Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rays' Attendance: Maybe it's Not the Location

Long before Stu Sternberg took to his soapbox, I pointed out the problem with Tropicana Field had nothing to do with the venue, but its location. I'm wondering now if I was a little bit wrong.

As the Rays post sorry attendance numbers for a Yankees series with playoff implications, every writer in Florida is trying to find a new spin on the same old story (as predicted).

But the excuses - the stadium's condition, then the economy, then the location - are growing old.

"I don't want to hear that it's the location," former ABC Coalition member Craig Sher told the Tampa Tribune. "It is what it is. (Tropicana Field is) air conditioned. It's nice. (This week's opponents are) the New York Yankees. I surely hope they sell out. It has to be tremendous walk-up sales."

It wasn't. 22,820 Tuesday after 18,772 Monday. And it can only be explained by the region's attitude toward baseball.

Floridians aren't used to driving 60 minutes for a baseball experience, and as Boston Globe columnist Nick Cafardo pointed out, MLB and Sternberg underestimated Floridians' desires to drive to baseball games.

If you handed someone in Connecticut a free Yankees or Red Sox ticket, there's a good chance they'd travel 90 minutes to the game. If you handed someone in Tampa a free Rays ticket, they probably wouldn't drive 30.

Shifting attitudes of a football-minded fan base takes time. More than the 13 years the Rays have existed.

But shifting attitudes also takes constant reinforcement of the message and the Rays have grown frustrated and impatient.

Sternberg and team president Matt Silveman have committed to putting a winner on the field - and essentially executed to perfection - but they often contradict the message to fans when it comes to marketing. They subtly point the finger at their fans for not drawing like most other MLB teams.

Telling fans baseball won't succeed in Tampa Bay without a new stadium may be a self-fulfilling prophecy for the Rays, but it didn't have to be that way. They could have worked on the attitudes first and gotten the stadium down the road.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Stadium Irony Can Be So Ironic

If you wonder why the Tampa Bay region is so hesitant to build a taxpayer-funded stadium for the Rays, you only need to read this article from the Cincinnati Enquirer or this summary from Field of Schemes.

The Cincinnati region faces a huge shortfall on the bonds for its two riverfront stadiums:
The deficit in the fund that pays for Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park could be as much as $14 million next year, grows to $46 million in 2013 and eventually could cumulatively reach $480 million if nothing is done.
That leaves Hamilton County (Ohio) with few options, like the bleak situation Orlando faced when building Amway Arena.

Field of Schemes author Neil deMause writes that Orlando "scrapped a planned performing arts center and cut back on police, fire, and road services to fill funding shortfalls on the Magic's new arena."

He's also interviewed in the Enquirer article:
Hamilton County commissioners, through negotiations, public pressure or lawsuits, keep trying to force the Bengals and Reds to cut new deals. But that rarely works, deMause said.

"The teams say, 'You made a deal and if you got the short end of the stick, that's not our problem,'" he said.
The irony, of course, is the opposite seems to be true when franchises make bad deals.

Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg has admitted he overestimated the willingness of fans to drive to St. Petersburg when he bought the team in 2006. But despite 16 years left on a 30-year deal at The Trop, he's made it clear he expects a new ballpark built if Tampa Bay expects to keep the Rays in town.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Are Tampa Bay's Stadium Concessions Clean?

A year after a scathing national report ripped the cleanliness of Florida stadiums' concession stands, Tampa's largest sporting venues have showed modest improvement in reducing risks to consumers.

Concession stands that were racking up a dozen "critical violations" at a time have trimmed the number down considerably, but most concession stands at Raymond James Stadium and Tropicana Field still were cited for risks by state health inspectors during random visits. At the St. Pete Times Forum, almost half of all concession stands received "critical" violations.

Click here to continue reading.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rays Attendance Watch: September 25

The Rays are on the verge of completing an unlikely, unprecidented, and largely unbelievable comeback in the Wild Card standings, but most of Tampa Bay probably hasn't noticed yet.

Competing against a full slate of football games, the Rays drew just 21,008 for their final Sunday afternoon game of the regular season. On Saturday night, with country singer Miranda Lambert performing after, the Rays drew just 27,773. On Friday night, just 18,093.

Those numbers are bad.

With three games left on the schedule - all against the Yankees - the Rays (18,663 avg) have a chance to climb past the Marlins (18,740) in MLB's attendance rankings...all the way up to 28th. A season-ending series against the Yankees with the Wild Card on the line should be enough to pack the pews in St. Pete, but regardless of playoff fortunes, you can be sure there will be another round of reminders this week about how poorly-attended games at The Trop have been.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sox Writers Take Note of Rays, Stadium Saga

Fantastic take on the Rays' situation from the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo:
The bottom line appears to be all that is stopping the Rays. By now, it should be apparent that baseball and Florida do not go well together. There’s a reason the two Florida teams have the two worst attendances in baseball.
The Marlins, who are a mess in a lot of ways, will move to a brand new home next April, with all kinds of bells and whistles. But you still wonder whether it will matter to their attendance. Obviously, there will be an initial rush to see the new place, but after that, what?

The Rays simply can’t get a stadium built. It’s baffling why people in the Tampa/St. Pete area make such a big deal about driving over the bridge to St. Pete. It really isn’t that bad, is it?

How much more can Rays owner Stuart Sternberg stretch that payroll? Sure, attendance is low, but the money from revenue-sharing and TV is pretty decent. Could their $45 million budget be
stretched to $55 million to get a big-time hitter, even if (OMG!) it means less of a profit?

Only their accountants know for sure.

The Rays do a lot of things right. They are swiftly becoming a model franchise, causing New York and Boston a little discomfort. The payroll disparity is huge, yet they always seem to be in the mix.

In six short grafs, Cafardo sums up the Stadium Saga perfectly:
  • MLB and Stu Sternberg underestimated Floridians' desires to drive to baseball games;

  • The Rays are making decent money from revenue-sharing and TV,

  • But we'll never know how much profit they're making because they don't open their books;

  • Despite all that, ownership continues to defy the odds and put a winner on the field.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Privately-Funded Stadium Failing; City Considers Bailout

Think you can build a stadium these days with only private funds? So did the owner of the Columbus Blue Jackets, but then he went broke...and the city is now considering a bailout.

As I've written before, of the dozens of baseball, basketball, and hockey venues built in the last 49 years, just one was successfully built without public support - AT&T Park - and even the Giants admit they caught "lightning in a bottle" with their timing.

Even in the NFL, where owners' revenues dwarf those of their pro sports bretheren, just one stadium was built without public dollars: Gilette Stadium in New England, where corporations are tripping over themselves to sponsor a piece of the Patriots.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bucs to Honor Selmon; Nobody to Witness it

I had heard this question asked several times this week, but never so elequently as a Tampa Tribune reader did this morning:
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are planning a tribute to Lee Roy Selmon during the Lions game on Sunday. Unfortunately, the game will most likely be blacked out in the local area, so the only fans who will see or hear the tribute will be those in attendance.

For months now we have heard how football, the National Football League and the Bucs are about the fans. If this is indeed true, I propose the Glazers do the right thing with Lee Roy's tribute and lift the blackout so that every fan in the area can be a part of it.

In the spirit of Lee Roy and giving back to the community, as he did, the Glazers should buy out the remaining tickets so the blackout is lifted, and then donate the tickets to firefighters, police officers and the local military. What better way to honor our first responders on the anniversary of 9/11 than on a day when we also honor one of Tampa's finest, Lee Roy Selmon.
A few years ago, the Glazers would have probably bought out the rest of the tickets. But there's a lot fewer fans than there used to be....and the Bucs aren't worth nearly what they used to be.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Times Continues to Rip Foster; Sternberg Gets Free Pass

Just two weeks after it's last over-the-top criticism of Mayor Bill Foster, the St. Petersburg Times Editorial Board unleashed another attack this weekend, calling Foster "The Minor League Mayor":
To his credit, Foster offered last year to allow the Rays to look within St. Petersburg and just outside the city limits for potential stadium sites. Since then, it's been all strikeouts and errors. Rays owner Stuart Sternberg reasonably wants to look at the entire market, including Tampa. Foster has refused, alternately snubbing and encouraging business leaders, discouraging public officials from talking, and threatening legal action. The mayor has generally treated the Rays as a courtroom adversary rather than a significant business that contributes to the civic and economic life of the entire region.
In its effort to encourage a regional discussion for a future Rays home, the Times is merely diminishing St. Pete's leverage in negotiations and encouraging a Tampa vs. St. Pete war.

While they acknowledge Foster has offered a compromise, they give a free pass to Sternberg for ignoring it. The reason the Rays don't want to bother exploring sites in Pinellas is because they've already studied them....and every other potential site in Tampa Bay.

The Rays want a region-wide search so they can trumpet Tampa as a better location for a park and really increase the pressure on Foster. Which is exactly the reason why Foster doesn't want to let them (publically) explore Tampa.

The editorial continues:
While he is understandably frustrated, Sternberg should come off the sidelines. Allowing the Rays to study potential stadium sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties for a limited time is worth something. Sternberg should make a reasonable offer to St. Petersburg after the season and ask the City Council to vote on it or make a counteroffer. He also should open the Rays' financial books to confirm that the franchise is not making mountains of money.
The Times has suggested Sternberg should open the team's books and make a "reasonable offer" to St. Pete before. But he won't. So the question is, will the Times continue to give him the benefit of the doubt or will it criticize him the way they criticize Foster's negotiating tactics?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Rays to Nashville? Fat Chance

The talk about the Rays playing in Nashville is fun and all, but it's 100 percent unrealistic. Not only is Nashville a significantly smaller media market than Tampa Bay (read: fewer TV dollars), but its already financially overextended with its two current sports teams.

A recent study looked at the abilities of the 59 biggest U.S. communities without MLB to support a team. Nashville ranked 56th (Charlotte was 53rd). The report concluded the only metropolis in a position to add a MLB team would be Riverside-San Bernardino (Calif.) - not exactly a market that strikes fear in the heart of Tampa Bay's politicians.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Last Time We Hear About Glazers' Financial Problems

After record profits, significant debt payment, and an impending IPO which could return another $1 biliion, it's safe to say the Glazers are is no longer over-extended.

The family, which also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has used the mega-marketing power of Manchester United to dig out of a hole after the economy collapsed in 2007/2008.

Although they seemed to have owed more than Man U was worth in 2010, Malcolm, Joel, Bryan, and company have seemed to have put the financial concerns behind them.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mayor Foster Confirms Slip of Tongue

I called it "miscalculated politicking;" Mayor Bill Foster called it "erroneous speculation brought about by my own words."

Either way, Foster confirmed today what I wrote last week, that he let his mouth run a little too loosely when he told city council he had a "plan" to keep the Tampa Bay Rays.

Of course, he confirmed his "plan" was nothing new either, which is why the Stadium Saga will be played out in years, not months.