Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Don't Believe Every Team Follows the Same Stadium Blueprint? (Pt. 2)

Following up on yesterday's post on how just about every team - even the Red Sox at "beloved" Fenway Park - uses the same blueprint to campaign for stadium subsidies, I wanted to pass along another gem from 1995.

This story, from former USA TODAY columnist Mark Woods, appeared three years before the Rays played their very first game at Tropicana Field:
Vince Naimoli is new to this business of being an owner, but apparently he is a quick learner.

Twenty-five days. 

That's how long it took for the proud buyer of an expansion baseball team in Tampa Bay to turn around and do what owners do best: 
- Ask the taxpayers for more money. 
- Say the stadium isn't good enough. 
- Threaten to move. 

 "I've already been contacted by other parties outside Pinellas County," Naimoli said, adding that "as long as other people fill their obligations, I'll be here." 
Baseball fever ... catch it! 

Actually, this isn't just a baseball thing. It's an owner thing. 

In the last few months, it has been easy to forget about the gall of the bosses. That's because their employees were busy stealing the greed limelight - from NBA rookies asking for $100 million deals to baseball players saying things like "some of us don't even make $1 million a year." 

But this summer we can expect to watch the modern-day version of a broad daylight holdups. (No masks required. Just guys in suits saying, "Hand over all your money or we're moving to Virginia!") 

- Al Davis (OK, it's football, but the principle is the same) is threatening to leave Los Angeles. 
- George Steinbrenner is throwing out the J-word (Jersey), hoping to get money to refurbish Yankee Stadium. 
- Bud Selig is saying that his Milwaukee Brewers must have a $200 million park with a convertible roof and, of course, lots of luxury boxes. 

The list goes on and on. But we expected as much from them. They're veteran owners. 

Naimoli is a rookie. One would have thought it would take a while for him to get up the nerve to swing for new fences. Maybe 1998, after his team actually played a game. 

Twenty-five days. 

In the same week that Naimoli announced that his team officially would be called the "Tampa Bay Devil Rays," he also basically threatened a change in the first name. 

How about them Orlando Devil Rays? 

OK, so Naimoli didn't actually mention Orlando or Virginia or any of the other areas standing there with cash hanging out of their pockets saying, "Please rob us." He didn't have to. Not in this game. Something as vague as "other parties from outside" will do the trick. 

He is upset that elected officials haven't worked out a deal to come up with $20 million in improvements for the five-year-old ThunderDome. A commitment for financing those improvements must be submitted with a final lease to Major League Baseball officials by April 30. 

And guess who he wants to foot the bill. 

Never mind that many of these improvements - restaurants, concession stands, souvenir shops - will put money back in Naimoli's pocket. He figures the people who spent $138 million for the stadium should throw in another $20 million. 

You're thinking, "These guys (Steinbrenner, Selig, Naimoli) are the millionaires, right? Why should fans fork over money to help them make even more? Shouldn't they be the ones paying for these improvements and new stadiums?" 

Silly you. 

The taxpayers are always asked to pay.  

And they always do. 

I's the lure of having a pro sports franchise, of being considered "a good sports town," as if that's the ultimate civic goal. 

Funny thing, though. When Naimoli was trying to convince baseball to come to St. Petersburg, everyone else was making fun of the white dome with the slanted roof. But he kept insisting that it was a first-class facility, that it would make a fine home for major-league baseball.

Now he says that $20 million will "make it sufficient" and will be "enough of an improvement in order to get by." 

Twenty-five days. 

That's all it took.
UPDATE: The good folks behind the Tampa Bay Baseball Market blog add this nugget:

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I did not realize that Namoli was expecting 3 million a season attendance back in 1998 (37,000 per game average). So what is acceptable attendance for Sternberg for the Trop and for stadium to be built later?