Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Glazers Bringing Man U to Amerca?

The world's most valuable sports franchise, Manchester United, will scrap its plans to go public on the stock markets of Asia and, instead, list in the U.S., according to Reuters:
After first eyeing a Hong Kong IPO, the former English soccer champions had planned a $1 billion listing in Singapore in the second half of last year before putting plans on hold because of market turmoil.

United, which has been English league champions a record 19 times and features players such as England's Wayne Rooney, declined to comment.

The U.S. listing would come either on the New York Stock Exchange or its electronic rival Nasdaq, which is under scrutiny after its systems bungled the debut of social media giant Facebook Inc last month, causing customer losses estimated of at least $100 million.
The club's American proprietors, the Glazer family, are well known in the United States as owners of American football team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as well as First Allied Corp, which owns and leases shopping centers.

However, they have faced opposition from United fans after taking over the club in 2005 in a leveraged buyout that left it saddled with hefty debt repayments.
The advantage of an American IPO would be the Glazers could sell non-voting shares and retain more control of the team.

New York Times on Stadium Saga

Last week, it was Stu Sternberg. Today, it was Mayor Bill Foster's turn to appear in the New York Times.

In a recap of the last three years of the Stadium Saga, the Times quotes the typical voices on the debate without the typical cliches:
“Everyone has an opinion, but not one of the people running their mouths are paying the freight on the stadium, and they were not here when the team was the laughingstock of the league,” Foster said in his office not far from Tropicana Field. “I put a lot in contracts, commitments and loyalty. All I’m asking is for them to abide by the contract.”
Hillsborough Co. Commissioner Ken Hagen was also quoted:
"If they left our region, it would have a devastating effect on our community from a quality-of-life and economic perspective,” said Ken Hagan, a Hillsborough County commissioner who has pushed to speak directly to the Rays. “To stick our heads in the sand and hope the stadium issue resolves itself is shortsighted."
While losing the Rays would be a huge emotional blow to the region, I'm not sure how much it would hurt Hillsborough Co. economically. It might even help since Tampa residents would be a little more likely to spend their disposable income in the county.

One other paragraph jumped out at me from writer Ken Belson:
The concession stands are buried in rotundas far from the seats, the scoreboard is tiny and the surrounding neighborhood is about as far from Wrigleyville as possible. On occasion, the stadium’s catwalks have deflected balls hit high in the air, making the whole stadium — it is the only one in baseball with a roof that does not open — feel like a Rube Goldberg contraption.
I guess I try to see the cup half-full: the Trop has plenty of concession stands near the seats; the scoreboard is visible from most seats; and the neighborhood around the Trop provides countless more options than even the MLB's newest park in Miami. (Personal guilty pleasure: ordering Taco Bus pre-game then bringing it into the stadium - they allow it!)

It's another tired knock on the Trop and the Stadium Saga from a national news outlet. But at least this story acknowledges the arguments against a new stadium while pointing out all of its flaws.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Guillen Wants a Rays Stadium, Too

Marlins' manager Ozzie Guillen, who has never said anything controversial before, said this weekend that the Rays "deserve" a new stadium and joked that he'd foot the first few million it would cost to get it done:

"Build the ballpark for them, please. Why not?" Guillen said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "They're playing well. They've got a great organization. I think now they deserve that. They earned it. They play the game good, play the game right, and play the game hard, and in a very tough division....If one team deserves a new ballpark, it's them, because I think fans will support it a little bit better, and I think it'll be great for the city."

It should come as no surprise a MLB manager thinks a new stadium built on public subsidies is a good idea. And it should come as no surprise by now nobody asked Guillen who he thought should pay for it.

But Creative Loafing's Mitch Perry, who seldom wades into the deep end of the stadium debate, managed to do what few others are capable of: he celebrates a beautiful building while admonishing the way it was financed.

The newly opened Marlins Park in the Little Havana section of Miami is Major League Baseball’s newest edifice, and impressive it is.

Of course, at a cost of $634 million, it had better be. Although the 19-year-old franchise (née Florida Marlins, now Miami) has taken two World Series in its relatively short history (in ’97 and 2003), its attendance at home games has always been weak. Part of that problem had to be the fact that the team played in a huge, open-air football stadium, where humidity and the threat of rain put a crimp on advance sales.

While the Tampa Bay Rays negotiations for a new stadium are currently in limbo, the Marlins were able to suck vigorously from the teat of the taxpayer, with Miami Dade County selling approximately $377 million in bonds and the city of Miami kicking in another $102 million for the park and adjacent parking garages (the Marlins management graciously spent $120 million of its own money).

So what can you expect if you visit Marlins Park this summer? First of all, most of the “official” public parking comes from four large parking garages built next to the park that charge $15 a spot. But, like Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, the park is in a residential neighborhood. That means you’ll see all types of people holding signs that say “Parking.” We saw a lot of $15 signs initially, but after circling around the park found a less greedy homeowner who was willing to charge only $10 to drive up on his grass and park (as tightly as possible) next to another car already lodged there.

In short:
  • The Marlins' biggest problems with their old stadium were humidity and the threat of rain, even though those arguments don't hold water in Tampa Bay.
  • Being near a "downtown corridor" wasn't important to the Marlins, even though in Tampa Bay, it's seen as one of the biggest reasons for attendance failures.
  • Miami fans have to pay $10-$15 to park, even though the are already paying tax premiums to pay for the garages.
Perry goes on to compliment the Marlins' dining options and access to concesions, but implies a retractable roof is a $100 million waste in certain cities:

The inside of the enclosed stadium resembles a large basketball arena more than, say, Tropicana Field (and now that it’s summer, good luck ever seeing the retractable dome opened up again any time soon).

One of the things Perry (who typically covers politics) does best is present both sides of the argument, as he does with attendance analysis:
Through 26 home games this season, (Marlins) attendance is averaging 28,543, which puts them right in the middle of the pack of the 30 Major League teams — roughly an increase of 67 percent from the first 24 games of 2011.

However, there’s this cautionary note: According to, of the nine teams that have opened new parks in the last decade, only the 2003 Cincinnati Reds had a smaller average at this point in the first year occupying their new digs.

Rays owner Stu Sternberg and other management, as well as St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster, have downplayed any talk of a new park in order to concentrate on getting more people into the seats at the Trop this year. But even though the Rays still have one of the top records in baseball through the first two months of 2012, their average home attendance of 19,504 was second to last (behind only Cleveland) as of June 4.

Going to Marlins Park really does throw into stark relief how lousy a ballpark Tropicana Field really is. It was built in 1990, a year before Baltimore’s Camden Yards led the revolution toward newer, more intimate downtown-situated structures. When the Rays franchise first began playing games there nine years later, the stadium was already out of date. Fourteen years later, it’s really out of date.

But it’s all we’ve got for now, and it behooves Rays fans to start attending more games. Otherwise, the arguments for Stu Sternberg to look somewhere outside of Tampa Bay will have more and more legitimacy.
It's a little surprising there hasn't been more chaos in the stadium saga as we approach the two-year anniversary of Sternberg's ultimatum (compliments to all parties involved), but in the 9-inning game of getting a new stadium built, we're probably just getting into the bottom of the 3rd.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Odds & Ends: Yanks Pinching Pennies, Sternberg Has Heart

Our friends at the Biz of Baseball have written how the luxury tax has succeeded (a little bit) in reining in the Yankees' league-leading payroll. From 2003-2011, the Yankees have accounted for 95% of the league's luxury tax payments, or more than $206 million. The Red Sox are second at just $18.8 million. That probably explains why Derek Jeter is only making $16 million this year.

Compounding the Yankees' terrible money problems (tongue firmly planted in cheek), the team thinks its attendance is suffering (down 3.6% this year) because StubHub has cheapened their product. But Field of Schemes debunks that theory.

Also in the Big Apple, the New York Times had a pleasant profile of Rays owner Stu Sternberg. The story paraphrases Sternberg by saying his biggest focus is on winning, not making money; and that he doesn't think the Rays are really worth $323 million.

Speaking of the Rays, they head into mid-June with the 28th-best/3rd-worst attendance average in the bigs. However, it is up a touch from last year.

Finally, a hat tip to the Sports Biz Miss, who directed me to Orlando's efforts to use tourist tax dollars to increase bowl payouts. I get what Mayor Buddy Dyer is trying to do, but it doesn't feel right to re-direct a few bucks from every Orlando hotel room night to the Big 10 or SEC. My very inside confidential sources (tongue still planted firmly in cheek) tell me both conferences are doing just fine financially.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Romano: Talk About Trop Matters

Fresh off his National Headliner Award, Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano makes the case why the Stadium Saga - devoid of any real developments the last few years - is worthy of continued media coverage.
The season is almost one-third complete, and the Rays are back on familiar ground. They are near the top in victories and near the bottom in attendance.
The Cleveland Indians, like the Rays, have been in first place for much of the season. And, like the Rays, they have been bringing up the rear in attendance.

Why isn't there more carping about Cleveland's fans?

Because from 1996-2002, the Indians drew as well as any team in the majors. They once set an MLB record with 455 consecutive sellouts (since eclipsed by Boston).

In other words, Cleveland is a proven big-league market. It has a universally acclaimed stadium in a perfect location. So if the Indians have had trouble drawing in recent seasons, it is seen as cyclical instead of chronic.
I don't know if I agree with Romano's logic, since Cleveland's struggles since 2009 (they're averaging almost 1,000 fewer fans per game than the Rays) show that fans often stop coming once the "new stadium smell" wears off.

Romano says Tampa's problem is that is has never proven it can support baseball, as he continues:
Just understand the problem is not a figment of the imagination. And it is not a matter of people unjustly picking on Tampa Bay.

There is some pretty damning evidence that this market has a serious problem when it comes to drawing fans. In some ways, as serious as anything baseball has seen.
In a point I've made several times before, it just hasn't yet been proven there is a "problem" in Tampa Bay. The Rays won't open their books and Forbes estimates they're one of the most profitable teams in baseball.

Sure, the Rays don't draw as many fans as most of their opponents, but just a couple of decades ago, 21,000 fans a game was considered good.

So before you jump on Tampa Bay for failing to sustain its MLB team, realize neither the league nor the team have proven the region isn't supporting the Rays adequately now.