Monday, March 31, 2014

Hurry Up! Only 14 More Years to Solve Stadium Stalemate!

What better way to celebrate Shadow of the Stadium's fifth anniversary than a dissection of the Tampa Bay Times' annual opening day frustratitorial {link to Times' site}?

This year's edition once again urges St. Pete's mayor (now Rick Kriseman) to cut a deal with the Rays to let the team explore stadium sites "in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties."  The fear is that public and private projects will move ahead without a stadium; a different fear than the paper board has tapped in previous years:
  • 2013 & 2012: The Marlins have one!!
  • 2011 & 2010: City losing leverage in negotiations
The Times makes a great point in its 2014 editorial - many tax dollars that could go toward a stadium are now (or soon) going to other projects:
This window of opportunity will not be open much longer. In 2015, the Tropicana Field bonds paid by a portion of the Pinellas resort tax will be paid off. Other projects already are making pitches for a share of that resort tax money. In Hillsborough County, the Tampa Convention Center bonds will be paid off next year and the redevelopment districts that generated the revenue for them will expire if they are not reapproved. Higher car rental fees already are allocated toward paying off bonds for an expansion at Tampa International Airport. Those sorts of revenue streams would be needed to build a new baseball stadium, but the money will be allocated to other projects if the stadium discussion does not move in a clear direction soon.
But wait, is funding other projects necessarily a bad thing? Would Tampa Bay be better off with a stadium instead of all the things possible stadium money could go to: airport improvements, transit improvements, beach renourishment, infrastructure, etc?  I don't know, but that seems to be a more important discussion the Times should be calling for.

Watchdogs should also ask if there is a real need for a replacement stadium right now, 14 years before the contract expires.  Yes, we know the Rays draw the smallest crowds in the league despite great sucecss...but they're still raking the profits in.

Baseball is still a $8 billion business that is on the verge of $9 billion this year.  And let's not forget the Rays are only a few years away from reaping a giant television windfall too.

Of course, the Times once insisted the Rays open their books to demonstrate a need...but that's been all but forgotten.
Property in and around potential stadium sites also could be gobbled up for other uses. Fortune 500 company Jabil Circuit is still considering whether to build a corporate headquarters near Tropicana Field that could transform downtown and make the Trop site even more attractive for other uses besides a baseball stadium. In Tampa's downtown, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik controls more than 20 acres around the Tampa Bay Times Forum and is believed to have other ideas for that property. A nearby flour mill site has potential as a stadium site, but the mill would have to be moved and some of Vinik's property still would be needed.
Conversely, if property in St. Pete could be used for better things than a stadium, couldn't the same be said about Tampa?  We know a stadium can bring great pride & vibe to a downtown, but it doesn't necessarily mean its the highest-and-best use of Downtown Tampa land.

That said, there is simply no shortage of land in Tampa Bay.  Yes, the ConAgra flour mill plant is likely Tampa's best possible stadium site, but there are no imminent plans (or methods) to replace it right now.  So what's the urgent rush?
The bottom line, though, remains the same. The Rays will not be playing in the Trop when its lease expires in 2027. The franchise needs a modern stadium, and it needs to be able to look in both Pinellas and Hillsborough for the best location. The city and the team need to reach an agreement that would let the Rays look in those two counties for a reasonable amount of time in return for some financial benefit to St. Petersburg. It's up to Kriseman and (Rays owner Stu) Sternberg to make that happen, and there is no more time to waste.
By pointing out there are 14 years left on its contract (not a lease), the Times contradicts its own urgency claim.  Nevertheless, the feeling is shared by many Rays fans who have bought the hype.

So the next question is: how long will it take for the Times to turn on Kriseman if he digs his heels in for St. Pete and there is no considerable progress in stadium talks.

We may know more later this week; Kriseman and Rays owner Stu Sternberg are expected to meet again at an undisclosed time and location.

UPDATE: Although the Tampa Tribune editorial board also supports a Tampa stadium, it chose to "leave that discussion for another time."  Instead, it listed 17 reasons to love the Rays in their 17th season.  Really is a great list.  And, in case you missed it, former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio wrote an op-ed this weekend about how the Trop came to be in St. Pete and why the Tampa/St. Pete rivalry continues to get in the way.

UPDATE 2: Not sure how I missed this, but Joe Brown penned a column in the Trib this weekend that contended, "Tropicana Field isn’t the most beautiful ballpark in baseball, but in these cash-strapped times it will have to do for now. So play ball."  Joe, you must be a Shadow of the Stadium reader.  So thanks!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Is Florida Building Too Many Baseball Fields?

Great Michael Sasso story today in the Tampa Tribune exploring the return on investment of youth sports facilities:
Developers and government leaders in the Tampa area are pitching at least four such proposals that together could cost up to $80 million.

Two are indoor volleyball/basketball arenas, one is a soccer complex and one a mammoth 19-field baseball field complex in Pasco County.

Meanwhile, community leaders nationwide are building $15 million to $25 million youth parks in hopes of luring traveling baseball, soccer and volleyball teams, their parents and ultimately jobs.

But, to paraphrase a line from “Field of Dreams,” what happens if you build it and no one comes?

A year after opening, Nations Park has hosted only two major tournaments and is preparing for a third. The mayor charges that the developer misled the city, and City Commission candidates use it as a campaign talking point.
In short, the state may be suffering from oversaturation: why the 50th youth complex in Florida won't bring nearly as many (if any) additional teams and economic benefit as the 1st youth complex built.

Likewise, the same goes with entertainment options.  MLB and MLS boosters can tout economic benefits of a stadium all day long, but in a state with no shortage of entertainment options, much of the "economy created" is really just pirated from other local venues.

For that reason, I actually like Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's approach that a stadium is more about a "comprehensive downtown" than "economic stimulus."  But I digress...
(Don Schumacher, head of the National Association of Sports Commissions) hass been cautioning that too many feasibility studies are overly optimistic.

“You can’t find two economics professors in the United States that can agree on economic impact,” he said.
Least surprising quote ever. 

Here's the runner-up:
When asked how many communities in Florida are considering building sports facilities to lure tournaments, Clearwater-based sports marketing consultant Dev Pathik said, “I can’t think of anyone that’s not.”
Well, I know one that's not...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Debate Continues Over Montreal's Viability

For as critical as the national media has been of Tampa Bay's support of the Rays, it has been surprisingly unsympathetic to Montreal's cause.  First the National Post, and now The Sporting News:
It sounds so easy: Move a low-revenue major league franchise, such as the Tampa Bay Rays, to Montreal. Olympic Stadium can be a temporary home, the city's population is large, and the fans loved the Expos before MLB gutted the franchise and sent it to Washington, D.C.
So why will the clamor will fall on deaf ears? MLB doesn't want to move a team or expand,
as commissioner Bud Selig told, and Rays owner Stuart Sternberg doesn't want to go anywhere.

"It is a great baseball city with very passionate people," Sternberg
wrote of Montreal in an email to The Wall Street Journal. "I cannot envision the Rays out of the Tampa Bay market, and we have no intention of attempting to move this team."
Bottom line: Those who want the tri-color caps and bilingual public address announcements back are out of luck.
Sure, this post doesn't provide much news, but its a tiny re-direction in the national debate MLB wants to facilitate: Where should the Rays play?

UPDATE: Jon Paul Morosi remains in MLB's corner, clicking "publish" last night on a column he probably sketched out weeks ago.    "Fans prove baseball passion is alive and well in Montreal," the column contended, suggesting the league is giving real consideration to the prospect of returning:
Still, here’s what I believe: Because of a recent feasibility study — assuming a new downtown ballpark — and a growing (if understated) response from Montreal’s business community, MLB is giving Montreal’s effort the respect it deserves. The presence of McHale and Garagiola demonstrated that.

“I think this is going to be a very significant story after this weekend,” McHale told me, when I asked about the size of the crowd. “The continued enthusiasm for Major League Baseball here is remarkable. I think all of us in the commissioner’s office need to take notice of it.”
Morosi makes some good points, but the biggest disservice to readers is pushing the "Rays to Montreal" agenda without really addressing the giant 400,000-pound gorilla in the room: the $500M-$1B cost to actually make it happen.

Friday, March 28, 2014

St. Pete Responds to Rowdies

Following a detailed list of stadium-related complaints from the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the city of St. Pete has responded with letters to the team, as well as the St. Petersburg Baseball Commission, which manages Al Lang Field:

St. Pete letter to Rowdies/Citrus Sports Group
St. Pete letter to Baseball Commission

The three parties reportedly met last week to address the mentioned deficiencies, and St. Petersburg also invited the Rowdies to help craft the city's Downtown Waterfront Master Plan.

Rays to Montreal? Fat Chance Pt. 2

I've written that Canadian fans hoping the Rays may one day move to Montreal shouldn't hold their breath.  And I'm glad I'm not the only one.

The National Post writes things aren't shaping up very well right now for Montreal:
Since the feasibility report was tabled in December, no billionaires have stepped forward to lend a wealthy public face to the cause. No current major league team is as readily available for relocation as the Expos were 10 years ago. And the city still has that crumbling stadium, and nothing more, to offer a baseball team.

“In the foreseeable future, it is highly unlikely,” said Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports consultant familiar with franchise movement. “Baseball failed miserably. And it actually became, in many ways, a real albatross around Major League Baseball’s neck there for a few years, it was such a bad situation.”
There are points in the feasibility report that raise unsettling questions about the best-case future of baseball in Montreal. Although the study ranks Montreal as the 15th largest market in North America, there is the suggestion that it would participate in the league with a small market payroll. Coupled with a desire to be in the AL East would put a new Montreal baseball team in precisely the same position as the Expos held near the end of their run — as a feeder system for the richer teams, unable to retain the talent they had developed. Blue Jays fans also know all too well how difficult it is to compete in the same division as the free-spending Red Sox and Yankees.
Noted economist Andrew Zimbalist added that much of Montreal's previous failure was the negligence of owner Jeffrey Loria, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of financial support right now for a new Montreal stadium.  And, ask Tampa Bay fans - money makes the world go round when you're talking about a new stadium.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Forbes: Rays Value Up to $485 Million

The newest Forbes franchise valuations are out, and the Tampa Bay Rays have climbed again, this time to $485 million.  Last year, Forbes had the team at $451 million, and in $323 million in 2012.

Once again, the Yankees ($2.5B) led the way, with the Dodgers ($2.0B), Red Sox ($1.5B), Cubs ($1.2B) and Giants ($1B) rounding out the billionaires' club.

Some thoughts on the Rays' numbers:

Bad news: The team once again ranks dead last, $5 million behind the lowly Royals.
Good news: When Stu Sternberg assumed principal ownership in 2005, the Rays' estimated value was only $167 million.

Bad news: Rays appear to only be turning a profit because of revenue sharing.
Good news: Once again, they appear to be turning a profit! Their $15.3M in operating revenue is 12th in the league, and its unclear if the team has ever failed to turn an annual profit under Sternberg.

Bad news: The team only took in an estimated $36 million at the gate last year.
Good news: There are more DJ Kitty giveaways in 2014!!

Maybe Rowdies Complaints Part of Grander Plan for State Subsidies?

Earlier this week, it was reported the Rowdies sent a nastygram to St. Petersburg, basically demanding better upkeep of Al Lang Field.  Reasonable, right?

Except, the letter came with a not-so-subtle reminder that the team could always leave town if the stadium situation isn't improved.  At first blush, it appeared the non-threat threat was aimed getting St. Pete to shape up.

But following Monday's drama in the Florida Senate over stadium subsidies, it seems more clear the threat was instead aimed at leveraging the Rowdies a piece of state subsidies, currently available only to teams from the "major" sports leagues:
Sen. Wilton Simpson brought up an amendment to the amendment — one that would add the North American Soccer League (the league that includes the Rowdies soccer club that plays in St. Petersburg) to the pool of potential beneficiaries eligible for state funding.  

Sen. Latvala expressed his opposition to the amendment stating that he had not been given sufficient time to properly look it over. He also stated that he was unsure as to what the North American Soccer League was and whether it is classified as a “major league sports league.” Sen. Latvala voiced his opposition and encouraged the committee to vote against the amendment.

Following a vote, the amendment failed.
According to Saint Petersblog, the fight has roots in a Latvala grudge with Sen. Jeff Brandes and his ally, former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker, who also works for Rowdies owner Bill Edwards.  But it seems logical the Rowdies are making the case their stadium needs capital investment.

While the legislative fight may ultimately work itself out before the end of the session, lawmakers should still ask tough questions, like, could an NASL soccer team ever create millions of dollars in new economy?

Heck, even MLS teams have trouble making that claim with a straight face.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Latest Chapter in Blue Jays/Dunedin Saga

This morning, Keyonna Summers reports the Blue Jays held their first meeting with the city of Dunedin about possibly extending their spring training commitment past 2017 {link to Times' site}:
But on Monday, team officials appeared open to staying after the team's contract expires in 2017, Mayor Dave Eggers said. The contract includes two five-year renewal options, and the city hopes the Jays will commit to staying even longer.

"I would characterize the meeting as excellent," Eggers said.
(Eggers) said preliminary talks indicate the Jays want the city's Englebert Complex, the team's practice facility, expanded, but most work would likely focus on either extensive renovations or a complete overhaul of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, where the team plays games.
Asked about Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos' comments last month that the team would still look elsewhere if approached with a good opportunity, Eggers said "no deals obviously are done until both parties sign off."
That last graf cannot be overstated: the Blue Jays will continue to shop around for any and all Florida communities willing to throw money at stadium subsidies.

And every headline about progress in Dunedin will only improve the team's bargaining position in places like Wesley Chapel.  Just ask the Astros!

Beckham Subsidy Campaign Needs More Scrutiny Than Selfies

Could the Florida legislature really be considering an annual $2 million subsidy to David Beckham?

Beckham, one of the world's richest athletes, who said months ago he would bring soccer to Miami without public subsidies, was is the state capital yesterday doing what else? Lobbying for public subsidies.
Because, you know, why not drizzle some tax dollars on a guy who makes $47 million a year and is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million?

No matter how much Mr. Posh Spice may talk about jobs and economic development, it's not like Miami's in need of more part-time hot dog vendors or stadium developers.

If the state is serious about scrutinizing stadium subsidies and other public handouts, there are enormous questions to be asked about why Beckham - or MLS - should get tax dollars. 
On this issue, we need more scrutiny than selfie's.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

St. Pete Faces Stadium Complaints...From Rowdies

reports in this morning's Tampa Tribune the Tampa Bay Rowdies, who play their home games in Downtown St. Petersburg, aren't happy with the condition of Al Lang Stadium:
In a letter to the city, Rowdies officials describe Al Lang Stadium as “dilapidated” and complain that the St. Petersburg Baseball Commission, a nonprofit group that manages the stadium, is failing to maintain the venue as required in its contract.

Complaints include mold in locker rooms, air-conditioning problems, weeds on the field, litter and debris in the dugouts and inadequate stadium lighting. Some 600 stadium seats are broken or “hazardous,” the letter states. Even the field mower is not working properly.
The letter, written by Rowdies attorney Wes Bailey, also hints that the team could move elsewhere if the commission and the city do not commit to stadium improvements.
Commission Director Steve Nadel said he was surprised at the aggressiveness of the letter. Other professional sports teams who recently used the stadium, including the Toronto Blue Jays, were happy with it, he said.

“The negative parts directed at us are false and untrue,” he said. “Other groups that have been there play at a higher professional level than the Rowdies.”
One interesting connection here is that the right-hand man to Rowdies owner Edwards is former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker, who created the ABC Coalition in 2008 to explore a long-term solution to the Rays' stadium situation.  If there's anybody who knows what St. Pete can - and will - do to make a pro team happy, it's these Baker & Edwards.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Are You Ready for Another Round of Rays-to-Montreal Talk?

Later this week, the Blue Jays will play a pair of exhibition games in Montreal, which will no doubt unleash a torrent of "Rays-to-Montreal" columns, blogposts, and radio call-in segments.

The two games in the baseball-starved city have already sold more than 75,000 tickets overall, and we've started seeing hints at why MLB was good with the exhibition games in the first place:  Jon Paul Morosi writes, "Baseball just paying a visit in Montreal exhibition games -- right?"
It won't have Fenway's charm, or the amenities and vistas of San Francisco's AT&T Park. But an MLB official, player, or fan might glance up at the antique roof and conclude that the overall accommodations are roughly equivalent to the Oakland Coliseum, universally judged to be the worst stadium in the major leagues.

Surprisingly, that counts for something. The A's, like the Tampa Bay Rays, are looking for a long-term home. And while MLB officials say there's been no discussion of franchise relocation at recent owners meetings -- and neither franchise has intimated publicly that it is ready to leave its respective Bay -- any return-to-Montreal scenario involves the Team to Be Named Later playing at Olympic Stadium for a season or two while a permanent home is built elsewhere.
These games won't mean MLB is ready to return to Montreal.  It's just not in the cards.  But that doesn't mean the league won't use the city as leverage to try and get new stadiums in Tampa Bay, San Francisco Bay, and whatever other vulnerable regions pop up.

Looking forward to recapping all the nonsense later this week (as long as the forecast in Montreal clears up, since the threat of snow on the weak Olympic Stadium roof would be enough to cancel the games).

Friday, March 21, 2014

St. Pete Loses Key Negotiator

In a move even more significant than the Rays' losing Stadium Czar Michael Kalt, the city of St. Pete will soon lose its top stadium expert, Senior Administrator Rick Mussett {link to Times' site}:
Mussett - the city's main contact with the Tampa Bay Rays - will retire March 31. He helped bring baseball to Tropicana Field and laid the foundation that transformed downtown from heaven's waiting room to a trendy, urban destination.

Mussett, 65, joined the city in May 1980.

"It's time for me to do something else in my own life right now," said Mussett, noting he is not being forced out or moving away. "Now I need to spend time with my family."

Mayor Rick Kriseman said he plans to tap Mussett's "invaluable institutional knowledge" in the future.
Mussett has been one of the constants as the city has battled the Rays over legal leverage, and the significance of his departure would only be topped by the departure of top city attorney John Wolfe.

Wolfe has been with the city since 1975 (!?!) and not only helped write the city's contract with the Rays - he also has been the lead force in protecting it.

There's good depth in St. Pete's legal office, but it takes experience to get elected leaders to buy into your strategies.  The city cannot afford to lose its top two negotiators in one year.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Florida Panthers Don't Want to Open Books Because...They're Trustworthy!

Stop the presses! Florida politicians have come to their senses!
County officials say they won't support a bailout of the Florida Panthers hockey team without a better financial return for taxpayers.
This, according to the Sun-Sentinel, which reports Broward Co. wants a share of arena profits - an idea recently floated (but ultimately abandoned) by Orange Co. commissioners.

Of course, the franchise, which wants the new subsidy to pad its bottom line, doesn't seem interested in sharing profits.  It responded with a proposal of its own:
The team's main request is to be relieved of contributing toward the debt on the arena; the county would pay the remainder of the $225.1 million debt, with help from a $2 million annual state subsidy.

That's not all the Panthers are asking for. Here's what else is in the 59-page Panthers proposal:

•If the arena profits exceed $12 million, the county would reap 20 percent of any profits. That's not changing. But the calculation of "profit" would change, to help the Panthers keep more of the revenues. The team would continue to count as an expense $4.5 million in arena bond payments even though the county would be paying them. The Panthers also would move to the expense ledger a $250,000 annual arena management fee paid to the Panthers by the county.

•The Panthers would remove from the profit books the money made from seats in exclusive sections: Club Red and ADT. That move alone would allow the Panthers to keep $6 million or more in revenues without counting them toward the profit-sharing threshold, according to the auditor's analysis.
•The Panthers' contributions toward arena reserves, set aside for repairs and renovations, would be cut, saving the Panthers at least $650,000 a year, or $9.7 million in all.

•The ability of the county to check the Panthers' financial books would be reduced.

•The team's payment for property insurance for the arena would be capped at $1 million, and the county would pick up the rest. That's an estimated $600,000 a year, or $9 million over the life of the contract.

•The team would back away from financial responsibility for maintaining the arena, and would ask the county to pick up $500,000 a year in maintenance. That piece of the deal would cost the county $7.5 million in tourist taxes.

•A 22-acre piece of vacant land owned by the county next to the arena would be given to the Panthers for construction of a hotel-casino. The county's financial return would be negotiated.
My favorite part is the "calculation of 'profit' would change."

No, no, wait, my favorite part is the "ability of the county to check the Panthers' financial books would be reduced."  Yeah, that's definitely it.  I love that the Panthers expect the county to trust them to turn over an equitable amount of revenue...because they're clearly being up-front and honest about everything right now.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Arizona's Secret Weapon in Spring Training Wars: Sleep

This week, The Detroit News looked at the Tigers' increasing spring training travel headaches as more and more teams move (or threaten to move) out of Central Florida.  The person apparently most worried...was the Braves' GM:
“The exodus from central Florida over the last 10 years is worrisome, to say the least,” said Frank Wren, the Braves general manager whose team trains and plays its Grapefruit League games at Disney World, outside of Orlando. “There’s less competition close by for both our (big-league) and our minor-league teams in the spring.

“We have lost Cleveland, Kansas City, and the Dodgers from the coast, and if Houston leaves (Kissimmee) — with the potential for Washington to leave, as well — it will be more difficult for us all.”
But wait! The Tigers' GM didn't get the "Scare Florida" memo!
“Although spring training travel of more than an hour or so is not ideal, it is manageable,” Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers president and general manager, said via e-mail. “We can still prepare our players for the season in a proper fashion between our home games and the days they stay back from travel.

“You do not want too many long travel days of two hours or more. Those days are a little tougher. But, with Orlando, Kissimmee, Tampa, Dunedin, Clearwater, Bradenton, and Sarasota, we still have many places that are an hour-to-hour-and-15-minutes away.

“Also, an overnight stay in the spring (consecutive games are often played in Jupiter) does not bother us as it can break up the daily routine with a welcome change.”
The single-biggest reason MLB teams have relocated their spring homes to Arizona is because they got huge public subsidies; not because the travel times are such a big deal.

BUT, that's not to say the closer clustering of teams in the Cactus League isn't a big deal!
“One benefit to Arizona,” {Brad} Ausmus said, with a soft chuckle, “is that you maybe get an extra 45 minutes to an hour of sleep. But that’s not a game-changer.”

Friday, March 14, 2014

Rays Ad Campaign is "Call to Arms"...But Does it Go Far Enough?

The Rays unveiled their 2014 ad campaign this week: "Rays Up," with a specific focus on selling multi-game ticket "Flex Packs."  Robert Trigaux of the Tampa Bay Times explains:
"Rays Up" is a clever play about an aspiring team that's had 90-plus wins in each of the past four seasons, its first Cy Young winner (David Price) in 2012, and three Rookie of the Year winners (Evan Longoria, Jeremy Hellickson and Wil Myers) since 2008.

"Rays Up" also is a call to arms. The franchise hopes fans will rise up to support a quality team by attending more games. The Rays suffered the lowest attendance of any MLB team the past two seasons.
But as much as the slogan may be a subtle reminder for fans to support their local team, does it go far enough?
I've always wondered why the Rays haven't tried an "us vs. the world" campaign.  You know, "we're the small market guys...but if we band together, we can take on the Evil Empire!"  (Even the Red Sox capitalized on this a decade ago)

But instead of embracing their role as a small-market underdog, Rays ownership has spent too many years lamenting their profit-inhibiting stadium situation.  And whether its fair or not, many fans (and would-be fans) harbor feelings of resentment toward management.

For all Stu Sternberg has done with the Rays, he should be one of our community's biggest heroes in the style of Mark Cuban or Jeff Vinik.  But because of the never-ending stadium campaign...and the distrust that surrounds it...many fans see him as a foe, rather than "one of them."

Good news for the Rays is that is hasn't totally stunted ticket sales; indications are the flex packs have been selling well.  But, an even more encouraging sign - something this blog has alluded to for years - is that the franchise is getting old enough that local Yankees and Red Sox fans are having kids who are die-hard Rays fans.  Trigaux continues:
At dozens upon dozens of Little Leagues around the Tampa Bay area, (Mark) Fernandez says, there's heated competition over which team gets to call itself the Rays.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Two of Governor Scott's Bed Tax Priorities Conflict

Today is Tourism Day in the Florida Capitol! That means you can probably expect Governor Rick Scott to tout his push for more marketing money to push the state over the 100 million visitor mark for the first time next year.

Of course, election-year politics being election-year politics, Scott hasn't addressed how two of his recent pushes have come at-odds with each other.

While the governor wants Florida to boost its tourism marketing spending by 60%, much of how the state attracts visitors comes in the form of local marketing dollars. And those come from bed taxes.

Except the governor also wants local counties to use more bed tax dollars on spring training stadium subsidies. A new law last year ensures local subsidy dollars are matched with state subsidy dollars.

So everytime a local county spends more money on stadiums, its spending less on tourism marketing (not to mention necessary beach renourishment, the other major recipient of bed tax dollars).

Oh, and on top of that, a new bill moving through the legislature could encourage the luxuries of new stadium complexes to explode, since state funding could be limited to just projects that cost upwards of $100 million.
UPDATE: a proposed new Astros/Nationals stadium costs...whattayaknow? $100 million!
There's a lot of important questions that need to be asked of the legislature and governor...but if you had any hopes of actually getting answers...well...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Next Up for Free Florida Money? Atlanta Braves!

Because $300+ million from Cobb County to replace their perfectly-adequate stadium isn't enough, the Atlanta Braves are now making overtures that they've available to the highest Spring Training bidder...or, at the very least, they're setting up for a new subsidy demand at Disney.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Braves are "considering options" for 2017, when their current lease at Disney's Wide World of Sports expires:
Braves president John Schuerholz emphasized that the team has not decided to move its spring base from the Disney resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., but he said the issue must be explored with the 20-year lease ending in 2017 and two other teams in talks about moving farther away.

“We find ourselves now in a circumstance where teams in the central Florida area have begun migrating out,” Schuerholz said Tuesday in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It would be problematic if we found ourselves in three years with no one in close proximity to play except the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland.”
If the Braves move their spring home, it would remain in Florida, Schuerholz said. “We wouldn’t be an Arizona team,” he said.
So the Braves acknowledge they aren't moving 2,000 miles further away from their fans to Arizona, which begs the question, why would the state of Florida contribute tens of millions of dollars to "retain" them in a new Florida city?

Additionally, would the Braves' real "issue," which is the possibility of the neighboring Nationals and Astros moving to new ballparks in other part of the state, be an issue at all if the state wasn't making it so easy for teams to get new spring training stadium dollars?

Anyway, for those of you keeping score at home, its now the Braves, Nationals, Astros, Blue Jays, and Brewers all in the hunt for Florida tax dollars.  The Pirates and Yankees have also hired lobbyists, presumably, for similar reasons.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Florida House Unveils Proposal for Stadium Subsidy Controls

A Florida House committee Monday released a proposal that would add a ranking and qualification system to new sports subsidies from the state.  House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has indicated the qualifications were a priority of his. 

The bill would upset Orlando- and Daytona-area legislators hoping for money now, because all subsidies would be delayed until 2015.  It would also restrict the kind of projects eligible for state subsidies:
The eligible stadium projects would also have to be $100 million or bigger, eliminating projects like spring-training baseball parks from the competition.
The proposal would also eliminate MLS stadiums, like the one proposed in Orlando.  But wait...maybe not!!
The city is planning an $85 million soccer-only stadium downtown, but could add more amenities with the extra state dollars boosting th project over the $100 million requirement.
Oh, now that's a recipe for economic success.

The bill also had a clawback provision, which apparently was a sticky subject, according to the News Service of Florida:
Repayment, with a 5 percent penalty, would be required if a project fails to boost sales taxes by numbers projected in the application or if the team leaves a complex before the agreement expires.

For an existing stadium, improvements would have to immediately generate higher sales-tax numbers, while new stadiums would have five years before an analysis would be used that sets the benchmarks for repayments.
These are common-sense proposals, even if pro sports leagues are masters of making a statistic say anything they want it to.

Forbes: Glazers Worth $4.2 Billion

The Glazers got a bit of bad news today: Forbes' latest list of billionaires values the owners of the Buccaneers at only $4.2 billion.

Yes, my tongue is firmly-planted in-cheek, but the valuation is down about 5% from last year's $4.4 billion valuation.  No explanation from Forbes on the change, but maybe it was all the tickets Malcolm Glazer & family had to buy to avoid blackouts this year?

The richest sports owners appear to still be the Seahawks' Paul Allen (who also co-founded Microsoft) at $15.9 billion, Miami Heat owner Mickey Arison surging 14% to $6.5 billion this year (even though the company he chairs, Carnival Cruise Lines, has had it rough), and the Dolphins' subsidy-seeking owner, Stephen Ross, at $5.4 billion.