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 TBO.com, 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 million...as 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.