Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sternberg Holds Pre-Season Court

As hope springs eternal across the Grapefruit League, Tampa Bay is preparing to embark upon its fifth season in the Stadium Saga. In fact, the Rays' original plans in 2007 called for the infamous sailboat stadium to open in 2012.

It's become a ritual for reporters to ask Rays' owner Stu Sternberg for his newest take on the stadium impasse at the start of each season. And much like he did at the start of 2011, Sternberg kicked off this season by toning down the rhetoric that had angered so many the previous year:

Times - Sternberg 'pretty certain' area can be viable long term
Trib - Payroll bump reflects faith in Tampa market
MLB.com - Sternberg has faith in Tampa Bay market
ABC - Sternberg appears to have called off the MLB dogs

Most of the analysis was complimentary, and, why not? Sternberg has managed to create the most successful team in baseball based on salary spent-per-win. He re-signed his much-wanted general manager and manager on "home"town discounts and heads into 2012 with one of the most respected teams in baseball.

All with one of the worst revenue streams in the bigs.

The success is not lost on the fans of Tampa Bay either, but Sternberg still risks leaving a Naimoli-like legacy on the region if he returns to his hard stances on the stadium talk. He toed a fine line Wednesday:

"We're sustaining [financial] losses," he told MLB.com's Bill Chastain. "That's got to end. The money we're putting toward [the team and this year's payroll] shows the faith we have in this market. I'm optimistic, and my belief since Day 1, was that it can and will work in this market, but we've got more challenges ahead of us and we've got things to do."

Sternberg seemed to then tip his hat to fans and acknowledge some of the team's responsibility in the revenue dilemma. But he also did the same thing last February, six weeks before he made his next set of frustrated comments:
"[B]aseball is just not going to stand for it anymore. And they'll find a place for me. They won't find a place here though. So it's up to us, to everybody, to figure out how to get it right."
The Rays and their owner deserve credit for taking the high road here, but they've also learned there's no way to sour fans on a successful season faster than expressing their frustrations over the Stadium Saga.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sarasota Orioles/Ripken Academy Redux Pt. II

After reporting on a seemingly broken promise from the Baltimore Orioles and Cal Ripken Jr., I saw today baseball's biggest critics in Sarasota have taken to the opinion page.

Cathy Antunes and Pat Rounds, with "Citizens for Responsible Government," wrote in Tuesday's Sarasota Herald-Tribune that "(t)he Orioles' commitment to bring a Cal Ripken Youth Academy to Sarasota is proving to be as elusive for the team as a winning season."

Continue reading here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Buckhorn Talks Rays Stadium...Again

More from Tampa's mayor on the Rays' Stadium Saga:
Mayor Bob Buckhorn said again Friday he has no intention to be the boyfriend in any divorce between St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays.

That said, he keeps mentioning how hot the wife is.

In an interview on WDAE 620-AM, Buckhorn even said the Rays' stadium, if not in St. Petersburg, "needs to be in downtown Tampa."
Buckhorn is consistant. But he's also doing the Rays a big favor.

Maybe he stopped talking about how Tampa is a better home for the Rays, people would stop asking him about it?

Another Ludacrous Column on Rays' Stadium Saga

I'll just leave this post at this:

Cork Gaines & Rays Index take a critical look at a recent Rays stadium story.

Monday, February 13, 2012

St. Pete Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon: How Much Did it Really Bring In?

They aren't stadium subsidies, but the taxpayer handouts given to a for-profit sporting event in St. Petersburg are coming under scrutiny today.

Last May, St. Petersburg offered up $30,000 of in-kind services to bring the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon to town. Pinellas County coughed up another $100,000 for race marketing. In return, the race promoters promised 12,000-15,000 runners, 10,000 hotel room-nights, and "up to" a $12 million economic impact.

However, Sunday's inagural race - despite strong reviews from runners - drew considerably fewer participants than predicted, and with it, a considerably smaller economic impact. This comes after criticism last week about hidden costs of the race.

With only 1,600 participants coming to St. Pete from out-of-state (as provided by the race organizers), there's no way the event brought in 10,000 hotel room-nights and a $12 million economic impact. In fact, it's just the result predicted by a USF professor back when the event was announced.

Events that draw out-of-state residents are among the best bang-for-the-subsidy-buck and St. Pete may have gotten its $30,000 worth in hotel stays, shops visited, and meals purchased. But Pinellas County taxpayers have to be asking if the county could have spent $100,000 better than a handout to a private company. Other race organizers in Tampa Bay certainly think so.

In fact, other race organizers have been critical of the subsidies because:
1) they don't get them;
2) neither the marketing dollars nor profits stay in Tampa Bay; and
3) Rock 'n' Roll's primary charity support doesn't come in the form of checks, but "allowing" charities to raise money via the race.

A spokesman for the Rock 'n' Roll races said last May that "over 50 percent of the field, probably closer to 60 percent of the field next year will be coming from all 50 states." He also said they expected 25,000 runners by the second or third year of the race. St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster today said he was happy with the turnout and thinks the group could still hit the mark next year.

For more criticism of the handout and why supporters say it will be worth it in the long run, read 10 News' report by Adam Freeman.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

NFL Passed on Nixon's Blackout Offer

Interesting read on the topic of NFL blackouts:
WASHINGTON – The NFL, which is trying to maintain its TV blackout of home games that don't sell out, missed an opportunity 40 years ago to preserve an even more restrictive policy when it rebuffed an effort by President Richard Nixon to lift the hometown blackout just for playoff games.

On a previously unreported tape recording, now in the National Archives, Nixon told his attorney general to offer the league a deal: Allow playoff games to be televised in the hometown city, and the president would block any legislation requiring regular-season home games to be televised as well. At the time, the NFL blacked out all home games, whether they were sellouts or not.

The president was a serious fan and in the early 1970s, he shared the anger of Washington residents who couldn't watch Redskins games on TV, former aides recalled. The Redskins routinely sold out and the NFL blackout policy left no way for Washington fans without tickets to watch home games. In October 1972, Nixon's Justice Department had even told Congress it was time for some modification of the blackout policy "in the public interest."
Continue reading here.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tampa vs. St. Pete: Half-Marathon Style

Look out, in this battle, the nipple band-aids are about to come off!

This weekend marks the inaugural St. Petersburg Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon, a much-anticipated event expected to bring 10,000 people into Pinellas County.

You'll hear about the out-of-town tourism dollars pouring into St. Pete as well as raving reviews of the fun event. But you likely won't hear how the support for the new event will cost Tampa big bucks.

Tampa Bay's biggest running weekend each year is the Gasparilla Distance Classic, a series of four races - including a half marathon - held this year March 3-4. If you don't want to do the math, that's just three weeks after the St. Pete half marathon.

While Tampa and St. Pete have historically battled over the Bucs, the Rays, and even the airport, they're now (quietly) battling over runners. Why? Because putting on is a profitable business.

Most runners won't do both races, so Tampa and St. Pete (and Clearwater, which hosts its half marathon in January) are in essence battling over tourism dollars again. And the race organizers are battling over their entrance fees.

The Gasparilla Distance Classic Association is a 501(c)3 non-profit and their entry fees are generally lower than average ($25 for the 5k). But their $75/$85 entry fees for the half-marathon leaves a lot of extra money for local charities.

However, the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon is put on by a for-profit company. And while it has a solid history of charity donations, there's no way to tell exactly how much will end up in St. Petersburg. Furthermore, it's $80/$95/$105 entry fees are higher than Gasparilla's and profits will most definitely be made this weekend.

The Rock 'n' Roll has already caught some criticism, refusing to defer entry to 2013 for injured runners (most races, including Gasparilla do) and indirectly charging participants $15 for parking when they go to pick up their entry packets before the race.

Race organizing is big business and while Gasparilla will have more participants in 2012, their numbers could suffer with the new competition. Maybe that explains their new motto:

"Some cities were built on rock...others were built on roll...but in Tampa, it's all about the booty!"

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

MLB.com Columnist Sympathetic to Rays' Cause

Richard Justice, new to MLB.com, joined the chorus of Trop-bashers this week with a column applauding the Rays' handing of the stadium saga. To call the story one-sided would be generous, but NBC Sports' Hardball Talk writer Craig Calcaterra digs in appropriately:
Yes, the Rays have said almost nothing about their stadium situation and how it puts them at a financial disadvantage. The have said almost nothing. Except, you know, for when they have.
(L)et’s not pretend that they’ve said “almost nothing” about it, always taking the high road and never getting involved in the politics of it all. They’ve been agitating about it for years.
Justice misses other points too. He writes:
The Rays' bottom line is that they can't remain competitive at Tropicana Field. Reasonable people may disagree on how to change things, but the problem itself is right there in black and white. Despite having one of baseball's best teams, Tampa Bay remains near the bottom of baseball in home attendance and revenues.
The Rays have never demonstrated they can't remain competitive at Tropicana Field (in fact, their recent success has proven otherwise). They have never demonstrated they are "near the bottom of baseball" in revenues (although it's safe to assume). But without revealing their finances, we can only take the team's word for it.

There is no proof in "black and white," as Justice suggests, when there is no evidence provided by the Rays.
Tampa Bay has done it the right way, with a homegrown team that's great fun to watch, led by stars like third baseman Evan Longoria and pitcher David Price. The club has a general manager, Andrew Friedman, and a manager, Joe Maddon, who are among the very best in the business.

Beginning with Sternberg and team president Matt Silverman and extending right down the masthead, the Rays are smart, decisive and successful.
Justice is absolutely right on those comments. But later makes either a large assumption or repeats ignorant hearsay:
One plan to build a waterfront park in St. Petersburg fizzled for lack of public support, even though the Rays offered to pay $150 million of the construction costs and cost overruns.

It's not that the plan died so quickly that bothered the organization. If it had been about the details of the deal, they were willing to negotiate all of them. What bothered the Rays most of all was that St. Petersburg officials wouldn't even acknowledge a problem.
If they weren't acknowledging a problem, St. Pete officials wouldn't have gotten on-board with the proposed open-aired stadium. If now-Mayor Bill Foster wasn't acknowledging a problem, he wouldn't have campaigned on promises of a new stadium, albeit in Pinellas County.

Justice continues:
To maintain success, the team must be able to keep some of its best players and allow success to build upon success.
He's probably right.
Doing this requires bigger crowds and a stadium that produces more revenues.0
Or simply spending more and profiting less. Or just continuing to make wise front office decisions to overcome the hurdles.
At the moment, the Rays have just about run out of ideas. They'll continue to attempt to drum up support for their situation and to explore sites St. Petersburg officials might agree to.
Once again, the national columnist exposes his unfamiliarity with the situation. Sternberg has said he's not interested in St. Pete sites unless he can look in and around Tampa too.

So take the column for what it's worth - at best a simple view of why the Rays deserve a new stadium; at worst, an uneducated view of the stadium saga through the eyes of an outsider.

Sarasota Orioles/Ripken Academy Redux

Several weeks ago, I wrote about how the Baltimore Orioles appear to be striking out so far on a promise to Sarasota County for a Cal Ripken Jr. youth baseball academy. It was one of the key elements to a $31 million stadium package the team got for its spring training relocation in 2009.

This past weekend, Sarasota Herald-Tribune columnist Eric Ernst piled it on with a column criticizing county commissioners:
So where's our academy two years later? At best, heading to Charlotte County where the minor league Stone Crabs play. Note to the Charlotte County commissioners: Believe this one when you see it.

It turns out that all the talk about the synergy to be created between the Orioles and Sarasota County's youth was just that, too. Talk, albeit talk with a purpose, to distract the commissioners and the community from the shortcomings of a one-sided investment.

The talk never made it to the contract.
The Orioles maintain they are still in good position to land Ripken's facility in Sarasota, but they still haven't identified a way to pay for it.