Thursday, January 30, 2014

Fallout From Ferg's Setting Up Shop in Downtown Tampa

There was a lot of excitement last night about Ferg's opening up a second location in Downtown Tampa:
Good for Downtown Tampa, yes.  Especially since its a promising fit for a location that's struggled to make it as a restaurant/bar in recent years.

But don't read too much into this business move - its unlikely Mark Ferguson is opening a bar (in a leased space) simply because he thinks a new baseball stadium may open there five years from now.
So, the bad news in all this is for Rays "conspiracy theorists," as Creative Loafing's Mitch Perry calls them (heck, many of whom regularly comment on this blog), is that the Ferg's move is more about capitalizing on Tampa's thriving downtown.  Ferg saw how often Hattrick's was packed out and saw opportunity - let's hope it fares better than its predecessors.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The True Economic Impact of a Super Bowl?

Economists and sports leagues may always spar over how much economic impact major events bring to a community, but there's always lots of good reading Super Bowl week on the topic.

Neil deMause writes on Sports on Earth that there may be some economic impact to a host city, but that the costs to host the event negate any possible gains:
So it's not entirely worthless to host a Super Bowl -- or a World Series, or an NCAA championship game, or a World Cup, or any of the other things that sports boosters are forever prescribing as the cure-all for any city's economic woes. Given the findings of Matheson, Coates, Porter, and their colleagues, it's probably not unreasonable to guesstimate perhaps $100 million or so of new money changing hands within the New York area during the first weekend of February, and a few million of that trickling down to the public in the form of new taxes.

That sounds good -- until you realize that the state of New York alone will spend $5 million on advertising for Super Bowl-related events, leaving the only benefit as … advertising New York City as a place that's brutally cold in the winter?
Meanwhile, deMause should be flattered the New York Times echoed most of his thoughts on the true beneficiaries of hosting big-ticket events:
In other words, the sporting event represents a huge transfer of funds from taxpayers to a handful of special interests. This is the standard assessment for almost any event for which governments bear the costs, including Super Bowls, Olympic Games and World Cups. So a question inevitably arises: Why exactly do governments fall for these pitches again and again?
“If I’m the mayor of New York or Newark or Trenton, I love the Super Bowl being in my backyard,” said Victor A. Matheson, an economics professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. “There is nothing better than being a bigwig at the center of all this attention. Who wouldn’t want a party thrown for them, especially if somebody else is paying?”
The same could be said for stadium-building on the taxpayer dime.

There's also been a lot of coverage of New Jersey businesses and cities upset with New York getting the bulk of the economic benefit.  That includes in the pages of the New York Times as well as the Philadelphia Inquirer:
"Every time I hear a player or broadcaster say he's heading to New York for the Super Bowl, it makes my ears bleed," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), who held a news conference Thursday at the Hilton-Meadowlands overlooking MetLife Stadium. At his side were Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.), Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D., N.J.) and Cassella. "Apparently, the NFL needs a geography lesson, too."
Then again, nobody should be that surprised.  A lot of business-owners in Dallas were scratching their heads after the 2011 game too.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Governments Build Stadiums for Private Companies, So Why Not for Private Universities?

In case you missed the news that Syracuse University is looking for subsidies to replace the Carrier Dome with a new retractable-roof stadium (why not?),  here are a few bullet points (courtesy of the Post-Standard):
  • $495 million cost for a 44,000 seat arena with retractable roof. The amount does not include parking or land acquisition.
  • Additional development of a 250-room hotel, over 160 apartments and 150,000 feet of retail space
  • No plan for use of the current Carrier Dome or its site
  • The facility's operating budget would pay for the extra police, fire and other public services needed
The first question I had was whether the retractable roof "ask" was merely so the university could later "settle" for a cheaper, fixed-roof stadium.  But Neil deMause puts it in better perspective:
The stadium would seat 44,000 (down from the Carrier Dome’s 49,000), with a retractable roof so it could host basketball and other indoor events while also events that need to be outdoors, like, um, professional snowball fights?

Portland Still Kidding Itself About MLB Hopes

New efforts to bring MLB to Portland are creating headlines...and skepticism.  Our good friends at explain:
The Portland effort bears striking similarities to Montreal’s recently launched efforts. Both underestimate the cost of the stadium and the cost to acquire a franchise. Montreal’s study pegs the total cost at just over $1 billion, which would’ve been a better bet three or four years ago, during the recession and before the new national TV contracts. It’s hard to see any team being available for less than $600 million, maybe even $700 million because the revenue streams are so attractive. That would put the total cost at a combined $1.2 billion, maybe $1.3 billion when including infrastructure and land. Both cities also appear to be dependent on a rich investor group or corporation to fund the private side. That’s a lot to ask for, essentially a subsidy to be borne by a company. 
Both teams stand a good chance of being future revenue sharing recipients, even with new ballparks in place.
I explained back in October that MLB will never land in Portland, largely because TV markets are now more important than ticket sales in a lot of ways.  And Oregon just cannot compete with places like West/Central Florida, Montreal, or New Jersey.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Times' Tom Jones: "Major League Baseball is Broken"

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks MLB's competitive balance is all whacked out.

Columnist Tom Jones in this morning's Tampa Bay Times:
The big story of the offseason for the Yankees is adding nearly $450 million in payroll by signing high-priced free agents Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran to large, multiyear deals. The big story for the Rays is whether or not they will trade David Price because they can't afford him long-term. That's sad for Rays fans and a sign to Major League Baseball that the sport is broken.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Tampa Officials, Residents Start Voicing Opposition to Stadium Ideas

Following up on this week's post about possible backlash from Tampa leaders regarding all the stadium talk, my WTSP-TV counterpart Preston Rudie spoke to another city councilmember who is promising to kill any talk of public stadium subsidies.

Councilman Frank Reddick, whose district includes Downtown Tampa and many of the city's poorer neighborhoods, told Rudie Friday, "I do not support taxpayer dollars going toward a stadium."

"The mayor doesn't have the power to override the CRA board, which is the city council, so we're going to have some input," Reddick continued.  "I think down the road I'll play a significant role in how those dollars will be utilized."

Reddick joins councilmembers Yvonne Yolie Capin and Charlie Miranda (not to mention at least one county commissioner) in expressing concern over Mayor Bob Buckhorn's suggestion that at least $100-$150 million in CRA (a.k.a. TIF) money would be on the table for a new Rays stadium.

Fortunately for the Rays, politicians change faster than sports executives.

Also good news for the team's stadium subsidy hopes: public opinion changes too.

According to Saint Petersblog, a new poll indicates an overwhelming majority of Tampa voters oppose tax dollars going to a stadium:
An unscientific survey by St. Pete Polls shows that 65 percent of registered Tampa voters oppose using taxpayer dollars on a stadium for the Rays. Only 25% support such use of public money.
Don't read too much into those numbers - they could be easily reversed by asking residents if they're OK with out of towners paying for a new stadium...because then you can lead them to believe the money couldn't be used for other things.

But as Joe Henderson writes in this morning's Tampa Tribune, its important to give careful thought as to the best way Tampa's TIF money could be spent:
[I]t’s one thing to talk about what a stadium could do for downtown, but it’s another to pay for it. It’s tempting to start grabbing at that big pot of cash while dreaming of the Rays and the World Series, but take a deep breath. There will be no inside deals.

Paying for a new stadium really is major baseball-related news, and if it happens at all, then it better be in full sunshine.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Weekend Reading List: More Miami Handouts, MLB Relocation

Four short, outstanding pieces of weekend reading for you:
  • Field of Schemes: Miami already subsidizes the Heat, who are locked in until 2029, so why not just give them more money in exchange for a 10-year lease extension, knowing they won't be simply content with their arena through 2039?
  • @NewBallpark: Don't count on MLB in Portland or Montreal anytime soon
  • Field of Schemes: Economic impact studies can say anything you want them to, but once in a while, they'll even admit sports cannibalize revenue from other businesses.
  • And, in case you missed it - Miami New Times: David Samson going on "Survivor," brags about how he screwed taxpayers

David Samson Brags About Screwing Taxpayers Before Going on CBS' "Survivor"

You've got to hand it to Marlins' owner David Samson for.....well, being a total a-hole.  This is from the Miami New Times:
It's hard to outdouche Justin Bieber on a day like today, but, damn it, Marlins President David Samson is certainly going to give it his best shot. The guy who took off in the middle of the season to go film some silly reality show, proves himself to be an A-class asshole in his official bio for Survivor.

When asked what his "personal claim to fame" was, he replied, "Got local government in Miami to contribute over 350 million dollars to a new baseball park during the recession."

Tampa Council Will Discuss Whether Stadium is in Their Best Interests

So not only does the city of Tampa not have enough money to build a baseball stadium, but now some people are asking if the money the city could contribute be better-used elsewhere.  And by "people," I'm not just talking about myself this time.

This morning, Michael Sasso writes in the Tampa Tribune that local nonprofits and elected officials don't want Mayor Bob Buckhorn earmarking any TIF money for a stadium just yet:
“The perception is that $100 million was being reserved for the stadium, and we all know that perception becomes reality,” (Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie) Capin said. “That may or may not be the best use.”

The money in question comes from the property taxes paid by downtown Tampa landowners. Through a system called tax-increment financing, some of these taxes are steered into an entity called the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area and used for projects that benefit downtown. For now, the system generates about $12 million to $13 million per year, and those dollars are used to pay off the bonds on the Tampa Convention Center.

Various nonprofits are starting to eye that money, though. The convention center bonds will be paid off by 2016, which could free up the money for other uses.
The city may also have to make a case to the county why it should be able to keep its TIF district downtown once the convention center is paid off, since the county could probably find a few ways to spend those dollars too (Sasso mentions waterfront parks, local nonprofits, and mass transit, just to name a few).

Tampa Council will discuss the issue on Feb. 13.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Stadium Removed from Fairgrounds Proposal

Despite the interest four years ago for a possible baseball stadium at the Florida State Fairgrounds, new project plans for Fairground development does not include baseball, according to the Tampa Tribune's Michael Sasso:
One thing missing from Republic Land Development’s proposal is a baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. When the company first proposed redeveloping the fairgrounds four years ago, it envisioned a new Rays stadium there, but it has since backed away from those plans.

A committee of the Florida State Fair Authority, the board that oversees the fairgrounds, met Wednesday to evaluate Republic Land’s offer to build a sports, hotel and entertainment complex on its grounds. The developer would use 123 of the fairgrounds’ roughly 330 acres, leaving intact the annual fair’s core area, the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater and Cracker Country.
Reston, Va.-based Republic Land Development surfaced as long ago as 2009, when it began meeting with fairgrounds officials. Its plan largely sat dormant for more than two years as the fair authority considered whether it wanted to redevelop the fairgrounds.

Republic Land’s initial idea to build a Rays stadium became a “lightning rod” in the community, so the developer eventually dropped it, company senior vice president Stacy Hornstein said Wednesday.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Yankees' Tanaka Signing Shows How Badly MLB Needs to Share More Revenue

When the Yankees announced the $155 million signing of Masahiro Tanaka today, a lot of people's initial thoughts were probably, "The %*!@$#m Yankees!?!?"

My initial thought was:
Nobody outside of New York wants to see one team sign every good free agent available, but for the last decade or so, it's seemed the Yankees would. The problem with that is it minimizes the opportunity for teams in smaller markets who cannot sign the top players.

As many Twitter followers responded, the Yankees are simply playing within the rules established by the league. And that's why, for years, I've always said the inequality in baseball (as well as the reason why 19,000 fans a game at Tropicana Field aren't "enough") is MLB's fault.

The league isn't sharing revenue like the NFL does at a time where free agent salaries are soaring out of control for smaller teams.

Graphic courtesy of the Business of Baseball:
Major League Baseball gross revenues (real and inflation adjusted)
There's a LOT more money in the game these days, and its up to MLB to spead enough around to make sure all 30 teams have a legit chance of competing.

New York Hosts a Much Better Super Bowl Than Tampa*

30 years ago today, Tampa hosted its first Super Bowl.  It was a defining moment for the city, introducing it to the world as a "big league city."  Tonight at 6 p.m. on 10 News, my investigative counterpart, Mike Deeson, will report on the city's magnificant growth from that turning point.

Since the 1984 game, Tampa has hosted three other Super Bowls, all of which were heralded as major successes.  From organization to weather, the NFL always left saying, "see you again soon."

But Tampa will now go at least eight years from 2009 without another game, since future sites are decided through 2017.  And the success of this year's game in New York may extend that drought even further.

Why?  Because despite expected sub-par weather conditions and potential sub-zero temperatures, demand for Super Bowl tickets is immense and the cheapest seats are going for up to $5,000 a piece.

Here's the asterisk:

*To the NFL, Super Bowls are about money, and in a place with huge a corporate presence, the league can charge double its normal ticket price (club seats reportedly for $2,500 in New York; $1,250 last year in New Orleans).  So as long as the game gets played on Super Bowl Sunday, every seat is sold, and every commercials makes air, the league may warm up to the idea of more Super Bowls in huge cities like New York and Chicago.

UPDATE 1/27/14 - The secondary ticket market has apparently crashed over fears of cold/wintry weather (go figure).  Tickets that were selling for $5,000 a piece last week are now selling for less than $1,000.  Hotels have reportedly slashed their prices by more than 50% too.  So while the NFL will still make out like a bandit this year, I may not ultimately end up being right about how much more lucrative a cold-weather Super Bowl can be.

UPDATE 1/31/14 - Maury Brown with the Business of  Sports network reports demand and prices on StubHub wound up climbing a little bit from last year.  Good read here.  And if you prefer video, here is a nice summary on ticket prices and inflated economic impact from old friend Dan Sheldon with Comcast Northwest.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

No Amount of Fans Could Stop the Rays From Subsidy-Chasing

John Romano's Tuesday column {link to Times' site} looked at the new campaign to keep the Rays in St. Pete by increasing attendance.  I agree with Romano that there's probably no way to convince the team Tropicana Field is a suitable long-term option...but my reasoning is different.

This serves as a warning to Rick Kriseman, Bob Buckhorn, Ken Hagan, and any other elected official who may weigh in on the Rays Stadium Saga: even if Tropicana Field sold out every single night, it wouldn't matter.

Because a new stadium will always represent more revenue than a team's current stadium, the Rays will never stop chasing stadium subsidies.  Just go ahead and ask the Atlanta Braves - selling a lot of tickets and making a lot of money is never enough when there is more to be made.

Rays President Matt Silverman told Romano, "I know we've talked about being league average, but if we could get to 25,000 a game we'd be drawing 2 million a year and that would be close to acceptable. I'd take it."

So the team would drop its pleas for a new stadium if it drew 25,000 a game?  Hardly.

This has never been about simply turning a profit (the Rays are already doing that).  This is not about eliminating the need for revenue sharing in baseball (the league's 10 lowest-revenue teams will always receive payments from the league's 10 highest-revenu teams).

This is all about MLB's business plan of tapping into public subsidies.  The league used to be a $1 billion its a $9 billion business and Bud Selig complains there's not enough profit to go around.

Even if Tropicana Field drew 37,000 a night, a new stadium (built by someone else) would still allow the Rays to sell more expensive tickets and make more profits.

There will never be "enough" fans to end the subsidy-chasing.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Blogger: St. Pete Should Let the Rays Go

Interesting opinion today in the pages of Saint Petersblog, where St. Pete resident Peter Schorch wants to tell the Rays, "don't let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya."  An excerpt:
Both (Michael) Kalt and (Bill) Foster, neither of whom proved capable of negotiating who got the top bunk and who got the bottom, much less the future of city and a baseball franchise, are gone. So who steps in now? Obviously, Kriseman does for Foster, but who will be the Rays’ point-man in any new negotiations? Maybe Stu Sternberg and Co. will put in another Tampaphile who yearn to drag the club across the Howard Frankland.

Or maybe the Rays owners will put in an honest broker, one who will be able to see that the hottest development and real estate spot, perhaps in all of Florida north of Alligator Alley, is downtown St. Pete. You know, the city the New York Times just listed as one of the top places in the world to visit. 

And it’s for that reason that the City of St. Pete should tell the Rays — now — “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out…”

Because the second major development which occurred last week when the county tax collector announced that Pinellas had collected $30 million in tourist development taxes — also called bed taxes — in one calendar year. Accomplishing this means Pinellas will soon be designated a ”high tourism impact” county and allowed to charge — and collect — more tourist development taxes. Boosting the tourist tax to 6 percent could raise another $6 million a year for the county.
The post goes on to explain how much Pinellas County could do with all their extra bed tax revenue - a concept I delved into here last month.  But Schorsch also contends the land the Rays currently play on might be better developed without baseball...which begs the question...would possible stadium land in Tampa be too?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Silverman on Baseball Economics

Speaking to the Tampa Bay Business Journal's incomparable Alexis Muellner, Rays President Matt Silverman talked about how new TV money is changing the game of baseball economics.

"There's an influx of new TV money that teams are grappling with," Silverman told Muellner.  "We've known it's coming for the last couple of years, but it's hitting this year, and were seeing some inflation in salaries. The cost of poker is going up, but we all have more money to spend."

This blog has dedicated great space to the television money coming the league's way.

But the Rays also know about an influx of local money coming in 2017...and how that money could make their case for stadium subsidies harder.

Could this mean the start of new "inflation" talking points for the Rays?  It's legitamate...but its also a sign that the "problem" in Tampa Bay is really an MLB problem.  Of course, the best fix might just be to share profits among teams the same way the NFL does.  But then again, if you're MLB, why try to fix a system you don't think is broke?

Buckhorn Calls Rays' a "Failed Business Model," Despite Big Profits

In the coverage of Rays' VP Michael Kalt's departure this weekend, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn talked about the possibility of progress in the Stadium Saga with Rick Kriseman now at the helm of the city of St. Petersburg {link to Times' site}:
"Clearly it doesn't work in St. Petersburg,'' he said. "That is a failed business model.''
Except Rays baseball has been a brilliant business model since Stuart Sternberg assumed ownership of the team.  On-the-field, they've been stellar.  Off-the-field, they're believed to be one of the most profitable teams in baseball.

Forbes and Bloomberg both guesstimate the Rays make eight-digit profits every year, while the value of the team has at least tripled since 2005.  That's a business model that's working very, very, very, very well.

If there's any model that's broken, its the MLB competitive balance model.  Unlike other leagues where more revenue is shared, baseball's profits are distributed disproportionally and are largely dependent on market size and TV reach.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Rays Stadium Czar Michael Kalt Leaving

Just in from the Rays - the team's stadium expert, VP Michael Kalt, is leaving the team after 8 years. Here is the press release from the team:
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—Tampa Bay Rays Senior Vice President of Development and Business Affairs Michael Kalt will depart the team to lead a New York-based private investment office established by several Rays general partners, the team announced today.

“It’s a very difficult decision to leave an organization as special as the Rays,” said Kalt.  “I’m extremely proud to have been a part of our dramatic turnaround and very excited for the opportunities ahead.”

Since joining the Rays in March 2006, Kalt has led a wide range of business initiatives including the creation of the Rays Card, an industry-leading digital ticketing and stored value platform, the design and construction of the Rays spring training home in Charlotte County and the recent renovations of Tropicana Field.  Kalt has also served as the point person on the Rays’ efforts to build a new ballpark in Tampa Bay.

“Michael’s contributions and leadership during the past eight years have been invaluable to the growth of the Rays organization,” said Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg. “He has influenced and bettered nearly every aspect of our business. His presence and guidance will be sorely missed.”

Kalt came to the Rays after three years in the Bloomberg administration as a senior advisor to the New York City deputy mayor for economic development.  He was previously a management consultant at McKinsey and Company.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Vinik May Add Hotel to Channelside

We've got some news coming from Tampa's somewhat-blighted Channelside district, where the Tampa Tribune broke news of Jeff Vinik's likely plans to build a hotel next to the Forum.  The paper also reported on possible roadwork to open up the district's streets.

This news doesn't really have any impact on a potential Rays move to Tampa since there's still good land available downtown. 

However, some bad news for those hoping the Rays move to Channelside - and nowhere else: Pinellas County finally crossed over the $30 million/year in bed tax revenue, meaning they're now a "high-impact" tourism county and can raise the tax by another penny.  That would increase their possible stadium-funding advantage over Hillsborough County even more.

I wrote about this very thing from MLB's Winter Meetings in December, as Pinellas County could quickly bond about $200 million for stadium infrastructure...if they decided it was a good investment...and if the Rays decided they would even consider a Pinellas stadium...and if other projects don't gobble all that money up first.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Tampa Bay Business Journal Hosts #BusinessOfSports Forum

I was disappointed to miss the Tampa Bay Business Journal's #BusinessOfSports forum today at...well, the Forum.  But saw a lot of tweets about it:
That's what took them three years?!?
No surprise that the business community attending a sports forum in Tampa would prefer a stadium in Tampa, but we know for a fact there are more big businesses that would potentially buy baseball tickets on the West side of the bay.
This may be an understatement.  The man behind the race formerly known as the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg alludes to one of the region's biggest problems when it comes to putting butts in seats.

But while the grand prix will likely look for national sponsors to fill Honda's void, the Rays are still hoping Tampa's local businesses step up and start buying more tickets.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Maddux and Glavine Benefitted from PEDs Too

I've written before about how the likes of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.  Simply put, they are two of the most dominant players in baseball history.

It doesn't matter that they likely used performance-enhancing drugs; they were dominant over competition that was also using PEDs.  Performance-enhancers ran rampant in the game for the better part of 20 years, just as amphetamines and other drugs ran rampant in other MLB eras.

Held to today's standards, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, Hank Aaron, and Whitey Ford may all have been kept out of the Hall.  And if you don't think there is a long list of current and recently-retired stars who have breathed huge sighs of relief for not being outed as a "user," you're foolish.

So for every criticism hurled at Bud Selig for turning a blind eye to PEDs, you can direct some of that frustration and anger at the most influential "innocent" players during the PED era too.

Remember, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine made light of McGwire's enormous power in "chicks dig the long ball":

Maddux and Glavine didn't exactly come across as anti-PED crusaders back in 1996.  In fact, I doubt there was a single player in the league during the 1990s who didn't know PED's were running rampant.  They all profitted from the post-strike home run obsession.

On top of it all, Glavine was in a position to fix it.   As the Braves' long-time players' union rep, he was one of the leading voices in the MLBPA - the organization that fought off drug testing for so long.

Maddux and Glavine are legends of the game and deserve plaques in Cooperstown.  But the same should be said for Clemends, Bonds, and the other most dominant players of baseball's PED Era.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New Grass Roots Group Forms in Pinellas

"Home Run Pinellas" is the name of the new grass-roots group trying to keep the Rays in St. Pete.  The group just popped up on Facebook and Twitter a few weeks ago:
With only 9 members on Facebook and 8 followers on Twitter, the group has a lot of growing to do.  But its first meeting is tonight, 7 p.m.

Where else?  Ferg's.

Tampa Yankees Staying Put After All

After first flirting with Orlando, then subsequently Ocala, the Yankees' minor-league team in Tampa will stay put, according to Bay News 9.  But does that mean they'll want stadium subsidies from Tampa now?
Everything seemed on track for the team to move to Marion County, until commissioners started talking about a tax increase to fund a new stadium.

In a letter to the Ocala City Council, the Tampa Yankees requested suspending the project saying: "While we expected to bring the community together on this project it unfortunately has become a source of division.”
An October post here explained why a $45 million stadium in Ocala was a terrible idea, although the team would have meant more to that small city than it does to Tampa.  Not only does the team draw fewer than 2,000 fans per game in Tampa, but Yankees spring training (the real tourist draw) was staying put regardless.

One thing to watch: Yankees VP of Marketing, Howard Grosswirth, said, "We've decided that in the best interest for everybody to put it on hold and to move our efforts and to stay in Tampa."  Will "their efforts" mean asking for Steinbrenner Field upgrades?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Palm Beach Gardens Spring Training Subsidy Drama

Maybe the Blue Jays won't fly the coop in Dunedin?

I've been a little slow on spring training updates from Palm Beach County, so here's a quick summary on the recent chaos:
  • Palm Beach County commissioners have basically told the Astros and Blue Jays they're willing to fund a new mega-stadium, perhaps in the $110 million range, for the two teams.
  • But Palm Beach Gardens residents say they will kill the plans because they don't want a two-team stadium in their backyard.
  • Palm Beach Gardens councilmembers also seem to be turning on the proposal, amid allegations of secret back-room dealings and MLB manipulation.
  • A South Florida businessman is trying to change the dynamic of the conversation, suggesting the stadium could land in Boca Raton.
  • But the same article indicates the Astros, who are driving the conversation, say its Palm Beach Gardens or nothing. "The team hinted it will look in Arizona if the Gardens site falls through." Convenient.
It's no surprise the Astros mention the Arizona boogeyman...that, of course, is how MLB is squeezing upwards of $100 million from Florida in the next decade.

The next development comes Jan. 9, when the Palm Beach Gardens city council will vote on whether they want to move forward with the stadium plans.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Rays Say Payroll Once Again "Unsustainable"

Rays' GM Andrew Friedman once again said a $70+ million payroll was "unsustainable," but owner Stu Sternberg was going to stretch his wallet this year:
It's a nice olive branch for Rays fans, but the comments are nothing new.

In 2010, after the Rays signed Rafael Soriano, Friedman said the team "has no flexibility."  They went on to win the AL East.

Friedman also said the team's high payroll would be "stealing" from future years (i.e. 2011).  However, the next year, the team went on to win the Wild Card.

And the team has repeatedly shown it doesn't need to sustain a $70M payroll to sustain success.
In fact, following the 2011 season, Friedman acknowledged modest success and competitive teams may be sustainable.

Its a huge testament to the Rays' front office, and I'm sure Friedman gets frustrated at times not being able to spend like his AL East counterparts.  And no doubt, spending more gives you more margin of error.

But baseball created a system of inequity and there will always be "have nots" that cannot spend like the "have's." 

Friedman's comments are just another subtle reminder that the team wants help from the region to balance its budget.

But there's hope on the horizon, as the Rays are in-line for a new TV deal in 2017.  And who knows, they may even sell more beer in the bleachers in 2014.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Good Weekend Reading: ESPN, San Jose, Orioles subsidies

Some good reading to get caught up on:
  1. New York Times: ESPN gets huge tax breaks despite deep pockets and low threat of leaving town
  2. How to negotiate a ballpark deal without giving away the farm
  3. Field of Schemes: Only a fraction of a franchise's economic stimulus is new spending
  4. Field of Schemes: Louisville mayor stands by his arena, on brink of default
  5. Tampa Bay Times: Baltimore learned that new stadiums are way more beneficial to the team than the city

NFL Avoids Playoff Blackout Embarrassment

They came darn close to not selling out Wildcard Weekend games in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Green Bay, but the NFL dodged a blackout bullet today by "selling out" all of the games at the last second:
But the league gave the Bengals, the Colts and the Packers extensions until late Friday afternoon. That did the trick as team sponsors bought big blocks of seats, helping the Bengals, Colts and the Packers sell out their stadiums.
The New York Times also reports the NFL requires tickets be sold at face value during the playoffs, preventing teams from discounting or giving them away.

The weather in Green Bay is expected to be awful and there may be freezing rain in Cincy.  But there really are few excuses for the near-blackout in Indianapolos other than high ticket prices and a bad blackout policy.

Epic Stadium Subsidy Quote

There have been a few epic quotes over the years about how pro sports teams arm-twist cities to get free stadiums:

In 1995, Jerry Reinsdorf said, "a savvy negotiator creates leverage."

In 2010, Peter Gammons said, MLB teams "need to be able to blackmail" cities.

And now, in 2014, Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl said (h/t to Field of Schemes), "Sacramento (was) helped by the drama with it all.”

Kohl is talking about how relocation threats from Seattle helped the Kings land monster stadium subsidies in Sacramento.  And possibly indicating the same blueprint - that so many other teams have quietly followed - could help him get a new stadium in Milwaukee.

I just don't know which city should be more upset: Milwaukee, Sacramento, or Seattle?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Buccaneers' Scoreboard...Saga?

In case you missed it in the Tampa Tribune yesterday, the Bucs want a new scoreboard...and they're even willing to put some of their own money into it!
Eric Hart, president and chief executive officer of the sports authority, said the team has not shared its master plans for stadium improvements with him. Hart said the sports authority’s share of the cost for the improvements has been revised down to $17.6 million.

Tampa and Hillsborough County will be asked to provide $14 million to $15 million of the total. State law requires the local governments to cover the sports authority’s budget shortfalls. The rest of the money will come from the sports authority’s reserves, Hart said.

The public money will come from the fourth cent of the 5-cent Tourist Development Tax. The fourth cent is dedicated to bond payments and capital needs at Raymond James Stadium and George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Hillsborough Co. Commissioner Ken Hagan was quoted saying, "It’s not costing the taxpayers any dollars."  A more accurate statement would be its not costing local taxpayers much since most of the bed taxes are paid by out-of-town taxpayers.

But when it comes to scoreboards, Raymond James Stadium's is one of the oldest in professional sports (16 years).  The sports authority hopes to have a replacement in-place by the 2017 BCS Championship game.

Will NFL Avoid Playoff Blackouts?

All eyes will be on a trio of NFL cities this afternoon - Green Bay, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati - as blackouts seem like legit possibilities for three of the four wild-card-hosting cities.

According to the Washington Post, its been 12 years since the last playoff blackout (in Miami).  Use whatever excuse you want (like winter weather), but one fact is clear: more fans are choosing to watch sports from home instead of the stadium.

However, don't be shocked if the NFL finds a way to help dodge blackouts this would be a terrible moment for the league given the growing momentum in Washington to ban blackouts.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Reader Tells St. Pete to Step Out of Rays' Way

A little snippet from a Tampa Tribune Letter to the Editor this week, as Dom Cassano from Brandon responds to another reader's mail:
At the time of the so-called baseball war in the 1980s between St. Pete and Tampa regarding a new stadium, Tampa’s position was that a stadium would be built when a team was secured, either through relocation or expansion, and most likely would be located on Dale Mabry Highway near the stadium and where Al Lopez Field was. St. Pete city fathers decided to jump the gun anyway and build a stadium on the cheap, one that was seriously design-flawed and in the worst possible location, because they felt Tampa already had the benefit of the airport, Tampa Stadium and USF and they were no longer going to be outdone again by Tampa, despite what taxpayers felt. Well, we now know how that worked out.

Over the past 15 years most new stadiums and ballparks have been built in the downtown areas of cities, such as Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Seattle and Minneapolis. In each case it dramatically revitalized downtown areas. Despite Mr. Haddad’s dislike for that to happen in Tampa, I’ve got a scoop for him: That’s where the Rays will relocate, and it’s where this team should have been playing since 1998!

Times Suggests Kriseman Should Solve Stadium Stalemate Within "Months"

Rick Kriseman hasn't even taken the oath of office yet, but the Tampa Bay Times editorial board is making it clear St. Pete's next mayor is already on-the-clock when it comes to the Rays' Stadium Saga.

A couple days after it named the saga one of Tampa Bay's most pressing issues of 2014 and writing "it is up to Kriseman to find a creative way to let the team (look in Tampa) while protecting St. Petersburg's interests," the Times editorial board cranks up the pressure another notch on New Year's Day {link to Times site}.

Its editorial on local leaders to watch in the new year suggests "Kriseman, 51, could use a big victory in his first few months such as an agreement with the Rays."

There are reasons to wonder if the Rays would allow Kriseman to score any "victory" for the city, not to mention plenty of reasons to believe it wouldn't happen quickly.

But then again, a settlement with the Rays was one of the issues Kriseman campaigned on, so expect plenty of continued pressure from the Times' editorial board.

You can also now count on a little bit of feet-to-the-fire pressure from Politifact too.

The Times' stable of wonderful fact-checkers launched "Krise-O-Meter" to track the new mayor's campaign promises, including Rays-related promises like a pay to stray requirement and protection of St. Pete taxpayers.