Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Attorney: Hillsborough Can Talk to Rays About a Tampa Stadium

Attorneys for Hillsborough County have given commissioners permission to talk to the Tampa Bay Rays about future stadium plans, despite the threat of legal action from the City of St. Petersburg.

The attorney reasoned the risk of lawsuit was low since Hillsborough Co. isn't a party to the Rays' use agreement. But since the franchise obviously is, there's no indication yet if they'll be willing to speak to outside municipalities about breaking the contract.

Also, none of the news addresses the single-biggest issue in the Stadium Saga, which is funding, but it does open the door for more dialogue between elected leaders and the franchise.

Read the opinion from the county attorney here, or continue reading more about the implications of the decision on WTSP.com.

Forbes: Glazers Get Richer off Updated ManU IPO

Just posted from Forbes:

The amended filing for Manchester United’s public offering is going to give more of the IPO’s proceeds to the Glazer Family and less to the English soccer club than the original offering.

This change has infuriated MUST (Manchester United Supporters Trust), a large group of the club’s supporters who have been critical of the way Malcolm Glazer has run the Red Devils since gaining control in 2005 for $1.47 billion.

In an email to Forbes, Duncan Drasdo, the chief executive of Manchester United Supporters Trust wrote: “In the original filing it was made absolutely clear that ALL of the proceeds of the IPO would go to paying down debt the Glazers have loaded onto Manchester United. The revised filing reveals they now plan to take HALF OF THE IPO PROCEEDS FOR THEMSELVES. Furthermore the amount raised to pay down debt will be relatively insignificant (£75m) leaving £350m of their debt still on our club. There is now no doubt that this IPO is bad for Manchester United supporters, Manchester United Football Club and any investors gullible enough to pay the inflated price they’ve attached to inferior shares which have just 1/10 of the voting rights of the Glazers shares and no dividends. Their bare faced cheek is almost unbelievable.”

Manchester United commenced its IPO yesterday, offering of 16,666,667 Class A Ordinary Shares. Those shares consist of the club offering 8,333,334 Class A Ordinary Shares and the Glazer family offering 8,333,333 Class A Ordinary Shares. The underwriters (Jeffries Co., Credit Suisse Securities, J.P. Morgan, BofA Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank Securities) have an option to purchase up to an additional 2,500,000 Class A Ordinary Shares from the selling shareholder. The Class A Ordinary Shares will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange and will trade under the symbol “MANU.”

You can read the amended filing at the bottom of the page here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Odds & Ends: Dollars & Cents

It's belated, but a tip of the hat to the Glazer family for embracing the NFL's new 85% blackout threshhold. As I wrote before, it was hardly a concession to the fans from the league, but the Glazers made the right choice in making it as easy as possible for their games to be televised, instead of opting for a higher threshhold that might have encouraged a few more fans to buy tickets.

Meanwhile, the family's other team, Manchester United, remains the world's most valuable franchise at $2.23 billion, according to Forbes. Ho-hum. It makes the Bucs' sinking value (now $981 million) an easy pill to swallow.

As for the $12 million Hillsborough County wants back from the Bucs, you won't find any Glazer sympathizers in Daniel Ruth's family.

In baseball-land, the Yankees are the sport's most valuable team ($1.85 billion) and Derek Jeter is one of its richest stars. Which produces little surprise when his new Tampa home is valued at $12.3 million, nearly twice as much as any other home in the city.

Finally, one addition to the Stadium Subsidy post from Tuesday: the Cubbies are getting closer and closer to a little action too. Here's an update, free of opinion (well, my opinion at least).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Buckhorn Creating Leverage for Rays

It usually takes a well-timed trip to a rival city. Just ask the Chicago White Sox. Or San Francisco Giants. Or Mario Lemeiux and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pro teams in search of new stadiums typically "explore" a few rival cities to drum up leverage in their current market...something I predicted the Rays would do eventually. But while owner Stu Sternberg has indicated there may be "at least five" baseball-less markets better-equipped for the Rays than Tampa Bay, he hasn't started naming any of the cities he might consider down the road.

He hasn't had to.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has been the region's most vocal stadium supporter since taking office, has - on several occasions - named potential threat cities.

"We're not going to let that team go to Charlotte or go to Las Vegas or go anywhere else," he told the Tampa Tribune Friday. "That is our team, and we intend to keep it our team, and however that works out, wherever it works out has yet to be determined."

Forget the fact that Charlotte is having trouble supporting its basketball team and nobody has suggested a baseball team in a region that lacks disposable income.

Forget the fact that baseball has made zero indication its interested in a move to Las Vegas, a metro even more driven by tourism than Tampa Bay. And that the city draws just 4,400 fans a game to its AAA stadium and cannot put an arena/stadium deal together to save its life.

And forget the fact that even Hall-of-Famer Peter Gammons admitted that Major League Baseball has run out of new cities to "blackmail" current cities.

Preparing for a next generation baseball stadium in Tampa Bay is responsible; but pulling competitor cities out of thin air may be counterproductive.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Odds & Ends: Stadium Subsidies

Dissapear for a week, miss a lot of headlines. I've actually been in Seattle observing the city's push for a new arena; the similarities between Seattle's stadium saga and Tampa Bay's are striking. There's been a lot of coverage about how much of the $490M bill the public will be footing, as well as the lack of new economic development it is expected to create.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch...

The Tampa Tribune stirs up more talk of a Downtown Tampa stadium with a possible land swap near Channelside, even though "no one mentioned baseball" during a meeting between the property owners and the city. While the idea would certainly help assemble land for a downtown stadium, the article neglects the fact that land isn't the problem in the stadium saga; funding is.

And, for those of you keeping score at home, the Rays' average attendance continues to hang around the same disappointing numbers (20,812). Fortunately, their TV numbers remain very strong and they'll be rewarded for it in the next few years.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Buckhorn: "We Need to Start Looking at Other Options"

In one of his most direct comments on the Rays' Stadium Saga since taking office, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told WTVT today that "we need to start looking at other options" after Commissioner Bud Selig once again criticized Tampa Bay's attendance.

"If the business model doesn't work in St. Petersburg, if the fans are not attending, if the corporations are not buying tickets, if the stadium is outdated, then something needs to change and something will change, whether we like it or not," Buckhorn told the station.

However, as I've said countless times, we still have no evidence that "the business model doesn't work." As WTSP's Adam Freeman reported today, the Rays are one of the league's most profitable teams and the franchise is worth double what it was when Stu Sternberg purchased it.

"Nowhere in our agreement with the Rays has the city accepted responsibility for attendance at the Trop," St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster told WTVT. "Per our agreement that runs through 2027, we build the house. We pay for the house and you play baseball."

Buckhorn acknowledged that he's "got to be careful because they have a contract," but added that "I can't see the Rays continuing to play in that environment with that type of fan support."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bud Don't Wanna Work, He Just Wants to Bang on the Drum All Day

It may be the All-Star Break, but MLB Commissioner Bud Selig keeps banging the Rays' attendance drum at every opportunity, calling their 29th-ranked average "inexcusable" and "disappointing."

But the good folks at DRays Bay put the situation in a bit of perspective and fire right back at the commissioner:
It bears repeating that the team is one of 17 teams in baseball whose 2012 attendance figures are ahead of the 2011 pace. When you consider the fact the team has been without its marquee player since the end of April and has limped through the games since with more injuries and usage of players that were picked up off scrap heaps, it is rather amazing the team has seen an increase of 1,314 per game over last season.

After three consecutive seasons of declining attendance, the team is seeing an improvement at the turnstiles this season. At the current pace, 138,035 more fans will have taken in a game at Tropicana Field in 2012 than they did last season.
Mr. Selig, it is rather inexcusable that the teams currently in first and second place in the A.L. Central are down in their attendance figures this season than last season. The Chicago White Sox are seeing 1,285 less fans per game this season despite the fact they are leading the division while Cleveland is seeing 1,851 less fans despite being just one game out of the wildcard at 44-41. How about the Angels, who are 48-38 and leading the wildcard standings and yet are seeing 1,755 less fans per game?

It is inexcusable to keep beating this dead horse unless the master wants to help fix the situation by facilitating a move to the more populated side of the bay. Over the last 18 months, the Tampa side of the bay has seen their population grow by more than three percent while the St. Petersburg side of the bay has grown just one-tenth of a percent. It should be more inexcusable that the Twins have a gorgeous new stadium and are seeing 4,313 less fans per game this season in a market where they are they have at least two generations of fans. It should be more inexcusable that your players can be arrested for drunk driving and not be suspended. It should be inexcusable that you let your personal bias about instant replay take over the national discussion despite the fact the majority of fans do want replay (Rasmussen 2009, mlb.com 2011).

Mr. Olney - if we all could make choices so easily. Those choices can be influenced by a still higher than national average unemployment rate, or the unpopular surcharges implemented by the Rays when purchasing tickets within 5 hours of first pitch, or even the tiered-pricing model that they and other teams around the league use as a pricing model. I want to take my son to the game on Sunday for his 7th birthday but I would be lying if the $48.90 pricetag for two seats in the upper deck of the left field area did not give me great pause while staring at a higher electric bill due to the blistering summer heat in central Florida in these summer months. It could also be the fact the stadium is poorly located and there are only so many people that can make an hour-long commute in bay-area rush hour traffic to make a game during the week.

The choice that should be made here is to stop pointing fingers and start talking and writing about solutions to the issues, in the best interest of the sport. If bloggers from their proverbial basements can do it, certainly it can be done at the national level.
By no means do I think the Rays' attendance situation is a "good" one, but the more you remind fans of it, the more likely it is to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

UPDATE: Rays Index writes, "Hey Bud Selig, Shut The Hell Up"

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Glazers' Financials in Spotlight

With Manchester United filing for an IPO in New York, details are being revealed of how the club has loaned money to its owners - and how debt has been paid by the Glazer family. Reuters has a good recap.

But also in interesting Glazer financial news this weekend, Bill Varian reports in the Tampa Bay Times that Hillsborough County is preparing to re-allocate $12 million in tax money set aside for a Buccaneers practice facility:
"It's not the Buccaneers' money," said commission Chairman Ken Hagan, a regular at Bucs games. "It's the taxpayers' money.

"With the increasingly challenging times we have, we cannot afford to leave that money in escrow."

Late last month, commissioners voted unanimously to start the process of taking that money back.

Of course, the Bucs have built something that looks a lot like a first-class practice facility. It opened on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in 2007 at a price estimated at more than three times the set-aside.
But it's not the "practice facility" contemplated in the original stadium agreement.

That facility has yet to be built. And documents that called for reimbursement for its construction set no timetable for it to be built. Therefore, the county can't take back the money for the life of the agreement, which runs through 2028.

"We reserve our right to the $12 million allowance in perpetuity," Eric Land, former chief operating officer for the Buccaneers, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2007.
The Bucs didn't make a comment in the story, and it's not clear how tense the discussion would get between the team and the county.

However, any claim to the uncommitted money by the Bucs would seem to reinforce what I've written before: no matter how much revenues drop from tax collections, the money will always be there for sports teams.

To be continued...

Friday, July 6, 2012

Attendance Talk and the Stadium Stalemate

You know it's a slow news day at the Tampa Tribune when they crank out another "attendance watch" story (hey, I do it too!).

Michael Sasso writes:
With the season reaching its midpoint this week, an average of 20,583 fans have turned out for the Rays' 43 games at Tropicana Field. That's up a bit more than 1,300 fans a game, for a 7 percent increase over this time last year, according to the baseball data website Baseball-Reference.com.

More eyeballs also are tuning in to Rays broadcasts on Fox's Sun Sports. Viewership is up 62 percent over this time last year, according to Nielsen figures. The average broadcast is being viewed in about 99,000 homes.

The better turnout at the Trop is encouraging news for fans who want to see the Rays stick around the Tampa area long-term. However, it probably won't quiet the critics who are pushing for a new stadium.

You might have to multiply the 1,300-fan increase by 10 to do that, said one prominent observer.

"Now 13,000, then you've got an article," said St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, who has demanded that the Rays fulfill their contract to play in St. Petersburg.
What we're seeing at Tropicana Field mimics the trend league-wide: more fans taking in games. And while the Rays are still 29th in the league and unlikely to move very much, there could be a little bump at The Trop with more Red Sox and Yankees games on the horizon and only four real weak mid-week series left on the calendar.

But perhaps an even bigger takeaway from the attendance article is that it's been two years since Stu Sternberg issued his ultimatum to St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay, and we still have no real news in the Rays' Stadium Saga.

It may continue that way until the caucus commissioned by the Greater Tampa and St. Pete chambers of commerce releases its inevitable findings. But the effort, initially launched in December 2010, was expected to produce a report in early 2012. That was delayed to June 2012, but has since been delayed again. It's unclear if the delay is related to the complexity of the research or the political climate, still unfriendly to the multi-county tax that may be necessary to get a stadium built.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Glazers File IPO for Manchester United

As first reported a month ago, the Glazer family will sell shares of Manchester United on the NYSE after filing an IPO on Tuesday, according to the New York Times:
The club set a preliminary fund-raising target of $100 million to determine registration fees. It had previously hoped to raise about $1 billion in either Hong Kong or Singapore. Manchester United had traded on the London Stock Exchange before Malcolm Glazer, an American who also controls the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team, took the company private in a $1.45 billion buyout in 2005.

In its prospectus on Tuesday, Manchester United, a soccer team founded by railway workers in 1878, says it qualifies as an “emerging growth company” under the Jumpstart Our Business Start-Ups Act of 2012 because it generated less than $1 billion in revenue in its last fiscal year. That exempts the team from some financial reporting requirements for up to five years, including having its internal controls approved by an auditor.

The filing also lays out a share structure that would allow the Glazer family to keep control of the team even while selling equity. Manchester United plans to sell an undisclosed number of Class A shares, which have one vote each. The Glazer family will hold Class B shares, which will have 10 votes apiece, effectively keeping the club’s management within its control.
The potential for Man. U - the most valuable sports franchise in the world - is great, even though the club hasn't profited very much the last few years. Part of the problem is the Glazers were paying outrageous interest rates on the majority of the team they financed, but a large 2010 payment helped alleviate the burden.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Bullets Fly Into Tropicana Field

Either St. Pete residents really, really, really hate Tropicana Field....or they just really like shooting guns at the big spaceship-looking thing in the middle of the city.

A couple of weeks after a bullet fell from the dome and bruised a fan at The Trop, my 10 News colleague Adam Freeman reports that dozens of bullets hit the stadium on a routine basis:
According to annual inspection reports on the facility, 44 bullet holes were repaired on the roof in 2010. Twenty-two more needed to be patched up in 2011.

The reports call it an "ongoing problem," and state there were enough holes to cause fears that rain water could be leaking in.

Zeoli says Rays staff will sometimes even find bullet fragments in the rafters.
Fans at The Trop have nothing to worry about since the few bullets shot at the dome are unlikely to carry enough momentum to hurt someone inside.

But it's certainly one of those stories that makes you go, "hmmmmmm...."

NFL Blackout Fallout, Day 2

In watching and reading the local & national news reports on the NFL's new blackout policy, the reactions were predictably upbeat. Even though the facts weren't always spot-on.

As I wrote yesterday, the NFL isn't making any real concessions since it is still threatening fans with blackouts if they don't buy enough tickets; they've merely admitted the high thresholds may be unrealistic in modern-day medium-markets.

And since the Bucs haven't yet said they'd go with the 85% option (because it might cost them money), it certainly is a bit a early for fans to rejoice. But that won't stop media outlets from celebrating!

Last night, FOX 13 in Tampa reported that "Team owners passed a rule that will let games be broadcast, even if just 85 percent of the tickets have been sold." Of course, it failed to mention "if the team chooses the 85% option." But then FOX piled it on:

"If that rule had been in place last year, not one Buccaneer game would have been blacked out."

Not true. As the Tampa Tribune correctly reported, "five of the seven games would have been televised in the Tampa market, with only the home opener on Sept. 11 against Detroit and Sept. 25 against Atlanta (blacked out)." Again, if the Bucs set their threshold to 85%.

To its credit, FOX 13 acknowledged the rules are basically irrelevant in today's modern TV era where the league makes $3 billion annually from the networks. But hopefully the positive reaction is enough to convince the teams and NFL that it's a good idea to make games as easy to watch for their local fans.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

NFL Loosens Blackout Policy, But What's Concession to Fans?

The Wall Street Journal reports that the NFL will loosen its blackout policy to include games that are only 85% sold:
Team owners have passed a resolution that starting this season will allow for local broadcasts of NFL games even when as few as 85% of tickets are sold. Under the new rule, each team has more flexibility to establish its own seat-sales benchmark as long as it is 85% or higher. To discourage teams from setting easy benchmarks, teams will be forced to share more of the revenue when they exceed it.
The league acknowledges that HD televisions are one of many reasons why fans would rather watch a game at home than at the stadium. And loosening the rule (amid political pressure) appears to make the concession to fans that they shouldn't have to buy expensive tickets if they want to see their team.

Except fans still need to buy tickets if they want their games televised - just not as many tickets as before. If the NFL was really serious about making games available to fans, they'd eliminate the blackout rule altogether. And allow/encourage teams to give away unused tickets to youth groups instead of having to "buy" them.

But without any blackout threat, fans might really be more likely to watch games from home instead of from $77 seats. This way, the NFL hopes to get the best of both worlds: ever-growing television revenues as well as ever-growing ticket revenues.

At least they're reportedly ready to make other improvements too, including instant replays for fans and wireless internet in the stadium.