Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Three Things the Rays' Stadium Saga Needs in 2015

This post could be alternatively titled, "(Brian) Auld Lang Syne: Should Rays' Old Acquaintances Be Forgotten?" But it just didn't make quite enough sense.

But the point is, without the ability to hit rewind on an uncomfortable month in the Stadium Saga, we can focus on hitting "reset" in 2015. Time to put aside hard feelings between the Rays and St. Pete (and any frustrated fans)...and focus on three needs that will define progress in the stalemate:

1) A True Regional Approach Toward the Rays

On one hand, it's encouraging Tampa politicians have never criticized their counterparts across the bay. They've never made Bill Foster, Rick Kriseman, city council, or anyone else the "bad guy" - in fact, they've basically supported every decision those leaders have made.

But on the other hand, why plan a Hillsborough County site-search team instead of a search team that spans multiple counties? As much as people say Tampa Bay is past its "parochial rivalries" that have created decades worth of divides on issues like the airport, the Bucs, and the Rays...the region is not past these rivalries. We see it in social media, we see it in politics, and we see it on issues of ballpark financing.
UPDATE: We just saw it in a Letter to the Editor too!

Bring up the most logical way to fund a stadium - a multi-county tax - and elected leaders in both Hillsborough and Pinellas immediately shut down the idea. "Help pay for a stadium in that other county? No way," they say. Yet the multi-county tax is the mechanism that made "successful" stadiums in Denver and Milwaukee possible.

We need to remember anytime Tampa and St. Pete "compete," both sides lose.   It would be best to have the difficult conversations about where to build - and how to fund - a next-generation Rays stadium as a region.  Oh, and while we're at it, maybe figure out how to incorporate transit improvements too.

2) Transparency From the Rays Regarding Money

Watch my exchange with Rays' President Brian Auld here - he promises transparency on stadium financials...but provides no further details.

In fact, the Rays have repeatedly failed to answer questions about how much they will put forward for a new stadium; how many tax dollars they expect to go toward the project; and how much revenue a new stadium would actually mean for them.

In numerous exchanges over the years, Stu Sternberg has repeatedly declined to even offer a "ballpark" figure on any of these questions.

We can debate all day whether the Rays should open their books if they expect public financing. But what should be a no-brainer is having an open, honest conversation about how much a new ballpark will cost our local municipalities...and if we think that price is right.

This discussion should happen sooner rather than later, and the Rays should start talking rough numbers of what they'll spend and what they want in subsidies. Also, what impact would these new revenues have on the team's payroll? 

Claiming ignorance on these issues is not being transparent.

3) Less Heavy-Handedness from Editorial Boards and Sports Talk Hosts

As soon as St. Pete's council rejected the Rays' recent ultimatum, the Times' editorial board tore them a new one, criticizing them as "minor league" for not caving to the team's demands.  The Trib's criticisms came the next day.  But I wrote how these criticisms were inappropriate...and lots of prominent writers around town seemed to agree with me for once.

It wasn't the first time the Times' editorial board trashed anyone who dare stand in the way of the Rays' march to a new stadium...but the "at all cost" attitude is counterproductive.  Why not advocate smarter questions and solutions instead of caving to the demands of a wealthy business?

Of course, Tampa Bay's sports talk hosts buy into the fearmongering too.  "The sky is falling" and the Rays are moving, they contend.  You'd think they had never covered a team's relocation threats before.

But fearmongering isn't good.  It leads to political pressure, which often leads to politicians making decisions that are not in the public's best interests.

No, stadiums do not have to generate profit for a city - they're loss-leaders, intended as a community investment.  It's just that sometimes, the investment is so great it's not worth it.  Few politicians have ever publicly stated this because...fearmongering, which leads to political pressure, which can lead to bad decisions.

This region doesn't need more fearmongering - it needs more good questions and answers.  Why squelch questions about stadium financing and public subsidies and taxpayer protection?  That doesn't do anyone any good, including Rays fans hoping for a peaceful compromise.

MLB's threats aren't nearly as dangerous as those from the newspapers.  Let's just hope we see fewer of both in 2015.

Happy New Year everyone - for the best updates on the Stadium Saga in 2015, I encourage you to follow Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook or it's updates on Twitter.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Radical Case for Cities Buying Sports Teams, Not Sports Stadiums

Cross-posting excerpts from Neil deMause's insightful post on VICE SPORTS:
And then there were those who wondered: for $183 million, wouldn't it have been cheaper for D.C. to skip the stadium and just buy the team?
For what it's paying for a stadium, D.C. could have gotten the whole team and all its future revenues, plus had enough left over for either David Luiz or for keeping 5,000 city residents from becoming homeless, take your pick.

And this isn't an uncommon scenario. The city of Miami and Dade County spent more than $800 million in 2009 on a new stadium for the Marlins...Last year, Glendale, Arizona approved $225 million in operating subsidies for the Coyotes—this on top of the arena the city had already provided to the team—to grease the skids so that new owners could buy the team for $170 million. And mere blocks from the site of the new D.C. United stadium, the Washington Nationals received about $700 million in taxpayer money for their new stadium, even as the team itself was being sold for $450 million.

The numbers make your eyes glaze over after a bit, but add them up and you get all kinds of crazy. If the goal of fronting cash for new sports venues is to keep team owners from using their monopoly-given right to skip town and leave fans with no one to root for, then one workaround is obvious: cut out the middleman, and buy the team.
There's actually plenty of precedent for this, none of it bad. Several minor-league baseball teams are or have been municipally owned, and manage their operations the same way any billionaire who decides to buy a team as a plaything does: they hire professional managers to run the day-to-day show. A similar mechanism is in place for the three Canadian Football League franchises that are owned by fans via non-profit corporations (a la the Green Bay Packers), not to mention many of Europe's top soccer teams, including the last two European Champions League winners, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

Okay, so there is one small holdup with the public owning sports teams in the U.S., which is that the major pro sports leagues here have dedicated themselves to blocking it at every turn. McDonald's heiress Joan Kroc once tried to give the Padres to the city of San Diego as a charitable donation, but was overruled by MLB; a similar league edict later prevented the city of Pittsburgh from getting a share of the Pirates in exchange for a $20 million "loan" that was never repaid. The NFL was so freaked by the mere prospect of anyone trying to replicate the Packers that it wrote a ban on non-profit ownership into its league constitution. Congress considered a bill to pull leagues' antitrust exemption for TV rights if they barred community ownership, but like just about all Congressional attempts to reign in sports leagues, it's gone nowhere.

Okay, so no league is voluntarily going to allow its franchises to fall into public hands when it can keep on using its monopoly power over team ownership to extract subsidies. Is there any other way to force them to?

The answer is: maybe. And the trick lies in one of the same governmental powers that team owners use on their side in stadium deals: the power of eminent domain...In the eyes of the courts, though, there should be no legal difference between a few acres of dirt and other private property such as, say, a pro sports franchise.
Noll says—and David Morris of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which has advocated for public ownership of sports teams, agrees—that the bigger problem these days would likely be cost. Franchise values, floated by the cable TV bubble, have soared in recent years to where a United or Marlins situation is less likely—especially if courts require that taxpayers pay a premium in order to buy a team.

Still, eminent domain can be a worthwhile arrow in the municipal quiver...Instead of reaching for your municipal checkbook, you respond by drawing up eminent domain paperwork.

In the best case scenario, the mere threat is enough to force the team owners to lower their subsidy demands. In the worst, yes, you're stuck paying close to $600 million for an NBA franchise, but keep in mind two things: first off, that's how much the current Bucks owners just paid on the open market for the franchise, so presumably somebody thinks they'll bring in enough revenue to make that worthwhile. Plus, if you don't want to be stuck with the risk of the Bucks not earning back your investment, you can always re-sell the team to new private investors—even if you need to sell for $50 million or $100 million less in order to get new owners to agree to an ironclad lease, that's still cheaper than handing over $200 million for nothing.

Is that all too glib to be politically palatable? Maybe. But if there's one thing that we've seen time and again, it's that elected officials are—with a few notable exception—way too timid about exploring what cards they have to play in stadium and arena battles. As Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf famously said after threatening to move his team to Florida in order to extract stadium money from the Illinois legislature, "a savvy negotiator creates leverage." There's nothing stopping cities from trying to be a little savvy, too.
Like the Reinsdorf quote?  Here are more like it.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Someone Creates Fake Economist Twitter Page to Post Pro-Rays Tweets

We know the Rays' Stadium Saga is a passionate issue.  We know everyone thinks they know the best way to solve the stalemate.  And we know how people like to tout credibility when making an argument.

Which may be why someone created a fake Twitter profile of a nationally-recognized sports economist to tweet pro-Rays stadium news:
I stumbled upon the tweets, allegedly from David Berri, a Southern Utah University economics professor and author of several books that use economics to debunk common sports myths.

I was a little suspicious why a professor from Utah would care so much about Tampa Bay:
So far, the tweets have been largely innocuous, but one day could be used to add credibility to the argument that St. Pete's council was being unreasonable in rejecting the Rays' ultimatum earlier this month.
That prompted me to email Berri, who had no idea no idea someone had created an account under his name.  He seemed slightly amused by it:
Good news, David - you know you've "made it" when someone creates a fake Twitter account under your name.

The other good news is this episode has introduced me to Berri's work, which looks very interesting.  I've started following his REAL Twitter feed, and may add his books to my reading list as well.

UPDATE: Someone pointed out the tweets all appear to be selectively copied from accounts of other Rays-themed accounts, such as's Adam Berry.  Who, why, or how the tweets are getting selected remains a mystery.

Weekend Recap: Rays Stadium Saga Coverage

Just a few of the many headlines touching upon the Rays' Stadium Saga this weekend:
  1. Trib columnist Joe Brown writes that while the Rays may be playing hardball, they aren't making anywhere close to the demands (yet) the Bucs did.
  2. Top Off the Trop writes about some big truths nobody is talking much about (yet) on the Stadium Saga.
  3. X-Rays Spex writes about an e-mail he got from St. Pete councilwoman Amy Foster.
  4. The Times' Stephen Nohlgren wrote about how a messy St. Pete/Rays divorce could really screw the redevelopment of the Trop site.
  5. The Trib's Stephen Girardi writes how most St. Pete businesses aren't exactly worried - at all - about the Rays possibly leaving.
  6. Creative Loafing wrote about the seven Tampa Bay stories that "just won't die," including my thoughts on why there's so much drama and misunderstanding around the stalemate.
So get caught up - a new year in the Stadium Saga means new headlines to read!

What Will Tampa City Council Do with Vinik's City-Building Plans?

There are few things as exciting as city-building.  And thanks to few slow decades and a billion bucks, Jeff Vinik is getting to dream big and build bigger in Tampa.  But will city council run any interference with his plans to re-design public streetscape downtown?

The Tampa Bay Times reports this weekend Vinik and partners - including Tampa's former city attorney - plan on getting something to city councilmembers by Jan. 15.  Their goal is to get a commitment for infrastructure reimbursement around the monster development project, which will stretch across the entirety of the south downtown area.

So far, it's basically been a rubber stamp for Vinik, who can do no wrong in Tampa.  But with plans to extend some roads and close off others - will anyone on city council have any issues with private developers making so many changes to the public roads?

I wouldn't bet on it - Tampa's been waiting a long time for someone to take a comprehensive approach toward developing downtown.

I also don't anticipate many roadblocks to Vinik landing the $30-$35 million in CRA/TIF money he hopes to tap into for the projects.  In case you were wondering, that's the same money many Rays fans thought might be available for a downtown Tampa stadium...but it's been evident for more than a year now that Vinik had a firm lock on that money.

Vinik's earned that goodwill and political equity - now it's time for him to spend it.  Don't expect anyone on council to ruffle the feathers of the biggest bird in town.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Ruth Latest Columnist to Take Jabs at Rays

The day after Stu Sternberg's "non-threat threat" came out telling he'd sell the team if St. Pete didn't pass the recently-negotiated deal...I urged fans not to get bent out of shape...and don't believe the hype.

Fortunately, Matt Silverman did some damage control after the failed vote and more local columnists are calling on the Rays to come back after Jan. 1 and compromise on the minor sticking points

While the voices of reason don't include the Tampa Bay Times' editorial board, it does include the paper's sports columnist Tom Jones, who wrote yesterday the Rays could use a holiday slice of "humble pie," and his counterpart Dan Ruth penning an open letter to team president Brian Auld in his typical tongue-in-cheek fashion.

An excerpt:
Enter statesman Matt Silverman — the Secretary of Stadia. Mr. Auld? Pay attention here. You're about to get some mentoring.

As everybody was holding their breath, stomping their feet and casting stink eyes at one another, Silverman, who now holds the title of president of baseball operations, mused that while, sure, the Rays' future and especially its relations with the city may look dark, in reality he felt, ". . . there seems to be good momentum toward reaching an agreement," and later adding that he felt simply peachy that an "agreeable outcome" will eventually be reached among the interested parties.

Why is that you might ask? Well, this is about the point that Silverman's Master Po needs to take Brian Auld's grasshopper aside and explain some reality.

What Silverman understands is that the St. Petersburg City Council is made up of eight politicians, who all want to feel important, consulted and heeded. So regardless of who is right, or who is wrong, no good comes from treating its members as if they are supposed to be a bigger rubber stamp than the North Korean assembly.

If it will help move the process forward by merely adding and/or clarifying the development rights issues there is no pragmatic reason not to indulge the City Council. After all, this isn't as if the two sides are negotiating a Middle East treaty, or the Iranian nuclear program, or even the Kris and Bruce Jenner divorce decree.

That is why this deal will ultimately get done. Common sense almost always trumps temper tantrums.
On one hand, Auld could have answered council's questions better.  But on the other hand, he was also just repeating his owner's non-threat threat of "take it or leave it."  Should be a small bump in the road in the grand scheme of things, but it also jeopardizes some of the goodwill the Rays have been building up in recent years in their stadium campaign.

Regardless, last week's council vote was a rare occasion where a local municipality stands up to a local sports team's demands.  It really should happen more often across the country.  But as this case will likely prove, even when a team is down, they're seldom out.  There will be little collateral damage to the region's long-term chances of helping the Rays get a new stadium.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Quiet Councilman Takes Lead in Moving Stadium Saga Forward

Good guest column in Tuesday's Times from St. Pete councilman Karl Nurse, who actually voted for the mayor's deal with the Rays...yet asked the very important question about redevelopment rights that convinced several of his counterparts to vote no.

I spoke with Nurse several times last week about how the Rays deal fell apart (temporarily), and he echoes many of the same sentiments this week.  An excerpt:
Ironically, the issue that caused the most heartburn for the council is, as a result of the significant rebirth of downtown, the value of the 85-acre Tropicana Field site. The use agreement originally assumed that a hotel would be built next to the Trop and the parties would split the revenue. That made sense under those circumstances. Now, however, with the Rays wanting to look at other locations in the bay area, it is the city's responsibility to try to manage transition in a manner that generates a net positive number of jobs and revenue as quickly as practical.
If the Rays come back to the city with an agreement to leave town and terminate their use of the Trop early, it seems grossly unfair to force the city to split the redevelopment revenue from this site. The Trop site is the largest piece of urban land potentially available for redevelopment in Central Florida. It may be worth up to $100 million. The alternative to splitting the development revenue is to wait until the Rays vacate the site. This is clearly not an attractive option.
If the Rays come back with a termination agreement to stay in St. Petersburg if a new stadium is built, then the revenue from the sale and redevelopment of the Trop will form the foundation to fund the new facility. I believe most people would accept that. This is the best option for our community, and should be our initial focus.

The reason the redevelopment issue comes up now is that it amounts to tens of millions of dollars from the potential sale or lease of the land. Also, this is the last opportunity for the City Council to raise this issue. The memorandum of understanding that the mayor and the Rays presented to council requires us to approve a future termination agreement as long as the Rays accept the termination fee. It was speak up now, or accept it later. 
Council members have spoken since the meeting, wishing the mayor and the Rays a relaxing holiday. Then, please sit down and bring back an agreement that the Rays, the mayor and the City Council can approve.

Play ball!

Odds and Ends: Spring Training, NFL Stadium Threats, Etc.

A few good links worth catching up on:

Sunday, December 21, 2014

More on the Highest-and-Best-Use of Stadium Land

Nearly two years ago, I wrote that if St. Pete's Tropicana Field land is so valuable without baseball, as the Rays then claimed, then wouldn't the same go for land in Downtown Tampa that could be developed into something else too?

Obviously, Jeff Vinik agreed with me

And in Sunday's Tampa Tribune, Steven Giradi writes more about the excitement St. Pete-area developers have for the Trop's 85 acres of land post-baseball.

That's not to say MLB doesn't bring certain intangibles and even economic growth when situated in a region that's lacking development.  A comprehensive stadium project can spur growth in a community area that needs it.  But for all the talk of a new baseball stadium in Downtown St. Pete or Downtown Tampa, those neighborhoods don't need a kickstart.

The Tampa Bay Rays need a new stadium more than Tampa or St. Pete do.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Rays Continue to (Mostly) Get a Free Pass from Local Press

Last week, I wrote how the Rays were playing hardball against St. Pete...a strategy that ultimately (and narrowly) backfired on least for now.

After the city voted down their proposal to look at stadium sites in Tampa, there are signs the Rays may be willing to re-negotiate after I explained as soon as the non-threat threat was issued by team owner Stu Sternberg:
Several reports and columns indicated how St. Pete's council may have avoided a great catastrophe (or at least a great loss) by bringing up the issue of redevelopment rights and asking the Rays to work with them.  The team indicated it would not alter that aspect of its contract.

Yet the only real criticisms in print - including from both the Times and Trib editorial boards - continue to be of St. Petersburg's elected officials, who took a stand in an attempt to defend their city.

Sometimes, I scratch my head why so many people are so convinced St. Pete is the problem in these negotiations - doesn't it take two parties to fail to compromise?
It's been more than three years since the Times last called on the Rays to do as much as open their books and demonstrate an actual need for a new ballpark.  But since then...nada.

Which is why it was nice to see Joe Henderson's column in the Trib today suggesting the Rays made a "blunder" this week in front of council.  However, he also indicated it was important for both sides to be willing to make further compromises:
I think Auld, a bright man, would like to hit the reset button.

Some council members grumped about Auld’s arrogance for arguing the city has to abide by the lease his organization wants to break, and they have a point.
The story would likely be much different this morning if Auld had said, “Hey, you know, that development rights thing is something we can absolutely talk about going forward. We want to do right by the city that has been our home.”
This was after Sternberg recently turned what should have been a good day into a threat to have the Rays leave the area. When St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman announced he had reached a tentative deal to let the Rays look in Hillsborough County, Sternberg’s response was that the team is “doomed to leave” without a new stadium. 

So, I can’t really blame the city council for getting its ego bruised, or for voting 5-3 to reject the deal Kriseman and the Rays put on the table.

But now everyone needs to take a deep breath.

Everything is negotiable.

Get back to the table.

Get this done.
The Rays, St. Pete, and local editorial boards need to recognize this is a two-way street and any failure to compromise is a shared responsibility.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Why a St. Pete Deal with the Rays May Just Be a Happy Holidays Away

This evening, I took a look for WTSP-TV at how realistic it was for St. Pete to strike a deal with the Rays in 2015 (hint: pretty good).

It's something I actually wrote about last week, after Stu Sternberg implied the team was done negotiating.

Councilman Karl Nurse, who was one of three yes votes on the deal, said he was frustrated with how the Rays handled questions about redevelopment money in their final year or two at The Trop.  It wasn't mentioned in the deal Mayor Rick Kriseman negotiated with the team.

This should be a tiny issue the team would be happy to renegotiate...but team president Brian Auld said the team wasn't making any changes and council could "take it or leave it."  We know what happened next.

But Nurse said he felt a holiday "cooling off" period would convince the mayor and Rays to get back to work and address the few least to the point where two councilmembers would feel comfortable to flip their "no" votes to "yes."

Check out the full story video here.

Morning-After Fallout from St. Pete's Rejection of Rays Deal

It's evident there are still a lot of jaws on the floor after the surprising defeat of last night's Rays deal in St. Pete council. That included Mayor Rick Kriseman,  officials in Hillsborough County, and weirdly, the Ted Williams' Hitters Hall of Fame, which is located in Tropicana Field.

READ: The 10 Most Important Tweets from Council Chambers

Of course, that also includes the regional-minded Times editorial board, which ripped off a scolding editorial entitled, "St. Pete's Minor League Council."

But there was a much different tone in the reporting on the issue last night in different outlets (as well as my own, WTSP-TV).  The Times' writes:
Council members got their backs up when Rays President Brian Auld refused to yield an iota on development rights on Tropicana Field and other issues.

Council member Darden Rice, who voted for the agreement, said the Rays blew the deal with their presentation.

"I think at one point we had five votes,'' Rice said. "But I was very disappointed by Auld's response to Karl Nurse's question about development rights. It was either tone deafness or arrogance.''
Dudley said he felt like the Rays were making ultimatums. "I don't like arrogance,'' he said.
"The deal breaker for me was the idea that they want us to abide by the use agreement for redevelopment purposes, where they can benefit,'' Foster said, "but they didn't want to abide by the use agreement'' by staying at the Trop. 
Times columnist John Romano, an ardent supporter of Mayor Kriseman's compromise, picked up on it too, writing St. Pete's city council may have picked up a big "save" for the city:
The Rays recognize the redevelopment profits are extremely valuable, and that's probably why Auld was so curt when Nurse asked him about it.
But the team also has to realize that council members have a duty to stick up for their residents, and it doesn't look good if the Rays get to leave town early AND pocket serious money in the process.

Here's another way of looking at it:

The Rays are asking the city to get out of the use agreement early so they can move on with their lives.

And yet they seem to be suggesting that they would invoke that same agreement to hold the city hostage when it tries to move on with redevelopment.

Don't panic yet, fans, all is not lost. As I wrote last week, it would either be bad PR or bad business for the Rays not to re-negotiate the sticking points.

I also wrote how the Rays were the ones with the ultimatum of "take it or leave it," and could have easily said they'd continue to compromise on any sticking points.  It's not like they were breaking the bank in the initial proposal.

St. Pete councilman Jim Kennedy took it a step further yesterday:
As the Times' Marc Topkin told my WTSP-TV colleagues this morning, the team will likely take some time to lick its wounds.  But there remains opportunity to capitalize on the framework of the negotiated deal.

Yes, the Rays will have to address city council's concerns.  And yes, it may require them to concede a few million more over the next decade.  But if the team really wants this, doesn't it make sense to swallow its pride and re-negotiate?

My pal Jonah Keri made a great point last night about the Rays' desire to look elsewhere:
We'll see more reaction over the next few days, but for now, it's likely on the Rays to make the next move.  Was that deal really their last/best offer?
It may determine whether their front office continues to get the "Jeff Vinik" treatment or if they start to go down the path of unpopular owners like Jeffrey Loria.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The 10 Most Important Tweets from St. Pete's Rays Stadium Rejection

St. Pete council voted down Mayor Rick Kriseman's proposed Rays deal today, 5-3.  Here is how and why:

Live Updates from Today's Rays Stadium Vote in St. Pete

Will the St. Pete city council approve Mayor Rick Kriseman's plan to let the Rays look at stadium sites in Hillsborough County?  That's the story I'll be following all day on Shadow of the Stadium's Twitter feed.

UPDATE: The 10 Most Important Tweets from the stadium deal rejection

Here were some other reports and opinions this morning ahead of the 3 p.m. vote:

Times' Charlie Frago: "No rubber stamp from City Council for St. Petersburg's deal with Rays"
Today's vote will be close.  Potentially very close.  It's something I also talked about on SportsTalk Florida yesterday afternoon.

Times' Editorial Board: "Deal before St. Petersburg is a good one to keep baseball in the region"
The latest example of the paper's heavy pressure for a stadium deal contends the region needs to work together on a new stadium. It also seemingly contradicts previous editorials in saying the Rays may ultimately choose a suburban St. Pete stadium over one in a downtown core...and downtown land may be more valuable as non-baseball development, rather than a stadium.

Times' Romano: "Rays deal is a risk for St. Pete, but one that a city on the rise can handle"
The columnist writes St. Pete should approve the deal and may even have the leg-up in keeping the Rays.

Buckhorn to WUSF: "If you ask me now how we'd pay for it, I couldn't tell you"
This could have everything in the world to do with Jeff Vinik's need for city dollars, which I wrote about yesterday.

Businessman Ed Montanari: The influential St. Pete leader sends letter to mayor, council urging a step back from deciding on the MOU, favoring a more thorough analysis on its effects to the city.

Former mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford: The former St. Pete councilwoman also sent a letter to council urging a veto, saying "everything is negotiable" and "baloney" to the claim the Rays will reject any potential tweaks to the contract, as I also suggested last week.  Her other claims are very interesting as well...worth a read.

And here are the most relevant posts from this blog in the last 10 days since the proposed deal was announced:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What (If Anything) Vinik's Plans Mean for Rays' Stadium Dreams

This blog has long claimed that Jeff Vinik would prefer to build a Downtown Tampa entertainment empire without baseball.

In fact, as nasty comments from my beloved readers attest, I was in the minority for a long time. 

But today, the Lightning's owner unveiled his "master plan" for Downtown and the Channel District, and he drove one more nail into the coffin of a possible baseball stadium on his land:
Thalji and Ashley Kritzer from the Tampa Bay Biz Journal did a bang-up job this morning explaining Vinik's vision 140 characters at a time.  Follow them for more specifics.

But what does this all mean for those other potential sites in Tampa eyed for a potential Rays stadium?

Well, all roads to a Tampa stadium now go through Vinikville - even if it's not on Vinik's land.

See, any potential stadium revenue streams (tourist taxes, CRA/TIF money, etc) could also go toward Amalie Arena and/or Vinikville projects.  Which means all roads to baseball now go through Vinikville:
After he fronted more than $45 million of his own money to fix up the arena, Vinik indicated he wouldn't mind recouping some through the bed tax and/or Downtown CRA.  And he's in such good-graces of the elected leaders in Tampa/Hillsborough County that it's safe to assume any big retail/stadium project anywhere near downtown would all-but-require Vinik's blessing.

That's another challenging hurdle (in addition to that whole funding thing) standing in the way of a Tampa ballpark.

UPDATE: Mayor Buckhorn confirmed what this blog has long-assumed: infrastructure around Vinik's projects in Downtown Tampa & the Channel District will rely on CRA/TIF money.

A Rays Stadium Question Worth Asking

Hypothetically, if the Rays/Tampa were to find a way to finance a new stadium on the other side of the bay, how could the city possibly draft an ironclad agreement if everyone seems to think the Rays won't be at Tropicana Field come 2027 no matter what?

It's a point raised in a Tampa Tribune letter to the editor today, as well as one I've raised on numerous occasions:
St. Pete's contract with the Rays is considered the strongest in recent memory of all the stadium controversies around the country, which led Trib reader Larry Thornberry from Tampa to write:
If the Rays are to be allowed to stiff St. Petersburg on the Trop agreement, how long will it be before the team stiffs Tampa/Hillsborough when attendance at a new ballyard here that could be publicly subsidized does not meet Sternberg’s expectations? 
Two years ago, I asked if "promises of an 'ironclad' lease (are) hollow?"

Thornberry also touched upon another point I've made - the Rays' frustrations stem from the region's unwillingness to suffer through the tiniest inconvenience for a MLB game.
If (Tribune columnist) Henderson finds this kind of driving (to Tropicana Field), in his word, “stifling,” then he’s been badly spoiled. He should try getting to major league ballyards in the Northeast. And if he’s up to a challenge, he also could try finding a safe parking place within walking distance of Fenway Park for $10, something that’s easily done near the Trop.

There are more attractive explanations for poor attendance than geography, chief among them being that tickets and such baseball accessories as hot dogs and beer cost way too much at major league parks. And the Rays have yet to develop the kind of fan base, nurtured over generations, that teams like the Red Sox enjoy. It’s very possible that Rays attendance in Tampa would be no better than in St. Petersburg. Then what? Do the Rays bug out again?
What can our region do - aside from doing everything possible to set a new stadium up to succeed - that would prevent a similar scenario in 2035?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Rays to Montreal? Fat Chance (Pt. III)

FLASHBACK Oct. '13: Rays to Montreal? Fat Chance
FLASHBACK Mar. '14: Rays to Montreal? Fat Chance (Pt. II)

It's time again to revisit a popular topic!  Except, this week, it's TSN sports legal analyst Eric Macramalla doing the dirty work, writing, "Forget it Montreal, the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t moving anytime soon."   One of his main reasons (as I've written about before): the Rays have a use agreement, not a lease.

An excerpt:
The reason the Rays aren’t moving ties into their deal with the city. The Rays never signed a traditional lease. Rather, it signed a “Use Agreement”, which prevents the team from moving out of Tropicana Field and calls for potentially catastrophic monetary damages should the Rays abandon the stadium before its deal is up in 2027. This is in stark contrast to a traditional lease, where a tenant owes the landlord what’s left on that lease after breaking it.
So that takes us back to the city suing for money – and lots of it – should the Rays fail to honor its agreement. It’s not clear what that amount would be, but the ask is likely to be exorbitant. The city could argue that it should be paid in excess of $100 to $200 million as compensation for the loss of the team and the intangibles that come with an MLB team in a city. Some of these are outlined in the Use Agreement, and include things like the “creation of new jobs, local employment opportunities, increased business prospects, direct and indirect tax revenues, enhancement of the community’s image and promotional opportunities, and an improvement in life and local pride of the citizenry”.
The city did its homework when it drafted the Use Agreement.
The attorney who negotiated that deal back in the 90s? John Wolfe, who remains St. Pete's top attorney.
(This month's) very limited negotiated settlement was Rays owner Stuart Sternberg’s only viable play. He simply had few options since he couldn’t pick up and leave without the threat of a major lawsuit.
This touches upon my most recent post, which details how little leverage the Rays have until St. Pete council agrees to let them look elsewhere.  Macramalla continues:
One more thing – major league baseball historically doesn’t abandon stadiums where the team is the anchor tenant. It sends a terrible message to cities that MLB teams don’t honor leases.

So for those fans hoping to see the Rays in Montreal in the near future, stop hoping. However, should the Rays fail to make progress on a new stadium by about 2021, they could at that point start negotiating with a city like Montreal to build a new stadium for the 2028 season. The Rays would then let the city know they intend to move in a few years with the hope of buying the city out in exchange for an early exit.

For Expos fans, expansion is more likely to land the city a team in the near future. MLB, however, hasn’t expressed an interest in adding teams at this time.

With enhanced revenue sharing, substantial revenue from media deals, a deep history of baseball in Montreal going back to 1897 and a city that is the 15th largest metropolitan city in North America, it seems inevitable that Montreal will get a team. The numbers line up in an MLB economic landscape that has dramatically changed since 2004. The issue, though, is when. And that doesn’t seem to be anytime soon.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

How the Rays Are Playing Hardball...and Winning

Great piece from the Trib's Chris O'Donnell this morning on how the Rays were able to negotiate the price of "making St. Pete whole" down to somewhere in the $20-30 million range (less when you factor inflation), despite a fairly ironclad contract with a whopping 13 years left on it. 

The story points out how Seattle ultimately got a $45 million settlement when the Sonics left their less-ironclad lease just two years early.  But this week's deal has been considered "fair" because St. Pete seems ready to move past baseball and the Rays weren't going to budge:
The amount of compensation is a compromise, Kriseman said — less than the city asked for but more than the Rays wanted to pay. Sports economists say the Rays bargained well.
“We have immense challenges ahead of us,” said Rays President Brian Auld. “Had these payments been significantly higher, they would prohibit us from being able to do a new deal; they could be crippling to whatever business needs we had going into a new ballpark.” 
Indeed, the more the Rays ultimately pay to taxpayers, the less money they make...and they more they'll need to ask of taxpayers in a new deal.  But "crippling" is poor descriptor given that MLB just hit $9 billion in revenue this year.

Judging from previous reports of what the Rays and former mayor Bill Foster were negotiating, it would seem the team's hardball tactics worked well.  The current mayor, Rick Kriseman, acknowledged at Tuesday's press conference that he would have loved to have gotten more, but he didn't feel like he had the leverage.  He couldn't even get the team to pay for the right to look at stadium sites in Tampa, one of his original campaign promises.

Reaction has been mixed: the Times' John Romano said the money stinks, but the deal was necessary.  SaintPetersblog's Peter Schorsch wrote St. Pete is basically getting screwed.

Of course, the revelation that the Rays won't consider a single change to the negotiated deal only bolsters the idea that they're going to keep playing hardball.  They're basically giving an ultimatum that they won't re-negotiate anymore and if council rejects this deal, they won't keep trying to make a new stadium happen over the course of the next 13 years?!?

That's silly.  Which is why the city may not realize it, but it still holds all the cards in this negotiation.

I've written ad nauseum about Kriseman's tough challenge of satisfying both his taxpayers and a team that doesn't want to compensate them.  He could have waited the team out until they caved to better terms...but the team played its public relations cards well and forced the city to bend.

How should council vote this Thursday?  I cannot say.  It's a big decision.

But this may be the last time a municipality has the upper-hand in negotiating with the Rays.  Even Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn acknowledged what's coming next:
You have to wonder if the Rays' setting their price, playing hardball, then letting public opinion turn in their favor will repeat itself in Hillsborough County too.

If the team/league finds a piece of land they like in Tampa, will they threatmonger and fearmonger because the city and county aren't immediately willing to hand over hunderds of millions of dollars?

It wouldn't be MLB's first time.

6 Brutally Honest Stadium Statements from Mayor Buckhorn

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn appeared on Political Connections on Bay News 9 today, shooting from the hip on the Rays' Stadium Saga. Here are some of his quotes, including some very honest responses:
This is a terribly interesting idea most-recently floated by an Orange Co. commissioner looking to reduce taxpayer risk in Orlando City's new soccer stadium.

However, the profit-sharing idea was rejected by the team/league and taxpayers handed over tens of millions anyway.

Buckhorn continues:

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Brief History of Sternberg's Threats to Tampa Bay

There's been a lot of concern over the last few days about Stu Sternberg's latest non-threat threat:
So how much stock should we put in Sternberg's claim that he'll sell the team if council rejects next week's vote? First of all, refusing to re-negotiate sounds like "I'm taking my ball and going home."

What good does that do Stu, even if he decides to sell the team? The franchise's resale value is a lot higher if they re-negotiate and make any progress whatsoever on a new stadium.  Stu's too smart to sell low.
Furthermore, why start believing the threats now?

  • January 2013 - Sternberg, mentioning contraction, says MLB wants out of Tampa Bay
  • October 2011 - Sternberg says MLB could "vaporize" the Rays
  • February 2011 - Sternberg suggests relocation is a real possibility with no new stadium
  • June 2010 - Sternberg says "five markets" are better than Tampa Bay
If we are to learn anything from Jerry Reinsdorf, we should believe none of them.

No matter how you slice it, this isn't a good situation.  The franchise's owner is taking an adversarial approach with the city his team plays in.

Even worse: the stadium complaints have put the Rays on a downward attendance spiral that is unlikely to reverse itself as long as they play at the Trop. 

This isn't the fault of fans - it's the fault of MLB.  And the league should step up and fix it, not threatmonger the region into action.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Big Surprises from Thursday's Council Non-Vote

St. Pete's council unsurprisingly voted to postpone the decision on the Rays for a week, but there was one big surprise reveal today - city attorneys were kept largely out of the negotiation process until the end. That might explain this:
St. Pete's attorneys are in a bit of a sticky spot, representing both council and the mayor's office...and Wolfe is known around town as "Dr. No."  He's a conservative attorney who did such a good job drawing up the original contract in the 90's, the Rays are still locked into it.  So I'd love to be a fly on the wall and hear what he's saying behind closed doors.
But the other big surprise today was that councilmembers were told they could not request any "tweaks" to deal negotiated with Rays...the team would reject them.  It's a really really really hardball approach from the Rays, who at one point said they were a $122 million-dollar engine to the city/county...but are only offering around $2 million/year for the right to move.

Mayor Kriseman basically indicated this is as good as its going to get however, so we all now look ahead to next Thursday's council meeting to see how the important vote unfolds.

What Could a New Rays Stadium Really Cost Taxpayers?

Yesterday, I reported for WTSP on the potential tax implications of a new Rays stadium in either Tampa or Pinellas County.

In short, I looked back at some of the numbers the Tampa and St. Pete chambers of commerce came up with to address the perceived funding shortfall of building a new park:

The group concluded between $300 million to $400 million would be required to build a modern stadium, and the best mechanisms available for that funding in Hillsborough County include (with approximations):
  • Redirect a portion of the Community Investment Tax (CIT) from local road and infrastructure improvements to a new stadium. The local sales tax, of which a portion funds Raymond James Stadium, expires in 2026 and would have to be extended. ($70-$80 million over 30 years)
  • A new 5% surcharge on auto rentals, which would hit tourists more than local residents, but require a new law to pass through the legislature. ($140-$150 million over 30 years)
  • A new 6th-cent added to the tourist/bed tax. Hillsborough County isn't considered a "high-tourist" county, so state law prohibits it from charging tourists 6% tax on hotel stays. However, the law could potentially be changed, and Hillsborough might hit the "high-tourist" threshhold within the next decade. ($35-$45 million over 30 years)
  • Tax-increment financing (TIF) associated with Tampa's Community Redevelopment Areas. The funding mechanism earmarks property taxes from city and county coffers to specific neighborhoods for the purpose of economic growth. (tens or hundreds of millions over 30 years)
READ: Bay Area Baseball Stadium Finance Study
Pinellas County has an easier time getting to $400 million since its tourism coffers are more robust, thanks to beach visitors:
  • Existing revenue streams already paying for Tropicana Field. Most Trop bonds will be paid off by 2015, so leaders can either stop collecting the taxes, redirect the collections to other city and county needs, or re-direct them to a new stadium. ($115-$148 million over 30 years)
  • Re-direct a portion of the "Penny for Pinellas" local improvement tax to a new stadium. The tax sunsets after 2020, so its bonding capacity would be modest at best without another extension. ($35-$40 million over 30 years)
  • A new 6th-cent added to the tourist/bed tax. Pinellas County, unlike Hillsborough, is considered a "high-tourist" county, so the county could increase the tax on hotel stays from 5% to 6%. ($60 million over 30 years)
  • Re-directing a large portion of St. Petersburg's share of state sales tax toward a new stadium. The city currently receives more than $12 million/year from the state, and much of it could be leveraged into new stadium bonds. (tens or hundreds of millions over 30 years )
I'd also throw in $35 million in state money on either side.

Rays President Brian Auld said Tuesday he didn't know what kind of costs a new stadium would bring because the Rays wanted a "next-generation" stadium, and he was focused first on seeing the agreed-upon deal through St. Pete's city council.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

DELAYED! Kriseman, Rays Push Stadium Decision Off One Week to Secure Votes

Every St. Pete insider knew Mayor Kriseman's controversial plan to let the Rays explore stadium sites across the bay in Tampa would meet some resistance in City Council.  Especially with former mayor Bill Foster lobbying councilmembers to vote "no" over concerns of weakening the city's ironclad contract.

Yesterday, we broke the news of several councilmembers leaning toward "no" votes...which led me to tweet this:
It also led Rays executives to lobby councilmembers today on the deal:
But sure enough, as the Tampa Bay Times first reported, tomorrow's vote has been delayed a week so Kriseman "can make sure that council had time to get comfortable" with the MOU.

Hooray!  Eight more days of speculation and giant headlines!

UPDATE: The Times editorial board has a quick response to the delay {link to site}, once again taking the opportunity to slam former mayor Bill Foster.  It's anything but their first time.  But they also seemed to put council on notice that a vote against the agreement may be a consequential shot across the bow of the editorial board too.

Day 3: Significant Reactions to the Rays' Deal with St. Pete

Monday: My immediate reaction to the Rays' deal with St. Pete
Tuesday: Key takeaways from Kriseman, Auld's question-answering session
TuesdayCouncilmembers skeptical; Sternberg issues non-threat threat

Now, on Day 3 of fallout from the announcement of a St Pete/Rays deal, we get more interesting reaction:

Trib Columnist Joe Henderson
Echoing his counterpart John Romano at the Times, the sports-turned-metro columnist suggested it was a good deal and St Pete Mayor Kriseman probably wasn't going to do any better than he did.
Henderson also echoed something I first wrote about five-and-a-half years ago: the location of the Trop is its single-biggest problem:
Baseball’s failure there has everything to do with geography, period. It never made sense to build a stadium at the extreme western edge of the Tampa Bay area and expect to be successful. People from the big population centers in Hillsborough County won’t fight our stifling traffic to drive to the Trop on a weeknight when they can easily turn on the hi-def at home.
Having the Rays move to Tampa doesn’t mean St. Pete is a lousy city. On the contrary, it’s a fabulous, thriving place and it’s only going to get better....It’s just not the right place for the Rays. 

John Romano Pt. II
Following his column Tuesday, the Times' columnist wrote today that the payout may be puny and the deal "stinks" for St. Pete, but it was as good as the leveraged mayor was going to do. I don't know why more of the reaction hasn't been critical of the Rays for refusing to budge much, but that's neither here nor there. 

Tampa Tribune Editorial Board
No surprise, Tampa's hometown daily is happy to see St. Pete loosen its grip on the Rays. Its argument for passage of the deal: St. Pete's long term benefit of having the team in Tampa outweighs any direct losses over the next 13 years. 

The editorial basically contends the Rays should pay for the majority of a new stadium, but the public should contribute too. It also indicates incentives aren't taxes...but that's a silly talking point.

Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board
Another non-surprise, the good folks at the Times (seeking to put the Trib out of business in Tampa) also heralded the mayor's compromise. They mirrored the Trib's piece closely, so here's the link if you'd like to read it. 

Next, all eyes are on tomorrow's city council meeting where eight elected officials will decide if the proposed deal truly does protect St Pete taxpayers. If not... we could be forced to re-re-re-re-negotiate!

A brief history of Times editorials on the Stadium Saga:
The history goes further back than that, but for a good synopsis, watch my 2010 piece on newspapers cheerleading for new stadium projects.