Thursday, February 28, 2013

Today in the Papers....

Today in the papers, a story about another Downtown Tampa apartment tower going up.  I've never said Downtown Tampa wouldn't benefit from a baseball stadium, but once again, I'd ask - with all that development booming - does it need a baseball stadium?

Also, Evan Longoria is finally going public with news of his investment in a new mini-bowling alley and sportsbar on Tampa's Kennedy Blvd., not too far from his condo in Downtown Tampa (but typically about 30 minutes from Tropicana Field).

And, here's one final nugget from the non-paper world of - Rays VP Andrew Friedman talking about the prospects of re-signing David Price: "The question is: If our resources don’t increase, then it’s going to be really difficult to compete."

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

UPDATE: Gov. Scott's Plan to Bolster Grapefruit League

Even though there's probably a way to keep Spring Training teams in Florida without forking over big-time subsidies, Governor Rick Scott and key legislators want to make more public money available for stadium upgrades.

As reported on Shadow of the Stadium yesterday, the Governor wants the legislature to approve $5 million in annual incentives to improve Florida stadiums.  But today we learn the money would be contingent upon a 50% match from local governments, meaning at least $10 million a year in public dollars will be committed to spring training facilities.

According to a Florida Sports Foundation spokesperson, the governor's concern is apparently over the Tigers', Blue Jays', and Astros' leases that expire in 2016, and the Nationals' and Braves' leases that expire in 2017.  It's tough to imagine the Tigers, Jays, Nats, or Braves leaving Florida, but the Astros would be the most likely to jump to Arizona.

And yes, Spring Training is a huge economic driver in Florida and state contributions to stadiums would be capped at $20 million per project.   But it's another example of how Major League Baseball (and its $7.5 billion annual revenues) has convinced public officials it needs help.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

BizBallMaury Rips on Marlins

Maury Brown (@BizBallMaury) made a few bold Twitter predictions today following Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria's open mic performance at the ballpark (which, of course, followed the underwhelming lines at the box office):

For those of you keeping score at home, the previous worst sophomore season at a new ballpark in the modern era belongs to the Tampa Bay Rays, which saw attendance drop by 30% from 1998 to 1999 (2.5 million fans to 1.7 million fans).

The Brewers also saw their attendance drop by 30% in their second year at Miller Park (2.8M fans to just under 2.0M), while the Pirates saw attendance drop by 28% in the second year of PNC Park (2.5M fans to 1.8M).

So that means for Brown's prediction to come true, the Marlins would have to average fewer than 19,823 fans per game in 2013.  Not only is it possible, but it's also possible they could fall below that mark and still draw more fans than the Rays.  In 2012, Tampa Bay drew just 19,255 fans per game.

Florida Governor, Legislature Agree to Spend $5M More Annually on Spring Training

Just received a press release from the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce that powerful State Senator Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, helped negotiate an agreement with Governor Rick Scott to dedicate $5 million in recurring funds each year to the "State Economic Enhancement and Development Trust Fund for Major League Baseball Spring Training."

Given the blatant factual errors in the release, I hesitate to post any of it, but here is an excerpt:
"Spring Training Programs in Florida create significant economic impact12 months per year. Spring training does not drive our tourism economy. Every Spring Training facility in the State provides thousands of needed jobs in the communities where they are located", said Bob Clifford, President/CEO of the Clearwater Regional Chamber.

It is projected that spending $5 million to enhance these programs will generate approximately $750 million additional dollars for our state's economy.

Major League Baseball began spring training in Florida decades ago. As recently as 15 years ago, every Major League team held its training in Florida. This year, for the first time, less than one-half of Major League Baseball teams train in Florida.

"We must reverse this trend", said Senator Latvala, "Spring Training Programs attracted roughly 1.6 million people to baseball facilities in Florida last year alone, sixty-two percent of which were tourists from other states. Clearly these programs are worth nurturing because of the economic impact they have on our state."
Of course, there are NOT "less than one-half" of teams currently training in Florida (they are perfectly split 15/15 between the Grapefruit/Cactus).  And every major league team did NOT train in Florida 15 years ago (the Cubs haven't been there since 1916, some teams never have).

So hopefully those weren't the facts this agreement was decided on.  But last week, Governor Scott called for a plan to strengthen the Grapefruit League, which this blog pointed out did not have to include new subsidies.  But of course, it did.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Your Florida Tax Dollars at Work: Daytona 500 Sponsorships

Interesting taxpayer expense that was floating under the radar until Michael Van Sickler from the Tampa Bay Times wrote about it this weekend: $174,500 in FDOT money to sponsor a pair of NASCAR stock cars in Sunday's Daytona 500.

Van Sickler writes it's designed to remind Floridians not to hit pedestrians:
(FDOT), which is known more for building highways than sidewalks, picked this week because accidents spike during the international event.

Every year more than 250,000 people attend the big race at the Daytona International Speedway — and they do so by walking along and across the eight-lane road that runs in front of the race track.

From 2008 to 2011, there were 10 crashes involving pedestrians within a 5-mile radius of the racetrack during Speedweeks, including three last year, according to the state.

Yes, there is an elevated walkway that a $2 million state grant paid for back in 2000 to avoid such accidents, and "people use it," McPherson said.

"But the majority of the people still use the street," she said.

So your tax dollars will pay for a campaign that includes sponsorship of two stock cars on a team that includes champ and native Floridian Joe Nemechek. That's one Nationwide car on Saturday and one Sprint Cup car on Sunday, each car's hood festooned with a public service announcement in the shape of a red bull's eye, perhaps a crude reminder of where a pedestrian would land if smashed by a car.

Yes, it might be hard to notice the slogan as cars whiz by at close to 200 mph. But the exposure could be valuable, according to research conducted by Joyce Julius & Associates. Depending on how Nemechek does this weekend, the state could receive millions of dollars worth of television exposure.

What's more, an airplane will circle over the speedway for three hours Sunday, pulling a banner that reads: "Alert today, alive tomorrow: Safety doesn't happen by accident."

Asked if the fans swigging Bud Lights in the grandstands would understand that this message from on high had anything to do with pedestrian safety, McPherson explained that the message is intended to be about more than pedestrians.

"The car has to be alert, too," McPherson said. "Everyone has to be alert. We didn't want to just focus on pedestrians."

(We're assuming McPherson doesn't want the race drivers looking up at the banner.)

The campaign includes radio ads for drivers 65 and up, a class of drivers that are more prone to crash into pedestrians, McPherson said. They will air in April. Additional ads will target impaired drivers, who also have higher rates of hitting pedestrians, McPherson said.

Asked why the cars sponsoring pedestrian safety have to go so fast, McPherson laughed.

"Because they're a race team," she said.

When told about the campaign, Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, also laughed.

"I laugh only because it's so stupid," said Fasano, who served as chair of the Senate's transportation appropriations committee from 2004 to 2010. "I don't see how spending $174,500 at the Daytona 500 will do anything to promote auto safety. No one in attendance will take any notice of this message."

Friday, February 22, 2013

Rick Scott Wants Plan to Keep Grapefruit League Teams

Last night in Sarasota, Governor Rick Scott hosted a reception for the top executives from the 15 MLB teams that take up spring residence in Florida.  And according to the Herald-Tribune, he wants to come up with a plan to make sure the state doesn't lose any more teams to Arizona:
Florida's biggest concern now is losing the Houston Astros, which train in Kissimmee. The team's lease expires in 2016, and there has been talk of Arizona cities trying to lure the team out west.
As I've written before, the Sunshine State is not in position to lose a spring training team, but maybe even pick one up from Arizona; City of Palms Park in Ft. Myers has been vacant since the Red Sox got a new $77 million stadium across town.

But maybe Governor Scott is truly concerned about the Grapefruit/Cactus competition.  It would stand to reason Arizona would be just as concerned since its main draw, the Cubs, threatened to move to Naples in 2010.

Scott has two choices for keeping Grapefruit league teams in Florida:
  1. Offer state and local subsidies to keep building new and improved ballparks to keep teams (like the Baltimore Orioles);
  2. Speak to his friend, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, and agree that neither state would contribute public funds toward stealing the other's spring training teams.
Option No. 2 would of course guarantee the same level playing field as Option No. 1...except the taxpayers of each state would get to keep tens of millions of dollars in their own pockets each year. 

Option No. 2 makes the most sense and is a win-win for both states;  which is why my money is on Option No. 1.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Will Stadium Saga Follow in Footsteps of Bass Pro?

So is this how new stadium opponents are going to go down?

On Wednesday, the Hillsborough County Commission heard every argument imaginable against public subsidies for a new Bass Pro Shops complex.  Then they asked Bass Pro to more or less "open its books" and reveal its annual sales numbers.  And promptly after Bass Pro said "no," commissions approved the $6+ million subsidy anyway, 6 votes to 1.

Joe Henderson from the Tampa Tribune, who nailed his Tuesday column on the same subject, writes Thursday that "the inference was clear: Bass Pro Shops doesn't need the help."  Yet the company had no trouble landing a multi-million-dollar concession by promising jobs (and upscale tackle boxes).

Is this how stadium subsidy opponents will go down too?

More than likely.  The Tampa Bay Rays are following a well-proven blueprint for landing stadium subsidies.  And despite countless calls on the team to open its books, it simply doesn't have to as long as politicians are willing to take their word for it.

Hooray! More Tampa Land Available for a Stadium!

Today's Tampa Tribune brings us news of another property owner willing to sell her land to build a new baseball stadium.  This property, sandwiched between Ybor City and Downtown Tampa, would address a number of issues the city has been dealing with for years in that neighborhood, such as blight and lack of economic growth.

But before you waste too much time giving the proposal any credibility, realize a few things:
  1. Finding land isn't the problem in the Stadium Saga, it's finding money to build a stadium.  And of course, this proposal mentions nothing of a stadium funding source.
  2. There are a dozen reasons why a stadium in blighted Ybor City doesn't make sense.
  3. Fixing blight is a big reason why the Trop sits where it does, and how is that working out for baseball fans?
I don't know about you, but I'll file this one away with all the other proposed stadium sites in Downtown Tampa,  Ybor City, the State Fairgrounds, and of course, Brandon too.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How the Rays are Like Bass Pro Shops

Sports columnist-turned-metro columnist Joe Henderson, who has questioned some of the motives behind the Rays' stadium campaign, has penned another strong column for the Tampa Tribune

Today's closing graf:
Here's what I can't get past, though. If this project is going to be such a home run, why does the developer need taxpayer money to make it work? It seems a reasonable question. I just haven't yet heard a reasonable answer.
While this question could apply to any big league club's push for a new stadium, Henderson is actually talking (this time) about a controversial plan to subsidize a new retail complex anchored by Bass Pro Shops.  The proposed $6.25 million subsidy was supported by Henderson's paper, the Tribune, while opposed by the rival Tampa Bay Times.

Bass Pro isn't all that different from a pro sports team: a big-time retail business that makes hard-to-prove and potentially misleading claims about its value as a tourist attraction (among other things). 

In fact, a month ago, I pointed out how Rays' vice president Michael Kalt identified the team as a "retail business" that had trouble getting people to drive more than 30 minutes to visit. 

If Hillsborough commissioners reject the proposed subsidies to Bass Pro Shops this week, it will be because they'd rather invest their dollars in high-tech, high-paying jobs rather than retail.  And if they ever apply the same logic to the Rays' stadium search, it would make it virtually impossible to pay for a stadium in Hillsborough County.

Meanwhile, in Orlando, a wanna-be MLS club is looking for $75 million in tax money for a new stadium.

And in Atlanta, the Falcons' campaign to replace the Georgia Dome prematurely is facing some resistance.  Both stories are courtesy of Field of Schemes' Neil deMaus.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Trib: Why Won't Rays Open Their Books?

Yesterday was the Rays' annual spring Fanfest, which drew more-than-the-usual amount of fans to the Trop (25,000).  Principal owner Stuart Sternberg even said, "We're staying in Tampa Bay. We're not going anywhere. I've always been clear about that, I want to remain clear about that. We'll figure out a way to get something done."

So of course, we can count on the typical weekend stories about how baseball fans in Pinellas think the Trop is just fine and Hillsborough/Polk fans think a stadium should move closer to them.  The Tampa Bay Times delivered. As did WTVT-TV.

But over in the pages of the Trib, there was Michael Sasso's watchdog piece, "Sports teams woo investors but keep finances in the shadows."

There's great value in a story explaining how reluctant the Rays are to "open their books," because - as I wrote in 2011 - the people of Tampa Bay haven't seen a single piece of evidence that the Rays have an actual financial need for a new stadium.  Sasso explains:
Maybe only in professional sports can a private business request so much money from the community and offer so little proof it even needs it.

At least six years into the Tampa Bay Rays stadium saga, few politicians or business leaders have called on the team to open its books or prove that a new stadium would help it survive in the long term.
(Editors' note: this blog takes great pride in the wide-acceptance of the term "Stadium Saga," as well as the headline of Sasso's article referencing a "shadow," even if the reference was purely unintentional.)
Consider if the Rays were seeking money from a bank or investor, though. Whoever puts up the money would require the Rays to turn over a few years worth of financial statements and provide its projected future revenues, bankers say.

Sports teams largely have been given a free pass from taxpayers and seldom have opened their books. Given the Rays' own questions about the strength of the Tampa Bay market, can the community be sure even a new half-billion-dollar ballpark would keep the team here in the long term?
Sasso mentions how both Mayor Bill Foster and his paper have failed to get answers about the team's willingness to share its financials.  He also points out the unsual lobbying from local business groups to support a new stadium even though they (presumably) haven't seen any financials yet either.

The story contends nowhere else in the business world would we be talking about financing a new capital project like a stadium without having thoroughly examined current - and potential new - revenue streams.  Yet when I asked Sternberg recently about what kind of revenue a new stadium could mean to the Rays, he said the team hadn't looked into it yet.

But isn't that what the entire Stadium Saga is about?  Creating new revenue for the team so it can better-compete?

Sasso goes on to explain how the Astros, Mariners, and Twins all shared financials in order to get their new stadiums built.  But he also included the disclosure that a pair of sports consultants - who have done work for governments (another important disclosure) - say it's not always necessary.

It's a good read...and after some recent missteps, the Trib shouldn't allow anyone write about the Stadium Saga other than Sasso and columnist Joe Henderson.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Foster, Sternberg Meeting Produces Few (Public) Developments

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg met face-to-face Friday for the first time since last January, and - per Foster's wishes - the meeting was held in private.

Foster has indicated cities often lose when teams negotiate through public opinion, rather than traditional channels, such as elected leaders.

In a joint statement following their meeting, the Rays and Foster said, "Today's conversation was a productive one and we anticipate continuing it in the coming weeks."

Friday, February 15, 2013

Tampa Voters Love Buckhorn, Don't Love Stadium Subsidies

A local poll conducted for the website indicates voters in Tampa don't just approve of the way Mayor Bob Buckhorn is runing the city; they also approve of his hesitation to throw money at a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium.

When asked about Buckhorn's handling of the Rays’ dilemma, 45% of Tampa voters approved of his approach, while 21% disapproved.  As for his overall approval numbers, Buckhorn posted a strong 58%/18% favorable/unfavorable mark.

Meanwhile, among respondants, only 43% of voters in Tampa said they approved of tax dollars going toward a new stadium.  Forty-five percent of Tampa voters said they disapprove.

Of course, don't read too far into those numbers, because:
  • Many of those who oppose tax dollars going toward a new stadium may soften their opposition if the question was changed to whether they approve of tourists' tax dollars going toward a stadium;
  • And, as SaintPetersblog speculated, there's a good chance voters who actually approve of tax dollars going toward a stadium may change their mind when they see just how many dollars we're talking.
Read the entire poll results here.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Kriseman Wants Stadium Saga to be Campaign Issue

Voters disappointed they never got to vote on a Rays referendum in 2008 may get another chance in 2013, as Mayor Bill Foster's top opponent may make this fall's election an referendum on his handling of the Stadium Saga.

Former councilman and state representative Rick Kriseman, who announced his candidacy last week, said he is running because of Foster's lack of leadership on issues, including negotiations with the Rays.

"I would not have kicked the can down the road," Kriseman said in an e-mail exchange. "Rather than simply ignoring the concerns of the Rays and hoping that the agreement will adequately protect our interests until 2027, I will initiate conversations about the future of the team in St. Pete and in this area."

Kriseman added that the city's contract with the Rays, which - in theory - keeps the team at Tropicana Field through 2027, "can be amended (as well as) broken."

While Foster, a lawyer by trade, has refused to publicly consider buy-outs and has followed the advice of St. Pete's city attorney not to amend the contract to allow the Rays to search in Tampa, Kriseman disagrees.

Kriseman, also a lawyer, says he would like to capitalize on the city's negotiating leverage now and work to maximize compensation for the Rays' eventual departure.

The stance should help endear Kriseman to the editorial board of the Tampa Bay Times, the region's largest and most influential newspaper. The paper lent Foster an influential endorsement when he ran for mayor in 2009, but has since been very critical of him, including his lack of embracing a region-first approach with the Rays.

Kriseman says he respects city attorney John Wolfe, but "that two different attorneys can come up with two different opinions on an issue."

"Because I believe that the agreement with the Rays can be amended without negatively impacting the City's potential damages claim," Kriseman continued, "I would direct City Attorney Wolfe to craft an amendment to the agreement which reflects the Gerdes amendment (or something similar), yet does so in a way that doesn't diminish our damages claim should the Rays decide to terminate the agreement early."

Continue reading here.

Romano's Ever-Evolving Stadium Stance

Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano writes this morning that the writing is on the wall for Friday's Bill Foster/Stu Sternberg meeting:
The only good that will come out of this meeting is the acknowledgement that further discussions are unnecessary. Foster ain't budging, and neither is Sternberg.
It's a well-written piece about why neither of the Stadium Saga's major players has any reason to budge right now: because St. Petersburg stands to get a nine-digit payoff for a broken lease that the Rays are trying to bargain down through public opinion.

It's the same explanation for the Stadium Saga I gave two years ago in a pair of posts:
6/23/11 - "What Stu Sternberg is Thinking."
6/24/11 - "What Mayor Bill Foster is Thinking"
However, at that time, Romano was a much fiercer critic of Foster:
This story will not have a happy ending if the final chapter involves Mayor Bill Foster blocking the front door with a lease in one hand and a campaign button in the other.

For what relationship ever works when one person refuses to let the other leave?
One thing Romano has always correctly maintained (when he wasn't suggesting contraction) is that the Stadium Saga could hasten Sternberg's possible sale of the team.  Relocation and contraction are Bud Selig's pipe dreams, but the biggest nightmare possibility of inaction is the exodus of Sternberg, Matt Silverman, Andrew Friedman, and Joe Maddon.

As I bantered recently with 98.7 The Fan's Todd Wright, no Rays fan wants to think about the possibility of someone new - someone not as successful and/or as patient - buying the team.

Romano concludes today's column with little expectation of progress, but indications new politicans (possibly mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman?) could change St. Pete's strategy:
That's where we're at today, that's where we will be after Friday's meeting and, I expect, that's also where we will be at this time next year.

Eventually talks will resume, new voices will be heard and progress will be made.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Maybe a Stadium Wouldn't Cost $600M?

There hasn't been a comprehensive stadium study in Tampa since the ABC Coalition estimated in 2009 that a retractable-roof facilitiy would cost between $500 million and $600 million.  And while the Rays haven't indicated anything less than a "state-of-the-art" facility would suffice, one thing has changed in the last four years that could affect a new stadium's pricetag: interest rates.

Depending on the product, interest rates have fallen approximately two percentage points in the last five years, meaning it would be cheaper to finance a stadium.

Of course, Miami has proven it can still cost billions to finance a stadium.

And of course, if Congress eliminates the municipal bond exemption, it could cancel out any interest rate improvements.

But at least interest rates and construction costs have gone in a favorable direction for the Rays.  It could be time to re-examine what a new stadium would cost.  But, of course, most in Tampa Bay would rather focus on location first.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Mayor Foster's Main Challenger Wants Regional Rays Dialogue

Former St. Pete Councilman and State Representative Rick Kriseman has officially assumed the role of top challenger to St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster this fall (August 27th, to be exact).  And in kicking off his campaign, Kriseman has indicated the Rays' stalemate is going to be one of the big issues.

Kriseman told WTVT-TV today "we've got to have that discussion" about Hillsborough sites.  "We're not even having that discussion right now."

St. Pete city attorney John Wolfe won't like hearing that, but the Rays certainly will.  Should be interesting to see how involved - if at all - the Rays get in supporting Kriseman's campaign.

Rock n' Roll Half Marathon Even More Disappointing in Year Two

Last year, it took the St. Petersburg Times almost a month to report what my station, 10 News, pointed out in a couple of days: St. Pete's Rock N' Roll Half Marathon failed to deliver half of its promised economic impact when it received $100,000 in public subsidies.

This year, the Times didn't hesitate in calling out race organizers, who promised a better turnout in year two but actually saw FEWER participants, despite great weather:
Organizers said 6,500 people were scheduled to compete in the road race this year, which began at 7:30 a.m. at Tropicana Field and wound its way through St. Petersburg, ending at North Shore Park. About 1,000 people registered to run a 5-kilometer (3.1 miles) race — what organizers referred to as the "mini marathon" — but most signed up for the 13.1-mile feat of endurance.

When St. Petersburg city officials first boasted that the Rock 'n' roll Half Marathon was coming to town, they projected it would draw 12,000 to 15,000 runners. The actual number was closer to half of that estimate, but that has not diminished elected officials' attraction to the race.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster attended the event Sunday, as did City Council members Jeff Danner and Wengay Newton.

Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater has a three-year contract for the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon and has pledged to spend $100,000 for each race.
The paper didn't delve into too much depth beyond that, so here are other important facts:
  • On top of the visitor & convention bureau's spending, St. Petersburg is also spending $30,000 a year on in-kind services for the race.
  • Owners of the San Diego-based race company promised better turnout this year, but it got a lot worse.  According to the race's results page, only 4,379 runners completed the race, down from 7,021 last year.  Another 558 runners ran this year's new Rock n' Roll 5k.
  • The event may have had 6,500 runners sign up, but with only 4,937 finishers, it's likely 1,000 of the runners just didn't show up, meaning they didn't contribute to the local economy.
  • Race organizers last year said they filled 4,200 hotel rooms thanks to 1,600 out-of-state participants, but this year, there were fewer than 1,000 out-of-state participants. 
  • When subsidies were secured, organizers predicted "over 50 percent of the field, probably closer to 60 percent of the field next year will be coming from all 50 states."  But only 920 of finishers (18.6%) were from out-of-state.
One thing is clear - the St. Petersburg Rock n' Roll Half Marathon isn't drawing the kind of out-of-state interest race organizers - or elected officials - were hoping for.

However, don't expect any more complaints from the St. Petersburg Women's Half Marathon, one of the Rock n' Roll's biggest competitors.  That's because the company that runs the Rock n' Roll races just bought the women's race from the St. Petersburg company that started it.

Another Regional Board Wants to Mediate Stadium Stalemate

First, it was the Clutch Hitters.  Then the Chambers of Commerce.  Then the Tampa Bay Partnership.  Now, according to the Trib's Michael Sasso,  the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council wants to help mediate the Rays' Stadium Saga:
If it jumps into the ring, the planning council would be at least the third group or individual politician to consider brokering a regional discussion on the Rays.
The Tampa Bay Partnership, a regional group of business leaders and economic development agencies, is looking to get more involved, possibly by brokering discussions. And Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan has said he plans to convene a regional discussion on how to keep the Rays in the area.
Some St. Petersburg officials think the regional bodies ought to mind their own business.
John Wolfe, in-house attorney for St. Petersburg, said any discussions should start with the Rays and St. Petersburg and no one else. Although the Rays have said they want to leave Tropicana Field, the team is contractually bound to play there through 2027.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Times Asks, "Where the Season Tix?"

The Tampa Bay Times wrote this morning that while there was no way to tell how many season tickets the Rays are actually selling, they conducted an unscientific survey of local businesses and public officials to determine who was buying tickets and who wasn't.

It's important follow-up coverage local papers should have done last month (when I wrote the Rays' selective "300 season ticket accounts in St. Pete" didn't provide a clear picture of anything).

An excerpt:
"What does Tampa have? What does Clearwater have? What does Brandon have?" City Council member Bill Dudley complained Thursday. "We are being singled out.'' 
The Rays won't say. Like other baseball owners, they rarely offer details about season tickets. And after his one brief salvo, Sternberg returned to clam status. 
So the Tampa Bay Times started asking around. Who does buy season tickets? Who doesn't? 
This limited survey did not begin to answer Dudley's question about Brandon, et. al. But it did yield interesting results.
Continue reading here.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Times Flashback to August 2010

It was 30 months ago.  Times writer Stephen Nohlgren dug into the fears that the Rays could leave Tampa Bay.  And his extensive reporting was summed up in the headline: "History suggests Rays won't move."

An excerpt:
But how likely is it, really, that another city can woo the team away anytime soon?

Not very, if history is any guide.

Twenty teams have secured new stadiums since 1988, when the Chicago White Sox used St. Petersburg as a stalking horse to extract a sweetheart deal from Illinois.

In every city, voters gripe about using tax money. But mayors, legislators and county officials eventually find a way to get the deal done — mostly at public expense.

Except for one anomaly, no baseball team has moved in 38 years.
If you only started reading the Times in 2013, you might think the Rays were on their way out of town.  But that's not what Nohlgren found in 2010:
Rays owner Sternberg recently said that five cities without baseball are better markets than Tampa Bay. He doesn't name them, but identifies them only as "the usual suspects.''

They didn't lure the Twins from Minnesota, which was supposedly such a bad baseball market and had such a bad stadium that baseball threatened to eliminate the Twins in 2002. Instead, the team stuck it out and is now playing its first season at glistening Target Field.

Nielsen Media Research lists Tampa-St. Petersburg as the ninth-best cable market in the country, which is a big plus for the Rays, says Dennis Coates, a sports economist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

"If you don't have a big local broadcast market, you are not going to get anywhere,'' Coates says. "Portland doesn't. Las Vegas doesn't. San Antonio is cheek-to-jowl with Houston. I don't see how easy it would be for them to wrest a team away.''

Marc Rosentraub, a University of Michigan economist, is no fan of Tropicana Field. It was designed at the end of the multipurpose era, sat empty for a decade and then original owner Vince Naimoli signed a 30-year lease, even though the stadium was already "economically obsolete,'' he says.
In modern baseball stadiums, half of gross revenues usually come from premium seats close to the action, luxury boxes and amenities that the Trop can't offer, he says.

"The Rays find themselves in a situation where most of their competitors can offer that luxury experience and they can't.''
But Rosentraub, who consulted with the city of San Diego when it built a new stadium in 2004, pooh-poohs the notion that better markets are just waiting to snatch up the Rays.

Greater New York could support a third team, he says, but the Yankees and Mets would block such a move. Other cities are too small.
"There are no markets left,'' Rosentraub says. "No place they can move to would be any different.''
Nohlgren went on to explain why the Montreal Expos' relocation didn't count ('94 strike, attendance under 10,000, etc).
Other than that instance, where the league profited, individual team owners are urged to work things out with existing cities or to sell to someone who will.
The commissioner typically issues statements that a team can't stay in a mediocre stadium forever, but pulling the trigger on a move can be traumatic. Lawsuits follow, with hometown judges at the helm. Congressional representatives challenge baseball's limited antitrust exemption.

The San Francisco Giants, for example, tried for years to ditch windy Candlestick Park, another aging football stadium. Voters refused three times to commit tax money and then-baseball commissioner Fay Vincent announced that owner Bob Lurie could shop the team to interlopers from other cities.

Who should pop up but a Tampa industrialist?

In 1992, jubilant St. Petersburg officials announced Vince Naimoli had bought the Giants and would move them to its then-empty dome. Then, National League president Bill White vetoed the sale and rounded up a new local owner for San Francisco.

After that, further threats to leave San Francisco lost all credibility. When its new stadium opened in 2000, the city installed infrastructure that enhanced surrounding waterfront land owned by the Giants. But the team footed almost the entire $325 million construction cost.
Nohlgren also digs into why the Rays won't build themselves a stadium or pay huge fees to escape the Trop contract:
At best, teams like the Rays might expect a $25 million to $40 million revenue boost from a new stadium, some economists estimate, and part of that must be shared with other teams.  On the cost side, yearly bond payments on a $600 million stadium would run $35 million to $50 million, canceling out revenue gains. And bonds must be repaid, even if there is another recession and fans stay home.

For a midmarket team, paying the whole construction bill is all risk and no gain.
The article indicates the biggest threat to Rays fans is not relocation, but eventual firesales of top talent.  Nohlgren also reminded us that St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay should be no stranger to the leverage game.
Miami, the Tampa Bay area, Denver and Phoenix were virgin territory before baseball awarded them expansion franchises in the 1990s. No less than five teams threatened to move to the Tampa Bay area.
St. Petersburg "should send a bill to the Mariners, White Sox and Giants for the leverage they gave to build nice buildings,'' says Rodney Fort, a sports economist at the University of Michigan.
That was 2010.  Might be time for the Times to re-print the masterpiece.

"Foster's Four Fallacies" on the Stadium Saga

As Mayor Bill Foster issued his words of warning to St. Pete council yesterday about the proposed "Pay to Stray" contract amendment with the Rays, he also warned the huge media throng of four fallacies that have been propogated by reporters, columnists, and sports talk-types.

All four misunderstandings have been addressed in this blog before, but the mayor wanted to remind everyone in attendance of "Foster's Four Fallacies":
  1. The city's contract with the Rays is a "use agreement," not a "lease."   It's an easy mistake to make (just look how often).  But even after the mayor re-educated the media, the Tampa Bay Times' editorial board still got it wrong in its critical recap of the council meeting, raising the question of whether the board even watched the whole meeting.
  2. The impact on St. Pete taxpayers will cease after Trop bonds are paid off in 2016.  Foster pointed to a 2008 study, conducted by the Rays, that indicated the team's annual economic impact on the area was in the hundreds of millions of dollars...and after St. Pete built Tropicana Field, its promised benefit was 30 years of that impact.
  3. Every year that St. Pete waits, it lessens its ability to negotiate. Foster echoed this Shadow of the Stadium post, saying "every year we wait is another year of baseball in St.Pete" (and Tampa Bay).
  4. The mayor & council have a fiduciary responsibility to the Rays first, then the Tampa Bay region, then the citizens of St. Petersburg. Foster, rebutting recent editorials that have implied he's being stubborn and selfish, reminded everyone that his first duty is to the taxpayers of St. Petersburg.  In fact, as reported here, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn just recently applauded Foster's priorities.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hours After Failed Amendment Vote, Times Editorial Board Fires Back

It only took the Tampa Bay Times' editorial board about four hours after the failed vote on the "Pay to Stray" amendment to fire back with a pun-inspired "Swing and a Miss" editorial that called St. Pete's elected leadership "minor league."

It's no surprise the the Times, once again, is advocating a regional approach, which truly is in the best interests of its readership.  But it neglects the fact that Mayor Bill Foster and St. Pete's council is trying to act in the best interests of its constituency.

One particular excerpt assumes the Rays and MLB have nothing but good intentions:
What sounds so reasonable to the county commissions in Pinellas and Hillsborough and many business leaders on both sides of the bay morphs into a suspicious plot to the mayor and too many council members.
To be fair, the council's indecision is colored by the poor advice from Foster and City Attorney John Wolfe...Foster is looking out for his re-election campaign, and Wolfe has too much pride of authorship tied up in the city's long-term lease with the Rays.
The Times editorial board thinks it knows legal leverage better than Foster and Wolfe, who are both lawyers.  But how does it think Foster's stubbornness makes for good politics?

You know, maybe the newspaper happens to be right on this one; maybe not.  But it seems to have forgotten how many other major league baseball teams used St. Pete as leverage to get new stadium subsidies elsewhere.

Or how White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf later admitted, "a savvy negotiator creates leverage. People had to think we were going to leave Chicago."

Foster, St. Pete Council Read Shadow of the Stadium

I can't say it's a fact, but it appears St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster and at least two of the city's councilmembers pay attention to what's posted on this blog.

During Thursday's council meeting where a proposed amendment to the city's stadium contract with the Rays was shot down by a 4-4 vote, several references were made to Shadow of the Stadium posts (albiet, not by name).
  • Councilman Steve Kornell questioned whether the Rays' revenues were Tampa Bay's problems or Major League Baseball's problems, mentioning the lack of a salary cap, as I wrote back in August 2011.
  • Kornell also said the Rays' statistic of only 300 season ticket accounts in St. Petersburg was misleading, given the lack of the big picture, as I wrote two weeks ago.  Councilman Bill Dudley also echoed the sentiment.
  • Council chair Karl Nurse said, "these conversations hurt attendance; it feels a bit like a 'jilted lover' kind of thing." It's similar to my July 2010 post where I said the Rays' complaining about Tropicana Field would only serve to hurt attendance more. 
  • City attorney John Wolfe warned council about getting outflanked in the stadium discussions by a team and league, which - as I wrote in September 2012 - are both better at this "game" than any municipality.
  • Foster also pointed out that if the Rays really are concerned about struggling financially, as I questioned in June 2011, the team should open its books to prove it.

St. Pete Rejects Rays Stadium Amendment

By a 4-4 vote, the St. Petersburg City Council has rejected a proposed amendment to its stadium contract that would have allowed the Rays to explore sites in Tampa in exchange for a $1.4M annual "exploratory fee."  Five votes were needed to offer the amendment up to the Rays.

Mayor Bill Foster, who said he may be "the most-hated person in Tampa Bay," encouraged council not to weaken its legal standing by amending the contract, which keeps the Rays at Tropicana Field through 2027.

Both of Tampa Bay's daily newspapers printed editorials this week applauding councilman Charlie Gerdes' proposal that would have broken the stadium stalemate and encouraged regional dialogue.  But Foster - and several councilmembers - suggested the city was only negotiating against itself.

"We may be making the mistake of trying to negotiate when we don't have anyone talking back to us," said Councilman Jim Kennedy.

But Gerdes argued the city's negotiating power with the Rays is diminished every year it inches closer to 2027.  And the $1.4 million in possible annual revenue from allowing the team to search could help close sagging city budgets.

"I'm not being judgemental about the stalemate," said Gerdes, who, like Foster and Kennedy, is a lawyer by trade.  "The only thing I'm being judgemental about is how do we break (the stalemate)...this amendment allows them to look, not to leave."

St. Pete's city attorney, John Wolfe, agreed with Foster and strongly advised council not to make remarks about the Rays' feasibility - either in Tampa or St. Pete.

"You're almost in a position of negotiating against yourself," Wolfe said, indicating opening the door to Hillsborough County could actually open the door to the Rays escaping their committment to Tampa Bay altogether.

"What you say can - and will - be used against you," Wolfe said.

Foster again urged council, which sets policy for the city, to heed Wolfe's advice.

"You're getting expert legal advice from column-writers and sports hosts on the radio...don't do it," Foster told councilmembers.  "Listen to your attorneys.  I can assure you, the Rays are listening to theirs."

Wolfe cautioned council about a history of municipalities getting out-flanked by professional sports teams.  But Gerdes said it was up to the city to capitalize on its leverage.

"We should play offense...not defense," Gerdes said, welcoming a regional search.  "We should beat our chests about how great a place St. Pete is to play."

Councilman Jeff Danner agreed, noting that a regional search, which might take into account potential traffic, financing, and highway accessibility problems in Tampa, could actually cast St. Petersburg in a favorable light.  But he voted against the amendment anyway.

Danner was joined in voting against the amendment by councilmembers Kennedy, Steve Kornell, Bill Dudley.  Gerdes was supported by councilmembers Karl Nurse, Leslie Curran, and Wengay Newton in voting for the amendment.

Wolfe and the city's legal department will still spend the next month or two studying the legal implications of the proposed amendment.

Foster told council he was working to set up another face-to-face meeting with Sternberg, which the Tampa Bay Times is reporting is set - tentatively - for February 15.  It's been more than a year since the two leaders last had an extended meeting.

UPDATE: The Rays have released a statement from VP Michael Kalt: "We thank Councilman Gerdes for acknowledging that steps must be taken to ensure baseball's long term future in the area. Today's proceedings highlight the need for conversation between the Rays and the City of St. Petersburg, and we would welcome that conversation with any and all interested city leaders."

St. Pete Weighs Proposed "Exploration Fee" in Rays' Contract

The St. Petersburg City Council weighs a proposal today to amend the city's contract with the Rays, allowing them to explore sites in Tampa in exchange for an annual $1.4 million fee.

Follow @StadiumShadow on Twitter for updates throughout the day.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Times LOVES Rays Contract Amendment, Still Hates Mayor Foster

As I predicted Monday, the Tampa Bay Times' lead editorial today applauded the proposed amendment to St. Pete's contract with the Rays that would allow the team to explore sites in Hillsborough County for the price of $1.4 million a year.  Of course, it also continued its habit of taking digs at Mayor Bill Foster:
Finally, there is a flicker of hope in the stalemate between St. Petersburg City Hall and the Tampa Bay Rays over a new stadium. City Council member Charlie Gerdes has a reasonable proposal to let the Rays pay the city for permission to look at potential stadium sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Council members on Thursday should ignore Mayor Bill Foster's objections, demonstrate some leadership and embrace Gerdes' concept.

This is exactly the sort of brainstorming and negotiating that should have taken place years ago. Instead, Foster has been stonewalling, threatening lawsuits and hiding behind the Rays' long-term lease with the city to play in outdated Tropicana Field.

The recent public meetings by the Hillsborough and Pinellas county commissions with Rays owner Stuart Sternberg have been useful. The Tampa Bay Partnership stands ready to help, and so do the Tampa and St. Petersburg chambers of commerce. Now it is up to the more pragmatic members of the St. Petersburg City Council such as Gerdes and Chairman Karl Nurse to convince their colleagues it is time to take concrete action — with or without the mayor.
"Productive" is a very subjective word.  If we trust the Rays were providing unbiased information, it could have been productive, but we know they refused to provide "big-picture" stats on their attendance.  The talks did, however, produce more public officials advocating regionalism on the record.

The Times continues:
The Rays show no interest in remaining in St. Petersburg, and they reasonably want to examine potential stadium sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
(Actually, Sternberg's "fish don't go to baseball games" comment indicates they may not have any interest in Pinellas.)
What Foster and some City Council members fail to acknowledge is that refusing to budge from the current lease does not protect St. Petersburg taxpayers. In fact, it weakens the city's position. Every year that goes by is one less year to pay on the stadium bonds, and most of those will be paid off in 2016. Every year that goes by is one less year on the Trop lease, which expires in 2027. Every year that goes by, the Rays' negotiating position is strengthened.

The Rays will not be playing in Tropicana Field in 2027, and they may not be playing in Tampa Bay by then if serious stadium discussions don't begin soon. It will take years to find the best site for a new stadium, figure out how to pay for it and build it. Gerdes has a smart proposal to get that effort started, reduce the city's costs for the Trop in the short term and protect the city's interests in the long term. The mayor and the City Council should support it.
While the amendment may have trouble passing St. Pete's council because of fear of what it could do to the city's legal leverage, there's nothing Mayor Bill Foster can do to stop it if it gets five votes.  Keep checking back here over the next 36 hours for all the important developments.

UPDATE: The Tampa Tribune wrote a similar editorial as well, urging council to approve the amendment "or a variation of it."

Tampa City Council Wants Tax Money Back From Bucs

Remember that "sweetheart deal" the Bucs got from Hillsborough County taxpayers?  The one elected officials have recently promised "will never happen again?"  The one that guarantees stadium financing but not schools, parks, or police financing?

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa's city council wants a piece of it back:
The Tampa City Council will consider this week whether to seek about $2.57 million from a fund created in 1996 with Community Investment Tax money to pay for a "first-class NFL practice facility" for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"It's about time we get back our $2.5 million," said City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda, who opposed creating the fund in the first place.

The money was set aside after Hillsborough County voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for roads, schools and other projects, including the construction of Raymond James Stadium and the Bucs' practice facility.

The original deal was that the Bucs would get the money — now totaling nearly $11.67 million — after the team built a facility and turned it over to the Tampa Sports Authority.

In 2007, the Bucs ended up building an even more expensive practice facility, but never deeded it to the Sports Authority.

Last summer, county officials said they had waited long enough and needed the money for park expansions and other priorities. The Sports Authority's board agreed.

The county already has requested the transfer of its share, about $8.5 million, and now Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace are getting ready to do the same, Sports Authority general counsel Steven Anderson said Tuesday.
 At least the forecast for this "first-class" facility deal is better than the one St. Louis signed...

Monday, February 4, 2013

Vinik Addresses Question on Rays

My colleague at WTSP, Ginger Gadsden recently sat down with Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik to discuss a bevy of topics.  Of course, she asked him about rumors of his interest in the Tampa Bay Rays and a possible Tampa baseball stadium.

Vinik's response:
“It’s not something I think about for even a second. We have a lot on our plate here with the Tampa Bay Lightning and building it into a world class organization.  I have the utmost respect for Stu (Sternberg) and Matt (Silverman) over there and I think they do a great job but it’s far more important for me…I  have too much respect for them to really get involved in their business.”
Read and watch more on Vinik's vision for Tampa Bay.

St. Pete Councilman Proposes Fee for Rays to Explore Hillsborough

Mayor Foster may not like it, but it may not matter.

According to the Tampa Tribune, St. Pete Councilman Charlie Gerdes is suggesting a $1.4M fee, paid from the Rays to St. Pete, in exchange for the right to explore sites in Hillsborough County:
Councilman Charlie Gerdes proposes amending the contract with the Rays to allow the team to negotiate with developers and other local governments in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to find a new stadium after paying the city an "exploration" fee.
The city council is scheduled to discuss the proposal at its Thursday meeting.
But the proposal would not release the Rays from their commitment to play at Tropicana Field through 2027 nor let them negotiate to play at another site sooner. If the Rays found another site, they would still have to then negotiate with the city to break their lease.
The city's charter does not allow Mayor Bill Foster, who has threatened to sue any agency that tries to lure the Rays away, to veto contract amendments.
Neither Foster nor the Rays had immediate comment on the proposal, but it's an interesting one that would seemingly accomplish what the team is trying to do: open the door to Hillsborough County and reduce St. Pete's leverage both legally and in the court of public opinion.

Foster, a lawyer by trade who is concerned about legal leverage, is likely to oppose the move, but the Tampa Bay Times is likely to herald it.  The result is a "are you with him or with us?" conundrum for council members.  Expect an editorial applauding the move in the next few days.

And the Rays should like the idea too: $1.4 million is a small price to pay for the Rays to finally turn the tides of the $500+ million Stadium Saga in their favor.

UPDATE: Read what Gerdes said about the stadium fight while on the campaign trail.

Romano: "Hey, Mayor: Get real. Hey, Stu, you, too."

John Romano returned to a familiar topic this weekend: encouraging St. Pete and the Rays to break the stadium stalemate.

He blames both Mayor Bill Foster and Stu Sternberg for the four-plus-year-long logjam that has produced nothing but hundreds of headlines.  Romano does a good job explaining why neither side has any reason to budge right now, similar to this site's "what's going on in Bill Foster's head" and "Stu Sternberg's head" posts from 2011.

But then Romano writes, "neither side is being realistic...Foster has the upper hand today, but he has to realize that won't last forever. And by playing defense instead of offense, he is doing more harm than good for St. Pete."

This seems to contradict his column from last April where he explained the seemingly-ironclad nature of the city's use agreement with the team.  Romano even admits this weekend that "It is exceedingly rare for a team to get a new stadium while still in the middle of a lease, but it has been done."

It can be perplexing sometimes why there is such a push for St. Pete to negotiate itself out of a contract 15 years early, but Romano has at least acknowledged the real-world repurcussions of subsidizing a new stadium.  But he'slso pushed for new stadium talks before.

And maybe - just maybe - if the stalemate is to be broken anytime soon, it would be with an interesting proposal Romano made Sunday:
One possible solution:
The Rays guarantee St. Petersburg earns minimum tax revenues from that Trop redevelopment through 2027. If the numbers fall short, the Rays are on the hook.

That gives the Rays incentive to help with the redevelopment, and it gives St. Pete a guaranteed cash flow.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Trib: "Foster creates divide on Rays"

"Foster creates divide on Rays": a headline so loaded, editors selected a much tamer version for its online edition.

The Tampa Tribune's lead story this Sunday was a piece analyzing how the "mayor's opposition to the team leaving the Trop alienates officials on both sides of bay."

You can make the case that the headlines ring true (as the Trib did), but it's also - on a weekend with no news on the Stadium Saga - the latest example of an issue I reported on several years ago: newspapers attempting to drive the direction of the stadium discussion.

Headline aside, the story was mostly appropriate (with a few facts left out, like the implication multiple Pinellas commissioners apoligized to the Rays for Foster, when only one did).  It also summarizes the Stadium Saga appropriately:
But Sternberg's appearances before the Pinellas and Hillsborough commissions were minor milestones in a yearslong debate, according to Alan Bomstein and Craig Sher, who spent more than a year studying where best to locate a baseball stadium as members of the ABC Coalition.

"I'm not aware of any changes that have actually happened in terms of making progress, and I don't think that's going to happen until Mayor Foster takes a step in another direction," Bomstein said.

Sher, a shopping center developer, called the Rays' meetings with county commissioners "just another small chapter in a very long book."
I've joked with public officials and Rays' execs alike that we're "only in the top of the third" in this nine-inning affair, so anyone hoping for a quick solution to the Stadium Saga is in for a brutal disappointment.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Tear Down the Trop and Redevelop?

Last night, we aired a sit-down interview with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster.  Buckhorn complimented Foster's strong handling of the Stadium Saga; Foster said he's open to talks with the Rays, but not the regional site search they desire.

But when pressed why he isn't as gung-ho now about a new stadium than he was when he was campaigning for the office in 2009, Foster said it's largely because of the prospects of redeveloping the Trop site if the Rays leave:
"I think the idea of having to redevelop (the current Tropicana Field footprint of) 85 acres...we're not coming out of that recession yet."
The Rays beg to differ.

Rays VP Michael Kalt told Pinellas County commissioners Tuesday that taxpayers are losing out by having baseball at Tropicana Field.

"One thing that gets lost is the redevelopment potential of the Trop. It is sitting on an enormous piece of land in a rapidly growing downtown that has real value and is frankly lying fallow.'

"The debt service and operating obligations...really pale in comparison to what can come in terms of property tax generation, the sales-tax generation and the job generation by putting that land to a more productive use.

"There is a tremendous opportunity cost that ticks by every day with not doing something with that piece of land." 
This is a far cry from the "$200 million-a-year economic engine" argument the Rays have used before, but is Kalt actually arguing that having commercial or residential development on the Trop site would be more valuable to the community than baseball?

If that's the case, why would Tampa ever want to tie up land in it's rapidly-expanding and rapidly-appreciating downtown with baseball?

Rays Make Another Pitch for Hillsborough Amendment

From the Tampa Bay Times' Mark Puente:
Tampa Bay Rays president Matt Silverman said Thursday the team would agree to examine a stadium proposal in mid-Pinellas County for a set amount of time — if the Rays could then explore sites in Hillsborough County for a set amount of time.
Continue reading here.