Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Flashback: 2013! Sports, Jobs, & Taxes

As a follow-up to the "Flashback: 1997! Sports, Jobs, & Taxes" blog post, how about a few recent 2013 articles on America's stadium conundrum?
  1. Harvard Kennedy School on Press, Politics, and Policy - How to Curb Sports Teams’ Demands for Free Public Stadiums
  2. Money putting fans further away from game
  3. And finally, Pacific Standard - America has a Stadium Problem:
Economists have long known stadiums to be poor public investments. Most of the jobs created by stadium-building projects are either temporary, low-paying, or out-of-state contracting jobs—none of which contribute greatly to the local economy. (Athletes can easily circumvent most taxes in the state in which they play.)
Economists have also been, according to Long, drastically underestimating the true cost of these projects. They fail to consider public subsidies for land and infrastructure, the ongoing costs of operations, capital improvements (we need a new scoreboard!), municipal services (all those traffic cops), and foregone property taxes (almost every major-league franchise located in the U.S. does not pay property taxes “due to a legal loophole with questionable rationale” as the normally value-neutral Long put it). Due to these oversights, Long calculates that economists have been underestimating public subsidies for sports facilities by 25 percent, raising the figure to $259 million per facility in operation during the 2010 season.
All the while, American cities, counties, and states continue to struggle. Glendale, Arizona, may actually sell City Hall so they can afford to keep subsidizing a hockey team that few people actually pay to see.

And this happened:

Following Monday night's epic Rays/Red Sox Twitter war:

Rays Win Again; Fall Into Last Place

The Tampa Bay Rays nailed down their astonishing 21st win in 25 July games last night, but with just 17,402 in attendance, they fell into 30th place in the MLB attendance standings (17,783).  The Marlins, who lost again, mustering just four hits against the Mets, drew 23,408 and brought their season average up to 17,813.

It didn't help that a nasty storm cell (featuring a waterspout) knocked out power to half of St. Petersburg last night and play was suspended at the Trop for 20 minutes.  But hey, at least it wasn't rained out, right?  And at least they played Bugs Bunny:
And as much as people will point to the team's 30th-place attendance numbers, it doesn't necessarily mean the team is struggling.  Rays Index reports that TV ratings are once again soaring:
Since April 1, Sun Sports is the no. 1 rated cable network in primetime and their ratings have risen 8% since June 28.

Playing the Red Sox and Yankees certainly helps. But these numbers show that fans are starting to get excited about this year’s club. And that could mean a surge in both the TV ratings and the attendance.
The Rays have a chance to climb out of the attendance cellar with $2 kids night tonight and three games this weekend against the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rays: "Scoreboard." Red Sox & Fans: "Scoooooreboard!"

It all started with this:
As you can imagine, Red Sox fans had plenty of "Scoreboard!"-type of replies, from the predictable to the classless to the entertaining:
Among the hundreds of replies was this:
That opened the floodgates:
But the most telling reply
The fact that Yankees fans feel slighted by all the attention the Rays are getting from the Red Sox is indicative of how far this team has come.  And even as obnoxious Boston fans pull punches at the Rays' expense, the rivalry-building is a good thing...and hell, maybe it'll sell a few September tickets at the Trop.

By the way, the official RT count for the Rays' tweet is 1,438; the Sox' tweet got 5,407.  Unofficial RTs boost the numbers much higher.  But the Rays did pick up about 1,000 followers last night.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Local, State Spring Subsidies on way for Tigertown

According to the Lakeland Ledger, the City of Lakeland and Polk County officials have agreed in principal on a cost-sharing plan for $37 million in renovations for the Tigers' spring training home.

The county will commit 40% of the funds ($14.6 million) from tourist taxes, while the city will pick up 25% ($9 million), and new state subsidies are expected to pick up 35% ($13 million).

But the county acknowledged a difficult question, which the City of Lakeland will also face: how much of a priority should the Tigers' spring training home be with so many other needs?

The Ledger explains:
Yates, a TDC member, said the recommendation to make funding Tigertown the top priority came following a series of subcommittee meetings and discussions by the TDC that also involved the need to move forward applying for state funds and the awareness of what other communities might offer to lure the team away from Lakeland.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bob Ryan Rips Rays Fans

This morning on ESPN's "Sports Reporters," Bob Ryan from The Boston Globe went off on the Rays.  Or, more specifically, Rays fans:
"They play in a horrible ballpark and few people down there care at all. The Rays are the baseball tree falling in a very large forest.  I don't know of another organization in any sport that has done more things right in front of a less-appreciative audience than the Tampa Bay Rays. And that's the truth."

New Week, New Links

Some of these links are new; some are not. But all are worth your time:

Saturday, July 27, 2013

State Doesn't Just Subsidize Pro Sports...

Florida Governor Rick Scott announced this week that "Dolphin Tale 2," the sequel that will feature "Winter," Clearwater's famous dolphin with a prosthetic tail, will film in Florida.  Scott also announced the state will donate $5 million from its general revenue fund to help fund the film.

I'm not sure what the $5 million incentive was for, since it would have been very hard to shoot a movie about this one-of-a-kind dolphin in another state.

It's also hard to make the case that Alcon Entertainment needed the money after the first "Dolphin Tale" grossed almost $100 million worldwide

So what would have happened if the state didn't hand out $5 million to the studio? 

I guess the state would have just had to find something else to spend $5 million on.

Rays Fan Suggests Cheaper Beers, Food, Parking

A lot of Tampa Tribune readers like to write Letters to the Editor regarding the Rays.  Here is the most recent one printed:
The letter in last Saturday's View's section ("Alternatives for Rays") is close to being right on.

We are Rays fans and season-ticket holders and travel 45 miles each way to the games. We pay about $50 for each seat per game, and parking is at least $15.

Food costs a small fortune - $5 hot dogs and pretzels, and $8 beers. It's not cheap to go to a game.

That being said, think about this: Tropicana field is old but adequate. There are no rain-outs, it's 72-degrees inside and it's somewhat easy to get to.

The Rays organization should think about this. Lower the parking fees and some of the food prices. Lower the price of tickets all around, and for season-tickets holders. Make it easier for the fans to fill their seats, and the numbers will add up.

Yes, building a new stadium closer to me would be fine, but is that the answer? Look at what happened to the Marlins - a new stadium did nothing for their attendance, and there are a lot more people in Miami.

If you want to ruin the Rays' fan base, don't even think about moving them out of the state.

Rays' management has to wake up and smell the flowers. We love our Rays, but you guys have to come up with some new ideas and make it cheaper for us to fill your seats.

Go Rays!

Al Dawson
Port Richey

Thursday, July 25, 2013

St. Petersburg Mayoral Candidates Discuss Rays Stadium Saga

Four years after he campaigned on a platform of helping the Rays find a new long-term home, Bill Foster, now mayor of St. Petersburg, says talks continue with the team but he "had no idea" if an end to a long-standing stalemate was in sight.

"I was sent out to negotiate," said Foster, who has taken the brunt of the blame for inaction on the stadium issue. "I think when you negotiate in good faith and you try to end a very frustrating stalemate, you put everything on the table."

Foster said St. Petersburg and the Rays are still in the "discussion" phase of new stadium talks, but acknowledged city attorneys met with team attorneys Wednesday to continue to negotiate a possible amendment to the team's contract. The use agreement currently runs through 2027, but the Rays are seeking permission to explore possible stadium sites in Hillsborough County, closer to the center of the region's population.

Foster, an attorney by trade, has always been protective of the city's legal leverage, but said his relationship with Rays owner Stu Sternberg has never been better.

FLASHBACK 11/3/09 - What a Foster win means for the Rays

The mayor, facing two strong challengers in his bid for re-election, also faces criticism for not doing more to work with the Rays.

"If every year was an election year, the city would be in great shape," said mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman, a former colleague of Foster's on city council. "Well, now, it's an election year, and we're having dialogue with the Rays that we should have had a long time ago."

Kriseman has sent mixed messages himself on the Stadium Saga, indicating support for an amendment that would allow the Rays to explore Hillsborough County as well as maximize compensation for the city if the team leaves early. But he also told 10 News on Thursday his priority would be to work with the team to stay in St. Petersburg.

"We need to do everything we can to keep the team here," Kriseman said. "Our citizens have invested a lot of tax dollars in this team, but you also have citizens who have invested their heart and soul; they've given up their homes & businesses for that stadium to be built. Their sacrifice needs to be respected."

The third candidate expected to compete on August 27 for two spots in the mayoral run-off is another former councilmember, Kathleen Ford.

Ford says she generally has agreed with Foster's tough stance with the Rays, a position she's held since 2009, when she lost to Foster by a small margin.

She said any amendment to the city's contract with the Rays should include a 'non-waiver' clause where the city doesn't waive any of its rights. Ford said a recent amendment, proposed by Councilmember Charlie Gerdes, didn't protect the city's interests enough. She thought letting the Rays look elsewhere would diminish the city's leverage to enforce its current contract, which is set to run through 2027.

"(The Gerdes amendment) would waive some of obvious defenses in a contract action in a lawsuit, so I don't support that," Ford said, adding any new ballpark that included taxpayer dollars should require voter approval through a referendum.

Ironically, Ford, Foster, and Kriseman are all attorneys who have served on city council. Current councilmember Gerdes is also an attorney, but as Kriseman told 10 News in February, "two different attorneys can come up with two different opinions on an issue."

(cross-posted from

Maybe Recent Rays Headlines All Part of St. Pete's Poker-Playing

With so much interest in this morning's blogpost on whether St. Pete's lawyers are really making any progress with the Rays', here's an encore post to get your commenting juices flowing.

Field of Schemes' Neil deMause speculates why the Rays' Stadium Saga is heating up now:
Still, maybe Foster and the council have decided that enh, go ahead and let Sternberg look at sites, then they can tell him how much money he’ll have to pay to get out of his lease early. And then Sternberg can complain about how he doesn’t have the money to do all this — don’t forget, not only doesn’t he have a site, but his stadium dream doesn’t have even the inkling of a funding plan — and it’ll be Tampa’s fault for not coming up with the money, instead of Foster’s fault for being obstructionist, or whatever he’s ostensibly doing by holding Sternberg to his lease. There’d be a risk here — if Sternberg is able to create some media momentum for a site elsewhere, then there’d be pressure on Foster to haggle over the price — but maybe Foster feels like he’s tired of not talking about stadium sites, and would rather not talk about stadium funding instead.

Or maybe Nurse, who’s previously expressed a desire to get stadium talks moving, just decided to create some momentum on his own. He certainly made lots of headlines, so step one, check!
Nurse, by the way, runs for re-election on August 27.

Is St. Pete Really Ready to Let Rays Look in Tampa?

Lots of action in the papers this week as St. Pete's city attorneys reportedly met with Rays officials to try and close the "large gap" in their stances on the Stadium Stalemate.  Meanwhile, Hillsborough Commission Chair Ken Hagan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn say they're "ready to talk" stadium if the opportunity arises (not that you needed to be told that).

But some important questions remain about what this development means - if it is, in fact, a development:

Who will flip in St. Pete?
Mayor Bill Foster has maintained he has an "open door" policy with the Rays and is always ready to talk.  But he has always maintained he cannot let the Rays look at stadium sites in Tampa because it only increases the team's legal leverage and half of the city council has followed his lead.  Without a councilmember flipping his or her vote, it won't matter what kind of agreement the lawyers can hammer out.

"Once there is a kink in the armor, it opens up the floodgates," St. Pete councilman Bill Dudley told the Tampa Tribune.  "We have to be real careful as far as I am concerned."

How close is an agreement in reality?
We know how the Trib and Times love to sell papers with giant Rays headlines above the fold, but how much is hype and how much is reality?  St. Pete's top attorney, John Wolfe, said an agreement is "a long way off."  And it's not a surprise - how does a city guarantee the Rays' promise to consider Pinellas County stadium sites is anything more than lip service?

What will St. Pete get out of letting the Rays look?
The Trib indicates any contract amendment will "restate that the Rays are under contract to play at the Trop through 2027," even though the contract already says that.  The last suggestion from St. Pete Councilman Charlie Gerdes would let the Rays explore non-Pinellas stadium sites for $1.4 million a year.  Will Stu Sternberg open his checkbook for the right to break the Stadium Stalemate?

How independent will the study be?
In the words of Mark Twain, "There are three kinds of falsehoods: lies, damned lies, and statistics."  Pro sports teams are experts in making a statistic say anything they want, so if the City of St. Pete wanted to guarantee fairness in future population and location studies conducted, maybe it should mandate the study not be done by a firm of the Rays' choice, but an independent third-party like USF or the University of Florida?

Who will pay for a stadium?
Remember, location has never been the biggest challenge here.  Finding a method to pay for a stadium has always been the big challenge.  It's not often a conservative (Hagan) and a liberal (Buckhorn) agree on major projects like this, but the two Tampa-area politicians seem to be lock-step on the stadium issue.

"While each said a Bucs-style stadium deal based on a voter-approved tax increase is out of the question," wrote the Times, "Buckhorn and Hagan did say some forms of public participation are possible."

Hagan has previously said he would consider using TIF money to help finance a stadium, and now suggests EB-5 investment money too.  But TIF money - which is, in fact, tax dollars - might not break that $100 million mark and EB-5 bonding is typically short-term and very limited.

Buckhorn and Hagan indicated their roles in any discussion may be better-served as leaders of a group, rather than as financiers.  According to the Times:
Hagan said envisions forming a group with himself, Buckhorn, as well as perhaps representatives of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Sports Authority — “maybe a four- or five-person group.”

Buckhorn said he would expect the group to include himself, Hagan, top city development official Bob McDonaugh, County Administrator Mike Merrill, perhaps Tampa Downtown Partnership president Christine Burdick and perhaps Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who owns substantial real estate holdings near the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Let's forget for a moment that Vinik's participation in a search committee could present a major conflict of interest.  And forget the fact that this group would likely need to meet behind closed doors to negotiate anything substantial.

If the Rays' ability to look at Hillsborough opens up the conversation about stadium funding, this news can be positive step forward.  But if only serves to sway public opinion on the issue, these rumors are just another chapter in the Stadium Saga that ultimately gives the Rays an edge in the public game of creating leverage

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reports from Boston: Sternberg Optimistic on Stadium Saga

Speaking from America's oldest ballpark, Rays owner Stu Sternberg told reporters at Fenway Park Tuesday that he anticipated progress on the team's longstanding stadium stalemate.

"The details I'm certainly not going to speak about, but it is no secret that (St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster) and I have had a number of conversations over a lengthy period of time," Sternberg was quoted as saying in the Tampa Bay Times.  "I would like to believe that that's going to bear some fruit and allow us the opportunity to put this franchise on great footing for generations to come."

This isn't huge news since Sternberg said in June that he "felt better" about his relationship with Foster, but kudos to the Times for uncovering this nugget:
City Council Chairman Karl Nurse said city and team lawyers "have been trying to draft an agreement" for months that would allow the Rays to look at potential stadium sites in Tampa, as well as St. Petersburg.

An agreement would define ground rules for the search and reinforce the team's current obligation to play at Tropicana Field through 2027, Nurse said. The Rays also would have to thoroughly examine a proposed stadium in St. Petersburg's Carillon Business Park before looking in Tampa, he said.

The city would be protected, Nurse said, because neither side could break the team's current contract to play at Tropicana Field "unless both sides agree." He said he didn't know any other details.
If council finds an acceptable compromise, it won't matter what the mayor thinks.  But it's also worth mentioning Nurse has supported a compromise that would allow the Rays to look in Hillsborough County before, and council failed to support the motion.

Nurse also told the Times that Foster, who is faces a tough re-election fight on Aug. 27, shares blame with the city's attorneys, who have expressed concern over diminishing the city's legal leverage.

Sternberg said he was hopeful for a breakthrough and, with regards to Tampa possibilities, the Rays "want to see what's out there."

Click here for more on what Stu Sternberg and Bill Foster are thinking.

Meanwhile, go buy tickets for next week's mini-homestand at The Trop: the Wild Card-leading Rays are hosting the Diamondbacks and the World Series Champion Giants.  Kids' tickets to the team's Wednesday night game are even marked down to two bucks.

Monday, July 22, 2013 Writer Wants Rays to Move

Notorious Tropicana Field-hater (and correspondent) Richard Justice posted another interesting tweet Monday: "What would the Rays be drawing if they played their home games in a retractable roof stadium in San Antonio?"

He also said "The Rays would be drawing 3.5 million fans if they played their home games at Minute Maid Park," implying either Houston fans are better than Tampa Bay fans because they'd support a winning team (unlike their current AAA team), or implying that Houston fans only jump on the bandwagon when their team is winning.

Either way, Justice may be right on all accounts.  Floridians are not exactly the envy of the rest of the country right now.

Rays Partner with "Seat of Dreams"

The Rays introduced a new program today, "Seat of Dreams," that isn't just charitable, but also practical.

It allows season-ticket holders to donate their unused tickets (and we imagine there are a lot of them) to local children in need

“Many of our season ticket holders have indicated they would like to participate in such a program," said Rays Senior Vice President Mark Fernandez in a press release.  "We are grateful for their desire to join us in providing a major league experience to children and families who for various reasons may not otherwise have that opportunity."

According to the Rays, The Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay, the Police Athletic League of St. Petersburg, and the Children's Dream Fund are among the local charities targeted for the freebies.

Sure, the Rays could just give out tickets to these groups on their own - and on occasions, they do - but by partnering with the non-profit, the ticket donations now become tax-deductable.  And for some folks, it's a little more incentive to buy season tickets.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

More Letters to the Editors

Although the comments on this blog are entertaining, it's worth pointing out a few letters to the editors of the local papers that made print this weekend.

In the Tampa Tribune, a Rays fan from Sebring indicated the team's eventual departure was a foregone conclusion and "everybody, go to a game if you can, whether you're a Rays fan or not. It's a great joy."  Don't disagree with his last point, for sure.  (Ironically, another letter from a Rays fan in the tiny town of Sebring came to the Trib last week too.)

Also in Saturday's Trib was a letter from Pasco County Rays fan who made an interesting suggestion or two, including the Rays possibly playing some games across the bay at Steinbrenner Field, home of the Tampa Yankees.  The team could sell 11,026 seats at probably double the normal price...all while drumming up even more leverage for a move to Tampa!

And over in the pages of the Tampa Bay Times, a St. Petersburg fan says, "Hey, Bud, the Rays are doing all right."  He's absolutely right to blame the lack of transit for some of the team's troubles, but his other claims are up for debate: that expensive parking is a problem and a new stadium next to the Trop one could solve the team's problems.

I mean, a new stadium anywhere in Tampa Bay would be welcome news for Bud Selig & Rays fans alike...if we could just find someone else to pay for it...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Jays Haven't Made "Official Decision" to Leave Dunedin, But Sure Sounds Like They Have

New state subsidies designed to retain spring training teams will likely prompt the Toronto Blue Jays to move to Palm Beach Gardens.  That's the impression Blue Jays President Paul Beeston gave the Tampa Bay Times this week, saying a new two-team facility with the Astros would be a "perfect situation."

"There's no commitment, but there's an agreement to work together to see if we can pull it off," Beeston told the Times.

There may be no commitment on paper yet, but it sure sounds like the Jays have made their decision.  And it's a decision of opportunity, since the team said "we love Dunedin" just weeks before the state subsidies were announced and they hadn't publicly indicated a desire to move.

So Florida and Palm Beach County will each spend tens of millions of dollars to move the Blue Jays, a team that would probably never go to Arizona, from one Florida city to another.  But at least the Sunshine State will get Astros insurance too...since they draw so many visitors from Texas.....

Friday, July 19, 2013

Stadium Saga Still Talk of the Town

Haven't had enough Rays stadium talk this week after Bud Selig's semi-annual disappointmentfest?  Good!

Think Progress points out that Selig used the same arguments to get the Marlins a new stadium before that experiment

The Field of Schemes blog adds that "Selig calls team in pennant race and making money 'economically not tolerable' " and new stadiums are not always fixes for attendance problems:
There’s inevitably a temporary bump in attendance from a new stadium, since people turn out just to gawk, but history has shown that that can last anywhere from a few weeks (the Marlins) to maybe eight years or so (the Cleveland Indians) before attendance returns to background levels.
Interesting column in the Lakeland Ledger, listing the top 10 reasons the Rays are struggling at the gate.  I don't necessarily agree with all of them, but Dick Scanlon nails a few of the big ones: lack of transit and lack of tradition.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan continues to "flirt" with the idea of a Tampa stadium, but according to the Tampa Bay Times, he said "Hillsborough County isn't going to build it and taxpayer won't be asked to pay for it. In all likelihood, it may take several sources of money to pay for a stadium, and that could include private interests beyond the team, he said."

Oh, and the city of Detroit is bankrupt.  Yet the idea of paying $200 million for a new Red Wings arena seems to be on the table still.

Happy reading and happy weekend!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Bud Selig's Growing Frustrations in Tampa Bay

In 2010, he said "there has to be concern."
In 2011, he had no reason "to be too optimistic."
In 2012, he said attendance was "inexcusable" and "disappointing."

Now, a year later, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig says the Rays' stadium situation is "economically not tolerable" and "beyond disappointing."

In Bud's defense, the Rays are once again one of the best teams in baseball but one of the worst at the gate.

But on the other hand, Selig's problem isn't a few thousand Rays fans deciding to stay at home each night.....his problem is the league's embarrassment of riches.  Owners and players have made so much money during Selig's tenure, the super-rich are fighting over how much they have to share with the league's modestly-rich.

As I've written before, MLB allowed its business expenses to skyrocket, and now it wants you to help fix it.

Flashback: 1997! Sports, Jobs, & Taxes

It’s historically the quietest day of the sports year – the day after MLB’s All-Star Game. Which makes this the perfect day for Flashback: 1997!

This look back at “Sports, Jobs, and Taxes,” an essay by economists Andrew Zimbalist and Roger Noll, is dedicated to this blog’s frequent critics who insist a Tampa stadium would pay for itself (regardless of price) and implore me to “stop standing in the way of progress.”

An excerpt on why cities subsidize sports:
Advocates argue that new stadiums spur so much economic growth that they are self-financing: subsidies are offset by revenues from ticket taxes, sales taxes on concessions and other spending outside the stadium, and property tax increases arising from the stadium's economic impact.

Unfortunately, these arguments contain bad economic reasoning that leads to overstatement of the benefits of stadiums. Economic growth takes place when a community's resources—people, capital investments, and natural resources like land—become more productive…Building a stadium is good for the local economy only if a stadium is the most productive way to make capital investments and use its workers.
Zimbalist and Noll worked with 15 other collaborators to categorically dispel just about every common belief about stadium economics.
A new sports facility has an extremely small (perhaps even negative) effect on overall economic activity and employment. No recent facility appears to have earned anything approaching a reasonable return on investment. No recent facility has been self-financing in terms of its impact on net tax revenues. Regardless of whether the unit of analysis is a local neighborhood, a city, or an entire metropolitan area, the economic benefits of sports facilities are de minimus.

Sports facilities attract neither tourists nor new industry. Probably the most successful export facility is Oriole Park, where about a third of the crowd at every game comes from outside the Baltimore area. (Baltimore's baseball exports are enhanced because it is 40 miles from the nation's capital, which has no major league baseball team.) Even so, the net gain to Baltimore's economy in terms of new jobs and incremental tax revenues is only about $3 million a year—not much of a return on a $200 million investment.
Since this was written in 1997, Washington got a MLB team and Orioles’ attendance dropped severely.

Zimbalist and Noll also delved into how cities could protect themselves from the vicious competition that leads to bad stadium subsidies. Pay attention to this, Tampa Bay:
In principle, cities could bargain as a group with sports leagues, thereby counterbalancing the leagues' monopoly power. In practice, this strategy is unlikely to work. Efforts by cities to form a sports-host association have failed. The temptation to cheat by secretly negotiating with a mobile team is too strong to preserve concerted behavior.
You don’t need me to tell you there have been dozens of new publicly-subsidized stadiums built since 1997. In fact, Zimbalist/Noll are even resigned to the fact that nothing was likely to stop cities from competing “against each other to attract or keep artificially-scarce sports franchises.”

So is all stadium spending stupid? Not necessarily. We know pro sports teams create what Zimbalist/Noll call “public good.” It’s similar to a concept described here a few years back: fans take great pride in their teams and a franchise’s mere presence provides value.

There’s much more to “Sports, Jobs, and Taxes,” so when you’ve got a little time on your hands – give it a read.

This is also a good opportunity to remind readers that this blog has no agenda other than providing a big-picture look at sports business news – particularly the Rays’ Stadium Saga – and acting as a watchdog for the public.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Not all of these are new, but they're good bathroom reading for the week:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Tampa Council Chair Endorses Mayor Foster

It wasn't an official press-release-and-photo-opportunity kind of endorsement, but Tampa Council Chair Charlie Miranda endorsed St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster's re-election campaign in a more important way - he endorsed a check for his campaign.

According to Richard Danielson in the Tampa Bay Times, Miranda sent Foster a $100 donation and a thank-you note:
"I admire ... your dedication to ensuring that contractual obligations are adhered to," Miranda said. That would include Foster's stance that the Rays play at Tropicana Field until 2027, as required by the team's lease with the city.
Yet while Miranda said he believes Foster is the best candidate in St. Petersburg's Aug. 27 primary, his contribution is as much about politics in Tampa as in St. Petersburg. It sends a signal that he would oppose any deal that hinged on public support to bring the Rays to Tampa.

"I believe the taxpayers' money should be used for infrastructure and the needs of the citizens, which is where the tax money comes from," Miranda says. That includes, he says, the $100 million that Buckhorn's administration figures it could contribute to a project once the city's debt on the Tampa Convention Center is paid off in 2015.
Danielson reminds readers that Miranda wore all-black clothing to council meetings in 1996 to show his disapproval of public subsidies for Raymond James Stadium.  And he's not afraid to break the outfits back out again for a Rays subsidy push, if necessary.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was quoted as saying, "Charlie, God bless him. Has he got his black outfits ready?"  Buckhorn also said he had trouble seeing big-time tax dollars going to a Rays stadium in Tampa:
"In this environment and this economy, taking something like that to the voters and asking for a tax increase is out of the question," he said. Buckhorn does not see the money freed up by paying off the convention center debt as a tax increase. It is already being collected inside the city's downtown community redevelopment area, and that means it can be spent only on downtown improvements.
Buckhorn's bright political future may prevent him from ever diving head-first into the Rays stadium issue - it's very risky territory for a politician.  He's also expressed support for his St. Pete counterpart, Foster, in a joint interview conducted last year.

"Bill Foster has a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens that he represents," Buckhorn said at the time. "I get everything that he's doing and everything that he said. I don't begrudge him one iota. He's doing exactly what he was elected to do: protect the interests of the city of St. Petersburg.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tribune Readers Love & Hate The Trop

Two interesting letters to the editor appear in today's Tampa Tribune after the paper asked, "Where Have All the Rays Fans Gone?"

The "letter of the day" was from a Rays fan in Sebring, approximately 1 hour and 49 minutes from Tropicana Field.  An excerpt:
Rays management has done a fantastic job getting the players to have a winning team every year since 2008. We actually have players kids can have as role models and look up to.

The Rays have a huge following on TV and radio. Support your hometown team and attend a few games. We want the Rays to stay in the Tampa Bay area but need the fans to come out and attend some games in person.
But the counterpoint letter came from a Tampa fan who didn't fault the Trop's location as much as the Rays' not-so-dynamic pricing:
I can tell you where our family of Rays fans has gone: our comfortable and affordable family room.

Our family of four, including 5- and 3-year-old boys, love and support our ball club. We recently took our sons to their first major-league game at Tropicana Field. The experience was memorable, and the hospitality at the stadium was amazing. Everyone, from the ticket takers to the ushers, was awesome. However, by the end of the night we had spent close to $300 for four hours of entertainment. Our family budget simply can't accommodate attending a game more than annually.
The Rays could lower ticket prices and get more fans in the door, but as this blog has written before, it's just not in their best interest to do that. True dynamic pricing would create very cheap tickets and selling 15,000 tickets at $20 a piece is still more profitable than selling 30,000 tickets at $5 a piece.

For more on what could be causing the drop in Rays' attendance, see the interesting theories posted in the comments section on this Field of Schemes' story.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Are Rays Already Too Far Down Destructive Road?

Hey Sasso!  My Google Alert for "Rays attendance" is going off!  Get another Rays story on the front page!

I don't know if that's exactly how the conversation went yesterday at the Tampa Tribune, but it may not have been far off.

A day after John Romano wrote in the Times, "Don't blame Tampa Bay, maybe Florida and baseball don't mix," the Trib's leading stadium writer, Michael Sasso, dissected the team's sagging attendance numbers:
Midseason, the Rays are averaging just 17,961 fans per game at the Trop through 46 home games. That's down from an average of 21,035 fans per game through the first 46 home games of last season...
Everyone has their own theory.  Mine has been that Trop-bashing has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  And Sasso went down that road:
The Rays may be caught in a vicious cycle, based on the experience of one fan who caught a game at Ferg's sports bar in downtown St. Petersburg recently. Angie Latour, 40, of St. Petersburg, said the team needs more season ticketholders, but the fear that the Rays may leave town keeps her from purchasing them.
Not purchasing a season's worth of tickets because the team may be gone in five years doesn't make a lot of sense...but neither does a Tampa fan's hesitation to drive from South Tampa to Downtown St. Pete.

Watching the reaction to these stories have been interesting.  More specifically, the lack of new reaction has been interesting.  Most of the most comments reacting to Romano's column were of the "get them out of that dump and you will see increase in attendance" and "we are the only Major League Market without viable mass transit" variety.

But commenter "stilljustsayin19" echoed the "self-fulfilling prophecy" theory, saying "The Trop has a negative energy that I don't need, and I don't want to be a part of. I definitely don't want my wife and kids experiencing that either. Idon't go to WalMart either. Why? Same reason."

And leading Rays biographer Jonah Keri (well, just about the only Rays biographer) took issue with Romano on Twitter: "So, so, so much wrong in this article."

I believe Keri was referring to Romano's snub of one major reason for Rays' struggling attendance: the team's short history and lack of fans born into the culture (so far).  But if young Rays fans are brought up in a culture where it's not seen as "cool" to go to a baseball game, the argument may be moot anyway.

Finally, it's worth noting the Rays declined comment on Sasso's story, continuing their practice of methodical media relations, generally commenting only when convenient and when planned well in advance.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Newspapers or Stadiums?

Interested in your comments on this:

The Star-Ledger newspaper in Newark, N.J., is threatening to shut down without $9 million in union concessions.  This comes after years of bleeding red ink.  The situation resembles pro sports' labor issues in many ways: public squabbling, doomsday threats, etc.

And while I'm no economist, I'm going to assume newspapers serve just as many people as baseball teams entertain.  And since they probably employ more of people than a pro sports team....would $10 million a year in public subsidies be better served on newspapers than pro sports?

For the sake of argument, let's pretend a public subsidy wouldn't create any awkward conflicts-of-interest (after all, the Tampa Bay Times is thriving under the Poynter Institute's non-profit exemption).

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Maybe the Yankees Need a New Stadium?

In this morning's New York Times:
Through 41 home games this season, the Yankees have drawn nearly 106,000 fewer fans than at this point a year ago, a 6.1 percent drop that is almost twice as large as the overall decline in baseball. More than half a dozen other teams have had bigger attendance losses than the Yankees, but without exception they are teams that went from good to bad, at least for a while, or from bad to worse, or that play in cities without a notably intense fan base.

The Yankees do not fit in any of those categories, which makes their attendance falloff more intriguing. And while they also experienced a decrease in attendance the last two years, the one this season is more pronounced.
We feel the need to find excuses for everything, so the reason for the Yankees' decline must be its lack of stars in the lineup.  That is to say, New Yorkers are so spoiled by years of Jeter, ARod, and Teixeira, that having a competitive team led by Robinson Cano, Ichiro Suzuki, and C.C. Sabathia just isn't enough.

The Yankees drop, by the way, isn't too far off the MLB average attendance decline of 3.6% from a year ago.  And it's not nearly as bad as the Mets' 8.4% drop, the Rays' 11% decline, or the Marlins' 28% plummet.