Monday, April 29, 2013

Counties Scramble for Spring Training Subsidies

Echoing recent stories on Shadow of the Stadium and in the Tampa Tribune, the Tampa Bay Times writes this morning that there won't be nearly enough bed tax dollars in Pinellas County to feed all the hungry mouths asking for it. 

In fact, this spring's legislation that aims to fee up $50 million at a time for new and renovated spring training stadiums may not be doing Tampa Bay any favors; it's pitting Florida communities against each other in competitions to spend more money on stadiums, instead of beach renourishment, tourism marketing, or other capital projects:
"That legislation was not helpful. We need to keep a nucleus of teams in the area to keep spring training viable,'' Pinellas Commission Chairman Ken Welch said. Bed tax money may be needed to "either maintain the teams we have now, or allow us to add a team, or if we lose the Blue Jays, replace them.''
Welch's point is that $50 million in county bed tax money would not be well-spent if it ultimately causes the Rays to leave Florida altogether. 

And of course, many - as this blog has suggested before - see it as unnecessary taxpayer handouts:
"It's odd that we would spend taxpayer money to move one team to the West Coast, then two teams to the East Coast,'' said Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers.

"We used to be upset about Arizona stealing our teams. Now we are almost encouraging cities within Florida to steal from each other, and using lots of taxpayer dollars.''

Another interesting point was made by Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala, whose ex-husband Jack Latvala was the legislator behind the push for new spring training spending:
"Beach nourishment has to be the top of the list, and maybe there's not money for anything else after that,'' Commissioner Susan Latvala said.
The Times story didn't mention the commission's most conservative member, Norm Roche, who suggested in 2011 that the bed tax dollars go toward a different kind of park - public parks.  At the time, Roche had just voted against the county extending its five-cent bed tax to 2021 (the vote passed anyway) and he made it clear he thought there were better uses of tax dollars than stadium subsidies.

So while proponents of a new Rays stadium should realize they "don't have a lot of time" before available bed taxes get gobbled up, let us not forget a lesson learned from the Tampa Bay Lightning: if stadium construction is really a worthwhile investment, an owner can pay for it on his own anyway.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Some Good Weekend Reading

Some good weekend reading:
  • The Marlins are doing what they can to fill seats, including free tickets through regional promotions.  And it's tough to tell if its working.
  • Rays owner Stu Sternberg suggests possible first-round draft compensation for small-market teams to increase parity in the MLB.
  • A Chicago columnist thinks an antiquated Wrigley is the reason the Cubs aren't winning World Series.
  • Field of Schemes breaks down how cities are offering bigger and bigger kickbacks to land major sporting events like Super Bowls.  But if nobody offered subsidies, would they be necessary to land the games?
  • Finally, the Tampa Tribune writes more about Florida's fear of losing Spring Training teams to Arizona, but indicates new incentives could just lead East Florida to fight West Florida over who can offer the biggest stadium subsidies.  The story also echoes Shadow of the Stadium blogposts about how much MLB dominates municipalities at the negotiation table, which means leases are seldom iron-clad.  And powerful lobbyist Brian Ballard, who represents the Blue Jays, Astros, & City of Palm Beach Gardens, tells the Trib a new multi-team facility is a "smart way to go."  Let's just say it would be a shock if the Jays and 'Stros don't get a new fully-funded stadium, courtesy of Florida's taxpayers.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tampa Takes Aim at BCS Championship

The top headline in this morning's Tampa Tribune reads "RayJay in line for '16 game":
Raymond James Stadium appears to be a solid contender to host the second college football championship in 2016 after making what insiders called a surprisingly strong bid for the historic first championship game.

Bowl Championship Series commissioners Wednesday night picked Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for the championship, to be played Jan. 12, 2015. The game will be the first under a new College Football Playoff system that will feature playoff bowl games in six stadiums around the country before a final championship game.

Tampa Bay Sports Commission Director Rob Higgins said “we'll sharpen our pencils” for a bid to host the 2016 game but he would not reveal details of the package that so impressed BCS commissioners this week.
Because the deck was so stacked in Dallas' favor, Tampa was the only other city to even bother with a bid.  Therefore, it was the only losing bid.  But Higgins told me he thinks this year's effort will go a long way toward impressing the commissioners in the future.

In other Raymond James-related news, the Glazers continue their world domination with Manchester United's record 20th English league title.  It should be a safe bet the net worths of both the team and the family will continue to soar.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Appetites for Spring Training Subsidies Grows

I just got back from Tallahassee (on another story) when I heard news the Legislature was fast-tracking its spring training subsidy allocations.

According to Scripps' Treasure Coast Newspapers, the deal provides $50 million in state money for two-team facilities over 37.5 years (or $20 million for one-team facilities over 30 years).  Local governments would have to match the state funds.  As I've written before, spring training is essential to Florida, but the additional subsidies may be unnecessary.

In Pinellas County, you can also read here about the impending "feeding frenzy" for available bed tax dollars after the Trop is paid off in 2015.   Over the years, this blog has covered a plethora of parties interested in the potential new Rays' stadium funds, from a new aquarium to Blue Jays spring training to beach renourishment.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Rays (& Marlins) Attendance Updates

Shadow of the Stadium has been quiet the last week or two after some real-life events had to be prioritized, but it's time for a Tropicana Field attendance update....and lots of other catching up.

Last night's Rays/Yankees game drew a reported crowd of just 15,331, prompting the likes of Dick Vitale to tweet:
C'mon Dickie V, that's no way to support your team. Plus, he must not have noticed the White Sox' crowd of 14,950 or the Orioles' crowd of 11,168.  Or the crowds of 18,000-or-so at the new Reds' and Padres' parks.

In fact, through the first three-plus weeks of the season, the Rays rank 22nd in the league in attendance with 21,904 a game. That's down about 1,100 from the same point last year, but the entire league average is down as well.

The Marlins, 27th in the league, are down 10,588 fans a game to just 19,586 on average - right in line with Maury Brown's bold 2013 prediction that the team would fail to sell out a single game and mark the biggest second-season drop in modern stadium history.

Then, Oakland, fighting its own Stadium Saga, is down 4,300 fans a game to just 19,309.

Seattle, with its great stadium, stadium location, and fireballer Felix Hernandez, is down a few thousand from last year to just 18,532 a game.

And Cleveland, benefitting from better April weather, is actually up a hair from last year, drawing 15,195 per game.

It's a good thing MLB is relying more on television revenues this year because it seems the league's trend of setting attendance records each season may be coming to an end. Either way, it would be a safe bet to say the Rays' will be able to stay out of the league's attendance cellar in 2013.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Marathon Monday: What I Saw

Sometimes stadium debates take back seats to life.

This week I was in Boston watching the marathon when the bombs went off.  I spent the next 36 hours covering the event for WTSP-TV, and have compiled a few thoughts here.

It beats reading about the Stadium Saga right now.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Marlins Watch: Three Nights In

Oh boy.  How ugly will it get?

Forget fans putting paper bags over their heads.  Forget fans getting ejected for not producing ID (you might expect that in Arizona, but not South Florida!?!).  The Marlins may face the biggest public criticisms this year over their attendance reporting this year.

Apparently, the team didn't even announce yesterday's crowd:

Unfortunately for the Marlins, the league requires them to provide some attendance number...and for their third game of the year, they said 14,222.
Which may not be the most accurate stat:
UPDATE: It wasn't an accurate stat - the number was later amended to 13,810.

And it's probably not just the Marlins sensative to the fallout....the Miami Dolphins, hoping for a public handout to presumably prevent them from blackmailing the city and threatening to leave, are carefully measuring the public sentiment toward stadium subsidies. 

The good news for the Dolphins is Governor Rick Scott seems to be on-board with the handout, and critical Miami-Dade residents will have just a few weeks to mount an opposition effort before the stadium referendum could go to ballot.

Of course, if there's any silver lining in the Marlins' episode, it's that at least the Rays won't be finishing in last-place in MLB attendance this year.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Where Are All the Fans?

Attendance numbers stink.  And this post has nothing to do with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Last night, the Miami Marlins - in the second game of their second year at the magnificant Marlins Park - drew just 14,222 fans, a mere 38% of capacity.  And who knows how many of those fans actually paid full price for their tickets - the Marlins were giving away freebies and half-price tickets as recently as last week to try and boost their gate numbers.  But we already knew it would be a long season in Miami.

However, the Braves-Marlins game was merely the fourth-least attendend MLB game last night:
  • The Indians drew just 12,663 against the Yankees on a 62-degree Cleveland night;
  • The Royals drew just 11,697 against the Twins on a 71-degree Kansas City night;
  • And the Mariners drew just 10,745 against the Astros on a mild 55-degree Seattle night in the newly-revamped Safeco Field against their former star, Erik Bedard.
Last year, the smallest early-April crowds belonged to roughly the same teams on the same days:
  • 4/9/12 - White Sox at Indians, 9,072
  • 4/9/12 - White Sox at Indians, 9,473
  • 4/9/12 - Royals at Athletics - 10,054
  • 4/8/12 - Blue Jays at Indians - 10,518
  • 4/10/12 - Royals at Athletics - 10,670
But it's not just the typical teams struggling at the gate this April - some of the bigger boys are too.  Much has been made of the drop in demand in New York and Boston, and across the league, MLB teams are seeing 801 fewer fans on average per game.

That's a significant number, especially considering the fairly mild weather across the country this spring.  Fortunately for MLB, soaring TV revenues will render any drop in attendance relatively moot.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Marlins Watch: Opening Night

Let the fun and games begin!

Last night, "Marlins Watch" got underway with an announced crowd of 34,439. How significant is that number? reports:
Announced attendance was 34,439, with thousands of empty seats and many tickets sold at discounted prices. Some fans pledged to stay away this season because they're angry that owner Jeffrey Loria reverted to a frugal payroll only a year after the team opened a new ballpark built mostly with taxpayer money.

Loria watched the game from his suite, out of the view of potential boo-birds. A handful of spectators wore homemade T-shirts disparaging him, a few others had bags over their heads, and many wore jerseys of Marlins traded in the past year, including Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson.
So it appears the 93% capacity crowd gets the incomparable Maury Brown past one big hurdle in one of his bold 2013 predictions (Marlins won't sell out a single game this year).

It doesn't help that Loria sold off most of his good talent and the Marlins have now won just one of their first seven games.  Three of the Marlins' losses have come by shutout.

And as the glow from the home opener disappears in Miami, the focus will shift to how the Marlins can sell the rest of this homestand and the season.  Of course, the team handing out free tickets to fans who took advantage of the opening night deal should help.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Rays' Attendance May Not Be Worst Performance in MLB

If 22,839 fans per game weren't enough to fire up Rays relocation rumors after one homestand, a national writer suggesting the Rays could move to Montreal should be.

But instead of beating the Rays' attendance drum to death this week, maybe the sports talk folks should focus on a few other teams' misfortunes at the gate.

Through six games, Citi Field (in the nation's largest metro), the Mets are averaging just 28,000 fans per game and the Mets' credit rating has been officially dropped to "junk."

And at the new Comiskey (in the nation's third-largest metro), the ChiSox are averaging just 20,790 fans per game, although they can always blame early April cold weather.

Oh, and starting tonight, we'll have Marlins' attendance to watch with popcorn & cracker jacks in-hand.  Any predictions?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

How Silly is Rays-to-Montreal Talk?

Just as the Rays were wrapping up a six-game series to open their season (avg attendance: 22,839), one of the MLB's top beat writers, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, dropped news on NESN that a group of businessmen in Montreal were gaining some credibility in efforts to bring baseball back.  Watch here.

Cafardo called the effort a "longshot," but of course, he name-checked the Rays as the most logical choice to relocate since MLB "won't be expanding soon." 

Cafardo has previously nailed the Rays' attendance issues on the head, writing "The Rays simply can’t get a stadium built. It’s baffling why people in the Tampa/St. Pete area make such a big deal about driving over the bridge to St. Pete. It really isn’t that bad, is it?"

But nevertheless, we can expect a new round of Rays relocation rumors this week....and that's just what the league wants.  Why?  Because as Hall-of-Famer Peter Gammons said, "You need to be able to blackmail people" with another baseball-hungry city.

Just remember, Montreal lost the Expos because they were drawing fewer than 10,000 a game - often 4,000 a night.

Then again, a new list from Sports Weekly (operated by USAToday & owned by Gannett, my employer), indicates Tropicana Field is the worst park in the majors.  For what it's worth, the article doesn't seem to take into account a lot of the things the Rays do right at the Trop, such as affordability, the ability to bring your own food inside, and also the park's ingress/egress.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

How Do New A's Commercials Stack Up?

The Oakland A's are launching a new marketing campaign that seems to borrow a page from the "This is SportsCenter" playbook.  Check out some of the ads here.

It's not the kind of campaign you'd see from a defending division champ, but when Coco Crisp is your most marketable player and your owner has spent the better part of a decade complaining about your stadium, you might as well take some chances.

It's a drasticly different approach than the Rays, who have branded "Welcome Home" and are trying to capitalize on a "strong regional affinity."

But nothing I've seen in the last year has made me want to go to a MLB game as much as this ad:
And a few others from the Mariners last year:
(A's commercials courtesy of our friends at New Ballpark in the San Francisco Bay)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Why Subsidize a Stadium? Why Not?

Bloomberg's Jonathan Mahler in "Is Jeffrey Loria the Worst Owner in Sports?":
The economics here are pretty basic. In short, the system is rigged. Sports leagues control the supply of franchises. And their finances aren’t a matter of public record.
It is, of course, absurd that public money is being lavished on private entities without any requirement of demonstrated need. And it’s by no means just the Marlins. Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has been demanding more than $200 million to renovate his football team’s stadium, even as leaked internal documents show that the Panthers turned a $112 million profit in 2010 and 2011. Asked why his flush team shouldn’t cover the costs, Richardson answered with almost refreshing candor: NFL franchises “are so coveted, they don’t have to pay,” he said. “There are only 32.”

For that matter, the Marlins’s neighbors, the Miami Dolphins, are looking for a couple hundred million dollars in public subsidies to refurbish their privately owned stadium.   And why not? As Dolphins Chief Executive Officer Mike Dees explained: “Just because somebody is wealthy enough doesn’t mean he should invest money in a way that is unwise.”

Dees is right about one thing: Investing money in a stadium is unwise. Study after study has demonstrated that sports teams have very little economic impact on their communities. Unfortunately, too many feckless local officials either refuse to accept this truism or are afraid of being blamed for driving away the hometown team.  

Was the Trop Half-Full or Half-Empty?

After an opening day sellout with 34,078 fans, the Rays fell back to earth last night for Game No. 2: total attendance 15,599.  Which, of course, prompted lots of tweets like this:
It's easy to see how the Rays will have lots of nights like this and not much will change from last season.  The Trop's not any closer to Tampa.  There's no light rail option to the park.  And the dome just isn't seen as a "cool" place to hang out.

But it's also easy to look at the cup half-full (if you so choose).  It was a weekday night against the Orioles.  It was raining and muggy in parts of Tampa Bay yesterday but crystal-clear and comfortable inside the Trop.  And the Rays weren't the only team, by any means, in the attendance doghouse yesterday.

The supposed new rivalry between Texas and Houston drew just 15,831 in the Astros' modern park.  The White Sox drew just 14,213 on a chilly, but sunny afternoon in the nation's third-biggest metro.  The A's drew just 15,162 on a mild evening against Seattle.  And even the Mets, in the country's largest city, drew just 22,239 against the Padres.

Only three of 15 games yesterday were played in front of more than 28,000 fans, which tells us America may not quite be in the baseball mood yet in April.  It may also tell us something Stu Sternberg hinted at this week: fans choosing baseball over TV may be something that's "seeping to sport as a whole, that it just isn’t the kind of scene it once was.”

We'll keep an eye on the Rays attendance numbers throughout the well as the Marlins', who haven't scored a run yet in 2013, and open at home next Monday against the Braves.  Can't wait!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Rays Games Remain Some of MLB's Most Affordable Experiences

Rays ticket prices may have inched up a tiny bit in recent years, but the team remains one of baseball's most affordable experiences for fans.

The 2013 Team Marketing Report "Fan Cost Index" (FCI) estimated a family of four will spend $155.54 at an average Rays game, less than half of what they'd spend at a Red Sox ($337) or Yankees ($324) game.

The average price of a Rays ticket is $20.39 this year, up from $19.84 last year and $19.42 the year before.  Affordable, but not as affordable as the free programs and free parking the Rays got credit for in the study (even though parking is not always free).

The biggest jump for the Rays in the FCI since 2011 has been the price of a ballcap, up from $10.00 to $17.99.  Also, parents will now (in theory) save a buck on each kids' drink since the Rays introduced a 12 oz. soda, smaller than the previous "small" by four ounces.

According to its website, the FCI "comprises the prices of four (4) adult average-price tickets, two (2) small draft beers, four (4) small soft drinks, four (4) regular-size hot dogs, parking for one (1) car, two (2) game programs and two (2) least expensive, adult-size adjustable caps. Costs were determined by telephone calls with representatives of the teams, venues and concessionaires. Identical questions were asked in all interviews. Superscript numbers next to Beer and Soft Drink prices denote smallest available size in ounces.

Opening Day Opinions

Rays owner Stu Sternberg held court before the Rays' season opener yesterday, which you can read about in both the Times and the Trib.  His mood and tone were much more up-beat than in previous years, and Sternberg even acknowledged there's not an urgency with the Stadium Saga because he & "the business leaders, politicians understand the situation. MLB understands. I think a couple few years ago it was still part of the learning process."

Sternberg also softened on his "MLB is getting less tolerant" attitude, saying now, "they have been disappointed in the situation down here and other teams have struggled with attendance as well, other teams have had other issues. The one issue I think is just the amount of winning, the consistency of winning, the style of winning that we’ve done, that used to cure all ills, and maybe that something that’s seeping to sport as a whole, that it just isn’t the kind of scene it once was.”

Meanwhile, the Times also put its "Some Tampa Bay Rays fans like the stadium just the way it is" article on the front page.  Bottom line: the Rays need more fans like Macia Taylor and Tim Provost, who drive anywhere from 60-to-90 minutes a night (each way) to see the Rays.

Elsewhere in MLB, the Toronto Blue Jays are upping the stakes in their search for spring training subsidies, hiring one of Tallahassee's top lobbyists to court elected leaders (& others behind the scenes).  They may need the help - a legislative committee floated the idea yesterday of making teams compete against each other for handouts.

And now that the Atlanta Falcons are getting a new stadium to replace their 20-year-old antique, the Atlanta Braves are lining up for public subsidies on their 17-year-old stadium.  Neil deMaus from Field of Schemes opines "the worrying thing here is that there are a lot of baseball stadiums in their tender teenage years — 14 of them opened between 1989 and 2000 — so this could easily end up the start of a rush by other MLB teams to demand publicly funded upgrades to their parks as well."

Finally, for those of you who like to root against the Yankees, you'll love hearing the new parking garages next to their new stadium are failing, and the City of New York looks to be out the $43 million it was promised when the complex was built.  So next time someone talks about how the Yanks built their coliseum with minimal tax impact, don't forget to tack on an extra $43M.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

St Pete Residents Oppose Tax Dollars for Stadium, but Open to Transit

It should come as no surprise the residents who already live near Tropicana Field don't want to pay for a new stadium, but SaintPetersblog reports that new numbers from St. Pete Polls indicate residents would rather spend their tourist tax receipts on beach renourishment:
According to the poll, conducted on April 1, an overwhelming majority of registered St. Petersburg voters oppose using tax dollars to construct a new stadium for the Rays. 63% of those surveyed oppose using public funds to build a new Rays baseball stadium in Pinellas County, while only 27% support the idea.
While St. Petersburg voters are opposed to using tax dollars for a new stadium, there are slivers of support for a light rail system in Pinellas. They are evenly split — 47% for and against — on their willingness to pay more in taxes to build a new light rail mass transit system in Pinellas County. By a wider margin — 49% to 42% — voters say they think Pinellas County needs a light rail system.

Celebrating Four Years of Shadow of the Stadium (and Opening Day)

As much as I'd like a bouncehouse and clowns, this birthday celebration is relatively muted because for four years now, Shadow of the Stadium has been covering the ins & outs of the Stadium Saga with almost no significant progress whatsoever.

But now, more than 500 posts later, I'd like to give a giant thank you to this site's loyal readers as well as the Tampa Bay Rays.  I owe the team's ownership a debt (no pun intended) of gratitute for both appreciating watchdog journalism and for creating enough emotion in this community that people are willing to fight for their team.

Meanwhile, you can call this Part II of my Opening Day Stadium Stories post;  in addition to the weekend columns and stories, the Tampa Bay Times has published its latest installment of "Let's Make a Deal":
"(St. Pete Mayor Bill) Foster faces re-election in August, and he has yet to demonstrate any leadership on this issue. Hiding behind the long-term stadium lease with the Rays and pretending the team will be playing at the Trop until 2027 is not in the best interests of the city or the region."
This year's opening-day editorial was more optimistic than previous years', and at least the Times didn't praise the Marlins' stadium situation like it did last year.

Finally, we've talked here before about how pro sports owners are typically very politically active, and Tampa Bay is no exception.  So for an interesting look at how your ticket purchase may be going toward lobbying Washington, check out this report from the Sunlight Foundation.

Happy Opening Day, Rays fans!  For live-tweeting of all the off-the-field news, follow @StadiumShadow on Twitter.

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Fools' Day Stadium Proposal

I got an email today from a Tampa real estate executive who said he was pitching a new stadium idea.  It prompted me to tweet this:

The idea would be for the City of St. Pete to purchase land in Tampa for a new stadium, then receive concessions, sales tax, TIF, and other revenues to help pay for the loss of its team.

Not-so-coincidentally, the real estate executive was proposing the stadium be built on a downtrodden piece of land he was trying to sell near Ybor City.
Nevermind the fact that the Rays aren't exactly likely to give concessions away.  And nevermind the fact that other developers are offering free land for a stadium; he wanted $8.2 million for his listing.

The biggest problem with the proposition was that the executive admitted in a follow-up email he had no idea how to pay for a new stadium.  Remember, land isn't the problem in this whole stalemate; financing is.

I have to give a lot of credit to a local businessman who is not only thinking "outside the box," but has put a lot of thought into a detailed master plan that involves hotel development, transit, and revenue considerations.

However, it's all a moot point until someone addresses how to pay for a new stadium, and - for now - we'll have to chalk this idea up to an agent just hoping to draw some attention to his commercial listing.

That, or an April Fool's joke.

Quick Hits for Opening Day

Sternberg Q&A: Times' beatwriter Marc Topkin fired a few dozen rapid-fire questions at Rays owner Stu Sternberg, which revealed plenty about his personal life, but honestly, little new about the Stadium Saga.  Except for the fact that Sternberg calls bed taxes "a necessary evil."

The San Antonio Experiment: The other Bay Area's Stadium Saga expert,, covers the recent exhibition games played at San Antonio's Alamadome.  While the blog speculates the A's could try and play a few "home" games there to force their stadium issue, it also points out a San Antonio councilman talked about the city as a possible expansion market, but not a relocation market.

Spring Training Stadium Subsidies: News-Press Readers in Southwest Florida love that the Twins and Red Sox are breaking attendance records, but they don't love the fact that they're paying for both of the teams' spring stadiums.  Check out the comments on this article(disclosure: the paper is owned by the same company, Gannett, that employs me)

Orlando Magic Stimulus: As this blog has previously mentioned, redevelopment around the Orlando Magic's new Amway Center has experienced a series of ups-and-downs the last few years.  But, according to the Orlando Sentinel, the franchise hopes to change that for the better by purchasing city-owned property across the street for a $100 million sports-and-entertainment complex.  It doesn't seem to be the exact same plot of land they said they were going to buy in 2011, but if they actually move forward with plans this time (and pay for it themselves), it could be a big boom for Downtown Orlando.

About 24 hours: until the Rays kick off the 2013 season against the Baltimore Orioles!