Thursday, April 28, 2011

St. Pete Retaining Bankruptcy Attorney

Remember those "tricks" Mayor Bill Foster said he and St. Petersburg were prepared for?

One of them is the possibility of the Rays declaring bankruptcy to get out of their iron-clad use agreement. The city is in the process of hiring a law firm to monitor the possibility and advise if necessary.

"We have no reason to believe we'll ever need their services," Foster said today of the firm, "but best practices says we should be prepared."

Foster added that he had no indication the Rays had ever - or would ever - consider bankruptcy. But other professional teams have used the strategy to get out of leases in other cities and overtures made by Bud Selig and other high-ranking officials leave the city on alert.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Commissioner: Send Stadium Money to Pinellas Parks!

With the Rays itching for a new place to play and the debt on Tropicana Field expiring after 2015, Pinellas Co. Commissioner Norm Roche has an idea of what to do with the available bed tax money in 2016: put it toward a different kind of park.

Roche is currently looking into the legality of spending heavily-restricted tourist tax dollars on parks like Fort DeSoto. The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has suggested a $5-per-vehicle fee at the park to help deal with another year of budget shortfalls.

Click here to read more.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Unique Stadium-Funding Idea: Tax the Players!

Not sure why free agents would want to play for a team where they'd be taxed an extra 5 percent to help pay for the stadium, but as Field of Schemes explains, the idea - along with a tax on memorabilia - would be an interesting way to finance a new Minnesota Vikings stadium:
The vast majority of the state money (more than two-thirds) would come from a sports memorabilia tax, with a 5% income tax surcharge on Vikings player salaries a distant second; taxes on luxury suite rentals and satellite TV services would amount to not much more than rounding errors. Also, since all sports memorabilia would be subject to the tax surcharge, this means that this "user fee" would be hitting Twins and Wild fans even if they had no interest in football.
I don't know how well that will go over in Minnesota - let alone more conservative places (tax-fearing Florida) - but it's unlikely the players would have much say in the matter. Since the state would be doing the taxing rather than the owners, the surcharge would likely be enforceable.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Could Glazers Bid on Dodgers?

With the Glazers' liquid assets seemingly stretched thin, this may not be worth the webpage it's printed on.

But with MLB taking over the Los Angeles Dodgers, could it be possible the owners of the Buccaneers make a bid for the franchise like they did in 2004?

Malcolm Glazer lost the franchise to Frank McCourt, who would be making a tidy profit on his $430 million purchase had a messy divorce not ruined his plans.

Back then, Glazer settled for buying Manchester United (not a bad consolation prize other than the fact that they financed the majority of their purchase and now that the interest has come due, the Brits can't wait for him to sell).

Nothing would make fans happier in Old Trafford than if the Glazers sold the soccer team. And sure, MLB would love to have a well-known, reputable family interested in buying the Dodgers. But it probably won't happen if for no other reason than Malcolm is no longer controlling the family's pursestrings.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Rays Stadium Saga: What's Next?

Another Rays season is off and running...but if the team doesn't right its ship on the field soon, Tampa Bay's attention could shift quickly to their off-the-field matters. Namely, their search for a new stadium.

But despite three-plus years of exploration, negotiation, and intimidation, we don't appear any closer to a long-term solution to the team's problems than we did in 2008.

So what's next?

Contrary to the timeline I mapped out two years ago, I actually think things will remain civil for a while longer.

Given the economy, it would be in poor taste for the Rays or MLB to push the issue any harder right now. But they will eventually.

The next major piece of news will likely come from the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, a private group studying the difficult issue of stadium funding.

The group is decidedly pro-stadium and although it isn't advocating a preferred site right now, location won't matter as much as how they could possibly pool the $300 million in public revenue to get a deal done.

In an ideal world, multiple counties around Tampa Bay would contribute to a new stadium to lock up the team for decades to come. But cooperation has never been Tampa Bay's strongest characteristic and most residents balk at the idea of paying for a stadium in a different county.

I also expect the report to suggest a diverse range of public funding mechanisms from Tax-Increment Funding (TIFs) to Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs). These are easy pills for politicians to swallow since they don't immediately increase tax rates for most residents.

However, both TIFs and PILOTs are both taxes, and with an anti-tax climate permeating the state and anti-tax politicians holding most important county offices, even these mechanisms may not fly.

So while the Rays may hail the suggestion as innovative, local municipalities still may not "play ball" if they don't have to. And honestly, I don't expect St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster to open his city's wallet when they've already got the Rays under a fool-proof contract until 2027.

Which means 2011 may look a lot like 2010 in the Stadium Saga. A report comes out; the team and politicians go through their song-and-dance with the media; and nothing changes.

As I've said before, this process will likely play itself out over a number of years, not months. And it will undoubtedly get tense, if not ugly.

The lone bright spot for the Rays' efforts is new Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been a stadium advocate and may give them the power and/or leverage they need to get the ball rolling. How active he wants to be could determine how quickly the Stadium Saga plays out.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

More Contraction-Bashing

I said it was Time to Redact the Contraction Talk. I said Why MLB Contraction Won't Happen. And I lampooned national writers who get used by the league.

Fortunately, there's a growing number of writers discrediting stories - and the people that write them - about contraction.

They now include:
Maury Brown from The Biz of Baseball
Craig Calcaterra from MSNBCJoe Henderson from The Tampa Tribune
And even Bud Selig himself (via The St. Petersburg Times)

Enjoy the reading.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

MLB Using Columnists to Push Agenda?

Maury Brown of the Biz of Baseball chimes in on the contraction non-debate by saying yet another column speculating about contraction - this one by Forbes' writer Mike Ozanian - means "MLB appears to be serious about getting the word out."

Brown also echoes a theme I have written about before: with MLB turning $7 billion in revenue a year, the problem isn't Tampa Bay's or Oakland's - the problem is the league's:
"The issue is internal. This is MLB’s problem, not one that requires fans to lose a team or two in what Bud Selig has called 'Baseball’s Golden Age'."
And really, in the end, isn’t this really about trying to new stadiums built at taxpayer expense? It was the case with the Twins and Marlins, and it worked. Whether politicians are any wiser now than they were then remains to be seen.

There are arguments that might be made that contracting the Rays, who have performed exceptionally well in the standings, but abysmally at the gate, should be relocated. Contracting them, even if it made sense, is an impracticality. Baseball needs to figure out its own problems with relocation before the hollow threat of contraction is passed around through the press."
One more thing: I had indicated the Forbes column was baseless yesterday. I'd like to add it was also ignorant. In reading author Otzanian's comments at the bottom of the page, I see he based a large part of his argument about contracting the Rays on their poor broadcast contract.

However, with record TV ratings last year and an impressive start to 2011 as well, the team stands to make a huge windfall in 2016 (or sooner) when that deal is renegotiated. Both the Rays and MLB know this well and don't want to pull a team out of Tampa Bay.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Really? Again With the Contraction Talk?

I don't know Forbes' writer Mike Ozanian, but I know his sources are pretty lousy:
"Groundswell building in Major League Baseball to dump the Tampa Bay Rays. From what I am hearing, I doubt there will be any baseball at Tropicana Field after 2014 even though the team’s lease runs to 2027."

I'll keep my reaction simple. Why MLB Contraction Won't Happen.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Foster Weary of MLB's "Tricks"

On the same day I posted the annual "New Season, Same Game in Stadium" column, Rays' owner Stu Sternberg upped the ante even more just moments before the first pitch.

"It's imperative that we get this thing moving," Sternberg said, as printed in the St. Petersburg Times. "The can has been kicked down the road and the road is not much longer...but there needs to be some progress...and I think my patience is greater than Major League Baseball's."

The Tampa Tribune writes that Mayor Bill Foster said he was prepared for MLB's "tricks" and that the city has studied the leagues's approach toward stadium-building.

What tricks does he refer to?

The tricks in this blueprint that have helped dozens of teams get billions in public financing.