Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Good Thanksgiving Reads

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Stadiums Are Expensive; They're Also Retail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

St. Pete Approves Trop Renovations

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

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

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

Weekend Reading List: Two Ends of Stadium Spectrum

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

Foster Says MLB Wants Out of Tampa Bay (Again)

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

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Foster May Have Won if He Talked More Rowdies

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

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

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

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

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

St. Pete Grand Prix Lands New Title Sponsor

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Rick Kriseman Assembling Staff, Talking Points

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

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

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

Letter: No Taxes for Rays Stadium

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

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

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

Sunday, November 17, 2013

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

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

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

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Vinik Group Adds More Downtown Land

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

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

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

Friday, November 15, 2013

New Details on Tropicana Field Renovations

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

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

Olbermann Says Forget Jersey, Look to Montreal

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

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

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

Reader Rebukes Stadium-less Tampa Idea

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

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Selig Un-Intervening, Says No Clubs Moving

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

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

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

Kriseman Comes Face-to-Face with MLB Challenges

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

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

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

Braves Stadium Fallout: Day 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Braves Stadium Fallout: Day 3

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

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

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

Rays Renovating Tropicana Field

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

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

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

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

"Smashing Start" for Tampa Baseball Museum

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Braves Stadium Fallout: Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 11, 2013

Braves Stadium Sparks Plenty of Rays & A's Anger

UPDATE: Reports out of Atlanta have clarified the $450 million funding mechanism to yet-to-be-disclosed public financing.

With the surprise announcement that the Atlanta Braves would move to the suburbs of Cobb Co. in 2017, came plenty of outrage from Rays fans in the Twitterverse:
The Braves are moving to dense suburbs, where they're selling the majority of their tickets.  Fans there will no doubt enjoy easier commutes....but likely higher ticket prices as well.

Nevertheless, its somewhat unprecedented for a team to want to replace its stadium so soon after opening (well, except for the Rays, of course).
It's also interesting the Braves will be moving away from the city's downtown core.  Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has repeatedly said the new MLB model features stadiums in livable, walkable districts.

The Braves indicated they'd put $200 million toward a stadium, with Cobb Co. securing $450 million in "private funding," to be announced at a later date.

There are a lot of questions to be asked about the "private funding," including what it is and if it will hold up.

The Braves are also moving from one already-congested area to another one...and they'll get no help from transit.  While the region's rail system, MARTA, is the poster-child for bad rail decisions, it was Cobb Co. that had a huge hand in dooming the system some 40-odd years ago:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tear Down the Trop and Redevelop? (Pt. 2)

Some great reporting from the Times' Stephen Nohlgren, shedding some light on what's gone well - and what hasn't - with St. Pete's negotiations with the Rays {link to Times' site}:
City attorneys and the Rays apparently overcame one major hurdle — contractual language to protect St. Petersburg's legal position if things go awry.

They also fashioned a possible financial formula for an early exit: The team would pay to demolish Tropicana Field, plus compensate the city for every lost year of play up to 2027, when the Trop contract expires.

Negotiations halted before the two sides could agree on the amount of compensation. But at least at one point, several possible roadblocks had narrowed to one: cash.
This seems to echo the frustrations of city council members this summer who said the Rays weren't willing to "pay to stray," as well as this blog's speculation on Aug 16.

St. Pete's mayor-elect, Rick Kriseman, who takes office on Jan. 2,  has maintained the Rays would have to pay to explore Tampa stadium sites.  Presumably, he would require a departure fee too, although we don't know if he will hold the same tough line that his predecessor, Bill Foster, has held.

Nohlgren also wrote that council members are increasingly intrigued by Tropicana Field re-development and the potential that 85 near-downtown acres hold.  The Rays actually suggested this too, when VP Michael Kalt told Pinellas County commissioners in January that taxpayers are losing out by having baseball at Tropicana Field.

But it may not be the best argument for the Rays: its a far cry from the "$200 million-a-year economic engine" argument they used before, and if commercial or residential development is a better use of the Trop would likely be a better use of space in rapidly-expanding and rapidly-appreciating downtown Tampa.

Councilmembers also told Nohlgren the fee the Rays would "pay to stray" was no longer an issue:
"(The Rays and St. Pete) were talking end-game type solutions — Trop demolition, payment for leaving early and possibly reimbursement for lost sales taxes, which were minor," (Councilman Charlie) Gerdes said.
"I was worried about (the city's legal position)," Gerdes said. "But Foster said we are comfortable now that we are covered. Both sides looked at the (contract) language and came up with a way'' to protect the city's rights.
And an important passage on leverage:
The Rays have never overtly threatened to leave the Tampa Bay area. But the prospect of stadium offers from competing regions is growing less remote, said Craig Sher, a retired executive from St. Petersburg's Sembler development company. Sher served on a civic group that studied the stadium issue and maintains close ties to Foster and Kriseman.

By contract, the Rays cannot negotiate any deal to play anywhere else through 2027. But legally, they could talk right now to, say Charlotte, N.C., or Montreal, about building a new stadium there that would be ready for a 2028 opening.

The actual target date could come much sooner, Sher said, because a suitor city could offer to buy additional years off the Trop contract.

Would $50 million, for example, entice the city to allow a 2022 exit if fans knew their team was leaving in 2028 for sure?

A national stadium search would be a messy, last resort strategy for the Rays. It would alienate fans with no certain prospect of success. But an open-air stadium in another city would be $150 million or so cheaper than a roofed stadium in Tampa Bay. That edge alone could provide cash for a Trop buyout.

If nothing else, letting competing cities creep into the equation increases the Rays' leverage during negotiations here, Sher noted. The team will pay a chunk of construction costs, but their options elsewhere will help determine how much.

"I think the Tampa Bay area needs to be out of the ground'' with a new stadium "by the first quarter of 2018 for an opening day in 2020,'' Sher said.

If the Rays reach 2018 with no stadium in sight, he said, "they might as well wait and explore what other cities can offer.''
Of course, its part of the standard stadium subsidy blueprint.  And while the Rays lose a bit of leverage if they acknowledge they are only considering Tampa stadium sites, there's still a tug-of-war going on.  Would Tampa spend enough to move the Rays away from St. Pete before 2027?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Buckhorn Shares Kriseman's Optimism on Stadium Saga

Following St. Pete Mayor-Elect Rick Kriseman's post-election optimism, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn shared the feeling on Thursday.  The Tampa Tribune reports:
“It's either going to be Tampa or someplace else, not St. Petersburg,” Buckhorn told 100 members attending the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association's annual luncheon.

Buckhorn's statement followed the election defeat Tuesday of incumbent St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, who Buckhorn has said was an obstacle to the Rays looking beyond Pinellas County for a new home.

In a touch of whimsy, Buckhorn said Tampa could be better served by a Major League Baseball ballpark in the downtown urban core than a flour plant that currently occupies a prime site.

"The ConAgra plant is right in the middle of where third base could be,” Buckhorn said, adding that ConAgra has no reason to move unless the plant were bought out.

He also said about 20 acres of land Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik owns around the Forum is a prime site, but does not know if Vinik has the patience to wait to develop the property until the Rays impasse over their contract to play at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg is resolved.

“Our only hope is to get together to pursue the ballpark,” Buckhorn said, adding that a $600 million financing plan that did not include a taxpayer giveaway is needed.
The only surprise was that this story didn't end up on the front page of the Tribune.  But even if the biggest obstacle in the Stadium Saga is no longer the team's contract with St. Pete, that pesky $600 million price tag is no easy hill to climb, either.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"The Gamesmanship is Following the Modern Public Relations Playbook"

In case you missed it last weekend in the Tampa Tribune:
So far, the gamesmanship is following the modern public relations playbook, according to the handful of professionals who agreed to be interviewed, on or off the record.

Expect an all-out, multi-layered campaign — using polls, ads and grassroots advocacy — that relies more on what one’s neighbors think than what politicians say.
The article was talking about the push for resort casinos in Florida - not stadiums - but the theme should sound very familiar to those that follow:
  • the Rays' stadium campaign in Tampa Bay;
  • the Dolphins' renovation campaign in Miami;
  • the Jaguars' renovation campaign in Jacksonville;
  • the speedway renovation campaign in Daytona;
  • the Magic and MLS stadium campaigns in Orlando;
  • the Red Sox' and Orioles' spring training stadium campaigns in SW Fla...
...just to name a few.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tampa Businessman Pitches "Ideas to Make Tampa Cool," Doesn't Include Stadium

Tom Hall, the chairman of Tampa public relations firm Tucker/Hall, spoke to the Florida Venture Forum on Wednesday about his "6 Ideas to Make Tampa a Cool City."

The group of entrepreneuers heard Hall's ideas on development and transportation, but not the building of a new stadium - an idea he says would be bad for the city.

IDEA 1 - Use public-private partnerships to encourage development of a full-scale residential, retail, hotel, entertainment, and office center. Hall suggests the current ConAgra factory location for the complex, and compares the idea to Miami's Brickell City Center.

IDEA 2 - Connect the major downtown districts with elevated, air-conditioned, moving sidewalks. The "city center" complex would act as a hub, connecting to both the Channel District to the East and the Franklin Street area to the West. Hall says the idea is modeled after successful sidewalk projects in Hong Kong.

Read the rest of the ideas on here

Day After Winning Mayoral Election, Kriseman Opens Up About Rays

St. Petersburg Mayor-Elect Rick Kriseman said Wednesday at a press conference that he doesn't want to step on the toes of Mayor Bill Foster, so all he plans on doing with the Rays in the next two months (he'll assume office Jan. 2, 2014) is to reach out and "get familiar" with the team's top brass.

In a 1-on-1 interview with my WTSP colleague Preston Rudie, Kriseman added, "my no. 1 goal is protecting our taxpayers....(the) second thing is, let's see what's happened thus far to get us to where we're at, and what can we do - if anything - to try and make this team successful here?"

"How long will that take?  I don't know," Kriseman continued.  "But this team has made it very clear they don't feel (St. Petersburg) can work and they want to stay in the Tampa Bay area, (so) we need to talk with them in that respect."

Kriseman also told Rudie:
  • He was open to letting the team look in Tampa if they are adamant St. Petersburg won't work.
  • He plans to talk to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn about a number of issues, including the Rays.
  • He he hopes to have a resolution - of some sort - to the Stadium Saga within the next four years.
Watch Preston's story - including Kriseman's plans on other hot-button issues - tonight at 5 p.m. on WTSP 10 News.

Times Takes One Last Shot at Mayor Foster; Kriseman Next?

Following Rick Kriseman's victory over St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster last night, the Tampa Bay Times editorial board took one final shot at Mayor Foster {link to Times site}
St. Petersburg voters sent a clear message Tuesday that they want their mayor to provide stronger leadership and their city to aim higher. That is why they replaced incumbent Mayor Bill Foster with Rick Kriseman, who promises to bring new energy and fresh ideas to City Hall. Now Kriseman should build on his solid victory, unite the city and lead St. Petersburg in a more positive direction.
For those of you keeping score at home, there have been more than a dozen Times editorials ripping Foster over the Rays.  A small sampling:
Sept. 2013 | Feb 2013 | Feb 2013 | Jan 2013
Jan 2013 | Oct 2012 | April 2012

The Times, which continues to give the Rays a free pass on the Stadium Saga, now moves on to lobbying Kriseman for a Tampa stadium:
The incoming mayor also should reach out to the Tampa Bay Rays and renew discussions about allowing the franchise to look at potential stadium sites in Tampa. It's understandable that the new mayor wants to try to build attendance at Tropicana Field, but that effort should be simultaneous with talks on the long-term approach to keeping Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay.
Kriseman is about to find out it's not easy to protect the city's interests and please the newspaper on this issue.  The mayor-elect said on the campaign trail he favored letting the Rays look in Tampa, but he also stressed protecting the city's financial interests.  St. Pete's contract with the Rays runs through 2027.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What the Kriseman Win Means for the Rays

Four years ago, I declared Bill Foster's win over Kathleen Ford in the St. Pete mayoral race a "win" for the Tampa Bay Rays since Ford basically refused to negotiate with the team on a new stadium.  Turns out it didn't make much of a difference at all.

But in 2013, with Rick Kriseman knocking Foster out of office, 56% to 44%, once again, it seems to be a "win" for the Rays.  Kriseman promised an end to the gridlock over a replacement stadium, while Foster maintained it was impossible to move forward and still protect the interests of St. Petersburg.

Time will tell if Kriseman - like Foster, a lawyer by trade - will be able to fulfill his promises of advancing the discussion, while holding the Rays' feet to the fire on their contract.  Kriseman has said his priority is to keep the Rays in St. Pete and boost attendance...but he wants to have the discussion about Hillsborough stadium sites too.

Kriseman said he's willing to amend the current contract to let the Rays look in Tampa...but he also insists the team "pays to stray."

Will Kriseman break the stadium stalemate or will he soon sympathize with Foster's frustrations?

Gators Latest Team to See Attendance Drop

It's not just MLB and NFL teams seeing drop-offs at the box office....the Florida Gators are too.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the University of Florida saw a decline in the number of season tickets sold - even before they dropped three straight games:
A sluggish economy and even more sluggish Gators offense have created a lot of empty seats in the Swamp.

In reaction, UF athletic director Jeremy Foley reached out to fans last week to cut them a break on their future ticket packages.

Among the changes, the school will not increase booster contributions for at least three years, will extend payment plans from four to six months and will open a practice in 2014 for exclusively for season ticketholders.
College football still rules in Florida, but it's popularity is giving way a bit to the popularity of the living room couch.

Read more of the story and AD Jeremy Foley's letter to boosters here.

Rays, Tampa Bay Watching St. Pete Mayoral Election Today

Today's the day for St. Pete voters to head to the polls (if they haven't already cast ballots) and choose between re-electing Mayor Bill Foster and challenger Rick Kriseman.

We know who the Rays and Tampa Bay Times are rooting for....but will it even make a difference?

Monday, November 4, 2013

MLB Leveraging Oakland on its Stadium Saga

MLB dips back into the ole' stadium subsidy playbook...this time in California!'s Marine Layer writes the league is suggesting the A's could share a stadium with the Giants next year instead of spending another season playing baseball in Oakland:
As we’ve seen in Miami and many other cities, MLB doesn’t play nice. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to start asking for hundreds of millions for a ballpark. Instead they’re playing the leverage game, threatening to move the A’s across the bay to AT&T Park if the Coliseum Authority won’t relent.
Hmmm, sounds awfully similar to a Shadow of the Stadium post from September:
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. 
Of course, MLB Hall-of-Famer Peter Gammons said it best.

Tampa's Failing Trolley Line an Important Lesson to Learn

Interesting to see former Tampa morning anchor Ellen McNamara reporting on a proposed trolley system in Minneapolis/St. Paul for KTSP-TV.  City leaders there are quick to point to a successful model in Portland...while ignoring the struggling streetcar in Tampa.

McNamara even interviews Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who admits "there was mismanagement and misperceptions about how financially secure it would be...they've all come to fruition."

Reminds me a bit of the "if you build it, they will come" mantra Downtown Tampa Rays stadium proponents have been chanting for years.  But would a new stadium be "the next Coors Field?" Or would it be "the next Marlins Park?"

Sure, it's easy to make excuses for why it wouldn't be the latter, but let the trolley story be a lesson on keeping those "dream projects" in perspective.

And that's why - whether its a stadium, a Clearwater aquarium, Channelside redevelopment, or any other large municipal project - it's imperative to ask all the important questions now  (and why there's a need for watchdog blogs!).

Friday, November 1, 2013

Good Weekend Reading

  1. Variety reports the FCC has proposed ending the agency's nearly-40-year-old sports blackout rule.  Whoa!
  2. Ready for another stadium pitch, Miami?  David Beckham is talking about an expansion MLS team there...but not talking about how they'd pay for a possible new stadium.
  3. Florida Today reports Brevard Co. is preparing for the possible relocation of the Washington Nationals with a $29 million renovation package to try and land another team.  Their top choice would be to keep the Nats, but that may be hard, considering how easy the state has made it for teams to relocate.

Downtown Tampa Stadium Money in Jeopardy?

Kevin Wiatrowski and Mike Salinero write in this morning's Tampa Tribune (sorry, link not available) that Hillsborough County is making moves to reclaim property taxes the city of Tampa has been enjoying the last few decades in the form of its community redevelopment areas (CRA).  Also known as a tax-increment financing (TIF), these regions re-invest locally a portion of county tax dollars when property values in that neighborhood rise.

"Ideally, it's not going to be a case going forward where we continue to put 100 percent into the tax increment area," county manager Mike Merrill told the Trib.

The Downtown Tampa CRA has also been the preferred funding mechanism for any potential new Rays stadium discussions, capable of financing up to $150 million in bonds over the course of the next 30 years. (Not enough to fund a stadium, but its a start)

And while the county may ultimately think a baseball stadium is a good use of those dollars too, it stresses a point made on this blog a few months back: potential stadium dollars might be better-used elsewhere.  Transit proponents, the Sheriff's office, school district, county transportation department, and parks & rec department are just a few of the hungry hands hoping for a few more dollars.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn made it clear the city would prefer to keep control of the millions of CRA dollars each year.  But in the county's view, county property tax dollars are county property tax dollars.  And as much as it says it is committed to community redevelopment too, the county wants the freedom to spend its tax dollars in other ways, if it so chooses.