We discussed the concerns and shared some ideas. I even made a correction. And while I reiterate that what I write in this space is personal opinion and in no way reflects the organization I work for....I don't agree with everything Asst. Managing Editor Ken Koehn said on behalf of the Trib:
Simply put, the stadium debate is a major story for our readers.See, I disagree. Cheerleading doesn't necessarily need to be a rah-rah tone of an article...it can take the form of front-page saturation so readers cannot avoid the issue.
On a sports front, the Rays have the best record in baseball and are drawing increased interest from our online and print readers. The team — not The Tampa Tribune — presented a stadium proposal and talked of cutting its payroll due to revenue problems. The ABC Coalition then proposed possible locations in Hillsborough, where the largest segment of our print readership lives.
Our coverage has addressed the lack of corporate sponsorship, possible stadium locations and taxpayer skittishness about the project in an area with 13 percent unemployment.
There has been no cheerleading.
The Trib is also widely recognized - and criticized - for helping push through the Raymond James Stadium referendum in 1996. Koehn continued and even addressed the referendum:
We know that stadium and arena projects have been some of the most divisive debates in our history. We remember the fiery debates in 1996 when Hillsborough County voters approved the Community Investment Tax for Raymond James Stadium. Our audience is righteously sensitive about spending taxpayer money on sports projects.Koehn gives great explanation for why the story is repeatedly featured. But why aren't other major businesses like Busch Gardens given this kind of coverage? Why doesn't discussion of a rail referendum draw a cover story every week? Why haven't I seen anything in-print about some of the encouraging numbers the Rays are putting up at the box office?
So our readers want to know where it will be built, how it will be financed and what will happen if it isn’t built. These are logical questions getting national attention. Even though the Rays’ attendance has improved, clips on ESPN highlighting empty seats at the stadium are commonplace.
And while you characterize the coverage as cheerleading, that doesn’t accurately reflect our content. In fact, one of the top graphs of a recent Sunday story says leaders here aren’t sure funding a stadium should be a priority with 13 percent unemployment. It also goes on to pinpoint the downsides of some tax options.
In summary, the future of the Tampa Bay Rays will continue to be a big story for us. Our readers expect the coverage, and we will supply it.
I plan on continuing my conversation with the Trib editors. But only time will tell if they treat the current stadium debate like they did the Forum, RayJay, and Legends Field...or if they turn a new leaf.