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.

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