Sunday, December 30, 2012

Maybe the Rays Won't Get Rich in 2017?

I've long contended the impatience in the Rays' campaign for a new stadium - even though they have a place to play until 2027 - stems from an impending windfall in 2017 from renegotiated television revenues that will make it harder for the team to cry poor.

In fact, since I first pointed it out, the Dodgers, Astros, and Padres were among clubs that increased -make that multiplied - their annual television revenues by enormous amounts.  But after the Indians sold their TV rights for $235 million with annual revenues climbing from $30 million to a modest $40 million, Maury Brown from the Biz of Baseball writes a cautionary tale of how MLB teams may have hit a "glass ceiling" when it comes to ballooning rights fees:
When put up against some of the other deals that have been reached, this one looks more like the “pre-boom” media rights sale we had been seeing. It also shows that you don’t paint media rights deals with the same brush...with some exceptions, sports TV deals are likely topping out.
There is a cumulative effect going on which render the explosion of media rights fees unsustainable. When you throw in the massive colligate conference sports network deals cropping up, the NFL’s massive rights deals, and regional agreements such as the Lakers with Time Warner Cable, it begins to add up. Where does the money to pay for these lucrative media rights deals come from? Subscribers. And, when you get subscription fees going through the roof, the carriers of the content, and ultimately, consumers begin to make noise.
"Don’t expect too many more of these massive deals to be reached," Brown continued, suggusting teams rush to get media deals done soon before "the window of opportunity closes."  But for the Rays, that would mean foregoing serious stadium leverage as soon as a new media rights deal was renegotiated.

Brown's theory leaves the Rays with a difficult long-term decision: spend the next couple of seasons accelerating the negotiations for new TV revenue or spend the next couple of seasons accelerating their negotiations for new stadium revenue.

The franchise can also hope Brown is just wrong.  But even if the Rays have to "settle" for a deal like the Indians' (the Cleveland TV market is very similar to Tampa Bay's), $40 million/year is significantly higher than the team's current television+radio revenues, last known to be only $13.4 million/year

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Brilliant Baseball Stadium Idea: Build in Blighted Ybor

Must be hard to fill the pages of the Tampa Tribune the day after Christmas.

This morning, freelance writer George Meyer penned an op-ed that made the case for a new Rays stadium in Palmetto Beach - the blighted area of East Tampa/Ybor City. 

The first warning sign that the column should be taken not just with a grain, but a whole spoonful of salt, is that Meyer discloses he's been buying up Palmetto Beach rentals for 12 years and would stand to profit if a new stadium were built in the middle of the blight.

The second warning sign comes when he contends a site "fewer than five minutes from downtown Tampa" would solve the team's attendance problems.  Of course, one of the knocks on Tropicana Field, a mere two minutes from Downtown St. Pete, is that it's too far from the city's core to provide any real impact.

Then, there's the fact that Meyer obviously didn't learn any lessons from the Trop.  Poor St. Pete residents were displaced from their blighted (but historic) neighborhood amid promises of better jobs and new development.  But those promises went unfulfilled and there's still a lot of bitterness on St. Pete's Southside.

Meyer also doesn't seem to be paying attention to what's going on in Miami, where one of the many excuses for the disappointing first season at Marlins Park is its location in terrible neighborhood.

As for Meyer's "at least land is cheap in Palmetto Beach" argument, remember that land will be cheap just about anywhere in Tampa Bay.  But this has never been about finding land for a new's been about finding funding.

Meyer claims that the ingress/egress in Ybor would be great.  But it's great right now at Tropicana Field too.  And if you think people hate crossing west on the Howard Frankland Bridge at rush hour, you should try going anywhere near "Dysfunction Junction," a.k.a. the I-275/I-4 interchange.

To be perfectly honest, workers leaving the region's corporate hub, Westshore, could get to downtown St. Pete faster than they could get to Ybor many nights.

Now, before we dismiss Meyer's op-ed as just another hair-brained chapter in the Stadium Saga (he even seems to confuse high-speed rail and light rail), he manages to make two good points:
  1. Without new transit options, the Rays may never succeed at the turnstiles.  I've suggested in the past that the team could piggyback a transit referendum since their success relies on Tampa Bay breaking its dependence on driving everywhere.  But so far, nobody is talking about a half-billion dollar stadium and billion-dollar rail project in the same sentence.
  2. The value of Downtown Tampa land seems to be surging right now and it may not need invigorating from a baseball stadium.  Sure, it would be nice to walk out the door from your skyscraper apartment to a game, but the lack of baseball (and hockey this season, for what it's worth) doesn't seem to be stopping young adults from flocking to the city's new high-rises.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas, Tropicana Field!

Merry Christmas to Tropicana Field, which got a nice little gift in today's Tampa Bay Times: new poll numbers that indicate fans might actually be OK with the Rays' current stadium arrangement.
A recent Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and AM 820 News Tampa Bay telephone survey of 521 Pinellas and Hillsborough residents showed that the single most popular stadium option is simply to keep the team playing at Tropicana Field.

Even among Hillsborough residents, the Trop remains the favored site.

Much of this sentiment stems from fear that public money would have to underwrite any new stadium. Survey respondents opposed that idea 50 percent to 41 percent — even if their own taxes were unaffected.
The results are similar to previous Times polls that show Pinellas residents don't really want a new stadium while Hillsborough residents would love to have one closer to long as they didn't have to pay for it.

Tampa Mayor - and downtown stadium advocate - Bob Buckhorn told the paper that the poll doesn't reflect what's best for the team or the region.

Certainly, he's got a point that taxpayers seldom support tax increases.  But I don't know what evidence Buckhorn cites for his comment that the Rays' "business model doesn't work" since the only news we've seen on the team's bottom line indicates increasing profits.

Either way, the Rays haven't been able to move the needle much in terms of community support for a new stadium.  But then again, it may not be necessary if they can line up the right elected officials to support the cause.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Biz of Baseball: Rays Got at Least $27M in Revenue Sharing in 2012

While MLB hasn't publicized how much individual teams received from revenue-sharing last year, the Biz of Baseball reports today the Tampa Bay Rays likely received
According to a source with direct knowledge of the figure, the amount of revenue-sharing that funneled from the haves to the have-nots in MLB this year was approx. $400 million. While the money is not distributed evenly across the clubs, if the 15 lowest revenue-makers were given an equal portion it would equal approx. $27 million per each of those clubs.

The amount of revenue-sharing in Major League Baseball should stymie any talk that clubs can’t—at the very least—be able to compete selectively in the free agency space from time to time. It also affords club opportunity to wrap up talent on their rosters to avoid them leaving once they hit free agency. While it’s clear that the amount of revenue-sharing they received this year is not enough to cover the entire amount, the Rays likely covered a lot of the annual salary increase needed to ink Evan Longoria to his $100 million extension with revenue-sharing proceeds. That’s the purpose of revenue-sharing.

Finally, there's this to consider. With the skyrocketing growth of regional sports network revenues, plus the continued robust nature of baseball as an entertainment option, it seems that in the very near future we'll see revenue-sharing in MLB surpass a half-a-billion dollars. With it, let's hope clubs are using the gifted money from their large revenue-making brethren wisely.
It's worth pointing out again that revenue sharing isn't the product of teams with new stadiums subsidizing teams without them;  it's the product of MLB letting large-market teams spend extravagantly on free agents.

Stadium Hot Stove Odds & Ends

Any news is good news to new stadium proponents in Tampa Bay, so when Pinellas Commissioner Ken Welch tweeted that a meeting had been set up with the Rays, joy broke out in Mudville.

It was later reported the meeting will take place Jan. 29 in an attempt to bring the team, the county, and the City of St. Pete all to the same table for some meaningful discussions.

Meanwhile, Rays president Matt Silverman closed on a $1.5 million mansion in Northeast St. Pete earlier this month.  Don't try to read between the lines of this one - one of the league's top executives simply spotted a good investment, much like he's been doing on the field for years.

And finally, check out this read from Grantland, where Marlins fans continue to rail against ownership, even on a team Facebook post about a charity toy giveaway: "They had promised Xbox games for the kids. But Loria traded the games to Toronto for some hula hoops and old candy."

Monday, December 17, 2012

Soccer Stadium Built on Charity Tax Loophole?

It took a few days, but details of how investors plan to build a $700 million soccer complex in Tampa without government dollars trickled out this weekend....and it turns out, there may be government dollars indirectly involved, after all.

A front-page story in the Tampa Tribune indicates the group would like to take advantage of a tax loophole - designed for charities and other non-profits - to finance part of a new stadium complex:
A program known only to the IRS, tax lawyers and charitable foundations allows charities to steer money to for-profit businesses as long as the ventures further the charity's public purpose.

Under the system, called a program-related investment, the project's backers would pool together money from wealthy individuals and charitable foundations and use it to pay for the sports complex's huge capital costs, said Everidge, whose Orlando-based firm, PRI Partners, is helping VisionPro raise money.
Ironically, the Tampa Bay Times published a front-page story the same day on the very same loophole, even though it focused on apartment-builders and not stadium-builders:
Now, under a new Florida law that was supposed to help charities, a handful of these wealthy developers are getting another lucrative benefit. They have found a way to move dozens of apartment complexes off the property tax rolls, saving themselves as much as $115 million in taxes a year but reducing revenues for already hard-hit schools and local governments in a way no one expected.

Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Hernando counties could lose a total of nearly $18 million annually.

The developers say the tax breaks will leave them with more money to maintain the apartments and keep rents affordable well into the future. But there is nothing to stop them from pocketing their tax savings as profit.

"I'm okay with people getting rich, but I think this is unseemly,'' said Cathy Jackson, executive director of the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida.

In 2011, the Legislature passed a law designed to give Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofit organizations a tax break so they could build apartments for the needy. Savvy for-profit developers realized that by forming their own nonprofit organizations they could qualify for the same tax breaks, saving themselves huge bills on each complex.

"It's all entirely legal,'' said Wellington Meffert, general counsel of the Florida Housing Finance Corp., which administers affordable housing programs in the state. "But what it will do is take a fair amount of taxable property off the tax rolls.''
Just as apartment-builders can take advantage of the inadvertant incentives, stadium developers could as well.  That's not to say it would be a bad deal for the region, but it doesn't appear to be totally "free of government money."

This idea also appears to open the door to legally launder pass money through charities to claim deductions and tax-free exemptions, but that's just speculation from this non-accountant.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Columnist: Eliminate Sports Welfare

Next time you have a long time and want to get angry over how many tax dollars go toward private sports teams and stadiums, read Patrick Hruby's piece, "let's eliminate sports welfare":
Perhaps you’ve heard the news: America is barreling toward a self-induced “fiscal cliff” of federal tax hikes and spending cuts, largely because Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on how to make the nation’s budget moderately less unbalanced. On one side, President Obama wants to raise money by increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans; on the other, House Speaker John Boehner wants to reduce costs by slashing social welfare programs. Both men and their respective parties seem stuck at an ideological impasse -- think who’s better, Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith? only with the world economy at stake -- and yet each camp is ignoring an obvious way out.
Well, maybe not a way out. But definitely a way forward. An easy, overdue fix to the nation’s fiscal woes. A course of action rock-ribbed liberals and hardcore conservatives can agree on. A policy shift that would not only save cash, but also act as a trust-building, goodwill-generating building block toward larger, harder and more essential partisan compromise.
Ready? Here goes.

Eliminate Sports Welfare.
Read more here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

More Bad News for ARod: His Investments are Crumbling (Literally)

One of the 15 apartment complexes owned by a company founded by Alex Rodriguez is plagued by rats, roaches, and rotting wood, according to residents.

Tampa's Newport Riverside complex has numerous apparent code violations, from fire hazards to rotting staircases. Residents say courtyard lights have gone months without fixing, while holes in walls and windows often do the same.

Read more - and see photos - here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bucs Further Reduce Season Ticket Prices

With attendance languishing near the bottom of the league, the Bucs have announced plans to further reduce the price of some season tickets next year.  It's the fifth straight year without increases, according to a press release:
 On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced their 2013 season pass pricing, featuring lower prices for 35% of seats and marking the fifth straight year without price increases. Season passes again begin as low as $30 per game for adults and $15 for children, meaning a family of four can attend a game for just $90.

“Nothing beats the live experience of Raymond James Stadium on Sundays, and our number one goal is to provide an affordable, enjoyable, and safe gameday experience for the entire family,” said Buccaneers Co-Chairman Ed Glazer.

Season pass members will continue to realize substantial savings and benefits. In most instances, individual tickets cost 20% more than season passes. Additionally, season pass members receive flexible payment options, as well as discounted parking, concessions and merchandise.

For more information on 2013 season passes or to speak with a Buccaneers account representative, please contact the ticket office at 866-582-BUCS (2827) or check out the Raymond James Stadium Virtual Venue on for 3D views of available seating options. Current season pass members should expect to be contacted by their dedicated member relations associate in the coming weeks.

Rays, MLB Finances in the News

A day after the Rays traded James Shields and his $10.25 million salary to the Royals (in a deal that may have been more about the Rays' glut of pitching than the salary), a Marc Topkin column indicated the team may not be able to afford David Price either in the future:
Price, 27, has said repeatedly he would love to stay, and agent Bo McKinnis has said that while "it becomes increasingly difficult" at this stage of Price's career, "it's not too late."

But, McKinnis also suggested, it's going to take quite some creativity. And lots of money.

Price, McKinnis noted, is driven to be the best in everything from pitching to golf to video games to Twitter.

"So in a similar sense," McKinnis said, "he wants to have the best contract in baseball, however that may be defined. He expects to be the best in everything that he does. So hopefully we're able to make that marriage between the Rays and that best contract. But we also recognize the economics of the game may not allow that."
It isn't out of the question for the Rays to retain their franchise ace if they determined it was a wise use of money.  They're due a huge financial windfall in 2017, and according to the Biz of Baseball, every MLB team is due a huge influx of dough as early as next season:
We can probably expect player salaries to continue to balloon over the next decade as free agent deals catch up to these increaseing revenues.

So if small- and medium-market teams like the Rays were smart, they'd re-sign all their stars now to longterm deals (a la Evan Longoria) to take advantage of 2013 prices, because the big-market spenders could turn the free agent wars upside down again by 2016.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Carillon Proposal Taken Off the Table?

The developer who pitched a new Rays stadium in St. Pete's Carillon/Gateway area is running out of patience, according to Stephen Nohlgren with the Tampa Bay Times:
"It has been an intense year,'' St. Petersburg developer Darryl LeClair said recently. "I am going to tell our team, 'Enjoy the holiday season. Relax. And next year we are going to start aggressively pursuing other options for the Carillon holdings.'''

LeClair and his companies control about 17 acres in the mixed-use park, which houses several national or regional headquarters, residential units and a Hilton hotel.

Development possibilities include more offices, apartments, retail space and another hotel, LeClair said. All were included in the stadium proposal, jam-packed around the field, even sharing walls with the stadium.

"To the degree we can pursue opportunities that will preserve the stadium footprint, we will,'' LeClair said. But at some "crossover point'' a few years down the road, he said, further development with impinge on the footprint, "and we will be forced to make a decision that will lead to Carillon taking itself out of consideration'' as a stadium site.
Most importantly, a Carillon stadium never had a chance unless St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster or Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg changed their strategic positions, which neither has.

Sternberg still refuses to negotiate on any Pinellas site unless he can explore options in Hillsborough as well. Foster still uses the Trop contract to forbid any cross-bay dalliances.
"What we have done is totally prevented Mr. LeClair or anybody else from educating the Rays, selling, convincing or advocating why a site on this side of the bay is the perfect place,'' Gerdes said. "Mr. LeClair undertook, on his own, a pretty expensive proposition and it is just sitting there? Come on.''
We all saw this writing on the wall, but just as Jeff Vinik ended his pursuit of the Channelside Bay Plaza in Tampa, a developer is never really out of the prospecting game until there's actually a building sitting on his land.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Henderson: Stadium Project About More Than Soccer

A new Tampa-area soccer stadium (with accompanying soccer academy & sports medicine center) is an awesome thought...even if it doesn't happen to be practical, writes Joe Henderson of the Tampa Tribune:
I admit this all seems incredible. By my crude math, the estimated cost of this venture is about $700 million. That's about the price for a new Rays stadium, and no one is embracing the fantasy the Rays will pay for all that by themselves.

The cost is just one of many questions that don't have answers just yet, at least none we are privy to. That's why the left side of my brain – the side that governs logic – is whispering, "listen to me … remain skeptical."

That's not a problem.

But this is the season of hope, and I like big-thinkers with bigger wallets. Heaven knows we could use more of both around here. Something like this could be a catalyst to attract the upscale, high-tech jobs Buckhorn and others want so desperately.

So, soccer stadium? That's interesting enough.

If what we're hearing is remotely true, though, that's just a piece of a larger concept that could be a game-changer for a city that needs all the help it can get.

Deadspin on America's Stadiums: "A $!*!@&% of Taxpayer Money"

Nice graphics and summary from Deadspin on what they call "$#!&@& of taxpayer money" for stadiums in America:
The map below is an attempt to answer those questions visually. It charts the construction of 186 NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL stadiums from 1909-2012, which covers pretty much all of them. The size of the stadium icon is proportional to the total cost (inflation-adjusted to 2012 dollars), and the color is proportional to the method of financing, with 100 percent private showing up in red, 100 percent public in blue, and a range of purple in between. Major renovations are included as well, and stadiums are faded out when they lose their professional team.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Could the Rays Share Ownership with the Community?

An interesting op-ed will appear in tomorrow's Tampa Bay Times suggesting "shared ownership" as a possible way to bridge the huge financial gap in Tampa Bay's stadium saga.  Richard Meyer from USF's College of Business writes that municipalities - or fans - would contribute toward a stadium by buying a portion of the team:
There are two alternatives. One is to make a new stadium contingent on granting this ownership directly to the community. Another, maybe better, is for the Rays to sell shares in small amounts to many individual investors in the community. A lot of people would probably jump at the chance to own a piece of their ball club.

All of these proceeds would be used to defray the cost of a new ballpark. With the increase in franchise value, the Rays might also be able to borrow an additional $150 million to contribute to the financing package. That still leaves at least $280 million to be borne by local government, but it is a lot less than what is currently on the table.
It's an interesting concept since Meyer contends shared ownership would boost fandom and prevent the team from slashing payroll.  But the biggest problems standing in the way of the proposal are a few suspect assumptions Meyer makes about the Stadium Saga:
  • The Rays would draw 27,000/yr in a new stadium because that's what "smaller" MLB cities are averaging.  Attendance in Tampa Bay should climb as kids who were born into Rays Country get older.  But to expect 27k/yr in Florida - when Marlins Park barely drew that in its first year and the TV experience is getting better - may be unreasonable. 
  • If the stadium enhances the value of the franchise by $100+ million, the team might be willing to share some of that increase with the community as an ownership position. A new stadium has everything to do with increasing the franchise's profits, so giving away a piece of the team would defeat the purpose of a new stadium in the first place.  Unless, of course, the team didn't have to put ANY money into a new stadium.
  • With the increase in franchise value, the Rays might be able to borrow an additional $150 million to contribute to the financing package. The Rays could borrow more than $150 million right now if they wanted to....they just don't want to.  Spending $300 million of their own money on a stadium would be a terrible business mistake....just ask the Columbus Blue Jackets.
  • MLB would allow the Rays to share some of their financials with citizen investors.  The league's financials are among the most guarded documents in America.  And, despite calls from local leaders and newspapers, the Rays have yet to show any indication they'll substantiate any of their financial concerns with hard evidence.  It might be hard for the team to sell shares to a public entitity without releasing secret documents.
Meyer makes a lot of good points and probably sells his idea short by assuming a new stadium would only increase the franchise's value by $100 million. The Rays were willing to dedicate $150 million to a new park in 2008, so it's fair to assume a stadium would increase the franchise' value by $150-$200 million.  But it's probably still not enough for the Rays to finance a stadium itself...or sell off stakes in the team.

Friday, November 30, 2012

PEDs and the HOF

I once lost $100 to my colleague Craig Wolf when Mark McGwire failed to reach the Hall of Fame by his second year of eligibility.  I was naive.  I was foolish.  I was wrong.

But I don't think I was wrong about McGwire's Hall-worthiness; I was wrong about baseball writers' ability to judge players without prejudice.

Sure, McGwire (and Bonds and Clemens and etc) used PED's.  But so did a huge chunk of the guys they was competing against (just like Willie Mays, Mike Schmidt, and Whitey Ford before them).

We don't compare pitchers' ERAs in 2012 with those of the dead-ball era because stats fluctuate between eras.  But dominance among peers remains the best indicator of Hall-of-Fame worthiness and during the "steroid era," when PEDs were largely legal.  The playing fields were level.

Anyway, my opinion doesn't matter for much, so read Jonah Keri's more in-depth Hall argument for the most dominant "performance-enhancers" just recently eligible for induction.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Romano on Stadium Saga Again

Times columnist John Romano penned another column on the Rays' Stadium Saga for this morning's paper insisting the region pay very close attention to location - above all else - if it is going to build a new Rays stadium.

Taking a page from his colleague Michael Kruse's playbook, here are his three best and three worst grafs.

Three best:
"By now, everyone knows this is not a terrific sports market. That is neither insult nor criticism. It is simply reality based on the numbers."
Sometimes it's an elephant in the room, but accepting the fact that Florida's transient population struggles to rally around hometown teams is an important step in discussing the future of sport in the state.
"A new stadium anywhere in Tampa Bay would almost certainly be an improvement over where the Rays are now. The key is how much the needle moves."
Couldn't agree more.  In 2009, when everyone was still blaming Tropicana Field's dreariness for the attendance problems, I wrote "it's the bridge, stupid."  More psychological than anything.

"Drawing a few thousand extra fans per night when you've spent $600 million on a ballpark is not anyone's idea of a sound investment."
It's important to question the price tag for a less-than-spectacular attendance boost.  Especially when television revenues may soon eclipse in-stadium revenues.

Three worst:

"For baseball to work long term in Tampa Bay, revenues are going to have to increase. And a large part of that equation is getting attendance near Major League Baseball's average."
The Rays' revenues are increasing.  Approximately $50 million a year starting in 2013 from new national TV revenue, and probably another $50+ million in a few years when they renegotiate their local contract. So why are we stuck on the idea of increasing ticket revenue by a few million bucks a year?  It's also worth mentioning the Rays have yet to provide any evidence they're struggling financially.

"After all the ownership changes, political squabbles, World Series titles, fire sales and the $515 million ballpark bill with $130 million more worth of infrastructure, there is reason to question whether the stadium was built in the right location."
Sure, Marlins Park was built in a lousy location and Romano's right to suggest a new park is pointless if you don't put it in the right place.  But don't make excuses for the embarrassing first-year attendance numbers at Marlins Park; the Rays drew 30,942 in their first year at Tropicana Field.

"The Marlins may have messed up."
Actually, from the look of Jeffrey Loria's big fat wallet, he did everything right in a business sense.  It's Miami-Dade county that messed up.

New Stadium Plans for Downtown Tampa...for Soccer?

Seemingly out of nowhere, a group of English investors announced plans for a new $400 million stadium for an expansion MLS team in Tampa...and the league appears interested.  The concept has huge implications not just to the region's existing soccer leader, the Rowdies, but to the Rays' campaign for a new baseball stadium as well.

The roughly 25,000-seat facility, possibly with a retractable-roof, would be located "as close to downtown as we can possibly get," John Mitchell told the Tampa Tribune

Hillsborough county commission chair Ken Hagen, one of the biggest proponents for a new Rays stadium, revealed tepid interest in the story, saying "We're open to it, if it makes sense."  Hagen is obviously in an akward place, with few public dollars available in Hillsborough County and now, a new presumed suitor for public subsidies.

As for building the stadium without public funds, you can probably forget it.  If a privately-funded Rays stadium in the middle of the region doesn't make sense to developers, you can bet a soccer stadium near the Brandon area will make even less.

A new MLS team could hurt the Rays in other ways too: Tampa Bay doesn't seem to have enough available personal income to support three major professional teams; adding a fourth slice of pie only stands to hurt attendance numbers of the Rays, Bucs, and Bolts.

Mitchell's group tells the Trib it plans to reveal more details on Dec. 11, aiming for a stadium opening in March 2016.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Infographic: Ballooning TV Contracts

More on the ballooning television contracts MLB teams are signing with great frequency these days; Cork Gaines with Business Insider points us toward this infographic:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Rays Spend on Longo

You can't have news like the Rays lock Evan Longoria up through 2022 without a dose of stadium speculation.

I've written several times before about the Rays' impending windfall from re-negotiated television revenues, but Cork Gaines postulates today that 2017 television revenues are the reason for Longoria's raise:
How can the Rays afford to give Longoria a $100 million contract extension? And the simple answer is “television revenue.”

First, there are the new national television contracts signed by Major League Baseball with Fox, TBS, and ESPN, which will double the Rays’ national television revenue to approximately $50 million per year. That is an extra $200 million over the next eight years alone.

In addition, the Rays will also see a huge boost in local television revenue after their current TV deal expires in 2016. That’s significant because Longoria’s new extension begins in 2017. And based on the Rays strong television ratings, and deals recently signed by MLB teams, the Rays’ next TV deal could be worth $50-100 million per year*. That would be an increase of 150-500% over the $20 million annually they are receiving now.

So by 2017, the Rays total television revenue could be $150 million per year. That would be ~$100 million increase in revenue every year without selling any extra tickets. And just another reason why the attendance problem is overstated.
I don't know if I fully embrace the theory since the Rays are already one of the most profitable teams in baseball, according to Forbes, but Gaines is certainly right that committing another $100M over six years to the team's marquee hitter shouldn't be too hard of a pill to swallow.

One thing I do know: the Examiner website, which allows writers to post nonsense like "Longoria's extension gives Rays new leverage in stadium talks" as long as you're willing to click on it, needs to get its head examined.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Post-Thanksgiving Must-Reads

First, another thought on the recently-released report from the Rays' stadium financing caucus (so you don't just have to read mine).  Today, Bill Parker from waxes poetic on stadium subsidies and how you can't live with 'em and you can't live without 'em:
Professional sports stadiums present among the biggest and most easily identifiable collective action problems in our world. Enough of these things have been built now, and enough research has been done on them, that there's really no question that, if no state, county or municipal governments ever agreed to provide any public financing for stadiums, everyone would be better off except those who own sports teams.

The (Baseball Stadium Financing) Caucus assumed a flat $500 million cost, with the Rays chipping in $150 million. No ballpark has had a price tag that low since 2006 (that was the new Busch Stadium, at $365 million), and while several of the newest parks were built for comparable reported figures ($515 million for Marlins Park, $522 million for Target Field), those were largely built in the depths of recession, while the Rays may face the rising prices of recovery.
Parker makes a great point: $500 million might not get that new, innovative, "state-of-the-art" stadium the Rays are looking for.  Not to mention, any parking garages, infrastructure improvements, and contract buyout would just increase the cost of the project.

The watchdog in me wants to keep an eye on public officials & stadium supporters who use "fuzzy math" to re-classify some of the related stadium costs to "infrastructure" or other public coffers.  It would give the appearance of taxpayers paying only $350 million (or whatever number) toward a new stadium when they could be paying tens - or hundreds - of millions in other related costs too.

Parker's post is a good one - you should check it out.

Secondly, it's also worth checking out this infographic from California's Pacific Standard magazine.  While the "How Los Angeles can beat the odds and make money off its stadium" concept may be better labeled "wishful thinking," it's interesting to see which cities got some of the best/worst deals on new stadiums.

It should be noted the graphic doesn't indicate the economic circumstances surrounding the biggest stadium success stories (San Francisco was tops, funded in the early '90s without a dime of public money).  But it's also interesting it ranks Charlotte as one of the worst victims of the subsidy game, since it paid for 100% of its new NBA arena in 2004. 

Wonder how much of that has to do with the fact that Charlotte seems to be a non-player at this time in the Rays' stadium saga.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fallout from the Rays' Stadium Finance Study

If there's one thing a Monday stadium financing press conference guaranteed, it's a week's worth of opinions in print, over the air, and around water coolers.  So before the Tampa Bay Times editorial board has a chance to applaud the finance caucus for tackling a taboo issue and before the columnists have a chance to question the worthiness of a stadium project, here are my morning-after thoughts:

The chambers of commerce working on the stadium finance study may have done as much to hurt the Rays' stadium campaign as they did to help it. 

Yes, the report addressed the elephant in the room: the impossibility of building a stadium these days without public dollars.  But it also exposed the great sacrifices a single county may have to make to pool enough money together for a stadium.

The first alarm that went off in my head yesterday was the chambers' advice to act quickly.  Why?  Because stadium supporters don't want the current stadium funding streams to be re-dedicated in 2016 to things like schools, police stations, or fire trucks...or, back to the taxpayers of St. Pete and Pinellas County.

Furthermore, other revenue streams (like sales taxes and capital funds) would have to be re-directed toward a stadium.  There won't be many politicians willing to stick their necks out for a plan that could face objections from both the left (police, fire, and teacher unions, just to name a few) and the right (tea partiers, tax watchdogs).

There are already commissioners in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties against spending general revenue money on a new stadium.

One thing the Tampa/St. Pete chambers of commerce didn't take into account that could help the new stadium argument is the presence of private dollars.  The recent Carillon stadium proposal indicated hundreds of millions might come from private developers, although real estate and retail experts weren't so sure.

The caucus also didn't take into account how much more the project would cost (up to $100 million?) if the St. Pete contract has to be bought out before 2027.  This factor, as well as how much St. Pete could make by selling the old stadium site, is why Pinellas still has a huge leg up on Hillsborough in the competition/collaboration for a new stadium.

Field of Schemes' Neil deMause also points out there's no guarantee the Rays will kick in the same can't kick in more than the $150 million they proposed in 2008, but $150 million may be a reasonable starting point, considering the chamber caucus worked with the team for part of its report.  One of the biggest disappointments - but not surprises - to those following the Stadium Saga is that the Rays didn't share any financial data other than (possibly) confirming that the 2007 & 2008 financials, leaked several years ago, appear to be accurate.

When I asked Sykes why he thought the Rays need a new stadium, he said:
"I don't want to get into some of the gossip, but when you hear concerns about Major League Baseball contracting, well then, the logic is, 'my goodness, if we're having to give $35-$39 million (to small-market teams),' or maybe it's more, that doesn't help the argument because some (large-market) teams are saying, 'well, heck, just buy out the (small-market) teams and let us keep that piece (of revenue sharing).' "
Hopefully the silly contraction argument doesn't keep resurfacing, because it won't happen - it's just a tactic MLB uses when it runs out of new cities to use as stadium leverage.

Presenting the report, Chuck Sykes from the Tampa Chamber said attendance was the only real variable the Rays could improve upon to boost payroll.  But when I asked if the group had studied the surging television rights that are multiplying teams' revenue streams - television rights the Rays are due to re-negotiate in a couple of years - he said they did not.

Sykes indicated the Rays will get new TV money regardless of the stadium situation, but the caucus failed to work it into the equation of the team's financial future.

The caucus also acknowledged the likelihood that a new stadium would mean higher prices on tickets, parking, concessions, and souvernirs....but failed to address how the expenses might diminish the effect on attendance of a new stadium.

Sykes, with obvious reference to Marlins Park's disappointing first year, said new stadiums only meet their attendance goals when the home team is a winning one.  But it's a big leap of faith to assume the Rays will be good for decades to come.

The chamber is also asking fans to take a big leap of faith when - and if - the Rays sign a new long-term contract in Tampa Bay.

How, other than taking the team's word for it, can taxpayers be sure the new contract is "ironclad," as opposed to the current "ironclad" contract?

There still is promise for the two chambers of commerce to act as a prime condiut for negotiations between the Rays and St. Petersburg.  But ultimately, the stalemate continues on.  Because I'm lazy, I'll simply wrap up this post the same way I wrapped up an early 2011 post on stadium finance studies.  Just substitute "2013" in for "2011":
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.

Ian Desmond Thinks Marlins Screwed Rays

As Bud Selig approved the Marlins' massive firesale trade to the Blue Jays yesterday, one of the most significant tweets came from Nationals infielder Ian Desmond:
Mia/Tor trade went through. As a FL native we can officially say the Rays will never get a new stadium.
Desmond should learn to "never say never" in the stadium game.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Chamber of Commerce Study: New Stadium Will Require Real Tax Committment

Addressing a long-ignored aspect of the Rays' Stadium Saga I first started complaining about in 2010, two local chambers of commerce released their joint report on how a new stadium could be financed...and what sacrifices the community may have to make.

The long-awaited report from the Greater Tampa and St. Petersburg-Area chambers indicated Hillsborough County may have more bonding capacity available for a stadium than previously believed.  However, Pinellas County's revenue streams have fewer political strings attached.

The "Baseball Stadium Financing Caucus" focused only on stadium financing.  It avoided talking about sticky issues like locations and the legal issues surrounding the team's current contract with St. Petersburg.

While the Tampa chamber is supporting the Rays' and Hillsborough County's push for a regional stadium conversation, the St. Pete chamber is supporting Mayor Bill Foster's effort to keep the Rays in Pinellas County.

If a new stadium were built in Tampa/Hillsborough County, the caucus concluded the best ways to reach the near-$400 million that may be needed would be mechanisms, including: (estimated 33-year impact in parenthesis)
  • Using tax-increment financing (TIF) associated with Tampa's Downtown Community Redevelopment Area (CRA).  Increased property tax collections downtown, which must be used for capital projects, would be directed to pay down stadium debt. ($105-$115 million)
  • Re-direct a portion of the Community Investment Tax (CIT) from local road & infrastructure improvements to a new stadium.  The local sales tax, of which a portion funds Raymond James Stadium, expires in 2026 and would have to be extended. ($70-$80 million)
  • A new 5% surcharge on auto rentals, which would hit tourists more than local residents.  ($140-$150 million)
  • A new 6th-cent added to the tourist/bed tax.  Hillsborough County isn't considered a "high-tourist" county, so state law prohibits it from charging tourists 6% tax on hotel stays.  However, the chamber indicated legislators could be convinced to change the law. ($35-$45 million)
If a new stadium were built in St. Pete/Pinellas County, the caucus concluded the best ways to reach the near-$400 million that may be needed would be mechanisms, including: (estimated 33-year impact in parenthesis)
  • Existing revenue streams already paying for Tropicana Field.  Most Trop bonds will be paid off by 2015, so leaders can either stop collecting the taxes, re-direct the collections to other city & county needs, or re-direct them to a new stadium. ($115-$148 million)
  • Re-direct a portion of the "Penny for Pinellas" local improvement tax to a new stadium. The tax sunsets after 2020, so its bonding capacity would be modest at best without another extension. ($35-$40 million)
  • A new 6th-cent added to the tourist/bed tax.  Pinellas County, like Hillsborough, isn't considered a "high-tourist" county, so lawmakers would have to change state statutes for Pinellas to increase the tax on hotel stays from 5% to 6%. ($50-$60 million)
  • Re-directing a large portion of St. Petersburg's share of state sales tax toward a new stadium.  The city currently receives $12.2 million/year from the state, and much of it could be leveraged into new stadium bonds. ($165-$175 million)
While the timing of the announcement could have been be better - a recent firesale of talent by the Miami Marlins has cast public subsidies of stadiums in a negative light - the group is hoping its ideas can break the stadium stalemate the Rays and the region have been locked in for the last few years.

"We applaud the joint effort of the Tampa and St. Petersburg Chambers in identifying potential funding sources for our next ballpark," said Rays President Matthew Silverman in a statement released Monday afternoon.  "Regional cooperation like this is sorely needed as we all move forward and work together to secure the future of Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay."

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn called it a "great first step," and said he was happy the caucus didn't delve into the location debate.

The caucus also did not mention anything about creating a regional stadium authority with taxing power - a concept previously mentioned as one way to get multiple Tampa Bay counties to share in a stadium burden.

GRAY AREASThe Tampa chamber's Chuck Sykes, delivering the joint presentation, acknowledged ticket prices would likely jump at a new stadium, as would prices on stadium parking, concessions, and souvenirs to help pay the team's estimated $150 million contribution.  There was no indication of whether a new ballpark would draw more fans than increased prices would keep away.

Sykes also stipulated, "you have to be a winning team" to get a big attendance bounce with a new stadium.  The comment may have been referencing the Marlins, who drew just 27,400 fans per game this year, the lowest mark for a new ballpark in decades.  While the Rays have posted five straight winning records, no on-field performance is guaranteed.

The presentation, which included no new sales taxes, was aimed at a "best-case scenario" in many instances.  The caucus assumed a price tag of $500 million for the stadium, even though Sykes admitted it could cost a lot more: a parking garage could cost $150 million and some experts have estimated restitution to St. Petersburg for breaking the current contract could cost $100 milllion.

A number of the proposed funding mechanisms are also dependent on lawmakers re-writing state statutes - a scenario Buckhorn was skeptical about, given the conservative anti-tax feelings in Tallahassee.

"WE DON'T HAVE A LOT OF TIME"Sykes stressed the need for St. Petersburg and the Rays to advance the discussion soon since Tropicana Field bonds will be paid off in a few years and those revenue streams will be repurposed by the local municipalities.

"We don't have a lot of time," Sykes said.  "Almost 60% of the (Tropicana Field) debt is going to be paid off by 2016.  A number of the sources can be used for general funds...and in this environment, when the economy is tight (and) nobody wants to increase taxes, that's something to us that we need to move quickly.  Because when that debt is paid off, it's not going to sit there. It's going to be claimed."

Sykes also said hearing rumors of contraction in MLB circles tells him Tampa Bay had better start acting on a new stadium.

"Please," he said, "don't look at that lease and think that you've got time, we really need to get going."

Buckhorn agreed, calling a stadium opportunity in Tampa one that could pay off exponentially for the city and county.

Following the presentation, I pointed out Forbes estimated the Rays were one of the most profitable teams in baseball and asked Sykes if he had seen any evidence the team was struggling financially.

"I saw financials that were leaked out to the public, and that was all I saw," Sykes said, referring to 2008 financial reports the Rays have never confirmed were accurate.  "The key question, though," Sykes added, "was is those financials could support $150 million in debt."

Sykes, who had cooperation with the Rays for part of the report, called the financials "valid," but said the team never opened up its books to either chamber of commerce.

I also asked if the caucus took into account soaring television revenues Major League Baseball and it's teams are now receiving.

"It got us excited when we heard about the (billion-dollar) contract the Texas Rangers signed," Sykes said.  "Every major-league team we came in contact with, though, said, 'don't make the mistake to think that that exists for a mid-market-level team.'"

However, Forbes recently reported the San Diego Padres quadrupled their annual television revenues from $12 million to $50 million.  And the league recently doubled it's national television revenue to $1.5 billion - payments that are split evenly among the 30 teams, according to the Biz of Baseball.

"Compared to what we saw in 2008," Sykes said of local TV revenues, "I'm sure (the Rays have) opportunities to improve that, but I think what holds true is still that the 'main lever' that still ticket sales.

Sykes estimated ticket sales account for 35% of the Rays' revenue and the team "will get a new media contract with or without a stadium."

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Massive Marlins Firesale & Rays Impact - Sternberg Reacts

It's too early to call it a post-mortem on the Marlins' firesale and its effect on the Rays, but after a week's worth of reactions, Roger Mooney from the Tampa Tribune recapped it all in this morning's paper. Aside from the brilliance of The Biz of Baseball's Maury Brown, the article stood out for including a tiny bit of reaction from Rays owner Stuart Sternberg: baseball writer and MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, after a brief chat with Sternberg last Thursday at the Owners Meetings in Chicago, tweeted, "He knows Miami situation won't help his cause."

Sternberg, when asked Thursday about the Marlins situation by a reporter from the New York Times, said, "You can't sustain success as a small-market team. You do the best you can."

Chambers' Rays Stadium Finance Report Due Monday

Two Tampa Bay-area chambers of commerce will release their long-awaited study on how to finance a new Rays stadium Monday.  The report, delayed at least once, is designed to break the stadium stalemate (good luck) by introducing ideas from a quorum of high-profile Tampa Bay business leaders.

As I wrote in 2011, the chamber caucus group is decidedly pro-stadium and although it won't advocate a preferred site, 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, thanks to the recent Marlins' firesale, the timing of tomorrow's report couldn't be worse.

For that reason, you can expect the presentation to mention easier-to-swallow pills like rental car taxes, Tax-Increment Funding (TIFs), and/or Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs).

However, these ideas are all still taxes, and the chambers of commerce face an uphill battle when it comes to winning public support for any kind of stadium subsidy right now.

What to watch for tomorrow: any new ground the stadium caucus breaks that the ABC Coalition didn't identify in 2010.  De-facto spokesman for the ABC coalition, Craig Sher, said at the time a new stadium "is just not going to happen," without public financing, so we're still waiting for answers to "how will it happen?"  Will the chambers of commerce address the elephant in the room and take the bold political step of suggesting a multi-county tax?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Massive Marlins Firesale & Rays Impact - Part 4

Day Four of the South Florida firesale fallout, and there's no shortage of frustrations toward not just Jeffrey Loria, but all baseball owners.

The Times' Gary Shelton echoes what I wrote Tuesday - that business comes before baseball for many owners, and the reminder will continue to hamper the Rays in the Stadium Saga:
To get a new stadium, the team will have to survive a border war between St. Petersburg and Tampa. It will have to overcome the general disinterest that comes when someone wants to talk about a new stadium. Someone will have to come up with creative financing. And, yes, there is a lease and the possibility of lawyers.

Now there is the legacy of Loria's lunacy.

Good luck with that one.
Shelton goes on to write how he "understands" Mayor Bill Foster's position, but speculates St. Pete may not even want the Rays because their residents are against building a new stadium.  Except the residents are against building a new stadium not because they don't want the team, but because THEY ALREADY HAVE A STADIUM AND THE TEAM IS STUCK THERE!

More interesting reaction to the Marlins' mess from Brian Frederick with the Huffington Post:
What’s happened in Miami is just the latest (and most gaudy) example of how pro sports owners fleece the public. But it ought to be the last.

Whether it’s cities cutting social services to pay off stadium debt (Cincinnati), cities building new stadiums for teams they don’t have (Kansas City), cities breaking leases to tear down beloved stadiums for owners demanding new ones (Denver), cities tearing down historic ballparks (Detroit, St. Louis and many others) or cities funding stadiums because politicians voted against the will of the public (countless cities), the public always ends up paying more than it receives. And, as the case of Miami illustrates, pro sports owners couldn’t care less.

We all must agree to never, ever finance a pro sports stadium again.
Neil deMaus of Field of Schemes calls Frederick's post a "fine argument," but not one that "changes things all that much," given:
1) plenty of other teams have gotten new stadiums and then continued to pinch pennies on payroll (Pittsburgh Pirates, anyone?), and 2) other owners can legitimately utilize the “Unlike Jeffrey Loria, I am not Satan incarnate” defense. Still, if you’re Stuart Sternberg or Lew Wolff, today probably isn’t the best day to call your local legislator and complain about how your team can’t win ballgames because it doesn’t have a new ballpark.

And to top it all off, Deadspin recaps Marlins' president David Samson's interview with The Dan Le Batard Show in Miami.  Good reading/listening.

Tampa Yankees to Ocala?

The New York Yankees love the free agency market so much, they're even testing it out with their High-A team in Tampa. 

After promises of a new stadium in Orlando ultimately fell through, the Tampa Yankees are now rumored to be courted by the City of Ocala

There are no costs yet associated with building a new ballpark, but you can bet it'll cost Ocala taxpayers a pretty penny if they want to lure the Baby Bombers away.

The deal would not include Yankees Spring Training, which is committed to Tampa for another decade.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What's the Effect of Changing Coaches?

Hat tip to The Sports Economist for pointing out a new paper in the Social Science Quarterly that analyzes data to assess if changing head coaches ultimately helps a college football team:
Methods. Using data from 1997 to 2010, we use matching techniques to compare the performance of football programs that replaced their head coach to those where the coach was retained. The analysis has two major innovations over existing literature. First, we consider how entry conditions moderate the effects of coaching replacements. Second, we examine team performance for several years following the replacement to assess its effects.
Results. We find that for particularly poorly performing teams, coach replacements have little effect on team performance as measured against comparable teams that did not replace their coach. However, for teams with middling records—that is, teams where entry conditions for a new coach appear to be more favorable—replacing the head coach appears to result in worse performance over subsequent years than comparable teams who retained their coach.
Conclusions. The findings have important implications for our understanding of how entry conditions moderate the effects of leadership succession on team performance,and suggest that the relatively common decision to fire head college football coaches for poor team performance may be ill advised.
As with any statistical analysis, we cannot rule out the possibility that some specific instances of coaching replacements truly benefit a team. This is certainly a possibility and there is little doubt that many commentators, school administrators, and other observers believe that coaching changes are often responsible for turnarounds in team performance. However, it is important to bear in mind that the fact that a team’s performance improves following a coaching replacement does not necessarily mean that the coach should be given credit for the improvement.

Bloomberg: Glazers Weren't Truthful with Finances at IPO

Bloomberg reports on more reasons for Man U fans to hate the Glazers:
Manchester United Plc team owner Malcolm Glazer is so loathed by fans that some once burned him in effigy. They might hate him even more if they learn how he tried to hide the true state of the soccer club’s finances before its August initial public offering.

The struggle to keep secret the material risks the storied team faces is detailed in letters between club executives and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission before United’s August IPO. The SEC demanded and got more disclosure about team losses, debt and benefits for Glazer and members of his family.

What investors and fans weren’t able to see until a month after the team raised $233 million selling shares, was the owners’ behind-the-scenes resistance to disclosing more transparent earnings data, details about Glazer’s debt and what the IPO money was to be used for. The full story of the correspondence, posted on the SEC’s website without fanfare in September, hasn’t been previously reported to investors or fans.

The SEC-United letters show seven Glazer family members have kept almost total control of the club after the IPO, saddling the team with higher taxes to evade potential shareholder lawsuits by incorporating offshore.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Massive Marlins Firesale & Rays Impact - Part 3

Some of the best tweets reacting to the Marlins' firesale (hat tip to @BizballMaury):

Massive Marlins Firesale & Rays Impact - Part 2

Last night, my quick reaction to the Marlins' sell-off - besides calling out of team owner Jeffrey Loria for bailing on the unwritten obligation he has to South Florida fans - was that it will be another impediment to the Rays trying to get a new ballpark built.  Of course, we always knew the Rays were facing a decade-long uphill battle anyway....but this morning, it appears more are getting on-board with the thinking.  Here's a small sampling.

Keith Olbermann on
Rays’ owner Stu Sternberg was already less than sanguine about getting significant scratch from the state and local governments for a new ballpark that is absolutely essential to his survival in Tampa/St. Petersburg. If he had any hopes left after the disastrously low crowds for the free ballpark the good burghers of Florida gave Jeffrey Loria, they have to be gone now and he has to be looking elsewhere.
(Olbermann goes on to talk about how there are no viable markets for the Rays to move right now - a point I've made several times.  I just wish he didn't lose credibility by contending the team will now move to Montreal.)

Neil deMaus on Field of Schemes:
This looks a simple case of an owner who got the publicly subsidized new stadium he’d been dreaming about for a decade, used some of the proceeds to pay star players like he’d promised, was disappointed in the results both on the field and at the ticket office, and threw up his hands three months in and decided, “Hell with this, I’m going to go back to making money the old-fashioned way: Not spending anything or trying to sell tickets, and just collecting my share of league money and pocketing it."

Maury Brown on Biz of Baseball:
"The reality is, if you don't have a competitive team, the big stadium that's built publicly and privately becomes another disaster," Samson said in 2008.
Well, glad to see you pushed that whole disaster thing forward on Tuesday.
Jonah Keri on Grantland:
What makes Loria a genius is something more elemental, something that goes well beyond any one trade, even one this big: The system is rigged, and Loria is taking advantage of it better than any other owner in baseball history, other than Frank McCourt.
I don't blame him for any of this. I'm just impressed by how well he worked everything to his advantage, taking advantage of elected officials, short-sighted businessmen, and a system that rewards the kind of behavior that might seem despicable but is impossibly profitable. When it comes to Jeffrey Loria, I'm just in awe.
Basically what Keri is saying, is "I'm not even mad; that's amazing."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Massive Marlins Firesale After Debuting New Stadium

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria blames market economics for his massive firesale of premier talent.  Star pitchers and hitters all shipped off for minor-league prospects.  Some may pan out, but fans who expect a winner are tearing up talk radio, ripping the deal.

The year is 2005, and Loria implies the trading of Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Carlos Delgado, and Paul Lo Duca are because the city of Miami simply won't buy him a new stadium.

"I know it's hurting Mr. Loria," Lo Duca was quoted after his trade. "He wants to win so badly, but with no stadium, he is doing what he has to do."

Fast-forward to 2012, and Loria is selling the farm again.  Although, this time, Loria can't blame league economics: he cut a deal, promising to spend more after MLB balked at how much he was pocketing from revenue sharing.

And of course, Loria can't blame a stadium stalemate since he got his new stadium, primarily paid for by taxpayers.  Sure, the SEC launched an investigation into how he may have bamboozled the city, county, and state into coughing up the money, but businessmen don't get rich by giving in during tough negotiations.

Speculation is Loria is trying to thin out the team's financial committments in order to sell the team.....for a handsome profit, no doubt.  Why?  Because that's what businessmen do when they have an opportunity to sell high.

The Marlins drew 27,400 last year - one of MLB's smallest first-year draws for a new stadium in decades.  There's little doubt the sophomore campaign will see a drop.

Additionally, Loria has bulked up the value of his team with a new stadium and new logoed merchandise.  There's no better time to sell - if he can find someone who is willing to buy high.

One caveat is Loria will have to pay the local municipalities 18% of profits from a sale if he sells before 2018.  But that could be chump change....

Now, what should Rays fans take from this episode?

Maybe nothing.  Maybe Loria will re-invest the values he gets through trades and build a dynasty that will reward South Florida for a decade.  And the Rays may one day get a new stadium reaping similar rewards.

Or, maybe it's a lesson that that baseball remains a business.  And when a businessman has an opportunity to increase his bottom line - regardless of whatever perceived obligation he has to a community - he is going to opt for the profits.

Time will tell on all accounts.

Rays Release 2013 Ticket Prices

The Rays have released their 2013 ticket prices, and, depending how you look at it, the team either held or dropped prices on 75% of their tickets.....or they raised prices on 25% of their seats.

The team's press release was peppered with pats-on-the-back for success and affordability, but didn't mention which tickets would be going up in price.  A quick search of the team's website failed to turn up any 2013 ticket price information either.

However, there's no doubt the team is offering lots of opportunities for value, with tickets as low as $10:
The Tampa Bay Rays have announced that almost 75 percent of their tickets for 2013 regular season games at Tropicana Field—nearly 2 million total—will either decrease in price or remain the same. The Rays enter the 2013 campaign having recorded five consecutive winning seasons, an achievement matched by only the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals.

The Rays will continue with four categories of single-game ticket pricing: Diamond, Platinum, Gold and Silver. Upper Deck seats will cost as little as $10 for 28 of the Rays home games in 2013. Overall, nearly 80 percent of 2013 Rays games at Tropicana Field will feature ticket prices of $14 or lower. For Gold games, Outfield prices have dropped from 2012 pricing by nearly 25 percent from $22 to $17.

For the second time in four years (2009 and 2012), the Rays have been named the No. 1 most affordable team in professional sports, according to ESPN the Magazine’s annual “Ultimate Standings.” It marked the sixth consecutive year that the Rays ranked in ESPN’s top three in Affordability out of 122 Major League Baseball, NBA, NFL and NHL franchises.

All Monday-through-Friday home games will start at 7:10 p.m., with the exception of seven weekday games including Opening Day (April 2 at 3:10 p.m.), Memorial Day (May 27 at 3:10 p.m.) and the home regular season finale (September 23 at 3:10 p.m.). Saturday game times will be announced at a later date and Sundays will remain at 1:40 p.m. The Rays will also welcome the 2012 World Champion San Francisco Giants to town for a weekend series August 2-4, marking the Giants first visit to St. Petersburg in nine years.

For the eighth consecutive year, the Rays will continue to provide carpoolers access to free parking in team-controlled lots. As in 2012, vehicles with four or more passengers will continue to park free in team-controlled lots for all Sunday games, subject to availability. For all other games, the first 100 cars with four or more passengers will park for free up to an hour before game time, with other main lot Tropicana Field parking rates ranging from $15 to $20 per vehicle.

The Rays will also continue to be one of the few teams with the family-friendly policy of allowing fans to bring food and select beverages into the ballpark.

TV Revenues Soaring; Will Attendance Matter Anymore?

A recent column by ESPN's Darren Rovell didn't mention the Tampa Bay Rays, but it sure means a lot to the team's future.  Rovell writes why the Dodgers sold for an astronomical $2 billion price tag: future TV earnings.
Sure, $2.15 billion seems like a stunning sum for a team with a huge mountain of debt and a mediocre recent record. But it may not be for a team about to negotiate a local TV deal that could be the largest in sports history, making the new Dodgers ownership the first of perhaps many to come that based a bid for a team, then the team's payroll, almost entirely on local TV money.
As I wrote in 2010 about the Rays, Rovell suggests the Dodgers are due a huge financial windfall ($225M/yr) if and when they re-negotiate their television contract.
But since MLB mandates 1/3 of television revenue gets shared UNLESS you own your own network, Rovell speculates the Dodgers may just start up their own network (or two).  Which may once again throw the league's balance of power off as more big-market teams will be able to spend like the Red Sox and Yankees, while more small-market teams, like the Rays, will see their spending dwarfed.

Forget the fact that the Padres just quadrupled their annual TV revenues from $12 million to $50 million and the Rays may do the same in a few years.

The biggest takeaway from Rovell's article is how little attendance and ticket sales will matter in the future MLB model.  Television revenues will dwarf stadium revenues and even teams like Milwaukee, Minnesota, and Colorado (11th, 12th, and 13th, respectively, in attendance last year) will struggle to keep up with poor-drawing large market-teams like Houston.

It seems to echo the notion I wrote about here a couple months ago: "Filling the Stadium isn't Nearly as Critical for Teams as it Used to Be." And it's one of the many reasons that will make it extremely hard for the Rays to get a new stadium anytime soon.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tropicana Field: Back to the Future

The Tampa Bay Times' Stephen Nolgren made a rare appearance in the opinion pages this week, writing "The view of the Trop from 1995": a look back at how the Rays' stadium saga started.

After his faily comprehensive retrospective, Nolgren makes two outstanding observations about where this soap opera is headed:
Certainly, the Trop's shortcomings contributed to the Rays' attendance malaise, but they are by no means the main culprit. The entire Tampa Bay region is simply a decent TV market with lackluster attendance potential that falls considerably below generic Chevrolet blah.
But we are probably stuck with stadium conversations for another decade. So let's keep the Trop and its flaws in proper perspective.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Could Glass or Solar Cells Cover a Rays Stadium?

From Al Austin to Ed Turanchik to Bill Edwards, there’s no shortage of community and business leaders in Tampa who think big. And while nobody has any idea how to fund a new $600 million retractable-roof stadium without new tax money here, stadium expert/blogger Matthew Brown points me out to new revolutions in architecture – REALLY big ideas – that could render retractable roofs obsolete.

One of the big factors in Qater winning the 2022 men’s soccer World Cup bid was how it comforted fears about its uber-hot summer temperatures. Basically, they are going to create shade and then air-condition their open-aired stadiums.

"But that would use an incredible amount of energy," you may think. 
Except Wolfgang Kessling thinks Qater can harness the incredible energy of the sun to power the entire stadium.  The plan is to use solar cells to provide shade, while using cooling pipes with chilled water to cool the stadium; kind of like how a hockey rink cools its ice.

If this technology can work in Qater, it could certainly work here in the "Sunshine State." And if scientists continue to make advances in solar-powered energy, there's no reason a stadium like that couldn't help pay its own bills by creating electricity.

Brown also says Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, New Zealand (not to be confused with Dunedin, Fla.) could the model for a new Rays stadium. It’s the world's only natural grass, fully-enclosed stadium, resembling a greenhouse more than it does what Americans are used to.

Could a glass roof work in Tampa Bay? Why not?  It could certainly displace costly retractable-roof techonology.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Retractable Roofs: Can't Live with 'em, Can't Live without 'em

Matthew Brown over at the Stadiafile blog took a recent look at retractable roofs, particularly in MLB.

In comparing the league's six transformable stadiums, he dispells the notion that retractable roofs are "essential to the game of baseball" but agrees the comfort and assurance they provide has value.  So what gives?
In light of the extraordinary financial and environmental cost it takes to operate a closed stadium, it would be interesting to think of an open-air alternative that would bring the same level of comfort and assurance of games being played as a retractable roof does.  A recipe that brings together new advancements in synthetic surfaces, creative passive heating and cooling strategies and partial roof coverings for spectator comfort could provide such alternative.
The must-have amenity for European football stadiums are big roofs.  Wembley Stadium, Arsenal’s Emirates and Allianz Arena in Munich are three examples of big football stadiums built in the past ten years whose expansive roofs cover the entire seated section, leaving only the playing field open to the weather above.  These structures keep fans warm and dry during the winter months, while allowing rain and wind to play their part in the game on the pitch.  Along with new grass-like synthetic surfaces, large roofs could help create an atmosphere similar to the best a retractable roof could offer
The problem for Tampa Bay Rays fans, of course, is that a half-domed stadium probably wouldn't work in Florida.  Just like in Miami, Tampa Bay fans won't come out to games in the scorching heat and the games won't be able to be played in some of the summer downpours.
But is a retractable roof necessary when teams like the Marlins and D'Backs already keep theirs closed most games?

Brown writes it certainly doesn't seem necessary in Arizona:
Regardless of how well composed the Chase Field façade is or how well the roof and mechanical systems control the indoor climate, there is only so much architecture can do to bring lukewarm fans out to the game save giving tickets away.
But Brown also argues fickle fans (like in Arizona or Florida) may never be content with beautiful ballparks:
Architecture can only do so much to help a club gain its foothold and retain strong fan bases.  Despite these inherent limitations, clubs must remain ambitious and creative, retractable roofs or not, in their quest to create the best and most exciting ballparks possible to cater to and help craft future fans.