Monday, April 30, 2012

Violence at Tampa Bay Sports Venues

While millions of fans attend professional sporting events across the region each year, a small of incidents ruin the experience for some fans looking for a family-friendly atmosphere.

The 10 News Investigators found reports of dozens of assaults and ejections related to fan fights. And nowhere in Tampa Bay was bad behavior more prevalent than Raymond James Stadium.

"I was just kind of sucker-punched," said one Bucs season-ticket holder who police say was the victim of a battery.

Read the entire story here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Next Florida Stadium Saga? Nationals Negotiate Spring Lease

Glenn Miller with Fort Myers' News-Press the Naples Daily News is reporting the Nationals met with Lee County (Fla.) today about a possible move to Fort Myers:
The parties are roughly a third of the way through a 90-day negotiating session that could lead to the Nationals leaving their current spring home in Viera on Florida’s east coast and moving into the facility that once housed the Boston Red Sox. The move could come as soon as 2014.
The last time multiple cities competed for the services of spring training teams, the Cubs got a $99M handout in Mesa, the Red Sox got the beautiful new $77M JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, and the Orioles got a $31M upgrade from Sarasota.

So, regardless of where the Nats end up in the future, I like their chances of getting a subsidized stadium upgrade.

As I wrote two years ago, it's not like any Grapefruit League teams are anxious to leave Florida.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rays Attendance Watch: April 23

My WTSP counterpart Adam Freeman took a look at Rays attendance today and attributed some of the team's early-season success to being the only show in town. The Lightning failed to make the NHL playoffs.

Through two home series (both weekend affairs), the Rays are drawing 29,268 fans per game, 17th in the majors.

A lot of nothern teams struggle in the early weeks of the season because of the cold, but that's not an excuse domed teams like Houston, Arizona, Seattle, and Toronto can use. All four are behind the Rays in attendance through half a month.

Economic Numbers Not Flattering for Rock 'n' Roll Race

Following up on his initial report about the disappointing inaugural St. Pete Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon, WTSP reporter Adam Freeman got the city's official report from race organizers:
A 13-page report, just released by Competitor Group--the California-based organizers of the race, shows local officials didn't get nearly what was promised when they agreed to spend $130,000 of taxpayer money to land the event.

Organizers held a press conference in 2011 touting a projected $15 million economic impact.

That number actually turned out to be $7.8 million.

Despite saying 60 percent of the runners would come from out-of-state, the final numbers show only 19 percent were from beyond Florida.

Organizers also claimed 10,000 hotel room nights with the event, but only ended up filling 4,200.

"The investment is yet to show its returns," said David Downing, of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, which pledged $100,000 to market their race. "This is a multi-year deal. We have a long view. We're just at the beginning of this."
Supporters of the race in the city said they expect better things once the race has a chance to grow, but competing races said the subsidies were unfair and they'll plan to ask for similar help later this year.

Glazers' Value Soaring

Forbes' estimates that Bucs and Manchester United owner Malcolm Glazer's net worth is now over $3 billion. That represents a tidy $420 million profit on ManU after some initial concerns about how the Glazer family financed the team:
"The increase in value for Manchester United comes partially from its 330 million-person fan base and its victory in the English Premier League last year. It also comes from the fact that the US dollar has fallen sharply versus the British pound. The currency fluctuation as inflated the value of the soccer team in dollars."
So even though the Glazers have plenty of detractors, they've proven some wrong by emerging from some well-publicized debt problems and questions about their finances.It should be noted, they're also spending big bucks on the Bucs this year.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Selig Echoes Support for New Rays Stadium

Not exactly breaking news: Bud Selig tells a group of reporters the Rays need a new stadium:
"They need a new ballpark, there's no question," Selig said. "I talked a lot to Stu Sternberg and he's talking to people. He and I have had many conversations, and we'll just monitor the situation. He's doing what he should do. He's there, he's talking to all parties trying to see what he can do."
For those of you keeping score at home, Selig said the same thing two weeks ago as well as two years ago. He's helped almost every MLB team open up new ballparks over the past few decades and you can bet he's hoping to add two more (Rays & A's) before he's done.

"Keep the Rays in St. Pete" Group Forms

It got a little lost in the shuffle last week, but a new grass-roots group has formed with the purpose of keeping the Rays where they are: "Keep the Rays in St. Pete."

It fulfills another Stadium Saga prediction made three years ago: "Grass-root efforts will pop up. Fan groups - on both sides of the bay - will start rallying the troops."

Of course, it's been two and a half years since a similar group began campaigning for the Rays to move to Tampa. And there was another group, "Save Our Rays," which said it also wanted to see a Tampa stadium. However, that group seemed more interested in selling T-shirts than selling fans on a new stadium.

Hagan, Hillsborough Move Forward with Rays Talks

It may be a long way from affecting the outcome of the Rays' Stadium Saga, but the Hillsborough Co. Commission voted Wednesday to ask its legal counsel if it can speak to the team about the possibilities of a new stadium.

While Commissioner Ken Hagan made new stadium talks one of his campaign promises, it may not get the county very far. St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster told Bay News 9 that Hillsborough Co. lawyers will likely come to the same conclusion the City of St. Pete lawyers did: it's a $100 million mistake for any municipality to "tamper" with the Rays' existing contract.

"I would take it to the (City Council) and ask to sue them, individually," St. Pete's lawyeAlign Leftr, John Wolfe, told the Tampa Bay Times.

Hagan then told the paper that a loophole may exist for the county to speak to the team "about ways to ensure the Rays remain in the region." He added that his concern was diminishing municipal leverage as time goes on.

But Hagan made no mention of the possible diminishing leverage he could be influencing by playing into the Tampa-vs.-St. Pete fight: a tug-of-war the Rays need to push the stadium conversation forward. Because without it, the team is staring at a seemingly-ironclad contract with a seemingly-endless (2027) expiration date.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Luke Scott Won't be Sharing Fenway's 100th Birthday Cake

On the week that "America's Most Beloved Ballpark" turns 100, Tampa Bay's Luke Scott - known more for his controversial political comments - took a swat at Fenway Park.

The Rays' new designated hitter called the park a "dump" that needs replacing, while subtley implying - without identifying it by name - that he's happier in stadiums like Tropicana Field.

Of course, a decade ago, Scott would have been in the majority of baseball types hating on Fenway, but by re-shaping the perceptions about the park, it's gone from one of the most-criticized to one of the most-beloved.

Scott and the Rays won't get to celebrate Fenway's centennial on Friday in Boston; instead it'll be the Sox' close friends from the Bronx in town for an afternoon affair. It's a safe bet the ratio of cake to people will be too big for Derek Jeter to get a slice.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rays Attendance Watch: April 11

Sure, it's only a few days into the 2012 season, but it sure is interesting to note that the Rays (32,856) are drawing more fans right now than the Mets (32,071).

The Mets not only play in the No. 1 media market, but also boast a three-year-old stadium with "unprecedented amenities and comfort."

Those pushing for a new Rays stadium may argue New York is at an unfair disadvantage in April because of weather. But isn't that an argument for the climate-controlled environment of The Trop? Also, it's not like the Cubs (37,730) have struggled despite awful weather...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Buckhorn Says St. Pete Can't Sustain Rays

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Business Journal this week the Rays' relationship with St. Pete has to change "sometime."

"The reality is," Buckhorn told the TBBJ, "it’s not a business model that will work.”

The Rays and MLB have both made it clear they aren't satisfied with the team's current business model, which relies heavily on revenue sharing. But it's worth re-emphacizing neither has done much to demonstrate an actual financial strain in Tampa Bay.

Buckhorn may not be wrong about a stadium in St. Pete, but talking about Tampa's superiority is doing his counterpart, Bill Foster, no favors.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

More Stu on Opening Day

Rays owner Stu Sternberg held court before Friday's first pitch of the season at The Trop and there's lots of ways to interpret his comments...but here is the correct way:
"I think the ball is rolling (on a stadium search)...It's a huge boulder, but it's moving. The nice thing is it's not static, it's not going backwards, and you've got people on both sides of the Bay, business people, working on it."
Sternberg knows how long and painful the process is going to be (see: June '09 story)...and he has accepted it.
"The political people, they come, they go. I'm into my second (Tampa) mayor now. Business people on both sides recognize they need to get involved a little bit. We'll keep doing our part."
He may get frustrated by the political posturing, but at least his fellow CEO-types understand.
"The M.O. up to this point in our sport and every other sport is that winning cures the ills...We're in brave new ground, where winning hasn't cured the ills, so to speak. If people don't come out, I need to know the reason why not."
It's been almost two years since Sternberg said Downtown St. Pete was too remote of a location for the Rays (and almost three years since I wrote it). So he knows why people aren't coming; you could even argue he's contributed to the problem, not helped. However, for what it's worth, the Rays have contributed serious dough toward an effort to improve transit in Tampa Bay.
"I like my stadium...We put $30 million bucks into this place. I love the place. I would challenge anyone to come in here and say it's not a great experience. It's not an ideal experience, but something is keeping people from coming in."
He's frustrated. For good reason.
"(MLB)are getting less tolerant as time goes by, but I don't think (the Rays will relocated)...It could turn out that way, but I don't envision it that way. A lot of it comes down to business. We have some great corporate supporters, but we don't have enough corporate support."
Tampa Bay's corporate problem was first identified by the ABC Coalition in 2009 but could be improved if the stadium was closer to Downtown Tampa.
"We have a good amount of individual support and our core fans are tremendous. We're not even in the ballpark, relative to what's necessary corporate-wise to support this franchise."
Sternberg wants to make more profits - any baseball owner does - and a new stadium is his best opportunity for that. Nevermind the fact that Forbes indicates the Rays have been one of the most profitable teams the last five years. And nevermind the fact that the Rays have yet to actually prove their financial struggles. Sternberg and Rays fans alike are sick of seeing their team at the bottom of league standings when it comes to attendance and payroll and a new stadium is their preferred method of improving both indicators.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Softer Side of Stu (Pt. II)

Stu Sternberg told the Tampa Bay Times' Michael Van Sickler today that, while he's envious of the Marlins' new stadium, he's seemingly content right now at The Trop:
"I like my stadium. I love the place. I'd challenge anyone, and we have, to come in and say it's not a great experience. It's not an ideal experience. Something is keeping people from coming in."
Maybe a softer side of Stu? Last time I said that, it lasted about a month before the stadium saga went sour again.

Sternberg was all smiles, but also acknowledged he has more staying power than the political leaders who are stalling the stadium search:
"You know, the political people, they come, they go," he said. "I'm into my second mayor now."

Times Applauds Marlins Stadium, Ignores Watchdog Responsibility

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board celebrated opening day with an opinion piece on the Marlins' new stadium. But the heralded watchdog institution focused not on the deceitful methods the team used to capture hundreds of millions of tax dollars, but on how pretty the new stadium looked:
Miami on Wednesday night opened Marlins Park, a gorgeous $642 million work of art that reflects the city's urban chic with its fish tanks, nightclub and colorful 70-foot sculpture beyond centerfield. For Tampa Bay, such a step into the 21st century remains a dream as the Rays open their season this afternoon in outdated Tropicana Field.
There was no mention of the federal SEC investigation into the heavy-handed way the public financing was put together. And no mention of how the escapade got the Miami-Dade mayor booted from office.

Instead, the editorial dismisses the critics in a single graf:
There are cost overruns, nagging concerns about traffic and parking issues. But the experience there can be instructive for Tampa Bay with stadium discussions stalled by St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster's petty parochialism and lack of vision.
I believe we've heard this before...

But Times readers, instead of getting a watchdog, are getting the single-biggest cheerleader for a new baseball stadium. The paper's role in the conversation is a controversial topic I first covered back in 2010:
Tim Nickens, the Editor of Editorials for the St. Petersburg Times addressed his paper's perceived boosterism of the past, saying, "our approach is substantially different than it was in the 1980s (when Tropicana Field was built)."

"The St. Petersburg Times is interested - on the editorial page - in keeping the team in Tampa Bay," Nickens continued. "The Tampa Tribune's editorial page - has been much more interested in moving the team to Downtown Tampa."
It's clear the editorial board wants Mayor Foster to make the next move. But there's no telling to what extent it will go to make it happen.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Selig Talks Rays on Opening Night 2012

According to ESPN's Jayson Stark, Bud Selig sees the Rays heading down the same road as the Marlins. He tweeted:
Selig on whether Rays will open new park any time soon: "Five or 10 years ago, you could make a case this (Marlins Park) would never happen"
He also told that the Rays are "playing in a stadium where they can't make it."

Meanwhile, since Selig seems content with drawing the Rays' situation out into the next 5-10 years, you can keep yourself occupied with fine pieces of journalism like this from the Huffington Post's Ethan Casey.

Casey admits he's bitter that Fenway Park dodged the wrecking ball while his beloved Tigers Stadium could not. As I've written before, both stadiums were considered derelicts 15 years ago (much like the Trop is now), but image is everything and the Red Sox have actually done better than they could have ever imagined without the new digs.

USF Athletics Budget Balanced on Backs of Students

Thanks to the help of ESPN's Kristi Dosh (@SportsBizMiss), we took up the topic of USF's high athletic fees last night on 10 News.

Most USF students will pay around $1,800 by the time they graduate directly to varsity athletics - on top of their tuition bills. The $15.2 million in subsidies make up 36% of USF's athletics budget - more than any other school in the BCS automatic qualifier conferences.

Here is a link to the story from last night, as well my appearance on our morning show discussing the investigation:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Romano on St. Pete's Ironclad Contract

The Tampa Bay Times' John Romano used today's column to explain why the Rays can't break their contract with St. Petersburg:
"If (the contract isn't ironclad), it is pretty close to it. The city has sent more than one letter warning others to watch what they say about the Rays moving out of Tropicana.

Bankruptcy might eventually be a weapon for the Rays and MLB. More than likely, a negotiated settlement would come first.
It's something I've written about before, as has the Times, but the newspaper still makes the seemingly-hypocritical argument that St. Pete should take immediate action to negotiate its way out of the favorable contract.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

More Backhanded Jabs at Mayor Foster

The Tampa Bay Times sure isn't letting up on it's new favorite punching bag, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster. Even when they aren't directly slamming the mayor for his approach toward the Rays' Stadium Saga, they're taking backhanded jabs at him through an editorial praising his Tampa counterpart, Bob Buckhorn:
Buckhorn has been looking at institutions throughout Tampa Bay as regional assets, from the Tampa Bay Rays and the gulf beaches to the area's colleges and universities...that sort of open discussion and brainstorming is how leaders in metro areas should work together to preserve and enhance shared assets.
Then, former sports columnist John Romano penned his own story criticizing Foster's leadership on another topic:

This is what a bureaucrat does:

Works within the system. Says please and thank you. Follows rules, avoids independent thinking and, above all else, protects the status quo.

This is what a leader does:

Leads. All the time. No matter the consequences.

Which brings us to the embarrassment that is the St. Petersburg Police Department's headquarters. The place is a dump. It is too small, too antiquated, too dangerous.
So if you're not going to fight for this cause, what will you fight for?

In other news, you should take a few minutes to listen to an interesting Biz of Baseball podcast from Field of Schemes' Neil deMause on the Rays' and Marlins' stadium issues.