Thursday, December 29, 2011

St. Pete Mixed on Mayor's Handling of Rays

I'm actually somewhat surprised that St. Pete residents aren't more supportive of their mayor's efforts to keep the Rays in-town.

Bill Foster has stuck his neck out to preserve his city's leverage in the ongoing stadium saga, but a St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 poll suggests his city only approves of his handling of the drama by a 49-48 margin:
Blame a confusing couple of months this summer in which City Council members criticized Foster for not having more of a strategy. During an August meeting, he said he had a plan, but wouldn't disclose it publicly, causing some council members to scoff that he was bluffing.

"His outlandish claim that he had a secret plan was a disaster," said Bill Williams, 19, a computer programmer who lives downtown. "There's been a massive breakdown of communication on the Rays issue."

Foster still said that it was all a misunderstanding and that he does have a strategy to work more closely with the Rays, adding he will try to bring "clarity" to the issue in the coming months.
Being mayor certainly is a thankless job...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

This isn't Goodbye, John Romano...

Some compliments and criticism of Stu Sternberg's 2011 in this morning's Times from columnist John Romano:
Typically, team owners allow MLB officials to be the bad guys in (a stadium) squabble. Sternberg, who should be celebrated for his incredible work with this franchise, instead set himself up as a villain regardless of whether you believe his message.
Romano may be preparing to move from the Sports section to the lead spot on the Metro page, but I assume he'll continue to write about Sternberg and the Rays' Stadium Saga, perhaps even more.

In the meantime, I wish John luck and take a look back at all of his columns I've critiqued over the years:

10/6/11 - Rays' model not sustainable (I disagreed)
7/20/11 -
Stadium Saga all comes back to money (I agreed)
2/24/11 -
Contraction talk gaining credibility (I disagreed)
9/22/10 -
Stu Sternberg shows some humility (I agreed)
8/25/10 -
Rays owners not getting very rich very fast (I agreed)
8/6/10 -
Joe Maddon "off" on timing of catwalk criticism (I agreed)

Many Tampa Residents OK with St. Pete Stadium

A new St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 poll indicates a majority Tampa Bay residents still prefer the Rays play in St. Petersburg and/or Pinellas County, rather than move to Tampa.

Times writer Stephen Nohlgren reports:

About 55 percent of Tampa Bay area residents overall prefer Major League Baseball to remain at Tropicana Field or at a mid-Pinellas location in the Gateway area.

Part of that sentiment stems from fans like Gulfport resident Christina Ramires, a disabled widow who likes the short drive to the Trop. "We always go two or three times a year when they offer discount tickets to school kids,'' she said.

But support for the Trop also stems from Hillsborough residents like Michael Fall of Apollo Beach, who thinks "the Rays should stay put. I don't think they deserve a new stadium."

About 30 percent of respondents favor a Hillsborough site...The 508 people polled were divided evenly between Hillsborough and Pinellas residents.
Want further evidence that average residents shouldn't be trusted with important decisions? Nohlgren reports, of Hillsborough County residents, "about 27 percent favor the fairgrounds at Interstate 4 and U.S. Highway 301, compared with 17 percent who like downtown and 5 percent who prefer the West Shore area."

However, research has shown a fairgrounds site wouldn't be much more accessible to Tampa Bay's population than the current Downtown St. Petersburg site. And it wouldn't have the redevelopment potential a Downtown Tampa site would have, either.

Friday, December 23, 2011

It's All About the Education...

Forbes does more than just estimate how much profit Stu Sternberg has made and how much value the Glazers are also tells us which college football programs are the country's most valuable.

No big surprises with Texas ($129M) and Notre Dame ($112M) at the top. Penn St. ($100M) is third, but is expected to drop next year following the Jerry Sandusky scandal. LSU, Michigan, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Auburn, and Oklahoma round out the top 10.

I was surprised to see Florida ($86M) slip to No. 11 since I've reported on the school's monsterous football profits. In fact, Forbes indicates UF is the fourth-most profitable team in the NCAA. But losing Tim Tebow to the NFL reduced the entire Gators team to mere mortals. They still made nearly $50 million in profits last year.

Remember, it's all about the education.

Monday, December 19, 2011

UPDATE: How The Trop is Like Fenway Park

Following yesterday's post about how the Red Sox were able to re-brand an aging Fenway Park - mostly through marketing - one more comparison between "America's Most Beloved Ballpark" and Tropicana Field:

The "big-market" Red Sox haven't always thrived at the box office. Thirty years ago, they only averaged 19,637 fans per game. The Rays' average since 2008 has been 21,761.

In fact, few teams drew more than 25,000 a game in the early 80's. And ticket prices were way lower! And television/merchendising revenues were a fraction of what they are today!

So what changed that 21,761 fans is "unacceptable?" Players' salaries.

Yet MLB contends the problem is not theirs; it's the problem of the baseball fan in regions like Tampa Bay.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

How The Trop is Like Fenway Park

Interesting read from my old friend Steve Buckley in last week's Boston Herald. He writes how Fenway Park once suffered from the same "derelict" identity The Trop has.

Yet, as I've described the Rays' poor marketing of their stadium, Buckley describes how the Red Sox were able to shift opinions and transform Fenway from an eyesore to "America's Most Beloved Ballpark":
(Red Sox owner John) Henry and his associates did a marvelous selling job when they bought the Red Sox. Recognizing that public financing for a new Fenway Park wasn’t going to magically appear, and opting not to invest millions of their own money, they chose to go with a long-term, multi-tiered renovation.

But they didn’t stop there. They came up with the “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark” campaign, affixing those words to the side of Fenway on a banner the size of a big-league infield.
The truth, of course, is there was no such competition. With classic Red Sox arrogance, management simply called the printer, ordered up an “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark” banner, and the rest is marketing history. The Red Sox have sold out every home game since May 15, 2003, thanks not to hardcore baseball fans, but to tourists who giddily plop down their money in order to say they have taken part in the “Fenway experience.”

As recently as 1995, a reserved grandstand ticket to a Red Sox home game was $12, and bleacher tickets sold for $8 a pop. And now? People pay $12 to take a tour of an empty ballpark. P.T. Barnum would have loved it.
I'm not claiming Tropicana Field is the same as Fenway Park...but it's worth pointing out the parallels.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tampa Mayor Talks Downtown Stadium Again

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says he won't "meddle" with the City of St. Pete's contract with the Rays - a contract that has 15 more years on it - he just can't help talking about how much greater a Rays stadium would be in his city:
"We need to be prepared if (a "divorce" from St. Pete) happens to be able to make the case not only to the voters in this community but also to the business community that this is a regional asset, the Rays, that we need to keep. And if that is the case, which I think it is, what is the best location for it. I happen to think it's in downtown Tampa."
Buckhorn acknowledged a point I've made before - that any new stadium outside of Greater St. Pete would likely require a large cash buyout of the use agreement.

But Buckhorn also indicated St. Pete's biggest concern would be $90 million in outstanding debt on the stadium - debt that will be paid off in a few years. I bet if you asked St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster, he would tell you his city has a lot more than $90 million in equity invested here.

Furthermore, every time Buckhorn touts Tampa as a suitable alternative to St. Pete, he is playing into the hands of the Rays, who want nothing more than to diminish St. Pete's bargaining power. The blueprint for a new stadium involves pitting one metropolis against another; but since that hasn't happened yet, a St. Pete vs. Tampa tug-of-war will suit just fine.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Rich Rays Owner: What Could Have Been

With news that Tampa Bay businessman Frank Morsani donated another $20 million to the University of South Florida, sports fans here can only wonder what would have been if MLB ever awarded the Morsani group a team, as it allegedly promised on numerous occasions.

Morsani even took MLB to court over empty promises, and after 11 years, won a settlement from the league.

Instead, as history would have it, the Twins and Rangers never relocated to Tampa Bay, Wayne Huzienga won the Marlins in 1993, and with Morsani suing MLB, Vince Naimoli won the Rays in 1998. It was an unfortunate outcome for baseball fans on the Gulf Coast who didn't get a sniff of success until Stu Sternberg & co. got their hands on the team the following decade.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chat with DRaysBay

Had a good chat with the good folks over at Topics de jour: Mayor Bill Foster vs. Stu Sternberg as well as the Miami Marlins vs. the Feds.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bracing for Another Volley in Stadium Saga

Hope you’re enjoying the silence this offseason.

While next week’s 2011 MLB Winter Meetings (Dec. 5-8) mark the unofficial start of the hot stove season for most baseball fans, it represents something different for Rays fans: another chapter in the Rays Stadium Saga.

Inevitably, Stu Sternberg and/or Matt Silverman will answer questions from Marc Topkin about payroll. And inevitably, poor attendance will come up...and reverberate for a week around the sports talk dial.

Bud Selig will also inevitably bang the stadium drug again at his last (unless it’s not his last) annual State-of-the-Game press conference. And inevitably, columnists in Florida will spill ink for three days lamenting the lack of progress in the soap opera.

Sadly, I will not be going to the meetings in Dallas for all the fun, but I will be burning up the keyboards from Tampa Bay as I follow it from afar.

Forbes: Stu Sternberg Getting Richer

An update to my post from March explaining Rays ownership is doing just fine, despite implying the team is struggling to turn a profit; Forbes reports this week:
(Stu) Sternberg, meanwhile, has turned the Tampa Bay Rays into a perennial playoff team by getting a big bang for the buck from his player payroll. The former Goldman, Sachs partner bought the Rays for $200 million in May, 2004 and the team is now worth $331 million, a 66% gain. The stock market is up only 10% since he bought the team.
For those of you counting at home, even if the Rays claim they lost $15-20 million a season (which nobody in their right mind would believe), ownership could still possibly turn a profit if it decided to sell the team right now.