Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Links

Some of these links are old, but they're all good reading:
  • Palm Beach Post: Palm Beach Gardens looking to pluck Blue Jays from Dunedin
  • Tampa Tribune: Snubbed by Fla. legislature, Daytona Speedway spending big bucks to renovate track on own dime
  • Miami Herald: Snubbed by Fla. legislature, Dolphins' owner spending big bucks to campaign against stadium subsidy opponents
  • Field of Schemes: Jacksonville facing library and core services cuts, asked to pay for $43M Jaguars scoreboards
  • PBS/NPR San Francisco: Cal football learns hard way that paying for a stadium yourself can be a bad idea
  • Talking Points Memo: Sports leagues thrust into middle of Obamacare debate
  • Rulings Sports: Super Bowl bids now (unofficially) include major stadium renovations

Friday, June 28, 2013

Surprises at First St. Pete Mayoral Debate

Bill Foster, Rick Kriseman, and Kathleen Ford debated Thursday night just two months ahead of St. Pete's election, and despite the significance of the race to the future of the Rays' Stadium Saga, the topic didn't even come up....this time....

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

St. Pete's Mayoral Race Heats Up

Thursday night, Mayor Bill Foster will debate all of his challengers on the Rays' Stadium Saga, the St. Pete Pier....and maybe even a couple other things.

We know the Stadium Saga will be a topic of conversation because one of his biggest threats, former councilman & legislator Rick Kriseman, wants to make it a campaign issue.

But don't be surprised if the other potential Foster-replacement, former councilwoman Kathleen Ford, criticizes the mayor on his handling of the Rays as well.  It would be ironic, however, since Ford told me in 2009 she supported holding the team to its contract through 2027.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sternberg Believes in Tampa Bay...and Montreal

Rays’ principal owner Stu Sternberg spoke to last week during the Rays/Yankees series and, of course, the Stadium Saga was front-and-center.

Sternberg has softened his tone in three years since his memorable, sharp-toungued press conference, now saying it was "unrealistic" the team would leave Tampa Bay.

But the interview was not without interesting quotes:
FS: Do you think Major League Baseball could work again in Montreal?
SS: Yes. I know it can.

FS: How?
SS: My gut. I was at Olympic Stadium the day after they got Bartolo Colon. I’ve been convinced — this is before I bought the (Rays) — that it would be an incredible place for baseball. That doesn’t mean my baseball team, but a baseball team.

FS: Do you think there will come a day when Montreal has a team again?
SS: In the next five years, no. In the next 20, yes.

FS: An expansion franchise or one that moves there?
SS: I think a franchise (that moves there). I know nothing. There’s no discussions. I don’t see any reason or need or desire for expansion — anytime in the next 10 years, certainly. The stadiums built in the 1990s are 20-year-old stadiums. They’ll be fine for another 20 years. If you look 20 years out, there could be population shifts and separation of corporations. And you need a decent-to-good corporate base to have a successful baseball franchise.

FS: Has the thought ever occurred to you to move your team to Montreal?
SS: I thought about it as a great baseball market. But this is probably three, four years ago. I was asked and pressed about it. I said I could think of seven (viable) places (for relocation). But I’m not looking. I just want to explore my backyard.
A large part of why Montreal didn't work before was because after the '94 strike, complaints about attendance became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Eventually, only 4,000 fans a game were trickling through the turnstiles.

Maybe the Rays are going down the same road toward that self-fulfilling prophecy?

Sternberg also told that if he cannot get a new stadium in Tampa Bay, he'll eventually sell the team. It's why we've previously said the worst threat of the prolonged Stadium Saga was not relocation, but Sternberg's departure.

Sternberg added that a buyout of the team's current contract with St. Pete is possible, but indicated he had no interest in discussing numbers or even the legal issues in play.  (It's the same reason St. Pete won't negotiate a buyout publicly - you forfeit negotiating leverage).

He repeated his commitment to the region, but said the pressure on a new stadium is coming from other boogeymen: "All the other owners are consistently writing checks to us and see no way to get out of it, some of this will be their desires."

Good news for John Henry and Hank Steinbrenner - those checks will shrink in 2017 when the Rays sign a new, lucrative television deal.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Three years ago today...

June 20, 2010:
"The future of Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay depends on finding the optimal site for a new ballpark.
"We will consider any potential ballpark site in Tampa Bay, but only as part of a process that considers every ballpark site in Tampa Bay."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Cartels, Monopolies, and Anti-Trust, Oh My! San Jose Sues MLB

As Neil deMaus tweeted, "this should be all kinds of entertaining."

Breaking news out of California: the City of San Jose is suing MLB over its failure to relocate the A's.  Sure, the A's already have their hands full with all sorts of other crap, but this lawsuit is much more about MLB and its monopoly over where its franchises can play.

I've written before about MLB's sacred anti-trust exemption and how it allows the league to pretty much defy basic economics and do whetever the heck it wants with its franchises.  But now, this lawsuit threatens to thrusting that antitrust exemption back under the legal microscope:
The lawsuit claims Major League Baseball and its commissioner, Bud Selig, have violated state and federal laws regarding unfair business practices and anticompetitive conduct. It also challenges the exemption to antitrust laws that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld for Major League Baseball in 1922.

"This action arises from the blatant conspiracy by Major League Baseball to prevent the Athletics Baseball Club from moving to San Jose," the suit says. "This action challenges - and seeks to remedy - defendants' violation of state laws and use of the illegal cartel that results from these agreements to eliminate competition in the playing of games in the San Francisco Bay Area."
For all the Rays fans thinking Tampa Bay's Stadium Saga may end up in court, keep a close eye on all this action in that other Bay Area...MLB has a lot on the line.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Miami Heat Next in Line for Public Subsidies

The poor Miami Heat, on the verge of losing the NBA Finals because they just can't spend like the big-market San Antonio Spurs, are indicating if they can't get public subsidies for renovations to their 13-year-old facility (which replaced a 12-year-old facility), they may not be able to survive in Miami much longer.

Citing mounting costs for keeping the 19,600-seat arena competitive for concerts and to provide basketball fans more amenities, Heat executives say they will need more help from Miami-Dade to sustain the arena’s current top-notch quality into the middle of the century. They warn that without the start of a new wave of upgrades, the facility faces the fate of the team’s original home at Miami Arena, which was demolished five years ago.
Miami-Dade pays the arena $6.4 million a year under a deal that runs through 2029. In exchange for building and financing the $360 million arena on county land, owner Micky Arison negotiated an agreement that includes the yearly subsidy and a profit-sharing formula that has yet to deliver any money for Miami-Dade.
Asking for a new arena these days seems just rude - ask the Rays - but public dollars for a renovation?  Field of Schemes says it's the new thing to do, because, obviously, nobody builds an arena to last more than 15 years anymore.

But let's just remember these are the same Miami Heat that fired its entire ticket sales staff when they signed The Big Three and sold out every game.  In the same City of Miami that's not turning out to Marlins games.  Looking for subsidies in the same economic climate that doomed the Dolphins' public subsidy campaign.

So just like LeBron shouldn't count his championships before they hatch, the Heat better not hold its breath for those public dollars.  Hey, if Jeff Vinik can do it in Tampa, I'm sure the Heat can figure it out.

Monday Morning Manager - Odds & Ends

We'll start with a Letter to the Editor from over the weekend in the Tampa Tribune: a baseball fan in Zephyrhills, Fla. (about 35-40 min from Tampa and 55-60 min from St. Pete) tries to take a "Trop half-full" approach to the Stadium Saga:
Tropicana Field is, in my opinion, a quality stadium, which was confirmed to me again last Saturday night, as we enjoyed the game and Martina McBride’s concert, dry and in air-conditioned comfort while the area was being blessed with a thunderstorm.
Apparently, not a ton of people agree with the reader right now, because the Rays fell to 29th in the 2013 MLB attendance rankings after a long homestand.  Their 17,909 fans per game are more than 2,000 fewer than at the same point in 2012.  (The Indians surged ahead to 28th place with 38k+ on Dollar Hot Dog & Fireworks night.)

But at least the Rays aren't the Marlins, who dropped to last this weekend, with 17,337 fans on average.  That's down more than 11,000 per game in a year, and as Biz of Baseball's Maury Brown writes, it's not due for any sort of correction:
Between the fire sale to the Blue Jays and the abysmal performance on the field that will likely have them, not the Astros, end with the worst record in baseball, attendance will continue to slide. In the meantime, all those clubs that have suffered through the cold, wet spring with open-air ballparks will begin to see increases as people flock to enjoy the sun during the summer....Florida now has the dubious distinction of having the two worst attended clubs in all of MLB.
On the Spring Training front, there's more evidence that Gov. Rick Scott & the Florida Legislature have created a monster by automatically approving state funds for new stadiums.  The Blue Jays, who earlier this year said they were happy in their long-time spring digs, are now leveraging for a new stadium through the media while not talking to their current partners in Dunedin:
Three months after news broke that the Toronto Blue Jays were considering ditching their Dunedin spring training home for Palm Beach Gardens on Florida's east coast, this city still hasn't managed to schedule negotiations with team officials. 
Jays president Paul Beeston has yet to follow up on Mayor Dave Eggers' emails and phone calls with concrete plans, and Eggers' last communication with Beeston was about a month ago.
Finally, here's a nerdy look at how economists have discouraged fans from driving to the new Barclay's Center in Brooklyn.  The results are interesting: more people taking advantage of transit; a bit of a younger, more hipster crowd for certain events; and to a certain degree, fewer people traveling from New Jersey for games.

Now, if we could only undertake a similar experiment in Tampa Bay...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Joe Henderson on Fight for Tampa's $100 Million

The morning after Michael Sasso reported on the jockying for Tampa's expected $100 million in upcoming bonding capacity, columnist Joe Henderson added more perspective:
If the battle lines over money are taking shape in Tampa before the Rays even know if they can leave St. Pete, what will it be like if it ever gets really serious here? 

I can promise you, when it comes to how their taxes are spent, people really do mind. If we don’t know that yet, we may find out soon enough.
Note: The TBO link isn't working, so you can read the whole column here.

Monday, June 10, 2013

How New Stadiums are Like Theme Parks

We know what happens when you build a beautiful new facility.  Fans rejoice; media swoon; attendance soars.

But I'm not talking about baseball stadiums in this case; I'm talking about theme parks.

Last week, Disney World, Universal Orlando, Busch Gardens, and Sea World all announced new price increases that make even expensive trips to the ballpark seem affordable.  Here's a great price graph of theme park prices from USA Today.

Most of the time, theme parks attribute the increases to new improvements and construction that "improve the value of a ticket."  But this comes even as theme parks set record attendance levels, so it would seem the corporations are making the moves to increase profit margins, rather than simply just maintain them.  And in many ways, it's the same way baseball teams operate.

Even though new stadiums will boost attendance numbers, much of the increased revenue they provide comes in the form of higher ticket prices.

In the Rays' situation, we can all acknowledge - all things being equal - a stadium in Downtown Tampa would draw better than a stadium in Downtown St. Pete.  I admit I'd go to more games too.

But what if the Tampa option came with higher ticket prices (which every new MLB stadium has)?

Would you start losing families that go to the Trop because it's so affordable?

Fans can hold out hope that the Rays would keep their lower-level seats affordable, but when franchise owners talk about "new revenue streams" associated with new ballparks, what they really mean, as John Henry explained last year, is "higher ticket prices":
"New stadiums that are publicly financed make sense for clubs. I've never heard of a club turning down a publicly financed stadium. But privately carrying new stadiums is an enormous challenge.

"New stadiums increase revenues primarily by raising ticket prices — especially premium seating.

"In America, as an example, 3 NFL (American football) clubs have moved into new stadiums over the past 3 years. The New York Jets average ticket price rose by 32% when they moved into their new stadium. The New York Giants rose by 26% and the Dallas Cowboys rose by 31%. In baseball, ticket prices rose 76% when the New York Yankees moved into their new stadium 3 years ago."

Competition Heats Up for Tampa Funds

The Tampa Tribune's Michael Sasso reports this morning that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn may have trouble protecting a potential $100 million pot of money for a baseball stadium:
At least one county commissioner, Victor Crist, believes Hillsborough County has a right to some of that money, which would eat into the pot of money available for a future stadium. Meantime, the chairman of the governmental entity that controls those dollars, Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick, doesn't approve of using them for a sports stadium.

The pot of money in question won't come up for debate for two more years, but already people are making plans to claim it.
They're eyeing tax-increment financing (TIF) money that is designed to be re-invested in Tampa.  After the convention center is paid off in 2015, the $12-13 million a year could go toward a stadium.  But of course, if you don't spend the money on a stadium, it could go to a variety of other projects such as roads, the Forum, Channelside, or as County Commissioner Victor Crist suggests, renovated blighted neighborhoods:
The mayor disagrees, of course. He says Hillsborough County gets huge benefits from downtown Tampa projects such as the convention center, which helps fill hotels all over the county.

He'd like all the money to continue to be available for big downtown projects, such as a new stadium or a major entertainment complex, which Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is contemplating.

"That is my hope," Buckhorn said. "That is what I'm hoping for the county."
Buckhorn, who has said he wouldn't get in the middle of the Rays' Stadium Saga right now, may have an easier time lobbying for the Vinik/Channelside project...and he's got the support of County Commissioner Ken Hagan, who wants money prioritized for a stadium or Vinik-led endeavor.

But the debate, which comes after a similar one started in neighboring Pinellas County, drives home the real urgency in the Stadium Saga.  It's not a race to prevent the Rays from leaving town (their contract runs through 2027), but a race to claim available funds before some other project does.

In 2015, there should be monies available in Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Pinellas County.  The Rays know these deadlines.  And they also know the 2017 deadline, when they're likely to have a new TV contract in place that will make their subsidy case a lot less compelling

We should also keep in mind $100 million doesn't go very far in this equation and might simply be the cost of buying out St. Pete's contract a decade early.

Local Chambers Support New Spring Training Subsidy Law

This weekend, a letter to the Tampa Bay Times editor from three local chambers of commerce applauded SB 406, the recently-passed bill that allots $5 million a year in state money to new spring training projects.

There's a bevy of reasons why the bill was short-sighted, but the business-minded chambers aren't concerned about the use of the state funds or the fact that the bill also encourages Florida cities & counties to dig deeper into their own pockets to build new stadiums:
Florida is the premier state for the spring training, with 15 teams statewide, and our teams are an integral part of Tampa Bay's economy and recreation. Along with the tradition of warm days, watching baseball from the lawn and catching that foul ball or home run, there is the economic impact for hotels, restaurants and stadiums that spring baseball brings every year. And those benefits extend year-round when our minor league season arrives.
I guess the "premier state for spring training" is the chambers' opinion, since Arizona has 15 teams as well.  And Arizona teams tend to play in nicer stadiums that are located closer to each other.  And yes, those have been Arizona's big bait in luring teams away from the Grapefruit League in recent years.

But let's not forget most of the teams left in Florida are East Coast teams that would not want to make the move out West.  And there could have been better ways to prevent teams from moving to Arizona.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Can Tampa's Mayor Affect St. Pete Politics?

When Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn suggested the Rays' Stadium Saga may be due for some progress and that “Folks in St. Pete are going to want to know what the path forward is" before their late-summer mayoral election, could it really be a subtle endorsement for challenger Rick Kriseman?

It would be somewhat surprising to see Buckhorn, a Democrat, publicly endorse one of the three legit candidates in St. Pete this summer, because:
But if Buckhorn wanted to give St. Petersburg voters a reason to consider Kriseman, keeping the Rays' Stadium Saga at the forefront may be a good idea. 

My feeling is most St. Pete voters actually support Foster's hard-line on enforcing the Rays' lease, but if Kriseman is looking for issues to differentiate himself from the field, the Stadium Saga appears to be an opportunity.