pay for that...and all of Hillsborough County's funds appear to be committed elsewhere.

5) The ABC Coalition asked Hillsborough County to get involved in saving the team. Commissioner Hagan's request for a meeting shouldn't come as a huge shock...it should come as a huge relief.

Arizona Bucks Up to Keep Cubs

Good story from the Phoenix Business Journal on how any tourist to visit the state of Arizona - or Arizona resident that goes to any Cactus League game - will help pay to keep the Cubs training there seven weeks a year.

UPDATE: USA Today reports that MLB Commissioner Bud Selig opposes the legislation. Do Cubs care?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hillsborough Ready to Talk Baseball

Even if he doesn't speak for the entire board, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan is the first public official from the Tampa side of Tampa Bay ready to talk baseball, according to the St. Pete Times.

As I wrote three weeks ago, the ABC Coalition pleaded with Tampa Bay to work together to keep the Rays. But the focus was lost when the St. Petersburg city attorney urged Mayor Bill Foster and the city council to ignore the group it commissioned itself in 2008.

What's the effect of the Hillsborough involvement?

Well, it's a nice piece of news for the ABC Coalition and certainly not a bad thing for the Rays. The letter isn't really functional as much as it is symbolic. After all, if Commission Hagan wanted to see the Coalition's findings, he could just read them - in their entirity - on the group's website.

But this isn't exactly horrible news for St. Pete or Pinellas County, either.

The Times quotes Mayor Bill Foster as saying, "It's great that Hillsborough County is ready to address the support of Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg...I've wanted their support for years."

Now, he may get it.

And remember, seven months ago, I wrote how this game would play out in the court of public opinion. That included local politicians stepping out on their own and into the spotlight. Ken Hagan just became the first...but he won't be the last.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

ABC Coalition Urges St. Pete to Reconsider Report

Two weeks after city leaders announced they would not meet with the ABC Coalition, the group's chair sent a letter to Mayor Bill Foster and City Council chair Leslie Curran that urges them to listen to its final report.

"ABC is not advocating on behalf of either the Rays or the City, and has no authority to negotiate on behalf of either party," Lyash wrote. "Instead, ABC is merely reporting its findings. Findings prepared, in part, at the request of the City and the Rays."

He also addressed why the group decided to look at areas outside the City of St. Pete.

"The support of the entire Tampa Bay region is required to ensure long‐term viability and therefore failure to consider the entire region in reaching conclusions regarding fan support, corporate support and ball park location would have been inconsistent with our mission."

For more, continue here.   Find the final report here.  And for more background on the Rays' stadium saga, click here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Will the Rays Eventually End Up at Toytown?

Another giant hurdle has been cleared in turning a former landfill in North St Pete into the future home of the Rays.

As I first said back in May, the team would eventually get a new home in Pinellas County's Gateway region. Now, potential construction at one of the most logical locations in Gateway - the Toytown landfill - now has the blessing of an important City of St. Pete board.

For more, continue here.

In other news, the Rays made a pretty solid PR move today, pulling a naming-rights deal for their Port Charlotte spring training home off the table. Interesting story, and considering how much money it may cost the team, I applaud have to applaud the decision, even if it ends up being just temporary.

I hope the team winds up with another stadium-naming deal that pleases fans and proves to be lucrative for the team. Because as long as owners invest in their teams - as the Rays are doing right now - I think they deserve to turn a (modest) profit on their investments.

Oh, and because you probably never would have known otherwise, I can pass along the news that they seem to have given up on their investment of the Florida Tuskers football team.

Interesting news out of the Cactus league too. It looks like the Brewers could add the first chapter to their stadium saga....

And finally, since I was on Super Bowl duty all last week, a link to some coverage of the Tampa Bay Lightning sale.

10 more days until Rays' pitchers and catchers report!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

It's the "Baseball in Orlando" Guy Again!

It appears the no-name Congressional candidate, Armando Gutierrez, who made the laugh-out-loud claim he could bring MLB to Orlando, is dropping out of the race.

St. Petersburg blogger Peter Schorsch tweets:
"Just got off the phone with a staffer for Gutierrez. He says reason he dropped out is to lead the effort to bring baseball to Orlando."
I don't know which surprises me more - that anybody really thinks they can get a MLB team in Orlando or that Gutierrez has staffers.

His "Baseball in Orlando" fan page on Facebook thriving, but the emails going out to "fans" are little more than half-desperate pleas for more fans.

Again, baseball isn't coming to Orlando unless the good folks at Disney decide to chase Milwaukee Brewers' spring training.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Taking Issue with a Trib Editorial

The Tampa Tribune wrote an editorial this morning about spring training's importance to Florida. And having grown up in New England, where everyone's fantasy winter vacation is a trip to Ft. Myers to watch the Sox, I completely agree with the concept.

But there's a problem when you get people who don't know much about the business of baseball (like a newspaper's editorial board) writing about the business of baseball.

The board makes some sweeping generalizations that aren't all that accurate:
"By one count, at least seven Florida teams' leases will be up for renegotiations in the next five years. Expect Arizona cities to make a strong pitch for them."

I don't know what the paper considers "renegotiations," but from what I can tell, the only Grapefruit League teams with leases that expire in the next five years are the Washington Nationals and Florida Marlins. I'd say the odds of the Nats leaving Florida are slim-to-none, while the Marlins' odds are nil.

Furthermore, I've heard that Arizona is practically tapped-out when it comes to public money available to lure new teams. The Cubs were on the verge of moving to Naples, leaving the Cactus League without its biggest draw. But Mesa found a way to keep them.

The same may not be said for the Milwaukee Brewers, who can leave Arizona in 2012 and could very well fly back to Florida. Disney and St. Pete may make convincing pitches, but the clear frontrunner is Ft. Myers. It's got a beautiful, soon-to-be-empty City of Palms Park (Red Sox move into a new complex in 2012) and the area is saturated with snowbirds from Wisconsin.

Finally, don't forget that teams don't want to train too far from their fans. The Dodgers left their historical park in Vero Beach largely because Arizona is about 2,500 miles closer to L.A.

All 12 teams in the Eastern Time Zone train in Florida. All eight teams in the Pacific and Mountain time zones train in Arizona. Seven of the 10 in the Central Time Zone train in Arizona too, but that includes almost all the teams that have swapped states in recent years.

The Twins, Tigers, and Cardinals remain in Florida, but are longshots to move West. It's much more likely that we see the trend reversed and the number of teams in the Grapefruit League outnumber the teams in the Cactus League once again.

Now, it's just a matter of how much work and how much money will be required to put Florida back on top.