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.