Thursday, September 26, 2013

Is it April Fool's Day? Selig to Retire, Glazers to Buy Up Tix?

Two pieces of almost-unbelievable news today.

Bud Selig will reportedly retire:
Of course, he's said that before.  And he's got 15 months to change his mind...or launch other adjectives at the Tampa Bay region.

And closer to home, the Glazers have indicated they will ensure a season-free of Bucs blackouts:
For many, this kind of commitment is three years too late, but its welcomed news nonetheless for both Bucs fans and for frustrated taxpayers.

Montreal, Like Tampa, Wants Baseball...and Has No Idea How to Pay for It

Headline: "Poll shows 69 per cent of Quebecers want Major League Baseball back in Montreal"

Context (via Field of Schemes):
It doesn’t look like the poll actually asked people what they’d want to spend to build a new stadium to get a team — the full poll results haven’t actually been released — but that’s certainly the plan.
We knew that Montréal had a lot of baseball fans, that it’s big, and that MLB would be stupid to turn up its nose at putting a team there if it offered a new stadium. As when the Expos were still extant, though, the trick is going to be getting the stadium built, or rather figuring out who would pay for it. I wonder what ever happened to the money from that “buy a brick” campaign the Expos ran for their attempt at a new ballpark? Probably sitting in one of Jeffrey Loria’s desk drawers…

Selig Calls Rays' Attendance "Disgraceful"

Guessing Bud Selig wasn't being critical of the Rays' marketing department when he called the team's attendance "disgraceful" this week on John Feinstein's radio show.

Guess we can also add it to the list of adjectives Selig has used to describe the Rays' Stadium Saga:
2010: "There has to be concern."
2011: No reason "
to be too optimistic."
2012: Attendance is "
inexcusable" and "disappointing."
2013: Situation is "
economically not tolerable," "beyond disappointing, and "troubling."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

UPDATE 2: Rays Supporters Cast Votes in St. Pete Mayoral Election (with Checkbooks)

Campaign checks continue to flow into St. Petersburg, where St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster and challenger Rick Kriseman will face-off in November to decide who will chart the city's course for the next four years.

Since the August primary, when a number of donors with baseball ties cast their support with checks, new donations have been coming into the Foster & Kriseman campaigns.  Of note:
  • St. Pete Chamber Chairman, David Punzak, who has been outspoken on the Stadium Saga, donated $500 to Foster as well as $250 to Kriseman.
  • St. Pete Council Chairman, Karl Nurse, donated $500 to Kriseman.
  • Former mayoral candidate, Democrat Scott Wagman, donated $500 to Foster, a Republican.
  • And Sher Investments, the company owned by former ABC Coalition spokesman Craig Sher, donated another $500 to Kriseman in addition to the $500 maximum contribution Sher himself donated before the primary.

Sternberg Says Attendance Numbers Will Hurt Payroll...Again

The Rays are in New York, home of team owner Stu Sternberg, which often means attendance questions.  And sure enough, we got them.

"I'm a little shocked, I'm a little surprised," Sternberg said, according to the Times' Marc Topkin (link to

Sternberg added he expected the Rays to sell out a potential Oct. 2 wild-card game, and "he was 'pretty certain' any subsequent playoff games at Tropicana Field also would sell out," despite another season of falling attendance that ranked the league's worst.
Without getting into specifics, Sternberg said there would be an impact on next season's budget, although a long postseason run could make up for the revenue shortfall. The Rays ranked 28th this season with an opening day payroll of about $58 million.
In many ways, its the same ole rhetoric from Sternberg, who has suggested doom-and-gloom payroll reductions for years.  But to the Rays' credit, these kind of concerns have been largely unjustified, as the team has been one of MLB's willingest since 2008.

Even Sternberg admitted in January, "we’re not going to be able to continue (this kind of success), even with a $150M payroll...but (new revenues) help to stack the deck."

He also acknowledged in 2011 that the Rays won't ever be able to compete with big-spenders like the Rangers (after they eliminated the Rays).  And better attendance would help...but he wasn't counting on it.

"If we won the World Series this year," Sternberg said at the time, "I wouldn't think my attendance would get higher. It didn't go up in '09 when we got to the World Series (in '08)."

So there should be no surprise from Sternberg at this point, and especially not shock.  He knows attendance will continue to slide for the Rays.  That's part of the reason the team gets $35M a year (give or take) in revenue sharing to make up for it. It's the system MLB created to preserve parity
As much as Sternberg has toned down the rhetoric lately - at least out of the Rays offices - there's little evidence the Rays need help (to their credit) either on- or off-the-field right now.

UPDATE: CBS Sports' Danny Knobler writes if the Rays make the playoffs, they'd be the first playoff team to finish last in attendance and would be the lowest-drawing playoff team in 34 years, since the 1979 Pirates drew 1,435,454.  Sternberg commented, "that was a fun team," in reference to the Pirates.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Quick Mid-Week Stadium Reads

  1. In case you missed it, the Los Angeles Angels are threatening to leave town if they don't get a new stadium or something like that...
  2. A Cleveland columnist speculates the Indians may threaten to leave town if the city doesn't start thinking about a Jacobs Field Progressive Field replacement.
  3. A fantastic essay from Neil deMause, explaining how teams have gotten increasingly smart about how they profit from new stadiums, outmaneuvering municipalities and winning "hidden" concessions buried deep within the agreements. The "operating subsidies" summary is here.
  4. The Atlantic points out the NFL benefits from tax dollars, avoids anti-trust laws, exploits nonprofit laws, and its commissioner makes $30 million a year.  Now how silly is that?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Rays Attendance: 2013 Post-Mortem

A crowd of 17,830 saw an absolute thriller Monday afternoon at Tropicana Field, the final home game (we think) of the regular season.

That brought the Rays' season total up to 1,510,300 and their per-game average down to 18,646, the lowest since 2007.  That will once again place the team last in the MLB attendance standings, despite all the ugliness in Miami.

Everyone has an excuse: the dome, The Bridge, the mayor, etc.  But there's also a preponderance of evidence all the attendance complaints are a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It's a theory first addressed on this blog three years ago.  And with no new stadium in sight, there's a good chance stadium criticisms will continue to rise while attendance numbers continue to sink.

Rays Stadium Saga: Mail Time!

A couple of opposing letters in this morning's Tampa Bay Times (click here to read on Times' site):

Reader Larry Yurkonis from St. Pete writes, "I have never been as embarrassed to be a Rays fan as I was the other night when only 10,000 people showed up for one of the more important games of the year....if I owned the Rays I would have had enough.  Charlotte, San Antonio, and Nashville would be good places to start a discussion, and by 2015 I would be there."

Yurkonis may be frustrated, but he obviously doesn't understand the Stadium Saga's complexities.  Read this site more, Larry!

And reader Henry D. Reiss from St. Pete echoes a recent Shadow of the Stadium post, asking the Times why the editorial board has put all the blame of the Stadium Stalemate on the shoulders of Mayor Bill Foster.

"You seem to be implying that a new stadium is the answer," Reiss writes.  "Just look at what happened to the Marlins: a new stadium and still empty seats...why should I fight traffic and pay parking fees when I can sit in my living room and have the game brought right to me?"

Speaking of reader comments, a few interesting posts from this blog's readers:

In response to a post about John Romano's most recent Rays column, Brendan keys upon one phrase Romano wrote: Tampa Bay may decide to “pay the price to remain a MLB market.”

Brendan likens it to extortion.  That may be a bit extreme, but it's clear that building a stadium and winning a pofessional franchise isn't enough to keep a team forever.  There's the expectation - across all leagues - that if the community (any community) wants to retain its franchise, it should continue to cough up tens of millions of dollars a year in perpetuity.

Runner-up to best blog comment goes to "Situboy," who really encapusulates the purpose of this blog: to add perspective, fill in the blanks, and "leveling the playing field so we're not all speaking in platitudes and hyperbole."

"That (Shadow of the Stadium) points out fallacies in Sternberg or Selig's arguments is not an attempt to make Foster a sympathetic figure." Situboy wrote.  "Rather, they are culpable for telling us why they deserve a new facility...Though I think the Rays deserve better, it's their responsibility to tell us why they deserve a publicly funded facility -- especially one that could cost upwards of $600 MM. "

Keep the comments coming!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Baseball Struggles to Compete with Football in Many Markets has an update on the Oakland Athletics' poopgate and Keith Olbermann's open criticisms this week.

But the best takeaway is how Oakland and Cleveland - two cities that have struggled in recent years with attendance - seem to have been hurt by their returns of football:
[T]he A’s most successful era occurred after the Raiders moved to Los Angeles. The Indians greatest success in the last 50 years occurred after the Browns abandoned Cleveland for Baltimore. The Raiders were successful for a period when they returned, and have been mediocre in the decade since. The Browns have been the AFC North’s punching bag since they returned as an expansion team. Both affected baseball teams have been unable to repeat their respective successes since the football teams returned.
Obviously, Tampa Bay fans can appreciate the conflict.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Times' Online Editor Takes on Mike Lowell

I enjoyed this back-and-forth between the Tampa Bay Times' online editor, Ken Walker, and former Marlins star Mike Lowell:

Apparently not everyone at the Times thinks 10,000 fans at the Trop is the end of the world.

Trib Says it Won't Speculate on Stadium Saga; Then Speculates on Stadium Saga

A day after the Tampa Bay Times' editorial board took another swipe at the Stadium Saga, their counterparts from the Tampa Tribune followed suit with "Striking Out at Tropicana Field."

The Trib's editorial board proclaimed, "we won’t venture here into all of the reasons put forth over the years as to why people don’t attend the games."  And then, it ventured into a reason it thinks people don't attend games (the stadium):
We just know Tropicana Field is a failure as a baseball venue. The empty seats this week should eliminate any notion of forcing the team to play there until 2027, the final year of its lease with St. Petersburg.
The Trib makes no acknowledgement that Floridians are often fair-weathered toward professional teams and maybe - just maybe - a move to Tampa may not increase attendance all that much.  In fact, the editorial concludes a new downtown Tampa stadium would draw big crowds.

But to the Trib's credit, at least the editorial board acknowledged some of the fault of the stalemate should be directed toward the Rays and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.  Unlike the Times' editorial board, which continues to give Selig & Sternberg a free pass, the Trib pointed out neither executive has been forthcoming about any possible concessions they may make in ending their current contract early.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fallout from 14,827 at Wednesday Night's ESPN Game

As predicted, there was plenty of Trop- and Rays-bashing last night as fewer than 15,000 fans took in the nationally-televised Rays/Rangers game with huge playoff implications.

But who would have thought the Tampa Bay Times editorial board (link to would have fired off its second Mayor Foster-bashing editorial in two weeks?
This situation is not sustainable. But for nearly four years, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster has ignored the obvious.  Now he has brokwn off talks with the Rays about letting the franchise look for potential stadium sites in Tampa.
Correction, Times, talks don't actually appear to be broken off.  Nor does the lack of progress appear to be Foster's doing, according to even some of his biggest critics on city council.

The editorial board goes as far as calling Foster a liar for claiming the Rays don't want to compensate the city for breaking its contract early.  Of course, they still give the team a free pass, despite the lack of any tangible evidence a new stadium is a real "need," rather than a "want."

It's also worth pointing out Foster's years of "stonewalling" have resulted in zero negative repurcussions so far: St. Pete continues to enjoy the benefit of the Rays; the team is still winning; taxpayers aren't paying anything extra out of pocket yet; and there's no sign any of those things are about to change in the near-future.

Other Times' Foster-bashing: Sept. 2013
Feb 2013 | Feb 2013 | Jan 2013
Jan 2013 | Oct 2012 | April 2012

Meanwhile, columnist Tom Jones writes (link to Tampa Bay simply is not a baseball market and a Tampa stadium wouldn't make a difference.  He blames apathetic fans:
...from those who can afford to go and choose not to, preferring their HD TVs instead, there are two things I never want to hear.  One, I don't want to hear you complain when ESPN or anyone says this is not a baseball market.  And, two, I don't want to hear you complain when the vans back up to the Trop and move this team to Portland or Northern New Jersey or Brooklyn.
Jones' contends the team is destined to ultimately leave Tampa Bay and "the only outrage will be locally...the Tampa Bay area has no allies."

And FOXSports' Ken Rosenthal writes "no one could blame the Rays if they ordered Mayflower moving vans and snuck out of town, Baltimore Colts-style" and "the Rays’ problems, however, are long past the point of absurd":
Imagine how far attendance might fall if the Rays ever stop winning. Imagine how difficult it will be for them to sell out the 34,078-seat Trop if they host the American League wild-card game on Wed., Oct. 2.
“We stopped worrying about that a couple of years ago,” Maddon said. “We thought after we went to the World Series in 2008 that there would be a paradigm shift regarding the attendance. But it hasn’t occurred.

“You stop talking about it. We know we have a very supportive following; the Tampa Bay area is very supportive. We know that they’re not going to show up – we know that. So, we just appreciate the group that does.”
“This is what we play 162 games for, this block of games that is going to determine our season. It is what it is. But if you’re a baseball fan, I don’t know how you can not want to show up.” 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

USA Today Explores Puzzling Attendance for Playoff Contenders

USA Today (which is owned by the same company that employs me) had feature this morning on dwindling/puzzling/disappointing crowds at several AL playoff contenders.

It's an issue covered at length in this blog, but Bob Nightengale had some grafs worth reading:
Here were the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers, tied for the American League wild-card lead, and a crowd of only 10,786 was on hand at Tropicana Field.
"We kept looking at the stands, and wondering where everyone was," says Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford, a proud alum of the Rays. "Man, this is a big game. And you look at the stands and no one was there."
Really? Carl Crawford, of all people, is surprised?

Nightengale chalks the Rays' and A's attendance issues up to stadiums and locations, while chalking the Indians' issues up to the economy.  But like in Tampa Bay, Cleveland's TV ratings are thriving:
The fans are watching and listening, but only from their living rooms, and not making the trek from the suburbs to downtown. They drew just 9,794 fans for a key game against the Kansas City Royals last week, a record low for a September or October game since the opening of their new ballpark in 1994.
Certainly the players notice, but largely remain mum. You can complain all you want, but the fans don't want to hear millionaire ballplayers telling families how they should spend their disposable income.
While Nightengale was probably writing the story, Rays' pitcher David Price was tweeting:
But I digress.

Many sports fans and owners alike look at half-empty stadiums as "depressing," or "puzzling."  But many also look at them as business opportunities.  After all, you don't become one of Forbes' 400 richest billionares by not asking for public subsidies!

A closing thought from Buster Posey:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Rays Attendance Watch: September 17

Expect another round of stadium banter to fire up this week as the Rays, the current leaders for the AL's top wild card spot, host the Rangers on ESPN Wednesday night.

But if Monday night's crowd (10,724) was any indication of what we'll see at the Trop on Wednesday, expect the Stadium Saga to be the league-leader in criticisms.

With just seven home games left, the Rays (18,638) seem destined for another last-place finish in the attendance column.  The team is down 981 fans per game from last year and would need a few huge crowds to catch the 29th-place Marlins (19,267) or 28th-place Indians (19,435), who are ironically right on the Rays' tails for the wild card.

At least one super-fan is trying to prevent the Rays-bashing...Brett Morgan launched the "Top Off the Trop" campaign, aimed at getting a respectable crowd in front of those ESPN cameras Wednesday night, but here in football country, the odds are stacked against him.

Of course, all the attendance talk may be a moot point since pro teams are counting less and less on ticket sales for their revenues...

Monday, September 16, 2013

NFL Addressing Attendance Issues Faster (& Better) Than MLB

There was a good story in this weekend's New York Times about how fans at NFL games are paying increasing attention to TVs and decreasing attention to the actual game on the field (h/t to Michael Kruse's blog):
The Jaguars realize that in the fight for fans’ attention and wallets, their competition is not just from college football and other sports, but from fantasy football, social media and the highlights, statistics and online discussion that can sometimes be hard to follow in stadiums but have become an essential part of N.F.L. Sundays.
“The teams are asking whether the TV has gotten so good that the snake starts to eat its own tail,” said Andrew Billings, who teaches sports media at the University of Alabama and is a co-author of “The Fantasy Sport Industry: Games Within Games.” “You’ve offered such a good product at home that people don’t go. Yet the product is good in part because you have so many screaming fans.”
All joking aside that the story was written at a Jaguars game, where fans have some very legit reasons not to want to see the on-field product, the story addresses why attendance numbers have been sinking for the NFL since its' 2007 peak.

Those attendance issues also exist in MLB, where ticket sales make up an ever-shrinking portion of team and league revenues.  As Kruse suggested - perhaps only half tongue-in-cheek - "maybe admission should be free."

Forbes: Glazer Worth Up to $4.5 Billion

The bad news for the Glazers: according to the latest Forbes estimates, they're no longer among the 100 richest American families.

The good news for the Glazers: they come in at No. 102 and are now worth an estimated $4.5 billion.

Twelve months ago, Malcolm Glazer & family were ranked at No. 108, worth $3.6 billion.

But just six months ago, the Glazers were the 90th-ranked Americans on the Forbes' world billionares list (No. 286 overall), worth an estimated $4.4 billion.

Since then, the family's estimated value has grown by $100 million, proving even sad football teams are profitable football teams.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Romano: Drop the Confidentiality Agreement in Stadium Saga

As the Trib's columnist, Steve Otto, was dissecting the impact the Channelside deal would have on the Rays Stadium Saga, the Times' columnist, John Romano, used his Sunday column to once again advocate for a quick resolution to the stalemate.

Romano has been frustrated by the stalemate for years, but he writes its now holding a pair of downtowns hostage since developers & business leaders can't sit on empty properties forever.  And available tax dollars won't be around forever:
In many ways, both sides of the bay are at a crossroads. There is an opportunity to re-imagine and reinvigorate two downtowns, but one key issue must first be resolved.
When will the Rays be allowed to look in Tampa?

"Time is of the essence,'' said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "No one can expect Mr. Vinik to do nothing with that land for six or seven years until this gets resolved.
As I wrote last week, there is a lot of value in long-term civic planning.  But at the same time, there's no guarantee the region will decide building a new stadium is in its best interests if the Rays don't foot the majority of the bill themselves.  And if there are public subsidies going to a stadium, the sooner the half-billion-dollar structure is built, the sooner it will start re-directing tax funds away from other sources.

Romano continues with his suggested "next step":
Drop the confidentiality agreement. If the Rays are refusing to offer compensation — as some City Council members have suggested — then let's find out. And if Foster is being unrealistic, then let's find that out, too.

The other alternative, particularly if Foster is re-elected in November, is for the Rays to deal directly with the City Council.

We can't begin arguing about locations, finances or even whether we want to pay the price to remain an MLB market until we get past this first step. Enough time has been wasted already.
Couldn't agree more with Romano's conclusion about the confidentiality agreement - it probably isn't doing Rays fans or Tampa Bay taxpayers any good.

(side note: In July, I also suggested that the Rays could potentially deal directly with city council against Foster's wishes, since council is in charge of city policy.  But the Times' Mark Puente disagreed, saying nothing happens in a "strong mayor" form of government without the mayor's direction.)

Nevertheless, Romano's right in that a quick resolution might help St. Pete and Tampa plan better for the future.  But a quick resolution could also jeopardize the region's legal leverage and encourage more public financing than may be necessary.

Otto: Channelside Deal Accelerates Stadium Dreams

A lot of chatter this weekend about how the deal for the Channelside Bay (retail) Plaza will do wonders for the Rays Stadium Stalemate.  I've been skeptical.

And so apparently is the Trib's Steve Otto.  His Sunday column acknowledges the Channelside deal (if approved) will "move things along in the baseball stadium dream department," but Otto doesn't seem sold on the idea:
Personally, I figure a downtown arena might generate a few thousand more fans than the Rays are pulling in at Tropicana Field, but I don’t know that in the long run that is going to be enough to keep them here. What they are going to need in this money game are companies willing to buy lots of tickets and to fill up corporate boxes.

So far they seem to be in hiding.

For one thing, the port authority, which I always assumed was there to make sure the channel was dredged and that the container ship terminals were in place, was about to get into the retail, entertainment and even baseball business.

But then the authority has that one thing that could make it all work ... money.

Sure, it’s your money, but that makes it even better.
The Port Authority doesn't have hundreds of millions of dollars lying around, and if it did, I'm not sure it would support the agency's mission of creating actual, you know, good, full-time jobs through port traffic.

But that doesn't mean the Port Authority won't play a major role in stadium discussions down the road.  One of Otto's counterparts at the Times, Dan Ruth, even joked in his Sunday column, "and when the Tampa Bay Rays move to downtown Tampa things will really start hopping, which - forgive a touch of cynicism, is what this deal ultimately always has been about anyway."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Roger Noll on San Jose v. MLB

Interesting reading over at, where Marine Layer writes leading sports economist Roger Noll provided an opinion on behalf of the City of San Jose's antitrust lawsuit against MLB. 

Among his declarations:
11. One domain of competition in MLB as well as other professional sports is competition among cities to attract or to retain a team. Economics research shows that the financial success of a baseball team depends on the economic and demographic characteristics of its home territory, the quality of its home stadium, and the financial terms and other arrangements concerning the stadium. Cities actively compete for baseball teams on the basis of agreements that they offer to a team concerning a home stadium.

12. Economists who have studied the location of teams in a league have concluded that in some circumstances a league has a reasonable business justification for restricting relocation. In particular, because the success of a league depends on the financial success of each team, leagues have a valid interest in assuring that each team will enjoy sufficient popularity in its home territory to be financially viable. This pro-competitive justification does not apply to MLB’s refusal to allow the Athletics to move to the City of San José.

Today: 98.7 The Fan Rally to "Save Tampa Bay Baseball"

As Tampa Bay sportstalk station 98.7 "The Fan" launches its "Save Baseball in Tampa Bay" campaign today (3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Ferg's), the station's program director, John O'Connell, answered a few questions about the campaign:

Q: There's contentious debate about where a new stadium should go and who should pay for it. How is 98.7 The Fan approaching the touchy subjects?
To start, we don't shy away from touchy subjects. But our goal isn't to determine where the new stadium should be built, as long as it remains in the Tampa Bay area. Our mission is to do everything we can to rally Rays fans to come to games, get behind their team and let Major League Baseball know that this is a very viable market for baseball, and that we care about this team.

Q: There hasn't been a hostile relocation of an MLB team in decades. What does 98.7 The Fan think Tampa Bay Baseball needs saving from?
True, and a lot of fans believe that no one is ever going to move their team. In reality, anything is possible. Go back a few decades when the Baltimore Colts left town in the middle of the night. We're pretty sure the majority of Colts fans never expected that to happen to a heritage team, their team - but it did. Save is another word for "keep" and that's our goal, to keep the Rays here.

The kickoff event runs from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. today at Ferg's in St. Petersburg; you can head to to read more of the Q&A.

The Channelside Deal and Stadium Non-Deal

Bonus points to the Times' Jamal Thalji for his coverage of the stadium speculation at Tampa's Channelside district:
Buckhorn envisions the Channel District becoming the entertainment corner of downtown. A new Channelside could be the missing piece to making the Florida Aquarium, the Times Forum and the Tampa Convention Center a unified, walkable waterfront. Add the mythical downtown Tampa baseball stadium, and Buckhorn's vision would be complete.

But the mayor's vision would have to align with Vinik's vision. Vinik and his partners own 12 empty acres across from the Times Forum. The mayor has called it the ideal site for a baseball stadium. (Ideal funding has yet to be discovered, however.)
Thalji acknowledges the elephant(s) in the room: the "mythical" stadium and "yet-to-be discovered" funding.  The subtle nods the the unknown provide proper perspective, as well as underscore just how far we are from any sort of Stadium Saga resolution.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tampa Port Authority Tries to Takeover Channelside Bay Plaza

The morass at Downtown Tampa's Channelside Bay Plaza appears to be coming to an end, as the Port of Tampa has come to an agreement to buy the struggling retail center for $5.75 million.

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik appears to be the frontrunner to now buy and rehab the plaza, but Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn - a member of the Port's board of directors - indicated the property will go out for bids since so many tax dollars will be at stake.

But since Buckhorn loves talking baseball, we can also count on lots of Rays-to-Channelside rumors the next few days.
But this news doesn't change much about the Stadium Saga - at least in the short-term. Finding a place for the Rays to play has never been a's all about finding the money to build a new stadium.

And as for whether Jeff Vinik decides to sell his stake in the Boston Red Sox and get involved in Rays stadium-building or just focus on bolstering Downtown Tampa's entertainment a question for way down the road.

In other news, exhibition baseball is returning to Montreal next spring, giving us hundreds of additional headlines to look forward to next year about how the Rays are candidates to move to Canada.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sportstalk Station Launches "Save Tampa Bay Baseball" Campaign

Tampa Bay's 98.7 The Fan radio announced today is is launching the Save Tampa Bay Baseball campaign.  I'm not quite sure what it needs saving from...Bud Selig's boogeyman?

According to its press release, 98.7 The Fan is launching a "multi-tiered campaign to help keep the hometown Tampa Bay Rays baseball team in the region."

But it's website says, "It's unfathomable to think that Tampa Bay may soon be without a major league baseball team, but it's a VERY real possibility - and one we won't accept."  

Did Bud Selig write this himself?

The rest of its press release is below:
98.7 The Fan has launched to raise awareness that the Rays may be in danger of leaving Tampa Bay, as well as a petition drive to let Major League Baseball know that the Rays belong in Tampa Bay. As the local business community has been a great ally of the Tampa Bay Rays, the 98.7 The Fan Street Team will canvass the downtown area offering Save Tampa Bay Baseball window stickers to all local merchants who support the Rays.
In addition, 98.7 The Fan will host an official Save Tampa Bay Baseball Rally on September 12 at Ferg’s Sports Bar & Grill – home of the 98.7 The Fan “Fan Cave” – before the Rays vs. Boston Red Sox game.
“At 98.7 The Fan, we strongly believe it’s in the best interest of the Tampa Bay community to keep Major League Baseball here,” said John O’Connell, Program Director for 98.7 The Fan. “We will support our hometown Rays every way we can, and encourage Rays fans and the Tampa/St. Petersburg community to join us.”
The "Save Tampa Bay Baseball" rally takes place this Thursday, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., at Ferg's in St. Pete.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Update: Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board Still Hates Bill Foster

Sunday morning's Tampa Bay Times featured another editorial attacking Mayor Bill Foster's handling of the Stadium Saga; specifically, his memo criticizing MLB Commissioner Bud Selig for interfering with negotiations between the city and the Rays:
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster wants to blame baseball commissioner Bud Selig for his own failures. Selig is hardly a sympathetic character, but he's not the reason stadium negotiations between the city and the Tampa Bay Rays are stalled. The reason is Foster's lack of leadership and poor negotiating skills, and the stalemate is more evidence that St. Petersburg needs a new mayor.
The Times suggests any recent progress is a result of Foster's political opportunism (well, every issue in an election year is political).  And any lack of progress is a result of Foster's lack of leadership.

But do the Times' editorial-writers have any idea what's happening in the closed-door negotiations between St. Pete and the Rays?

Do they really not care that the league and team are reportedly refusing to consider any compensation for breaking St. Pete's contract early?  Do they really not care the Rays have yet to even indicate support for the presumed starting point for negotiations - the proposed "Pay-to-Stray" amendment put forward by councilman Charlie Gerdes?

The editorial may not think Selig is a sympathetic character, but it seems to have a lot of sympathy for him:
What prompted Foster's abrupt outburst last week that indicated talks have broken down? It should not have been Selig's recent complaints about the pace of the negotiations. The baseball commissioner naturally is interested in the economics of baseball revenue sharing and doesn't want the less profitable franchises to keep being propped up by the others.
At least the Times recognizes the Rays are profitable and MLB's M.O. is to increase its $8 billion/yr revenue numbers.  And a new stadium would merely reduce how much money teams like the Red Sox and Yankees ship to Tampa Bay.
It also would be no surprise if the private talks broke down because Foster overplayed his hand. This mayor does not have a good reputation for negotiating in good faith and finding reasonable middle ground, whether it's with the Rays over the stadium, or Pinellas County over the EMS system, or the city of Tampa over bills for the Republican National Convention.

(Mayoral challenger Rick) Kriseman pledges to negotiate with the Rays on allowing the team to look at stadium sites in Tampa. His suggestion that the Rays lower ticket prices in return is intriguing. But there are bigger issues to consider: How much would the Rays pay toward demolishing Tropicana Field? How would they help the city prepare the site for redevelopment? How much would they pay the city to leave for a new stadium in Tampa before the Trop lease expired?
So practically in the same breath the editorial board criticizes Foster for being stubborn in negotiations, it calls upon the Rays to answer questions they've not shown any willingness to publicly address yet.  Questions from elected leaders and media alike get frequent "no comment" responses from the Rays.

But once again, the Times casts Foster as its foil.  And once again, the Rays get a free pass from the paper.

Just a small sampling of other Times editorials ripping Foster's handling of the Stadium Saga in the last couple of years:
Feb 2013  |  Feb 2013
Jan 2013  |  Jan 2013
Oct 2012  |  April 2012

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Fallout From Foster's Memo: Day 2

On one hand, you have to give Hillsborough Commission Chair Ken Hagan credit for being forward-thinking.  The land and financing and politics of the Stadium Saga are unlikely to come together all at once, so preserving all options is a good idea.

But on the other hand, is it really necessary to convince one of Downtown Tampa's brightest minds - Jeff Vinik - that he shouldn't close the door on a possible Downtown Tampa baseball stadium?

In this morning's Tampa Tribune:
Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan has asked the owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team, Jeff Vinik, to consider a Rays stadium on land he partly owns across from the Forum in downtown Tampa. Vinik is a partner with a Colorado-based investment group in at least 14 acres across from the Forum, and he’s been planning a large-scale development project there.

Hagan said he asked Vinik’s group not to make any plans until the Rays’ standoff with St. Petersburg is resolved. Hagan said he’s not committed to Vinik’s property, which sits on each side of Caesar Street and just north of Channelside Drive, but wants to have several potential stadium sites available in case the Rays come knocking.
One thing is certain: Vinik, who is a minority owner of the Boston Red Sox, needs no reminding about the possible uses for his land.

But the stalemate between St. Pete and the Rays could very well linger for years.  And if Downtown Tampa really needs a baseball stadium to trigger development, there won't be any major projects filling the Channelside area anytime soon anyway.  However, if developers are clamoring to fill all those downtown parcels right now and people are clamoring to move there, would a baseball stadium (likely land not on tax rolls) really be the highest-and-best use of that land?

“What I have asked (Vinik's group) to do is to not make any commitments toward their development until we have an understanding of how the Rays’ potential relocation efforts are played out,” Hagan told the Trib.

There's a lot of value in creating a master plan for downtown, but if Vinik and other developers were really on the verge of doing something with all that vacant land, the suggestion of slowing that progress could be counter-productive.

Hagan, who once said he didn't support any public money going toward a stadium, also told the Trib he was opposed to Hillsborough County compensating St. Pete for the early termination of their Rays contract.

“No, I can’t see any circumstance where Hillsborough County would compensate St. Pete for allowing the Rays to break their use agreement,” he said.

While Hillsborough may never actually cut St. Pete a check, if it costs anything to "make St. Pete whole," it's simply increasing the bottom line cost of a new stadium, which Tampa/Hillsborough taxpayers would presumably help subsidize.

However, if Hagan is siding with Bud Selig in the alleged MLB/St. Pete brouhaha over compensation, it's only playing into the Rays' hand and making the current impasse harder to solve.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Fallout from Foster's Memo: Day 1

Predictably, the Times headline this morning, "Mayor: Talks going badly," created a lot of other headlines today...even though the mayor never actually said talks were going badly.

However, councilmembers were telling the Tampa Tribune that's exactly what's going on: the Rays are refusing to compensate St. Pete for leaving Tropicana Field early:
“Their premise is they shouldn't have to pay us anything,” (council chair Karl Nurse) said. “I can't imagine how they can say, 'We owe you nothing. Goodbye.' And I can't imagine the city agreeing to that.”
Mayor Foster said negotiations were going well until Bud Selig's August 15 comments, but now no further meetings are scheduled.

These compensation disagreements - if they are true - are part of the unsurprising tug-of-war over public opinion and negotiating leverage.  Two years ago, Shadow of the Stadium wrote, "What Bill Foster is Thinking" and it still rings true today:
It comes to down to preserving St. Pete’s equity in Major League Baseball. The city agreed to build a stadium in exchange for 30 years of baseball. Foster sees anything short of that benchmark unacceptable.

Is he willing to negotiate? Sure. Is he willing to accept financial restitution in exchange for early termination of the contract? Probably. But that hasn't been offered by the Rays.

What has been offered is a region-wide search for a better location and Foster already knows what that would yeild: a Tampa vs. St. Pete tug-of-war. When the
Tribune suggests a Tampa stadium plan would do nothing to interfere with St. Pete's relationship, they're wrong. It takes away St. Pete's leverage.

And in a stalemate that will ultimately come down to a negotiation over hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies, Foster the Lawyer can't afford to lose any leverage.
Just like a homeowner, St. Pete has a right to look out for the equity it has built in this contract; those are taxpayers' dollars.

And if you disagree, ask yourself these questions:
  1. If you buy a home and finish paying off your 30-year mortgage early, is your equity zero just because you have finished the debt service? Or do you still have the right to the equity you originally bargained for?
  2. If Evan Longoria decides he deserves a better contract, does he have the right to walk away from his current deal without penalty?
  3. If the Rays claim they're bringing value to Tampa, doesn't it suggest they're taking it away from St. Pete?

Meanwhile, sportstalk radio was all abuzz with Rays talk Thursday and I spent a good 15 minutes chatting with WDAE's Steve Duemig (you can listen to it here).  But one thing he asked was if Mayor Foster's public foray was "politicking."  My response: "of course!"

The political ramifications of any major news two months before a major election are always calculated.  And the Times was quick to recap the "campaign rhetoric" fallout.

"I don't lie," mayoral challenger Rick Kriseman told the Times. "You can trust me...We will have honest dialogue."

But Foster fired back, telling the Times, "There is a big difference between politics and governing...I'd appreciate it if he'd leave the governing to me. I'm not going to play politics with taxpayers' money."

When asked what he'd do different, Kriseman said he'd push mass transit (which Foster has supported as well) and propose the Rays pay for the right to look in Tampa with a different kind of concession:
Rather than charge the team a fee for exploring sites outside the city, he would grant permission in exchange for them lowering ticket prices next season to lure more fans. He also wants to create incentive programs with restaurants and hotels to make games attractive to tourists and visitors.
The Rays declined to comment on the ideas and Foster then called them "naive":
"I have been working with the organization for two years to make sure taxpayers interests are preserved and recognized," (Foster) said. "It sounds like a Kriseman administration would give everything away."
UPDATE: Kriseman's campaign manager, Cesar Fernandez, later told me the Times got Kriseman's concept wrong and the proposal was not "one season of cheap tickets in exchange for the right to look" - it was merely brainstorming. 

Given all of the politicking between the mayoral candidates, there was a stark contrast from city council this week, as I first pointed out this morning.

My WTSP colleague Preston Rudie spoke with councilmember Charlie Gerdes, who authored the unsuccessful amendment to allow the Rays to look in Tampa, and his message was that MLB should just butt out at this point.

As for Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, he told Rudie that baseball just won't work in St. Pete, but he's still stuck on the sidelines until the Rays and St. Pete finalize their "divorce" and give Tampa their blessing to start talking.

How Bud Selig Could Get a New Stadium Deal Done Today

Saw this gem on Twitter today:
That salary is more than the entire Downtown Tampa TIF generates in bondable real estate taxes.  And since Mayor Buckhorn explained those revenues can be bonded at a 10-to-1 rate over 30 years (Field of Schemes' Neil deMause says the rate is even higher), Selig could conceivably bond $200 million on his salary alone.

$200 million!?!?!  That's probably enough to close the giant gap that's prohibited the Rays' Stadium Saga from moving forward!

Now, now, I recognize Selig isn't going to remain commissioner for 30 more years and no bank would give him a $200 million personal bond.  But then again, would it be that hard for the league to commit $18M a year to a new Rays stadium?

READ: Bill Foster's Rays Memo to City Council

Upon further examination, it seems St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster's memo to St. Petersburg City Council doesn't actually mention negotiations with the Rays have broken down.  It's more of a public rebuttal to Bud Selig's recent comments:
To: The Honorable Karl Nurse, Chair, and Members of City Council
From: Bill Foster, Mayor
Date: September 4, 2013
Subject: Rays Status Update

In light of recent media reports pertaining to my conversations with the Rays, and the potential intervention by the Commissioner of Baseball, this memorandum will serve to update Council on the status of these discussions.

I am now, and always have been, committed to three things when it comes to the Rays: protecting the public's significant financial investment in bringing Major League Baseball to St. Petersburg, preserving the integrity of the City's bargained for contract with the Rays, and supporting the team. But rather than focus exclusively on the Rays' contractual commitment to play their home games at Tropicana Field through the 2027 season, I began to explore potential avenues of keeping the Rays in the Tampa Bay region for generations to come. With that long term goal in mind, I opened the lines of communication with Mr. Sternberg and the Rays organization to consider options that would allow the Rays to search for future stadium sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, while at the same time protecting the public's financial investment and the City's contractual rights. Both the City and Rays embarked upon these discussions in good faith, with open minds and an eye toward compromise. Over the last several months, we have engaged in hours of telephone conversations and met on numerous occasions. In fact, I believe our last meeting with the Rays, which was only days before the August 15, 2013 Major League Baseball owner's meeting at which Commissioner Selig threatened that Major League Baseball may "intervene", was our most productive to date.

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. Nor does Major League Baseball seem interested in a cooperative effort to keep the Rays in the Tampa Bay region for the long term. Major League Baseball's sole motivation, and consequently Commissioner Selig's only measure of success in this matter, appears to be accomplishing Major League Baseball's agenda. Major League Baseball's failure to consider all of the parties' interests, not just the interests of Major League Baseball and team owners who contribute to revenue sharing, is the real impediment to progress.

While I remain willing to continue discussions with the Rays and Major League Baseball to attempt to identify an outcome that is equitable to all parties and keeps the team in the Tampa Bay region for generations, I cannot and will not support an outcome that is primarily at the public's expense. Rather than being a hindrance, Major League Baseball can become part of the solution if Commissioner Selig acknowledges that the public's investment in bringing Major League Baseball to St. Petersburg and the contractual commitments made by the Rays cannot be cast aside as trivial and undeserving of any consideration. If Major League Baseball would start to recognize the public's investment in baseball and the Rays' contractual commitments to the City as having even a fraction of the value of a team's investment in a star player and the player's corresponding contractual commitment to his team, I believe we could make real progress that benefits the entire Tampa Bay region.

We will continue our discussions with the Rays, and regardless of what transpires off the field, I encourage everyone to focus our attention on the field by rallying to support our home team. Go Rays!

cc: John Wolfe
Tish Elston

Report: Negotiations Between St. Pete, Rays Breaking Down

It appears Tampa Bay was so excited about the possibility of a new Rays stadium on the other side of the bay, fans ignored the underlying warnings that the team and St. Petersburg were still "a long way off" in negotations.

Mark Puente reports in today's Tampa Bay Times that negotiations between the Rays and St. Pete are "going badly" and Mayor Bill Foster penned a letter to city council indicating MLB may be all-but-sabotaging progress in the region:
"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 told council members he is committed to more talks but "cannot and will not support an outcome that is primarily at the public's expense."

Sticking points seem to center around how much the team would pay the city for leaving early and to demolish Tropicana Field.
This echoes a Shadow of the Stadium warning from Aug 16:
Clearly, the Rays and St. Pete haven't found common ground yet on the ground rules of a search: either the financial terms or the legal limitations, designed to protect St. Pete's contractual interests.
It's no surprise these high-stakes negotiations public: the city wants to maximize its compensation while the Rays want to diminish the city's financial leverage. 

But the Rays didn't seem happy about the seemingly broken handshake promise not to negotiate through the court of public opinion, issuing a statement calling Foster's memo "unfortunate and unproductive in so many ways."

Foster piled it on MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, saying revenue sharing was his "sole motivation" and the league's failure to consider taxpayers' investment "is the real impediment to progress."  As this blog has pointed out, a new Tampa Bay stadium could mean more to the league's richest teams than it does to the Rays.

Also interesting: some of Foster's typical critics on city council were not-so-quick to pounce on this political opportunity.

Councilman Charlie Gerdes, who authored the first failed amendment to allow the Rays to look in Tampa, told the Times "he doubts Foster is allowing politics to seep into the talks."  And Councilwoman Leslie Curran suggested revisiting talks after the season, adding "there is no love lost between the Rays, the city and Bud Selig."

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dissecting the Red Sox' Attendance Drop

Since the Red Sox aren't about to go blaming an outdated ballpark for attendance, there are many questions just why the first-place team's attendance has slipped so much from last year, despite better performance. reports ticket sales will be down about 7% for the Sox this year, although the team expected it.

The Boston Globe points out the buzz around the team has subsided from it's peak a few years ago.

And the Biz of Baseball concludes ticket sales jumps and drops are often delayed by a year...which means good things to the Sox next year...and bad for teams like the Angels and Giants.

St. Pete Rock n' Roll Half Marathon Canceled

The St. Pete Rock n' Roll Half Marathon, whose economic benefit claims Shadow of the Stadium first questioned early in 2012, has posted a message on its website that it was cancelling next February's race.

In 2012, the inagural race failed to live up to its promise of 12,000-15,000 participants, but organizers said it was because the event was new.  In 2013, the numbers were even worse.

The race organizer, the Competitor Group, will still operate the November St. Pete Women's Half Marathon, which it purchased last year from a local company.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Tampa Bids on Super Bowl - What Can We Expect?

The Tampa Sports Authority has once again bid on a Super Bowl, hoping to bring the game back to Raymond James Stadium in 2018. Couple the success has Tampa has enjoyed in hosting the Super Bowl with its repeat runner-up status in bidding for the game, and Tampa Bay is probably due to win a bid.

However, the NFL has used Super Bowls (much like MLB has done with All-Star Games) as a carrot to dangle in its stadium-building campaigns. And as the Tampa Bay Times' Drew Harwell writes, 14-year-old Raymond James Stadium will face stiff competition:
Eight newer stadiums have yet to field a Super Bowl, though nearly all are in northern climates typically cold for the late-winter game. The game next February in New Jersey's MetLife Stadium will be the first Super Bowl held in an outdoor northern stadium.
Tampa's Super Bowl bid is secretive, but it most likely included a bevy of incentives and kickbacks for the NFL. That's just the norm these days as competition between cities often negates some of the benefits the Super Bowl is supposed to bring.

In fact, the league is in such a position of power over bidding cities, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told Houston officials - after they built the new Reliant Stadium for the Texans - they should spend another $29 million to demolish the adjacent Astrodome to create 2,500 parking spots.

KHOU-TV reported Goodell called demolition a "game changer" in Houston's bid. Then the commish cranked up the pressure, saying, "That issue is for the community to decide, but I think having an extra 2,500 parking spaces would enhance Houston’s bid."

Houston officials actually refused to cave in to the pressure at the time and decided against blowing up the Astrodome. So how integral was that new parking to Houston's bid? They landed the 2017 Super Bowl anyway.