Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tampa vs. St. Pete: "Got Talent?" Edition

They've battled over the Rays, the Bucs, the airport, postmarks, and even half-marathoners, but the latest edition in the Tampa-vs.-St. Pete war features the NBC show America's Got Talent.

During the Sunday night season premier, I tweeted my surprise that the show opened its St. Pete casting call with a montage from the Florida Everglades. Little did we know, NBC's misdirection was just getting warmed up.

As the Tampa Bay Times' Michael Van Sickler and Eric Deggans reported, St. Pete leaders are miffed the episode mentioned "Tampa" and "Tampa Bay" numerous times, but never once "St. Petersburg."

They even drew the parallel to the Rays' Stadium Saga:
It was a snub that stung especially because Tampa is being hyped by some as the next home of the Tampa Bay Rays, who currently play in St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field. (Mayor Bill) Foster and other city officials bristle every time ESPN broadcasts a game from the Trop by declaring, "Live from Tampa."
This surely won't be the last time the issue pops up, especially since we're still in the relatively early stages of "How the Stadium Saga Will Go Down."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Congratulations to John Romano

A nice recognition for Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano, who won first place at the National Headliner Awards for sports column writing.

Among the works he submitted, a column I complimented last summer urging both sides of the Rays' Stadium Saga to tone down the rhetoric and aim for actual progress.

It's worth a re-read, especially since the discussion stalemate hasn't really evolved much in the last year.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Floridians Love Yankees More Than Rays; Steinbrenners Say They Do Too

Smacking down rumors that his family would put the Yankees up for sale now that dad has passed away, Hank Steinbrenner said Thursday that the team is most definitely not for sale. But as Ted DiBiase said, "every man has his price."

As much as Hank may love the Yankees, he also loves billions of dollars. And if a powerful group in baseball's inner circle quietly put together a $3.5-$4 billion bid for the team and its properties, you'd better believe Hank would listen. And if that were to happen, as I've been saying for years, you can bet Stu Sternberg's name would at least be mentioned in the conversation.

Meanwhile, as well as the Rays may play, they aren't nearly as popular as the Yankees...even in Florida. More proof that building a real fan base takes time.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Odds & Ends: Malcolm Glazer Alive, Stu Sternberg Spending

While Malcolm Glazer may not be in the best of health (he hasn't been seen in public in years), Manchester United is claiming rumors about its owner's stroke are just that: rumors.

The Glazer family, who years ago could have topped the list of "Best Jewish Owners in Sports," did not crack the Top-10 this year, according to JewishJournal.com. The Rays' Stu Sternberg, however, was ranked No. 3. Take it all with a grain of salt, however, since the Patriots' Robert Kraft came in just 10th while the Redskins' Dan Snyder was No. 1?!?

Speaking of Sternberg, he deserves props for making a long-term committment to the Tampa Bay region.....in the form of academic scholarships. It may be a long time before he helps build a new stadium here (or he may not), but at least he'll be building something significant soon: scholars.

Finally, for those of you hoping Hillsborough County moves forward with the proposed port-for-Rays swap, don't hold your breath. The topic was shot down at a recent board meeting before it could even be brought up, and many "in-the-know" players in Tampa Bay say the idea is nothing more than a pipe dream. But it is a pleasant dream....

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rays Attendance Watch: May 22

The good: Despite a rough patch on the field, the Rays are having a half-decent May at the box office, climbing to the 26th-best average attendance in baseball (20,519). Three weeks ago, they were 28th (20,111).

The bad: The Rays must go a month and a half without seeing their big draws (NYY & BOS) come to town. Their best hopes for big attendance nights come when the Mets visit mid-week (June 12-14), followed by a Marlins weekend series (June 15-17).

The ugly: Last night's crowd of 10,844 vs. Toronto is unfortunately indicative of what the Rays can expect for the rest of this series (Tue night, Wed afternoon) as well as in their next few games: a midweek series vs. the White Sox (May 28-30) and a weekend series vs. the Orioles (June 1-3). And Peter Gammons is having a chuckle about it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Vinik Wins Channelside; Tampa Rays Fans Celebrate

In a showdown between two of the region’s biggest names in entertainment, a group led by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has been chosen as the top bidder for Tampa’s Channelside complex. And it could be good news for those who hope to one day actually bring the Tampa Bay Rays to Tampa.

Vinik’s bid – a concept believed to be focused on integrating the entertainment complex better with neighbors such as the Tampa Bay Times Forum and Florida Aquarium – topped a bid from a powerhouse group led by new BayWalk owner Bill Edwards.

There's no telling if Vinik had the highest bid for the once-thriving complex, but he apparently had the best. And while he isn't expected to place as great of an emphasis on shopping as the Edwards group, he didn't de-emphacize the idea of a Downtown Tampa baseball stadium as the other group did.

While the Lightning owner is currently a minority owner in the Red Sox, if he ever wanted to invest in the Rays, selling off his Boston stakes would be a mere formality.

The naming of Vinik as the preferred Channelside buyer doesn't affect the Stadium Saga much right now, but it certainly makes the short-term chatter much more interesting.

Friday, May 11, 2012

UPDATE: Trop-Hating Writer Speaks!

Jason Seher, who wrote a TIME blurb Thursday calling Tropicana Field the third-worst pro sports facility in the country, reached out to me today after issuing a correction.

Having not been to Tropicana Field since 2008, Seher said some of his criticisms may have been off-the-mark. That, of course, includes the factually incorrect claim about the Rays' playing spring games at Al Lang Stadium. And claims such as "rude service staff" and poor/distant parking may not paint a true picture of the ballpark experience in Tampa Bay.

But more importantly, Seher admitted many of the claims (rude service staff, poor parking, etc.) were just opinions of the "five or six" staffers who compiled the list of the "Top-10 Worst Stadiums in the U.S." And that only three of them had ever been to Tropicana Field.

“It’s widely regarded as the worst functioning stadium in Major League Baseball,” Seher said. “There’s been so many legal and political hurdles for a new stadium to be built that (the national media wonders), ‘Why is this winning baseball team in what could be a great baseball city...stuck playing in this giant warehouse?”

The opinion follows the same logic as so many others across the nation: because a stadium hasn’t been recently replaced, it must need replacing.

“Now that all the (older MLB) stadiums are gone, you start looking down the list, and Tropicana, by default…gets this reputation as one of the worst parks in the country,” Seher said. “It is brought on by a lot of the national media (and it) sustains itself. The more people write about The Trop being the worst stadium in the league, the more prevalent that opinion is going to become.”

Seher, who complimented other amenities of the Tampa Bay region, also admitted some of the bad treatment he got at the Trop may have been because he was wearing a Red Sox jersey. And his last few visits to the stadium were during the intense seven-game 2008 ALCS series. I gotta tell you, though, Jason: if you think Tampa Bay fans are bad, try wearing that jersey into Yankee Stadium.

So no sympathy from me on this issue, but Jason, I apologize for calling your writing "bush league." Call me next time you're in town and we'll go grab $8 Bud Lights and use them to catch whizzing baseball in the area's giant white pinball machine stadium.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

More Uneducated National Writers Bash Trop

So TIME Magazine's Jason Seher calls Tropicana Field the third-worst stadium in the country:
It’s amazing that a warm-weather destination would choose to lock its baseball team in a giant warehouse. Tropicana Field, not-so-affectionately called “The Trop,” should be hosting millions of Fed-Ex packages, not some of the best baseball in all the land. Behold a brief inventory of the Tampa Bay Rays’ stadium’s odd quirks that make it one of the most inhospitable stadiums in all of sports: Catwalks? Check. Poor sight lines? Check. Rude service staff? Check. Mile walk from where your car is parked to the stadium? Check. The feeling you’re trapped in a giant pinball machine populated by whizzing baseballs ready to plop into your $8 Bud Light? Check. It’s especially insulting to the few Rays fans who have logged long hours taking in mostly losing baseball since the franchise’s inception. The reason? The Rays play their spring training games at Al Lang Stadium, one of the more spectacular minor league facilities in the U.S.
Nobody is going to call the Trop a "Top-10" stadium, but how seriously can you take a guy who thinks the Rays still play spring training games at Al Lang Stadium. (They haven't since 2008).

How seriously can you take a guy who thinks that there's "rude service staff" at The Trop? (The AARP-eligible ushers and ticket-takers are as cordial as you will find in any MLB park.)

And how seriously can you take a guy who thinks fans have to endure a "mile walk from where your car is parked to the stadium?" (Obviously, the smallish-crowds and lack of Downtown location make parking a breeze at Tropicana Field...not to mention cheap.)

Shame on you, Jason Seher - that's just bush-league writing.

UPDATE: After this entry was posted, the Tampa Bay Times reported Seher issued a correction, but hardly an apology.

"I think the Trop is one of the more solidly crappy stadiums on the list," Seher, a Boston Red Sox fan, told the Times. "As far as the rankings, it's purely our staff's opinion."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Odds & Ends

I tried to get a few different posts up last week to no avail - blame it on life getting in the way. But a few interesting reads on business and sports:

I've studied Hillsborough County's Community Investment Tax (CIT) quite a bit recently, and thank goodness, Trib columnist Joe Henderson put exactly what I was thinking into words: no matter how much revenues drop from tax collections, the money will always be there for Raymond James Stadium. Not that it's a bad thing stadium bonds, agreed to in 1996, will be paid on-time, but when times get tough, it will always be schools, infrastructure, and public services that suffer. Other cities have learned this difficult lesson too.

Also, an interesting read from NY Post columnist Phil Mushnick on announcers gushing over Marlins' attendance when there were tons of empty seats in the best sections. It goes to show how the national media influences the stadium debate. But I'm also getting a lot of questions how the Marlins' inability to sell out every game will affect the Rays' stadium campaign. On one hand, the Marlins have increased attendance dramatically from last year's numbers. But on the other hand, as I've said before, if they can't keep their nightly average above 30,000 in their stadium's inagural season, many in Tampa Bay will ask if the expense is really worth it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Rays Attendance Watch: May 4

It only took a week.

On April 23rd, the Rays sat 17th in the majors in attendance. On May 4, after a pair of mid-week series against AL West opponents, they now sit 28th...despite the best record in baseball.

While the Rays (20,111) are still averaging more fans per game than the White Sox (19,911) and Indians (14,486), they may only be a warm May in the Midwest away from falling into last.

The good news for Tampa Bay's bottom line (and future earnings) is that their television ratings are soaring again.

Commissioner Suggests Port-for-Stadium Swap

WTSP reporter Adam Freeman reports that Hillsborough Co. Commissioner Victor Crist would like Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to consider swapping two assets facing dilemmas: the Port of Tampa and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Crist points out the Port of Tampa is being sunk by only being able to handle midsized cruise ships. The newer megaships, carrying twice as many passengers, can't come to Tampa because they can't fit under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

At the same time, Crist knows about poor attendance at Tropicana Field and the Rays' desire to explore other stadium sites within the Tampa Bay area.

As a way to solve both problems, his pitch is to consider swapping the two. Put a new stadium in Tampa and a new cruise port in St. Pete, somewhere west of the Skyway.

"Maybe there's the potential for doing a deal here between Pinellas and Hillsborough where we both win... where we keep and grow baseball and we keep and grow our cruise industry," Crist said.

St. Pete City Councilman Wengay Newton, who sits on a regional planning council with Crist, laughed off the deal Thursday, calling it "unimaginable."
Crist said his idea was merely an informal, preliminary concept, but the former state legislator knows it would be easier to get state funding for a massive project like this one.

When Freeman asked St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster for his thoughts, he declined.

Vinik Pumps More Money Into Forum

Last year, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik said he didn't need public dollars to make $40 million in upgrades to the St. Pete Times Forum. This year, the venue's name has changed...but Vinik's tune has not.

Not only did Vinik upgrade the venue without any pressure on local governments to share the bill, but he's now planning on another $5 million upgrade to the Forum's video board:
A $5 million video scoreboard will be installed at the Tampa Bay Times Forum before the start of the 2012-13 season, the team announced Thursday.

The upgraded video display board will feature the largest high-definition, center-hung video displays in any U.S. or Canadian arena. It will include a state-of-the-art control room and allow for a true high-definition signal with 1,296 lines of resolution.

The new video board comes on the heels of last summer's $40 million in upgrades that included a pipe organ, hanging Tesla coils and padded seats in the upper and lower bowls.

The new board, produced by Daktronics Inc., features four video boards. The two largest will be 28 feet high and 50 feet wide — reaching from blue line to blue line — and the two smaller boards will be 28 feet high and 20 feet wide.

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is privately funding the project, the team said in a news release.

The current scoreboard, installed in 2007 at a cost of $4 million, is 16 feet high and 28 feet wide on each of the four sides. The current video system offered an HD-quality display, but the new system will offer true high-definition picture quality.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Buckhorn: "Would Take Three Years to Build a Stadium"

Mayor Bob Buckhorn inched a little further down the Rays-to-Tampa road Wednesday night, telling a forum a new stadium could be built by 2016.

"It would take three years to build a stadium," Buckhorn was quoted by the Tampa Bay Times. "So it would have to be sooner rather than later."

Buckhorn said the Rays/St. Pete relationship would first have to advance to the point where the team committed to leaving the city. And Tampa would have to also secure bonds to finance the stadium.

But since the Rays are locked in their contract until 2027 and there's not enough money in Hillsborough County for a stadium, Buckhorn's talk - unfortunately for Tampa baseball fans - remains just that. Not that the Rays mind...