Monday, May 24, 2010

Quite the Year in the Shadow of the Stadium

One year ago this week - when the ABC Coalition was still in its relative infancy, before the Rays started pining about attendance, and before the Rays-to-Tampa bandwagon had picked up any steam - I started a blog.

My first post identified what the ABC Coalition, the Rays, and dozens of media outlets would go on to say later - that the real reason for the team's attendance troubles is the location of Tropicana Field.

One year ago, everyone was in denial of the fact (or too scared to come out and say it), but the stadium location has emerged as the single-biggest reason the franchise could benefit from a new home.

A lot of other issues emerged over the last year in the stadium saga, and many were forecasted in this blog - How the Stadium Saga Will Go Down - but we'll revisit that post another time.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Note on ESPN, Journalism, and Business

Good blog post here by a former co-worker of mine, Dan Sheldon, on ESPN's disintegrating ethics and failure to give credit to "The Dan Patrick Show" for breaking news.

Citing sources is one of the first commandments of journalism. But when business takes priority over ethics, we all lose. Unfortunately for sports fans, ESPN jumped the shark years ago and instead of covering what people want to see, it now tries to dictate what fans want to see. Be prepared for a LOT of soccer shoved down your throat this summer.

And it's not like ESPN's ethics have never been questioned before...the Mike Leach/Craig James story drew harsh criticism...accusations of "protecting" Ben Roethlisberger swirled when ESPN didn't report on his various troubles at first...and a public apology followed a gaffe in covering Gilbert Arenas' troubles.

ESPN sure has come a long way over the years...but maybe not all in good ways.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Conversation with the Trib

I had a good conversation with one of the editors at the Trib this week and it was clear the brass there doesn't appreciate my recent criticisms.

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.

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.
See, I disagree. Cheerleading doesn't necessarily need to be a rah-rah tone of an can take the form of front-page saturation so readers cannot avoid the issue.

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.

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.
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?

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.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rays Stadium Needs Public $; Tampa Has None

On the day they met with the ABC Coalition, Hillsborough County Commissioners passed a motion pledging support for a new stadium if - and when - the Rays decide to talk to them.

However, a majority of the commissioners also pledged not to use public money to finance a stadium. Most experts consider the lack of public dollars an insurmountable hurdle to moving the Rays to Tampa.

"It's just not going to happen," said Craig Sher from the ABC Coalition said as to whether a stadium could be built without public financing. "There's not that kind of revenue and profit-potential in Major League sports - particularly baseball - to privately-finance a whole stadium," he said.

For more, continue here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Investors Mobilize to Buy Stadium Land in Tampa

TAMPA, Florida - 10 Connects has learned a new investment group is planning on purchasing enough land in Downtown Tampa to build a state-of-the-art stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

The investment group, led by "Build it Downtown Tampa" founder Ryan Neubauer, will make the announcement Wednesday. Their timetable includes land studies this summer, land acquisition this fall, and hopefully a dialogue with the Rays and elected leaders soon thereafter.

For more, including the Rays' response, continue here. And for more background on the Rays' stadium saga, click here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Good News From One Buc Place

As the good people at the Biz of Football report, 18 NFL teams will raise ticket prices in 2010. The Bucs are not one of them.

Even though the Bucs filled 96 percent of their 65,908-seat capacity last year, blackouts were a constant concern. Nice bit of customer-relations from the billion-dollar franchise at a time where they could certainly use it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Good News for Rays at Tropicana Field

The GOP Convention is coming to Tampa Bay in 2012 and Tropicana Field is expected to host some of the events. The good news for the Rays? Unlike the Astros in 1992, who had to endure a month-long road trip while the Astrodome hosted the event, the Trop will NOT be the main venue. That means an extended road trip should not be required since the GOP won't need to rip out and renovate seats and luxury boxes.

Then again, the team may be disappointed to miss that opportunity...

Oh, and don't look now, but the Rays are also getting good news at the gate. They're up to 19th in the majors in average attendance.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Trib Shocker! Rays on Page A1 Again!

When I heard the Tampa Sports Authority was merely mentioning the topic of a baseball stadium, I knew where I could go for more information, no matter how trivial: Page A1 of the Tampa Tribune. Sure enough, the area's biggest new-stadium cheerleader had the story on its cover this morning.

It's not that a stadium contingency plan in Hillsborough County isn't's that the Trib insists on sensationalizing stories like this.

The St. Pete Times covered the story too, but placed it in their "Tampa Bay" metro section. Why? Because it simply wasn't big news. The Times writes:
Mention of a new baseball stadium in the report is simply a nod to the ongoing discussion, not a bid, he said.

"People are trying to make more of it and connect dots that aren't there," Hart said. "We're not promoting that in any way."

Thank goodness for perspective in the Times, because it was desperately lacking in the Trib.

And adding to the embarrassment of their article, it's clear Michael Sasso's article, posted online Tuesday afternoon, went straight on the newspaper's front page Wednesday without passing through a single editor:

In the meantime, across the Bay, talks are under way on starting a Pinellas sports authority.

Pinellas County's Charter Review Commission is reviewing the county's charter with the state, which sets out rules of governance. The commission will discuss a sports authority at a meeting tonight.

The problem is the meeting was Tuesday evening. And the committee quickly shot down the idea of a sports authority. So not only did the paper print a blatant inaccuracy on its front page, but it didn't even bother to change "tonight" to "yesterday" for its Wednesday copy.

Little wonder why Tribune subscriptions are plummeting.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Why Sports Teams are Important

An excerpt from a fantastic column from Florida Today columnist Pete Kerasotis about why sports teams are important to a city.
"How about that game last night?"
It was my mailman, with me standing at the end of my driveway, chatting about the Orlando Magic's dominating Game 1 win against the Atlanta Hawks the night before.
This, I thought, is what a sports team does. It brings people together with a common topic, and even a common sense of pride. It does it in boardrooms and family rooms, at the water cooler and at the checkout line.
The takeaway? Cities should be prepared to spend some money to keep their sports teams happy. Unfortunately, it usually becomes an issue trying to define "some money."

Maybe it's Not The Trop?

I opened up USAToday this morning to find two articles about teams and sports struggling with attendance. And not one mention of the Rays.

Think the economy isn't keeping people from spending money at sporting events? NASCAR disagrees.

Think a modern stadium is enough to overcome years of futility? The Orioles prove you wrong.

Consider this: the Rays are drawing better at home (23,064) than they are in their opponents' stadiums (21,868). What that says to me is the Rays are still an infant franchise without a national fan base yet. However, their base at home is growing. That's what you'd expect from a team that didn't exist 13 years ago.

Oh, and by the way, they're now 20th in the league in average attendance.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Don't Complain Rays, You Could be the A's!

Last week, I had to wonder (out-loud) why so many people were complaining about the Rays' attendance when it was up. The Bleacher Report followed with a report about how impressive some of their numbers were. And Rays Rev chipped in a sarcastic column questioning why Tampa Bay-bashing had become such a fad.

Yes, the Rays' attendance is awful despite their best-record-in-baseball, but it's better than last year and it could be their best ranking in the majors since their inagural season.

Let's also point out that Tampa Bay fans are no different than other fans in other cities.

After drawing (fewer than) 8,874 the other night in Oakland, the first-place A's think a new stadium will fix their problems.

But as the San Francisco Chronicle suggests, part of the problem is the team owner bashing his stadium and threaten to move.

Hope the Rays' brass is taking notes on that situation...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Rays' Attendance is Up - Why So Many Complaints?

Excellent post by the good people at Bleacher Report wondering why so many columnists, executives, and fans are complaining about the Rays attendance when it's up in the last two years. And most other teams' numbers are down.

As I wrote last week, the complaints don't really resonate when you're drawing improved numbers against lousy teams and the rest of the league is struggling too.

You can track the updated attendance numbers here.