Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year, New Push for Progress on Rays Stadium Saga

Both the Times and the Trib listed the Stadium Saga as one of the biggest stories facing Tampa Bay in 2014.

According to the Times, its one of the region's "seven biggest stories" {link to Times site}:
After four years of stalemates and failed negotiations between the Rays and Foster, incoming Mayor Rick Kriseman has an opportunity to start fresh. The Rays understandably want to look in Tampa at potential stadium sites, and it is up to Kriseman to find a creative way to let the team do that while protecting St. Petersburg's interests. It is unclear how either side of the bay would find the money to help pay for a new stadium that likely will cost more than $500 million. That's why the Rays need to look for the best site on either side of the bay so the tougher financial discussions can begin.

The Rays' lease with St. Petersburg to play in Tropicana Field expires in 2027, and every year that ticks off that deal means less negotiating leverage for the city. Six years have been wasted, and Tampa Bay cannot let another three or four years go to waste if this region hopes to keep major-league baseball here for the long term.
The holdup is that St. Pete has insisted the Rays discuss finances and compensation for breaking a contract early, while the team doesn't want to until they can search specific sites.

I'm not sure three or four more years of inaction would necessarily doom the long-term prospects of MLB in the region since the current contract runs for another 13 years.

Meanwhile, the Trib says progress "needn't be a stretch next year":
Kriseman should acknowledge that reality and also recognize the city could benefit should the team move. The Tropicana site could offer St. Petersburg some powerful redevelopment opportunities.

The team’s ownership, for its part, needs to demonstrate a commitment to the area and a willingness to make financial contributions toward a new stadium.
As far as I can remember, this is the first time the Trib has called upon the Rays to stop stalling and talk finances.  Of course, the Times has been suggesting it for years, only to give the team a free pass at every opportunity.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Dan Ruth on Hagan's BCS Jobs Claim

As if Deadspin, Shadow of the Stadium, and Politifact weren't enough, Pulitzer-winning columnist Dan Ruth was the latest to pile it on Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan this weekend for some unrealistic job claims associated with the 2017 BCS Championship game, now set for Tampa {link to Times' site}:
In his excitement over attracting the championship game, Hagan claimed the clash of titans would generate roughly 2,000 jobs and pave the streets of Tampa in gold. The commissioner based his assertion on a couple of articles he admitted he had only "skimmed" attesting to the pile-driving economic engine a college title contest could visit upon a city.

Of course, such estimates are complete phooey.
And yet, despite a solid and growing amount of data to the contrary, public officials like Hagan persist in inaccurately claiming a Super Bowl or a college football championship game will generate impressive job growth and profits for the host city. Poppycock, but understandable poppycock.
After all, you couldn't very well expect a sitting county commissioner to say something like: "Even though the NCAA championship game won't do diddly to our bottom line and even though it might only create a handful of jobs, and not ones with much of a future at that, having the event here will look really swell on television and the catering will be fabulous."

Elected officials are supposed to be all about monetary returns influencing their decisions, not martinis.
The irony is that Hagan's comments appeared in the Times and went largely unchallenged initially.

But Ruth's hard line against sports' economic engine claims contradicts the stance the Times' editorial board seems to take with the Rays, which - if nothing else - attests to the independence columnists enjoy at the paper.

Trigaux's 2014 Prediction for the Rays' Stadium Saga:

From Robert Trigaux's Sunday column, "For 2014, 10 predictions for the new No. 3 state in the country" {link to Times' site}:
The wishful idea of eventually relocating the Tampa Bay Rays to the Channelside area as a hip, urban sports stadium and catalyst to downtown development will suffer major setbacks as more critics point out the area's poor road access and parking infrastructure. If seriously boosting home game attendance is the goal, a Channelside destination will be hard-pressed to deliver a surge in ticket buyers. And that may spark new debate on alternate locations.
All good points.  For more on each topic, visit previous Shadow of the Stadium coverage:

Bill Foster Wishes Rick Kriseman Luck on Rays Stadium Saga

From Bill Foster's exit interview with Mark Puente {link to Times' site}:
Reflecting on another decision, Foster said he is proud he protected taxpayers in the stadium stalemate with the Tampa Bay Rays.

He hopes Kriseman does the same, saying: "If he handles this situation the way I did, the Rays will be here in five years. If he deviates, then I don't think they'll be south of the Mason-Dixon line."

Although Foster served on the council before he became mayor, he said his family wasn't prepared for repeated criticism he received as the city's leader. Attacks from residents and editorial boards were some of the hardest parts of the job, he added.
What ever could Foster be talking about?

Actually, he brings up some good points that have been addressed previously in this blog:

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Reader calls Henderson a "Lazy Sportswriting Diva"

Gee, I hope this Tampa Tribune letter to the editor wasn't referring to me when it referenced "lazy sportswriter divas!"
How utterly offensive and disgusting were the comments by (Joe) Henderson about the Rays not going anywhere but Tampa. Saying Montreal was not “stupid enough” to build a stadium without a team was a direct slam at St. Pete. He still has not accepted the fact that St. Pete has a team, and Tampa does not — despite the lazy reporting of many sport “pros” who call the team Tampa.

Back during the baseball wars across the bay, there were many ugly comments coming from the Tampa side. Unfortunately, the Tampa fans did not have the energy to support the team, just complain.

I can’t wait to hear the complaints of people trying to get to downtown Tampa at rush hour for a game. I’ve already talked with a friend in Tampa who said he prefers going to the Trop, rather than having your downtown location.

Seems like the only folks who do not like going to the game at the Trop are those who want to make money off the team, and the lazy sportswriter divas. Fans love it!
I have to imagine Henderson has developed a thick skin over his years as a sports columnist, and I also imagine its not the worst he's been called... 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Romano's Rays Christmas Carol

From John Romano's Christmas Eve column {link to Times' site} sung to the tune of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town":
You better come now
You better not stop
You better say Wow!
When you're at the Trop
Dang those Rays are leaving this town.

They're studying the lease
And checking it twice
They're gonna shout out
We can't pay David Price
Dang those Rays are leaving this town.

They miss crowds when they're playing
They curse when you're away
They know if you've bought beer or food
If not, there's hell to pay.

Ohhh, you better come now
You better bring Pop
You better know how
To charge at the Trop
Dang those Rays are leaving this town.

Politifact Debunks BCS Championship Jobs Claim

If you didn't believe the evidence this blog or Deadspin provided to refute Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan's inflated BCS Championship jobs claim, maybe you'll believe PolitiFact?
Economists said those kinds of numbers tend to be grossly inflated, and are difficult to parse, especially when the determining factors aren’t well-defined. Even with Hagan’s relatively conservative offhand guess, those experts said the numbers are wide of the goalposts.

We rate this statement Mostly False.
Coming on the heels of another PolitiFact ruling against Braves stadium econimic claims, its good to see fact-checkers getting more involved in stadium subsidy issues.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Good Christmas Week Reading!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

FCC Moves Forward with Blackout Ban

According to USA Today (owned by the same company I work for), the FCC voted in favor of a proposal to eliminate blackouts:
"The sports blackout rules were originally adopted nearly 40 years ago when game ticket sales were the main source of revenue for sports leagues...," the FCC said. "Changes in the sports industry in the last four decades have called into question whether the sports blackout rules remain necessary to ensure the overall availability of sports programming to the general public."

Even if the government eliminates its rule, nothing would preclude leagues, networks and cable outlets from agreeing to their own deals that would include a blackout rule, either matching the current structure or agreeing to a revised one.
The NFL pledged to fight any change in the rules, pointing to recent rule-changes as evidence.  Only one game out of 224 this year (Bengals at Chargers, Dec. 1) has been blacked out, although the Bills could make it a second this weekend.  According to USA Today, 50% of the 210 games were blacked out in 1978.

Henderson: Montreal Nothing But a Boogeyman

Following Michael Sasso's Wednesday piece in the Tampa Tribune about the likelihood Montreal could steal the Rays, columnist Joe Henderson follows it up today with a nice piece identifying the Canadian city as the "bogeyman who can help scare this area into building a new stadium for your Tampa Bay Rays."
Mind you, I don’t think we have anything to be scared about. If the Rays move anywhere, it will be across the bay to downtown Tampa. There has been precious little urgency about getting it done, though, because the Rays have no alternative to the catwalk-covered catastrophe known as Tropicana Field.

They probably still don’t, but it might help if local politicians believe they do. If you’ve ever been to Montreal, you know what a dynamic, lovely place it is.
As well-documented on this blog, I don't think the Rays will move to Montreal either.  And I don't think they will move to any other region, either.

But as Peter Gammons said, MLB teams "need to be able to blackmail" cities.

And as Jerry Reinsdorf said, "a savvy negotiator creates leverage."

So sure, why not use Montreal as the boogeyman?

Henderson also echoed my 2009 post that predicted the Rays would take a trip to some "MLB-starved city...a trip like that would normally go under-the-radar, but a well-placed call to someone like Peter Gammons or Rob Neyer will drop the tip that the Rays are exploring other communities."

In Henderson's words:
This is all about pressure, though, so, I would expect a few well-timed leaks from mystery sources saying the Rays might be headed to the cold, frozen north unless they get a new stadium. That might finally get things going here.

And when the new place eventually opens somewhere in Tampa, we can finally close this chapter of the team’s history and maybe offer a merci to our Canadian friends for helping to make it happen. We should appreciate them for stepping up.
That's just part of the stadium subsidy blueprint.  So rather than panic, Rays fans in Tampa Bay should just accept it, prepare for it, and - why not? - chuckle at it.

A smarter approach may be to figure out how much the team would be willing to put toward a new stadium and see if the region still wants to close the funding gap with public money over the next 10-15 years.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Perspective on Tampa's 2017 BCS Championship Bid

Tampa scored a nice victory this week by landing the 2017 BCS college football championship {link to Times' site}.  This comes on the heels of a successful NCAA hockey Frozen Four bid and a string of other events planned for Tampa.

I've written previously about how these bids often offer big-money concessions to leagues to land the events, but apparently, it's more than worth it since the BCS Championship will bring thousands of jobs to Tampa Bay
Hagan said he expects the championship to be an economic boon to Tampa "in the range" of the Super Bowl, bringing somewhere between $250 million and $350 million to the area, along with approximately 1,700 to 1,800 full-time jobs.
I don't know how Hagan came up with these numbers and I don't know how the Times allowed that to go unchallenged. But Deadspin had the same questions:
If Hagan wants to explain how a single game, at a stadium that already exists, is going to create 1,700 full-time jobs, we're happy to listen.

There hasn't been a ton of research on the economic impact of hosting a big sporting event, but what there is isn't pretty. Since Hagan cited the Super Bowl, we'll cite Philip Porter's research that found the net local impact of six different Florida Super Bowls was effectively zero, with the money going to out-of-town hotel owners, and the events actively crowding out other businesses. Or Dennis Coates's and Brad Humphreys's study showing no change in per capita income in Super Bowl host cities. Slightly more optimistically, there's Robert Baade's and Victor Matheson's study of 25 Super Bowls that found the NFL overstated the economic influx by a factor of 10, and local politicians exaggerated even more.
The good news for Hagan - even if the printed quote was missing proper context - is those numbers will likely be repeated over and over the next three years.

Regardless, we hope the BCS Championship will be a good thing for Tampa, at least bringing a nice little retail boost - and lots of "heads in beds" - on New Year's week 2017.  And another tip of the cap to Rob Higgins, the man behind the bids for the Tampa Bay Sports Commission.  He told the Times the bid's social media strategy was a large part of its success.

It's just too bad we may never know everything that was included in the bid.  Like how many public resources, tax breaks, and other concessesions were offered to get the game.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

More on Braves & Atlanta's White Flight

Remember this little tweet on Nov. 11?
Well, the AP explains it a little more in-depth this weekend:
[T]he decision also highlights long-standing disparities over wealth, where people live and transportation — all facets of life connected to race and social class in Atlanta. The Braves will be moving from an area that's predominantly black and relatively poor compared to whiter Cobb County — where the team says more ticket-buyers live. Although it is long past segregation, the hometown of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is far from integrated, and the city's politics, business and even sports teams reflect that gap.

Consider what Rick Grimes views from his home blocks from Turner Field each time there's a game: fans, mostly white, streaming past on the sidewalk.

"I would say the large majority of people who support the Braves are white folks," said Grimes, who is African-American.

While no one would reasonably accuse the Braves of making a decision based on race or class, one scholar says major attractions often migrate toward money.

"It becomes a class issue in a lot of ways," said Larry Keating, a Georgia Tech professor emeritus who has studied Atlanta's development. "A lot of the primo stuff that is highly valued by the society ends up going where the wealthiest areas are."
Continue reading here.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Weekend Reading: Rowdies, Recruiting, Cleveland Clowns

  1. Tampa Tribune: Bill Edwards buys Rowdies, will add 1,100 seats to Al Lang
  2. Priceonomics: Stanford athletics overcome academic hurdles with fundraising
  3. Field of Schemes: Stadiums. Don't. Make. Money.
  4. Crain's Cleveland Business: The NFL rarely loses

Tampa Lands 2016 NCAA Frozen Four

Nice shout-out in this morning's Tampa Trib for Tampa Bay Sports Commission Executive Director Rob Higgins after he helped land the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four:
Even those who don’t know a puck from a pansy should be pleased Tampa will host the 2016 Frozen Four — the NCAA college hockey championship.
Under executive director Rob Higgins, and with the help of political and business leaders, the agency has been impressive in recruiting sporting events that help fill hotel rooms, restaurants and local attractions.
The key is "heads in beds," and these kind of events seem to provide much more real economic benefits than things like the Republican National Convention (which kept locals away from Tampa) or permanent sporting events, which seem to merely transplant spending from one part of the region to another.

Another thing: while the Tampa Bay Sports Commission likely had to offer concessions (financial help for facilities, hotels, transportation, police, etc), the bang-for-the-buck will likely better for these 19,000 fans than it would for an event like the NCAA Basketball tournament, which tends to draw more interest and competition.

That's why the successes and failures of the commission don't hinge on events like Super Bowls, but smaller (and cheaper) tournaments that attract out-of-towners to the region.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Montreal Feasibility Study Says Landing Team Would Cost $1 Billion

If Montreal wants the Rays someday, it'll cost more than a billion bucks. 

That's according to a new $400,000 feasibility study (not sure if that money was counted in the $1B) done by Ernst & Young for a group of Montreal businessmen looking to bring MLB back to town.  The leader of the group is former Expos player Warren Cromartie.

On one hand, the study concluded the city could easily sustain a baseball team, given the region's 3.8 million population.  That's slightly more than Tampa Bay's, depending how you measure a metro.

But on the other hand, there doesn't appear to be anywhere near enough money to build a new stadium, estimated at $500 million, plus another $525 million to buy a team.  Furthermore, the proposed stadium would be open-air, similar to Minnesota's Target Field.

From the "you can make a statistic say anything" department, the study concluded a new Montreal stadium would draw between 27,600 and 31,600 fans per night.  This was based on resident polling and a comparison of attendance in Seattle, Minnesota, San Diego, Arizona, and Milwaukee (why not Tampa Bay?)

Of course, the study ignored the fact that the Expos were drawing fewer than 10,000 fans per game their final few year.  Maybe the study was conducted by Youppi! or Scott Boras.

How else to explain Quebecers newfound love for baseball?  Maybe they really are interested in seeing baseball in a brand-new outdoor stadium.  But who knows if a team could sustain 27,000 fans a night once the "new ballpark smell" wears off (the Mets, Padres, D-Backs, White Sox, Mariners, Astros, Indians, and Marlins couldn't).

Too bad we will probably never know, since there doesn't seem to be anyone in Canada looking to blow a billion bucks on baseball.

Which Will Get Bigger Play in Tomorrow's Papers?

You make the call - which piece of "news" will get the front page of tomorrow's local papers?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Verducci on Rays Stadium Saga

A level-headed, honest take on the Rays' Stadium Saga from Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci:

Atlanta Shenanigans: Weather Channel Following Braves' Subsidy Plan

Neil deMause notes The Weather Channel may follow in the Atlanta Braves' footsteps and ink a subsidy deal in Cobb County:
The Marietta Daily Journal reports that these could include “significant” tax breaks for the Weather Channel agreeing to stay in town.

That sounds bad, and it is, but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Kyle Wingfield notes that at least the Weather Channel is talking about adding about 250 jobs at an average salary of $75,000. The Braves, meanwhile, are promising 4,014 jobs (some at projects surrounding the stadium) for a total payroll of $61 million, which is an average salary of … $15,000? Clearly those aren’t full-time jobs, which makes sense, since most baseball jobs aren’t.

Which means if you pro-rate it to maybe 1,500 full-time equivalent jobs, then Cobb is looking at shelling out at least $200,000 per job, which is just dismal. But then, “dismal” is increasingly looking like Cobb’s middle name.
So who else in Atlanta wants them some Cobb Co. tax dollars?  Home Depot?  Coca-Cola?  The Varsity?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Would Brewers Really Move to Fla.? Could Pinellas Co. Really Land Another Team?

My focus at the Winter Meetings Tuesday was spring training and what fallout we'd eventually see if the Blue Jays and Astros continue their plans to move to Palm Beach Gardens.

Of course, there was the recent news about Dunedin (and thus, Pinellas Co.) courting the Brewers.  But after speaking to some Pinellas County commissioners today, I learned of another idea that had been thrown against the wall (who knows if it will stick): possibly expanding Clearwater's Brighthouse Field to accommodate a second spring team.

Granted, its a longshot, but the creative move would qualify for matching state spring training retention funds (even if Pinellas just steals a team from another Florida city).

Then again, one good source in Milwaukee told me the Brewers would only entertain the Florida idea to drum up leverage to get their desired renovations in Phoenix.

Meanwhile, Pinellas has its hands full with all the mouths that want to be fed from the tourist tax trough...a Clearwater aquarium, beach renourishment, and a BMX park are just a few of the interests that have requested county money.  And if the Rays want the $200 million or so that will soon be available they'd better ask fast!  (Hillsborough, by the way, cannot bond nearly that much from new bed taxes)

Either way, this is all good hot stove talk on a day where the Rays declined all comments on their Stadium Saga....

Read more about Pinellas County's plan on WTSP.com.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Minneapolis Faces Tough Stadium Funding Questions (Almost Too Late)

Stadium subsidy deficits sometimes take eight or 10 years to destroy a community's budget, or in the case of Glendale, at least until your team threatens to move again.  But in Minneapolis, there's already trouble brewing for the Vikings' new yet-to-be-opened stadium.

According to Field of Schemes, the state of Minnesota's budget & economic forecast indicates its stadium reserve fund will be depleted by 2016:
And after 2016, what happens? Minneapolis tax revenue currently going to pay off the convention center should be available starting in 2020, but until then, it’s anyone’s guess. Schowalter said the state could “restructure” the payments to forestall any budget gap until the convention center money starts flowing, but that would mean higher payments later, and the convention center money is also going to be needed to pay for previously approved renovations to the Timberwolves‘ Target Center, so … I’m serious, this is really the kind of thing that should be explained in a budget forecast document. If budget forecasts were really about the explaining.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

St. Pete Adds Another Lawyer to its Stable

In addition to outgoing mayor Bill Foster (a lawyer), incoming mayor Rick Kriseman (a lawyer), and city attorney John Wolfe, the City of St. Pete will retain the services of Minneapolis attorney Corey Ayling, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Ayling helped Minneapolisa fight off any Twins relocation/contraction about a decade ago, and St. Pete is reportedly hoping to lean on his experience...just in case.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Dunedin Courts Brewers Spring Training

Earlier this year, the State of Florida announced $5 million in state money available annually to any municipality willing to put up matching funds for spring training stadium construction.

And while it has prompted several Florida municipalities to compete against each other to offer monster stadium subsidies to teams that may not have otherwise considered leaving Florida, it will also make it easier for the Sunshine State to steal teams away from Arizona.

The Phoenix Business Journal reports the Brewers, who have played the spring training stadium subsidy game before, are entertaining offers in Dunedin, Fla., which soon could lose the Blue Jays:
Somewhat surprisingly, a top Brewers executive did not deny the possibility the club would consider Florida.

“We are reviewing all of our options and have not ruled anything out at this point,” Bob Quinn, the Brewers executive vice president of finance and administration, told me via email late Monday.
(The team's recent contract extension) allows the Brewers to terminate the lease if the city of Phoenix does not make improvements the team has demanded to the athletic training facilities, office and clubhouse, according to MLB.com.

The Blue Jays’ contract with Dunedin expires in 2017 and the team has signed a letter of intent to move to Palm Beach Gardens on Florida’s east coast when a new stadium is built there, the Tampa Bay Business Journal reports.
Four years ago, I criticized a Tampa Tribune editorial that sensationalized Grapefruit League flight.  I even suggested Florida could pick up a team by courting the Brewers.  But I also wrote that Ft. Myers' City of Palms Park, former home of the Red Sox, would be the state's top option for a new team.

So don't be surprised if Lee Co. and Pinellas Co. eventually duke it out over which one can offer more money to court the Brewers.  And don't be surprsied if its all just a ploy by the team to get Phoenix to pay for some major upgrades.

After all, Florida's stadium earmarks will ensure MLB - a $9 billion business - will never again have to pay for any real spring training stadium costs.

I hope to have some more next week when the Winter Meetings return to Orlando, Fla.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Rays Release Renovation Plans

Since there's no point in doing the same job twice, why don't we just rely on some tweets from today's press conference unveiling the Rays' plans for stadium renovations, including a 360-degree concourse around the stadium?
(More pictures posted over on the Shadow of a Stadium Twitter page)
There were plenty of "lipstick on a pig" comments across the Twitterverse, but these improvements make a lot of sense.  The Rays wouldn't say how much they're contributing on top of the $1.3 million from a city/team capital improvement escrow fund, other than "seven digits," bringing the total sum the team has spent on Tropicana Field renovations sinc 2005 to more than $20 million.

But not only will fans enjoy the improvements, the team will as well:
Fans in the outfield, who used to have to really hike around the park to get a beer, will now be able to just walk next door to the Captain Morgan-sponsored party deck.  Hopefully area taxis will benefit too.

The Rays also announced new ticket and concession discounts for fans {link to Times' story} and seems to be doing everything possible to increase their attendance (and revenue) at The Trop.
The big question: is it enough to reverse the decline previously identified as a "self-fulfilling prophecy?"

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Times Starts Cranking Up Pressure on Kriseman

St. Petersburg Mayor-Elect Rick Kriseman hasn't even assumed office yet but the editorial board for the Tampa Bay Times is making sure he knows a new Rays stadium is high on their priorities for his first 100 days.

A Sunday editorial titled, "On Rays, no time to waste," makes some decent points about how transit plans, bed tax contributions, and future development are all impacted by whether a new stadium is built (and where).

But in its attempts to direct Kriseman's handling of the delicate issue, the editorial board makes a few bold assumptions:
Every year that ticks off the Tampa Bay Rays' lease to play at Tropicana Field reduces leverage for St. Petersburg and makes it more likely the team could leave the region.
Yes, every year that goes by means fewer damages the Rays would presumably owe St. Pete for breaking its contract early.  But every year that goes by also means one extra guaranteed year of Rays baseball in St. Pete and Tampa Bay.  Is that a bad thing?

Furthermore, if the editorial board assumes all teams want to leave their stadiums when their contracts expire (actually, a decent hypothesis), shouldn't it be just as concerned about the Lightning possibly leaving in 2026?  Or the Bucs possibly leaving in 2028 for Los Angeles, London, or who knows where else?

(Not to mention, for the hundreth time, the Rays have a use agreement, not a lease)

The editorial also had this puzzling paragraph:
The economic rebound could stall, making it harder to allocate public money for a stadium and for the Rays to attract more fans. Deals for new stadiums across the country could be difficult for Tampa Bay to match. A new baseball commissioner could change the conversation in a way that hurts this region's effort to keep major-league baseball.
In one fell swoop, the Times makes the case that:
  1. Tampa Bay should consider public subsidies for a stadium now in case the economy sputters and we can't afford them later.
  2. Other cities that want baseball wouldn't be affected by the same sputtering economy.
  3. A new baseball commissioner could be even more "frustrated," "disappointed," and "concerned" than Bud Selig over the team's contract through 2027 and its inability to negotiate out of it.
In the previous paragraph, the Times also acknowledged that - given a choice - voters would likely object to stadium subsidies.  Yet, it has staked a clear position now that public subsidies should be on the table for a Downtown Tampa stadium.

The Times has also backed off any pressure on the Rays to compensate St. Pete for breaking its contract early, as well as for the Rays to "open their books" to actually demonstrate a financial need.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Good Thanksgiving Reads

To tide you over between the turkey and the yams, a sampling of what's going on in the world of stadia:
  • AJC and Peach Pundit: Cobb commissioners give go-ahead for $300M Braves subsidies without knowing who will pay for all of amenities.
  • Field of Schemes: Nationals asking for roof over 5yo stadium...STOP LAUGHING AT ME!
  • BizBallMaury: The NHL gets a new TV deal – don’t expect that cable bubble to burst anytime soon.
  • Field of Schemes: Cleveland to hand Browns “only” an extra $2 million a year because they weren’t held hostage like other NFL cities.
  • Field of Schemes: Los Angeles not enough to blackmail NFL cities into stadium subsidies; league now looks to London.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Stadiums Are Expensive; They're Also Retail

An office watercooler conversation this week about the top news stories of 2013 led to this conversation:
Co-worker: "Obviously, the Rays stadium is one of them."

Me: "Really? There hasn't been any movement or news all year."

Co-worker: "Well, that's the story I guess."
Sadly, the Stadium Stalemate drags on, but that won't stop the newspapers (or TV) from trying to advance the story any way possible.

Case-in-point: the Times' Stephen Nohlgren writes this morning the Braves' pending stadium deal could impact the Rays' stadium chances, and we can learn valuable lessons from Atlanta:
 • Stadiums are expensive, even without retractable roofs. Counting land, infrastructure and stadium, the Cobb project comes in at $670 million and is due to open for the 2017 season.

• The public purse often seals the deal, even with a franchise as rich as the Braves. Cobb County's share is $300 million.

Total costs in Atlanta — including a real estate development on the site — could top $1 billion, a "staggering figure,'' said Hillsborough County Commission Ken Hagan.

"But each project is unique.'' he said. "I don't think that model is a reflection of what may potentially happen here,''
There are already many questions about the Braves' deal, such as whether the deal will actually go through and whether they can survive with the bare number of parking spots.  Nohlgren does a good job to point out Tampa's funding options (rental car taxes, TIF money) could quickly dry up and there just isn't anywhere close to $300 million available in Hillsborough Co. for a new stadium.

But a few addendums to Nohlgren's article:
  • The $300 million Cobb Co. stadium subsidy will likely bypass a referendum.  It's probably a necessity in an age where taxpayers don't want to pay for stadiums, but how would that go over in Hillsborough?
  • Cobb Co. is paying $300 million for a retail center.  The Rays have even said baseball is a retail business.  So when Commissioner Ken Hagan tells the Times he could support tax money for a deal that "furthers county goals," was he talking about the high-wage technology investments that commission frequently mentions?  Or was he talking about low-paying retail jobs the Times editorial board frequently pans?
  • Many of Hillsborough County's commissioners have pledged no tax dollars for a stadium.  Ken Hagan has already broken from his original stance, but it could be very difficult for others to do so.
This blog's critics will quickly point to instances where retail subsidies have turned out well for a region.  But those usually occur in depressed areas, not thriving/up-and-coming areas.  And they usually come in the form of tax breaks for developers, not up-front cash to build out a complex.

Economists hate retails subsidies, and many elected leaders do too.  However, they sometimes forget that when a stadium is attached to them.

Monday, November 25, 2013

St. Pete Approves Trop Renovations

Not that there was any question about it, but St. Pete's council approved $1.3 million from the city's Tropicana Field capital fund going to stadium renovations.  The Tampa Tribune reports:
Chief among the improvements is $250,000 to create a 360-degree walkway that would allow fans to get from left field to right field without having to duck out into the stadium concourse.

The plan is to remove a few rows of seating to make a path that connects to existing walkways close to the right-field scoreboard. The new walkway would also link former Batter’s Eye Restaurant to the Captain Morgan party area.
Mayor Bill Foster recently repeated his warning that Major League Baseball does not see the Tampa Bay area as a viable baseball market. He said the city must honor its contract with the Rays and make the upgrades just as it expects the team to honor its agreement to play at the Trop.

“We are contractually obligated to do this as the Rays are contractually obliged to play 81 baseball games a year for the next 14 years,” he said.
The Rays said they'd withhold comment until a Dec. 3 press conference, but the capital fund renovations are also expected to include handrail, restroom, and parking lot lighting upgrades.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Weekend Reading List: Two Ends of Stadium Spectrum

Some easy reads to get you through the weekend:
  1. Tampa Bay Times - Kriseman committed to openness, progress on Rays
  2. Field of Schemes - Braves leaving parking troubles at The Ted behind for new stadium with less parking...which implies:
  3. Field of Schemes - the Braves may just think their fans are afraid of black people.
  4. The Sports Economist - NFL wants tight control of LA market, in-part to preserve relocation threats.
  5. Senate Press Release - U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and John McCain propose legislation to ban sports blackouts.

Foster Says MLB Wants Out of Tampa Bay (Again)

The Tampa Bay Times reports this morning:
As his last days in office tick away, Mayor Bill Foster on Thursday issued his most pessimistic declaration yet on the future of the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg and the Pinellas peninsula.

"I don't think there's anything in the equation that causes Major League Baseball to want to stay in Pinellas County," Foster said.
Not sure that comment is any more pessimistic than the one he made in September:
"It has become apparent to me that Major League Baseball has no intention of assisting the city and Rays in reaching a mutually beneficial solution," Foster wrote in a memo to the council. "Nor does Major League Baseball seem interested in a cooperative effort to keep the Rays in the Tampa Bay Region for the long term." 
Foster was villinized during his unsuccessful re-election campaign for not being able to strike a deal with the Rays, but it's clear he's still trying to explain the stalemate: the team and league want to be let out of their contract, but may not be willing to compensate the city for it.  That's why incoming mayor Rick Kriseman is about to enter some very difficult negotiations.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Foster May Have Won if He Talked More Rowdies

One of the biggest successes of Rick Kriseman's mayoral campaign was using the word "Rays" at least 100 times for every utterance of the word "Rowdies."  The challenger was able to turn one of Mayor Bill Foster's strengths in St. Pete - sporting events - into a weakness (Karl Rove would be proud).

Similarly, Foster should have played better to his strengths.  Under his watch: the Rays kept playing in St. Pete, the Honda Grand Prix enjoyed four great years, international baseball teams started playing games at Al Lang Field, and St. Pete lured the Rowdies over from Tampa.

The soccer club drew a modest 4,051 fans per game to Downtown St. Pete, and now, the city is considering a $1 million upgrade to make the stadium more soccer-friendly (reportedly, paid for by the team).

But the Trib's Christopher O'Donnell also reports that "a panel of experts from the Urban Land Institute recently recommended that the waterfront sports facility could be razed to make way for a multipurpose stadium" to open up the city's waterfront.

Could St. Pete be looking at a new Stadium Saga?

St. Pete Grand Prix Lands New Title Sponsor

Great news to read this morning:
According to a press release, the IndyCar season opener will now be known as "Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg."

Look for it from March 28-30, 2014.  Tickets go on-sale Dec. 1.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Rick Kriseman Assembling Staff, Talking Points

As St. Pete Mayor-Elect Rick Kriseman assembles his 40-man roster transition team, he is also starting to hone his talking points on hot-button issues such as the Stadium Saga.

Among those assisting Kriseman in his transition will be St. Pete's Senior Administrator Rick Musset, who has been instrumental in Rays negotiations over the years.  Also, former ABC Coalition spokesman Craig Sher, who has emerged as one of the region's most knowledgable and realistic stadium experts.

Meanwhile, Kriseman has been addressing reporters' questions on early conversations with the Rays, and spent about 15 minutes on 98.7 The Fan Tuesday night talking baseball:
Many fans may still be hoping the Stadium Saga resolves itself in a matter of months, but don't count on it.

Letter: No Taxes for Rays Stadium

A "Letter of the Day" in the pages of the Tampa Tribune implores citizens to stand up against any possible vote for public stadium subsidies:
Name an industry other than professional sports in which the eventual customer is called upon to fund the purchase of a venue at which this same customer will eventually purchase the product.
You probably cannot. However, this is exactly what Major League Baseball does when it threatens to move a team unless the local residents finance a new stadium. Were municipal bonds floated or was there a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for the International Plaza?
Of course not. The land was purchased, it was built and you either go there or you don’t. I like the Rays. I go to some games. However, this citizen will never vote to approve public dollars to finance a stadium.
I find it interesting that “super agent” Scott Boras thinks the Rays should move because not enough fans fill the seats such that the exorbitant players’ salaries can be paid. This is quite self-serving on his part as agents are usually paid based upon the size of the contract they negotiate.
Dave Mullan
Of course, much of Hillsborough County is conservative, so getting a vote approved to fund a stadium would be hard anyway.  Most politicians know any new stadium effort in Tampa would likely have to be done without a vote.

Home of the Braves, Land of the Free (Lunch)

The developments coming out of Metro Atlanta (where, I'm still not convinced the Braves have a signed-and-sealed stadium deal) are fast and furious, and thanks to Neil deMause, we have Cliffs Notes:
  • The Braves are moving out of Turner Field because of "inadequate number of parking spaces,” but the proposed suburban Cobb Co. complex would have even fewer. They'd solve the problem with park-and-ride "golf-like trams."  So much for the "new MLB model" of urban, walkable stadiums.
  • Libertarians and Liberals are also teaming up to protest the "behind closed doors" deal.
  • Cobb Co. businesses will be asked told to help pay for the stadium with increased business taxes - on top of the extension of a local property tax hike.  Even though the Braves want to run "golf-like trams" to reduce foot traffic.
  • Meanwhile, deMause speculates there's lots of exposure for Cobb Co. taxpayers.  They could foot the bill if infrastructure costs increase or if sales/property taxes don't grow as projected.
It certainly doesn't appear this deal will go down in history as one of the better deals for taxpayers - especially since they won't get to vote on it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Report: Sternberg, Kriseman Meet For an Hour, Avoid Stadium Talk

Tucked away inside this morning's Metro section of the Tampa Bay Times was a short Marc Topkin piece about Rays owner Stuart Sternberg meeting with St. Pete Mayor-Elect Rick Kriseman:
Topkin was gracious enough to pass along a corrected link as well {link to Times' site}.

The two leaders met for an "hour-plus" on Friday, but "agreed not to talk about the ongoing stadium stalemate."  However, Topkin indicated the two discussed a "regional business approach," which also included transportation and lifestyle issues.  Ultimately, an approach that can only benefit the future of baseball in Tampa Bay.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Vinik Group Adds More Downtown Land

Michael Sasso from the Tampa Tribune reports a group with ties to Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik has added three more acres to its 14-acre holdings near the Tampa Bay Times Forum:
Vinik has said he wants to build a large entertainment-oriented development in the Channelside Drive area, and some local officials also hope Vinik and the Bakers will consider building a stadium there for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Neither Vinik nor the Bakers have indicated publicly they would do so, though.
17 acres doesn't go very far in baseball terms, but if Vinik really wanted to make a MLB stadium happen, there's enough land Downtown to get it done.

The only question is...does he really want to get it done?

Friday, November 15, 2013

New Details on Tropicana Field Renovations

Wavenly Ann Moore reports this morning {link to Times' site} that city records indicate the renovations to the Trop - including a facelift to a full 360-degree walkable concourse and facelift of the Batter's Eye restaurant - will cost $1.3 million...and the majority is coming from a public fund.

The money is to come from the city's "special stadium capital projects escrow," which has funded previous maintenance work such as roof, parking lot, and A/C repairs:
The account, which currently has a balance of $2.1 million, is funded with naming rights revenues and ticket fees as part of the city's contract with the Rays. The team can't spend money from the account without city approval.
The renovation also will include restroom upgrades, pipe replacement and ceiling restoration in the home clubhouse, improved exterior lighting in employee parking areas, refurbishment of exterior awnings and various ADA projects. All of the work is expected to be complete before the start of the 2014 baseball season.
I'm sure the Rays would prefer that some of their naming rights and ticket revenue would not go toward this escrow fund, but it's a good thing to preserve both taxpayers' interests and the stadium's appearance.

Olbermann Says Forget Jersey, Look to Montreal

Keith Olbermann ripped Scott Boras' idea of baseball in New Jersey Thursday night, while simultaneously ripping the "oversized Gulag punishment cell that is Tropicana Field."  The ESPN host added Montreal may be the best fit for the Rays if Tampa Bay is not:

Olbermann, who disclosed that he was a close personal friend of Stu Sternberg, said he believed the Rays' owner was sincere about wanted to keep the team in Tampa Bay.

Then he dropped the most interesting piece of knowledge about the recent developments: Scott Boras spent 3.5 years playing minor-league ball for the St. Petersburg Cardinals.

Reader Rebukes Stadium-less Tampa Idea

Interesting rebuttal in today's Trib Letters to the Editor to last week's idea that the City of Tampa forget about a stadium and focus on other unique features, like sculptures:
The “city of sculptures”? And forget about baseball? Outdated thinking for downtown development? Really?
I’m having a hard time imagining Tampa’s civic pride swelling significantly over some newly acquired sculptures - as we wave goodbye to the Rays leaving for another city! If we want to be a “major league city” and be perceived as elite, does anyone really believe that the branding platform to get us there should be focused on sculptures?
Perhaps Hall should more closely study the experiences of Denver, St. Louis, Cleveland and some other major league cities. I simply can’t think of a reason why a new stadium wouldn’t serve to continue the revitalization of what has been a long-time sleepy downtown. And a new downtown stadium would tie in nicely to promotion of the Riverwalk.
Let’s leave the sculptures in the capable hands of museum curators — and we do have great museums to visit in the area. I, for one, would prefer to live and work in a major league city. I wonder how many would ride Hall’s envisioned monorail to a minor league game?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Selig Un-Intervening, Says No Clubs Moving

Despite his August promise to intervene in the Rays' Stadium Saga, Commissioner Bud Selig told reporters on Thursday that he has no plans to get involved in negotiations right now, according to Stephen Nohlgren {link to Times' site}.

A departure from his previous frustrations, Selig said he was comfortable with the direction of the conversation.  And his optimisim was echoed by Sternberg, now that Mayor-Elect Rick Kriseman about to take over St. Pete's City Hall:
Sternberg said Thursday he plans to talk soon with Rick Kriseman, who defeated Foster in the Nov. 5 mayoral election.

"I'll speak with the new mayor now that he's got a little time under his belt," Sternberg said. "He's got a lot of things to do to govern the city. Maybe that will help set some direction. I don't imagine it will right off the bat, but it'll be nice to be able to chat with him ... we've played some phone tag."
And even though MLB gave the go-ahead to play a couple exhibition games in Montreal next year (testing the waters, ironically, for a new stalking horse?), Selig was quoted in USA Today saying, "We don't have any clubs moving and we certainly don't have any expansion plans. But there are a lot of people up there who believe in this and I think that's great. I'm happy for them."

Kriseman Comes Face-to-Face with MLB Challenges

On Wednesday, St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster and staff got Mayor-Elect Rick Kriseman up-to-date on a number of pressing issues for the city, including the Rays' Stadium Saga.  But as Mark Puente reports {link to Times' site}, Kriseman said he came away with a "new understanding" of the issues at-play:
"The challenge in going forward with the Rays is significant," Kriseman said in the City Hall lobby. "I knew it was going to be challenging."

When asked if the inside information changed his views on how Foster has handled the Rays, Kriseman said, "It might have."

"It's always interesting to get the other side of the story," he said. "I'm not comfortable answering that until I absorb all the information."
It's generally good news for St. Pete that there's no bad blood between the current mayor and the future mayor.  And while Kriseman said he's reached out to Rays owner Stuart Sternberg and hopes to meet with him soon, there's good reason to believe progress could be slow.
Now that he's about to fill Foster's shoes, Kriseman - along with city attorney John Wolfe - is realizing the complexity of the Stadium Saga: he can protect the city's long-term interests and demand the Rays to compensate the city if they leave before 2027...or he can pander to the paper and just allow the Rays to amend the contract.

Braves Stadium Fallout: Day 4

It's been busy tracking all the reactions to the new "Home of the Braves":
Monday - You dropped a bomb on me (baby)
Tuesday - Atlanta refuses to get in a bidding war
Wednesday - Everyone loses financially, except the Braves

Now, in Day 4 of the Braves/Cobb Co. fallout, we get more thoughts from John Romano on what the news means to Tampa Bay {link to Times' site}:
For the Rays, the news could not have been better. It reinforced the team's contention that a major-league franchise's worth is incalculable in the right location.

For St. Pete, it was a precedent to consider. Is it better to let a team reach the end of a lease and walk away without compensation as the Braves will do in Atlanta, or should St. Pete leverage its use agreement at Tropicana Field to get a return on its investment?

For Hillsborough County, it had a high degree of sticker shock. While Cobb officials say the $450 million figure is incorrect, they have yet to reveal how much of the supposed $672 million venture they will be on the hook for, and where the money will come from.
In other words, the Rays will eventually get a stadium. The hard part is figuring out when and where. Not to mention, who is picking up the tab?
It was a fair and accurate summary from Romano.  But the one thing that's worth adding is the Braves are leaving Atlanta at the end of their contract.  The Rays are still 14 years away from that terminus.

We also don't know yet where the money in Cobb Co. is coming from.  Although we're now hearing the infamous "taxpayers won't be saddled" promise...which usually means taxpayers will be saddled with the cost of the subsidies through current tax revenues, just not new taxes.

Boras Says Rays Won't Work in Tampa Bay...Even Though it's His Fault

If there's one guy possibly more in-tune to the economics of baseball than Commissioner Bud Selig, it's super-agent Scott Boras.  Of course, he got rich by helping players take bigger and bigger cuts from owners' pockets.

Speaking at the annual owner/GM meetings in Orlando, Boras suggested the Rays would be better off playing in New Jersey:
“I think there’s a lot of cities that may attract them, but I don’t know…maybe…maybe New Jersey would like their win percentage,” Boras said, completing his takedown of the Tampa Bay market in the JW Marriott Lobby at the GM Meetings Wednesday.
“The Tampa Bay market, both in what they provided for a stadium and what they provided for the attendance for the quality of the play, has not been consistent with what we’ve seen from other major league markets. Because when you have a team that successful — there are teams that are drawing two-and-a-half to three, over three million for that kind of performance so it’s just really something for the fans of the Tampa Bay area…They need a new ballpark, they need to address that, but certainly the bell’s been answered by the organization as far as putting a product on the field that would normally attract fans.”

Asked whether he absolved Rays ownership, led by New York City native Stuart Sternberg, for not expanding the payroll despite a recent influx in money from a new national television contract, Boras defended the Rays.

“I think retention of their players is key to the building of a franchise,” Boras said. “But what also have to understand is that, that’s probably true of a true grade of an ownership that has had support of the fan base when winning. They have not.
It's actually tough to find fault with Boras' suggestion - other than the fact that Boras and MLB are directly at fault for the salary boom that makes 20k fans a game "unacceptable."  But yes, it would probably make everyone except perhaps the Yankees, Mets, and Phillies more money.

Actually, the most appropriate quote was in the Tampa Bay Times, with Boras saying other teams are shopping for steak while the Rays are shopping for Snickers.  Appropriate, because neither the Rays - nor the Stadium Saga - are going anywhere for a while.

More fun to ensue Wednesday, when Selig meets with Stuart Sternberg again.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Braves Stadium Fallout: Day 3

More expert opinions from the world of sports business on the Braves' new home...

Maury Brown with the Biz of Baseball writes everyone in Atlanta loses, except the Braves:
The problem with Cobb Co.’s investment is after construction it’s not like Atlanta is getting “new” money. All that’s happened is jobs and fans move 10 miles away from where it was originally. You’re just shuffling descretionary income around. This isn’t infusing economic development, it’s shuffling it around.
Maybe Cobb Co. has some magical formula that will have all the expenses come from baseball related revenue streams. That would be fair. After all, someone in Cobb Co. that doesn’t care one hoot about the Braves shouldn’t have to pay for them. So, ties a tax onto parking. Tie a tax onto tickets. Tie a tax onto ballpark concessions. Tie it to the ballpark. That’s fair. It may have fans shaking their fists at me for suggesting as much, but it’s reasonable.

As for “The Ted”, it will be demolished shortly after its 21st birthday. That was a solid investment.
Neil deMause writes on SportsOnEarth that taxpayers should hold on to their wallets:
Today, 16 of the other 29 MLB stadiums are newer than the Braves' home, and it's sports nature to want the shiny things the kid next door has -- something that was foreshadowed back in April when team execs dropped hints that they'd like some upgrades to their current home, and would prefer it if they were paid for by, you know, somebody else.
While the White Sox, Indians, and the like may not be able to find suburban counties quite so eager to throw money at them, the Braves' move does provide them with a great new storyline for subsidy shakedowns. Baseball, after all, has found itself in a bit of a threat shortage: Ever since the Montreal Expos occupied Washington, D.C., in 2005, MLB teams have lacked a big, empty market to frighten local officials with, as the NFL has successfully done with Los Angeles. (The best vacant market for MLB is almost certainly now -- irony alert -- Montreal.) Now, though, teams can gesture vaguely in the direction of Atlanta, or just show up to lease talks carrying one of those foam tomahawks, and everyone will get the message: Make us happy or we'll split for the suburbs.
Just remember - the Braves are moving not because they had to, but because they could.  As long as cities and counties are going to continue to trip over themselves to offer (virtually) free stadiums, we'll won't be seeing many teams staying in one place for more than 30 years.

Rays Renovating Tropicana Field

Marc Topkin, reporting from MLB's Owner/GM meetings in Orlando {link to Times' site}:
The Rays are making a major renovation to Tropicana Field, creating 360-degree circulation by adding walkways behind the outfield seating areas and opening up what was the dark-walled Batters Eye restaurant into an open-air meeting spot for fans.

The concept appeara similar to what exists at their Port Chartlotte spring stadium, which has a boardwalk behind the outfield and a centerfield tiki bar.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg would not confirm any specifics, but acknowledged the project was underway and said Tuesday night at the GM/owners meetings in Orlando, "We continue to invest significant dollars to create the best fan experience at Tropicana Field we possibly can.''
If true, this could be the biggest renovation to the Trop since Sternberg's first year as principal owner, 2006, when the team spent $35 million on scoreboard, turf, concourse, and bathroom improvements.

Unfortunately for dome detractors, the catwalks aren't going anywhere.

"Smashing Start" for Tampa Baseball Museum

Nice read over at WTSP.com, where my colleague Grayson Kamm covered the "wall-breaking" ceremony for what will ultimately be the Tampa Baseball Museum:
Local leaders, contractors, and the heads of the Ybor City Museum Society -- who are behind the project -- took turns smashing a sledgehammer through one of the home's walls in a ceremony Wednesday.

Once the inside and outside are renovated -- no small task -- a collection of Tampa Bay baseball memorabilia and artifacts will move from the nearby Ybor City Museum into the Al Lopez house.

The items will find a new home in the old home of the forefather of Tampa Bay baseball, the first of what's now more than 80 major league ballplayers to grow up in Hillsborough County.
Hopefully it'll be a good project.  If you'd like to contribute via the Citizinvestor crowd-sourcing effort, you can donate here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Braves Stadium Fallout: Day 2

In case you missed this blog's recap of the Braves' proposed move from the city to the suburbs, there's also the Field of Schemes recap that identifies how both Cobb Co. officials tout the economic benefits of building a stadium while Atlanta officials tout the economic benefits of replacing a stadium with other things (sound familiar, Tampa Bay?).

FoS also echoes my sentiment that a $400+ million subsidy package could be a bumpy road for conservative Cobb Co., and there's still great mystery over where the majority of the $672 million is going to come from.  In short, "a really crappy deal," in the opinion of blog author Neil deMause.

Oh, did we mention Cobb Co. had to recently reduce its school staffing and furlough teachers because of budget shortfalls and faces another $60 million defecit next year?

However, it was refreshing to see Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed say, “there was simply no way the team was going to stay in downtown Atlanta without city taxpayers spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make that happen."

But part of the head-scratching nature of the announcement is the team's blame on Turner Field's  "insurmountable" traffic and parking problems.  So naturally, they're moving to an area with fewer transit options and arguably worse traffic.  Granted, they'll be closer to more ticket-buying fans, but it's a far cry from baseball's urban stadium model, built with transit and walkability in mind.

It must have just been a financial deal too good to be true (for the Braves).  Forbes' Mike Ozonian speculates the Braves might even cover their entire portion of the bill with a good naming rights deal (although doubtful, given financing costs).

And for those of you counting at home, Turner Field is just the 16th-oldest park in the majors.  Sports Illustrated theorizes:
Meanwhile, 13 current major league venues have been in service longer than Turner Field, seven of which opened from 1989-95. If some of those teams start getting restless and looking to build again, local taxpayers could be asked to replace the perfectly functional single-use ballparks that in turn had replaced less aesthetically pleasing multi-use facilities whose lifespans were much longer. Particularly as teams reap a new windfall with increased television revenues, that’s not going to go over well with fans.

How Will Kriseman Balance City's Interests and Newspaper's Pressure?

There's great confidence the Rays Stadium Saga will shift once Mayor-Elect Rick Kriseman takes office on Jan. 2.  But as this blog has pointed out before, not much may change at all.

And one of those reasons is St. Pete's lead negotiator, city attorney John Wolfe, remains city hall's most-experienced stadium expert.  He helped write the "ironclad" use agreement nearly two decades ago; he advised Mayor Bill Foster on MLB's leverage "tricks," and he continues to advise against certain contract amendments that could one day make it easy for the Rays to leave Tampa Bay.

Nevertheless, the Tampa Bay Times' editorial board penned its second post-election piece aimed at shaping Kriseman's Rays approach {link to Times' site}:
Concerns about weakening the city's long-term agreement with the Rays by letting the team look at other sites apparently were resolved, but there was no agreement on how much money the Rays would pay in any deal.

As Tampa Bay Times staff writer Stephen Nohlgren reported Sunday, the ground is finally shifting. Kriseman will bring an open mind to the negotiations and a better understanding that keeping the Rays in Tampa Bay is the long-term goal. The business community understands the importance of approaching the issue on a regional level, and more St. Petersburg City Council members are considering ways to move forward instead of hiding behind the long-term lease as a short-term political play.
Be sure of one thing: the Times has no interests in preserving St. Petersburg's equity in its contract (ironic, given its insistance of financial return on so many other economic issues).  By assuming Mayor Foster (and thus, John Wolfe) were 100% to blame for the stalemate is either naive or disingenuous.

If Foster and Wolfe got hung-up over how much the Rays would ultimately pay to leave the Trop, as Nohlgren indicated, it would contradict the Times' "short-term political play" argument.  Foster paid a short-term political price for looking out for the long-term interests of the city.
What is clear is that there should be a new sense of urgency to moving forward on the stadium discussions and reaching a reasonable agreement between St. Petersburg and the Rays. Four years have been wasted, and neither the city nor the region can waste another four years watching the calendar.
First of all, four years have not necessarily been wasted.  The Rays have provided great baseball, great memories, and a few playoff runs to Tampa Bay.  Heck, they may have even provided great financial return to St. Petersburg.

So yes, they are now just 14 years from the end of their contract, instead of 18 years.  But again, to say those years were wasted is either naive or disingenuous.

That said, the case for keeping baseball in Tampa Bay is getting harder to make every year.  And while there's no telling if a Tampa stadium would make that case any better, Kriseman has indicated he'll be willing to try.

The mayor-elect, an attorney by trade, said earlier this year that two attorneys can look at the same document and have two different opinions.  For all we know, he could replace Wolfe (who has been critical of the Times' legal assumptions) after the new year.

But like Foster, Kriseman will face a tough challenge in office: deciding how much he's willing to compromise on the city's future leverage in order to advance the Tampa stadium discussion now...and appease the region's largest newspaper.