Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Blogger: I Donated to Buckhorn So He Will Take the Rays Off St. Pete's Hands

Local blogger/political operative/troublemaker Peter Schorsch writes on Saint Petersblog that he donated $250 to Mayor Bob Buckhorn's (somewhat uncontested) re-election campaign so he can essentially take the Rays "off of St. Pete's hands":
Buckhorn gets re-elected in a landslide. Mandate in hand, Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner persuade pols on that side of the bay that they must build a stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. By this time, St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman will have given in and let the baseball club pursue building a new stadium in locations outside of Pinellas County. By all accounts, Kriseman’s ready to give that up like a slutty prom date.

The Rays announce they are moving to Hillsborough. Suddenly eighty acres of prime real estate just west of the boomingest downtown in Florida is on the market. Developers and land use lawyers crawl all over each other for the rights to this land, which, by the time the Rays actually leave, will have light rail running along side it.

Another five or ten thousand residents would be added to St. Petersburg’s bustling downtown corridor, which would stretch from the waterfront to the interstate. A nine-square mile section of real estate home to hundreds of restaurants, art galleries, condominiums, health care offices (All Children’s, Johns Hopkins, and Bayfront being some of the most interested parties in the land currently occupied by the stadium), and so many other small businesses.

Meanwhile, Pinellas County, no longer burdened by paying to finance the bonds for Tropicana Field, is able to plow even more money into arts programs, beach renourishment, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and dozens of other projects.
Addition by subtraction in St. Pete?  Might be just the kind of thing Rays fans in Hillsborough County are hoping for.

Trib Editorial Board Says Build Rays a New Stadium...or Else...Boogeyman

The Tampa Tribune has a rich history advocating for taxpayer-funded stadiums, and for the last five years or so, that's included a new Rays stadium:
This morning, the Trib editorial board again applauded Commissioner Ken Hagan's new efforts to launch Tampa stadium talks (just as it did in a similar editorial in June 2011).  The paper also continued to play to the boogeyman fears of every Rays fan in Florida:
As we’ve been saying for well over a year, there is no more time to wait for stadium discussions to begin. Getting a new stadium built, whether in Hillsborough or Pinellas, would be a gargantuan task taking years of negotiations and labor.
Long ago the Rays, and Major League Baseball, grew weary of the empty Tropicana seats. Another season or two with the lowest attendance — and with no plan in the works for a new stadium — is an invitation for the team to leave the market. And each passing year lessens the penalty the Rays face for breaking the lease.
It's not clear why the Trib thinks the Rays would do what no other team in memory has ever done: break an ironclad contract to flee town.

And its not clear why the Trib ignores the questions it posed in August 2013 that questioned whether a Tampa stadium would fare any better.  Or how it would be paid for.

But what is clear is that the Rays are winning the battle of public perception, despite their strong track record of making money and offering few details about how a new stadium could possibly be paid for.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Kriseman Meets with Rays Again, "Hopeful" for Deal by End of Year

Charlie Frago reports today in the Tampa Bay Times:
Kriseman and Rays president Matt Silverman met for about an hour at Tropicana Field on Friday afternoon, the latest in a series of "good" meetings that haven't yielded any concrete steps toward resolving the long-running saga of finding a new stadium site for the major league baseball team that finished a losing campaign Sunday with (depending on how you tally the numbers) MLB's lowest-attendance.

"Now that the season's over, they can have more meetings and more productive meetings," King said.

Another meeting between Kriseman and Silverman is being scheduled and should take place soon, he said.

Kriseman officials say they remain hopeful that a deal can be reached by year's end.
The previous mayor, Bill Foster, was also hopeful he could strike a deal, but ultimately said the Rays were unwilling to compensate the city in exchange for a contract amendment allowing the team to look at stadium sites in Hillsborough County.

The current mayor, Kriseman, said on the campaign trail the Rays must pay if it wants its contract amended.   His campaign website also said he wanted a plan in-place within nine months of taking office.  That didn't happen.   This didn't happen either.

What a tangled web we weave...

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Vinik Addresses Rays Rumors

Jeff Vinik faced the inevitable Rays-to-Vinikville Downtown Tampa rumors yesterday at Lightning Fan Fest, and told Tom Jones on WDAE radio (around the 5:55 mark here), "a new ballpark for them has been discussed long before I got here five years ago, and one thing I know is that we've got a lot on our plate, and we've got vision here on- and off-the-ice to do hopefully really good things."

"I think its critical for this region to keep baseball," Vinik continued when asked about the Rays' long-term viability in Tampa Bay.  "Personally, I love the sport of baseball - not as much as I love hockey- but I love the sport of baseball and I love this region.  And obviously, the development we're doing shows how much potential I think is here. And I think its important for a region to have major league baseball; to have football; to have at least one winter sport, hockey.  It's important for a region to have all three of those sports."

Pulitzer Prize-winner Will Hobson followed up with more {link to Times' site}:
Asked after the radio interview if he was opposed to a baseball stadium in Tampa, Vinik declined to answer the question, or any others.

(Commissioner Ken) Hagan said he doesn't believe Vinik's plans are a hurdle to a Rays stadium in Hillsborough. However, he acknowledged that a sense of urgency has been created by the prospect that Vinik's developments and others could vie for city money that might otherwise help fund a baseball stadium.

"There's going to come a point in time here where Major League Baseball and the Rays say enough's enough, and consider relocating outside of Tampa Bay," Hagan said. "We're going to reach a point where we're past the point of no return."
Of course, Vinik's non-committal answers likely means he's either working behind-the-scenes to make something happen with the Rays...or...

UPDATE: Other reporting on Vinik's plans include Jamal Thalji's story with Vinik's top deputy, Tod Leiweke {link to Times' site}.  Leiweke said building up downtown will make the Lightning profitable...as opposed to the prevailing concept of a stadium making local businesses profitable:
Leiweke said Tampa Bay is an "unconventional market" for an NHL team, the "marketplace is spread out" and that there's not "tons and tons" of corporate support. The Tampa Bay Rays have similar concerns about the market for baseball in St. Petersburg.

The key to making the Lighting money, Leiweke said, is to lure major employers to set up shop around Amalie Arena. That will bring people who will live, work, shop, eat and drink in the Channel District — and buy hockey tickets.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Good Weekend Reading: NFL's Non-Profit Status, Rays TV Ratings, White Flight in Atlanta

Check these out if you have a few boring moments this weekend:
  1. SaintPetersblog: One US Senator is renewing efforts to challenge the NFL's "non-profit" status, something touched upon on this site over the years.  After all, how many other non-profit CEOs can you name that make $44M/yr?  Of course, the NFL spends enough lobbying to make sure the threat disappears.
    • UPDATE: Field of Schemes and Bloomberg point out the NFL may be essentially passing its tax-exempt status along to its teams...which doesn't pass the sniff test, even if it is exploiting a legal loophole in the law
  2. SunSports: Rays television ratings continue to kill it, propelling the network to a No. 1 rating among all cable TV channels in primetime this season.
  3. Vice Sports: Race is a huge challenge to the Atlanta Hawks and their fellow ATL sports teams.  That's the real reason why, as I wrote last year, the Braves are moving to the 'burbs.

What We Should Make of Latest Rays-to-Tampa Rumors

Once again, the cover story on page 1 of the Tampa Tribune plays directly into Rays fans' fears of losing the team: "Rays About to Be Wooed."  In much smaller type, it indicates the wooing would be done by Hillsborough County.

Not like the Trib really needs "news" to plaster a good Rays-to-Tampa headline across its front page.

Today's article explains that Hillsborough's biggest Rays advocate, county commissioner Ken Hagan, wants to form a new committee, under the umbrella of the Tampa Sports Authority, to help make a Tampa stadium happen for the Rays should they St. Petersburg allow it.  Hagan also suggested the TSA get involved in 2010.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman called Hagan's push "premature" and potentially "problematic," according to the Trib.  It's a similar reaction Hagan has received every time he "flirts" with the Rays, who are contractually bound to St. Petersburg until 2027:
Working through the Tampa Sports Authority actually makes a lot of legal & financial sense if Tampa/Hillsborough want to build a Rays stadium.  But not at the expense of burning the figurative bridge between Tampa and St. Pete.

And, Hagan doesn't want to leave it up to the Authority's board to talk with the team - the Trib reports the commissioner wants the agency's director, Eric Hart, to join him and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn on a select committee that would work with the Rays.

It's not clear how much support Hagan will enjoy from his fellow commissioners - some of whom are running for re-election this fall - when he pitches the next step in negotiations this coming Wednesday.  Many of them have pledged no tax dollars for a stadium.

RELATED: Where Hillsborough commission candidates stand on the stadium

Some of the questions will be over the commission's continued debate over subsidizing retail-type jobs (like those at a stadium) versus high-paying/high-tech jobs, which the board has indicated are a priority.

Hagan also once pledged "no public dollars" for a stadium, but has since essentially shifted to a "no general revenue dollars for a stadium" stance, indicating CRA/TIF funding could be justified "as long as it did not lead to new property taxes."

Hagan also acknowledged on-the-record in 2012 that the buy-out of St. Pete's contract would likely cost "tens of millions" of dollars on top of stadium costs.

Ironically, I’m hosting a Hillsborough County candidate debate Tuesday night, featuring many of the county commissioners. Safe to say, there will be at least one question about this hot-button topic. So please come join for the 7 p.m. event at the Junior League of Tampa building on Davis Islands!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Spring Training Subsidies May Never Subside

Behind the scenes, Tampa Bay and Pasco County leaders are skeptical about a massive new privately-financed baseball/sports complex in Wesley Chapel.  But former MLB All-Star Gary Sheffield, who recently lent his name to the development group's project, thinks its a home-run.

Oh, and according to local publication The Laker/Lutz News, he thinks the Braves would be interested in relocating their Spring Training facilities there after 2017:
[T]he former outfielder says the proposed $70 million baseball complex planned on 100 acres in the Wiregrass Ranch area will be so attractive, it would be impossible for any Major League team to turn it down.

“They don’t want to be second to Disney,” Sheffield told a group of business leaders Thursday at a Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce event. “The problem they are having is that the fans coming to the games there are not Braves fans. They are there for Disney, and that is a problem for them.”
Of course, that $70 million in private development could be subsidized by (or coupled with) $30 million in new state payments.  Because obviously, $30 million in state tax handouts to a team that's already playing in Florida makes sense.

And since the Braves are no dummies, they will happily entertain more competition for their services, even if its just to jack up the price of Disney keeping them.

In other Spring Training subsidy news, Field of Schemes points out the West Palm stadium plans could lose out to an actual business willing to pay actual taxes:
Fortunately for Palm Beach County, Florida, a developer has just done this for its plan to build new spring training facilities for the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros, offering to pay the city of West Palm Beach $14 million for its land and not demand tens of millions of dollars in subsidies like the stadium project would.
Although, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's headline seems to indicate this is a terrible development:
New obstacles surface for county baseball stadium proposal

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Jeff Vinik Adds Bill Gates' Name to Channelside Redevelopment

The big headlines tomorrow morning will be Bill Gates joining forces with Lightning owner Jeff Vinik to rebuild Tampa!

Although, it's just Gates' venture capitalist company, Cascade Investment, reports the Tampa Trib:
“They are taking a leap of faith,” said Tod Leiweke, Vinik’s top executive with the Lightning and the person in charge of his redevelopment plans. “This is not for the feint of heart. But they see our passion, and they see Jeff as a unique guy.”

Leiweke did not disclose how much Cascade will invest in the project, but he said the overall goal is to make the whole district a profitable project, including residential buildings, new offices, likely a new grocery store and an overall walking neighborhood.
The deal between Vinik and Gates did not come together from any personal connection between the two, Leiweke said, though he characterized Vinik as a “rock star” in the investment world, with a well-known reputation. Cascade saw interest in the project, Leiweke said, and about six months ago, executives from Cascade visited Tampa and they’ve been working behind the scenes ever since.

Though Cascade will be an investor, Vinik will still retain majority control of the project.
Basically, more money will be available to Vinik to build his perfect vision of a downtown.  Although, as a hedge fund manager and pro franchise owner, its not like he was hurting for money.

So the "big" news isn't really about the tangibles; its about the intangibles:
As for implications for the Rays' hopes of a downtown Tampa stadium, this probably doesn't mean much either, except for the fact that there could now be less opportunity for Vinik to take a personal loss "for the good of the town."

With $1B to play with, would Gates/Vinik drop 1/3 of it on a new stadium?  Unlikely, if profits are a priority.

It could mean great things for the city of Tampa if the Microsoft founder starts lending his name and leverage to lure big tech companies into the city, but I'd probably put my money on Gates being a mostly-silent partner, just as Vinik is as a minority owner of the Red Sox. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

1000 Posts

This marks 1,000 posts over five-plus years for this site, so thanks to everyone who follows it, shares it, and promotes it.

As always, I remind you that the blog's goal is to provide some big-picture perspective on where, when, how, and if a new Rays stadium should be built in Tampa Bay (along with other local sports business news).

Just in recent months alone, we've been tracking some silly spring training subsidies, the potential progress made on the St. Pete stadium stalemate, and the Rays' quest to possibly avoid the MLB attendance cellar again.  But we shall not forget the following stories, among the blog's most-read through 1,000 posts:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Report: Vinik to Buy Tampa Marriott Waterside

The next piece of property reportedly to be sold in Vinikville Tampa: the most visible hotel downtown, the Marriott Waterside, according to a report in the Tampa Bay Business Journal:
Sources who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the situation said Vinik intends to buy the 719-room hotel — which is on the riverfront in downtown Tampa, between Amalie Arena and the Tampa Convention Center — in a deal that could close in the coming weeks.
The Lightning had nothing to say today, but you can read more from the TBBJ's Ashley Gurbal Kritzer here.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rays Attendance: 2014 Post-Mortem

The Rays finished 2014 with 1.44 million fans through the gate, a worst-in-the-league average of 17,858 fans per game.  It's their poorest showing 2007.

The 2014 total represents nearly an 800 fan-per-game drop from 2013, which is about right given the team's terrible start and season-long struggle to reach .500.  The rest of MLB attendance remained about flat from 2013.

Its also worth noting the Rays enjoyed another good year on television and stand to make major financial gains when they renegotiate their TV contract, set to expire after the 2016 season.

There was a chance heading into the season's final week the Rays wouldn't finish in dead-last in attendance since the Indians are just about 500 fans per game ahead of Tampa Bay right now with just three weekday games against the Royals and three weekend games against the Rays left.

UPDATE: The Indians dropped to just 420 334 274 fans per game ahead of Tampa Bay with five four three games to go, but the season-ending series against the Rays boosted that number back up to 570.

UPDATE 2: However, had the Indians counted their three weekday single-admission doubleheaders toward their attendance totals, their per-game average would look much different.  If you added the 40,129 total fans who saw the three doubleheaders, the Indians' average would be 18,241- 344 fans ahead of the Rays.  If you don't double-count the fans from the doubleheader (we don't know if they watched both games), the Indians would be averaging just 17,746 - 122 fans behind the Rays, who sold about 10,000 more tickets this year.

For what it's worth, the Tribe taught us last year you can sell fewer tickets and still make more money.

Nevertheless, the criticisms of the Rays' attendance will continue.  As I said last year, there is no shortage of excuses: the dome, The Bridge, the economy, relations with St. Petersburg, etc.  But there's also a preponderance of evidence that the attendance complaints are a self-fulfilling prophecy - a theory first addressed on this blog four years ago.

Bookmark this page and check back throughout the week for updates on MLB's final attendance standings.

Report: Vinik Warm to USF Medical School Downtown

According to Jerome Stockfisch's story in today's Tampa Tribune, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Mayor Bob Buckhorn are both very warm to idea of a new USF medical school in Downtown Tampa.

While the article doesn't mention anything about baseball, here's some food for thought:  Vinik is talking about an entertainment complex, a new hotel, and possibly a medical school.  Maybe he has been buying up huge plots of land downtown to prevent baseball from ever coming and competing with his hockey product?


Friday, September 19, 2014

Rays Donate Another $25,000 to Greenlight Pinellas

Maybe the Rays are warming up to the idea of staying in Pinellas County with the possibility of a transit referendum passing?

According to election records, the team has now made another $25,000 donation to the Friends of GreenLight campaign, fighting to get light rail and improved bus service to Pinellas County.  This blog has previously reported how the Rays, Bucs, and Lightning have all donated $25,000 to the campaign, which leaders on both sides of the bay have suggested would be a great step forward in solving the region's transit woes.

Earlier this week during a Twitter chat, Rays VP Matt Silverman said this:
Transit would certainly help the team regardless of where it were to play in the bay area.  However, with Hillsborough County lagging behind in transit planning, maybe the Rays are stepping up their commitment to Pinellas a little more?  It is, after all, where I've always said the team would end up long-term....

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Handicapping the Kriseman/Edwards Battle of the 'Burg

As the dust settles over Al Lang Stadium and the brouhaha that's still brewing between the city of St. Pete and its biggest businessman, Bill Edwards, the Times' Charlie Frago reports on the collapse of a proposed settlement over stadium control {link to Times' site}.
Edwards had pledged to put $1.5 million of his own money into upgrades at Al Lang last week in a deal touted by Kriseman as a "win-win" for the city and Edwards. The four-year agreement also would have given Edwards the right to host outdoor concerts at the stadium and end a century of baseball at the waterfront park. Edwards also would have dropped his lawsuit against the baseball commission over the condition of the aging waterfront stadium.
Shots were fired across the bow, and as SaintPetersblog writes, "war between (Edwards and Mayor Rick Kriseman) could be on the horizon":
It’s suspected one of the reasons this deal has fallen apart is that the Kriseman administration got a case of buyer’s remorse. The mayor has heard from some in the community, even those partial to Edwards, and the Tampa Bay Times editorial board that having him in control of Al Lang Stadium, Sundial, The Mahaffey Theater, and so many other key projects is putting too many of the city’s eggs in one basket.
SaintPetersblog points out tensions have been high in St. Pete ever since Kriseman not-so-subtlety took jabs at Edwards on the campaign trail (his mortgage company was hit with a monster FTC fine).

Additionally, this blog has gone into great depth several times since March about Edwards' push for a new, taxpayer-subsidized stadium.  Naturally, Kriseman has pushed back.

Behind-the-scenes, some of St. Pete's biggest power-brokers tell me that Edwards - along with his chief deputy, former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker - put the "bully" in "bully pulpit."  That's why Kriseman and some city councilmembers want to slow the flow of tax dollars to Edwards and his projects, like the Rowdies and Baywalk/Sundial.  Expect that one to boil over at some point.

Meanwhile, John Romano - honored as Best Columnist by Creative Loafing - summarizes the next great St. Pete stalemate well {link to Times' site}:
Like the Pier, Tropicana Field, the police station and the master downtown waterfront plan, we might be stuck in the weeds when it comes to the future of Al Lang.

That would be a shame, because the proposed deal with Edwards has promise. It moves the city away from the tired search for quality baseball events, and it put the success or failure of soccer squarely in Edwards' hands.
[I]t is up to Edwards to convince us a soccer stadium on the waterfront is worth the investment. Pro soccer has had too many false starts in the United States for St. Pete to commit either land or money prematurely.
Yet Edwards cannot mistake a baseball stadium's demise as a positive affirmation for soccer. If he believes in soccer's future, he needs to make the necessary investment.

And if he decides he wants to take his team and go somewhere else, that is his right, too. Somehow, I think St. Pete will survive.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Matt Silverman Takes to Twitter: Questions He Answered and Questions He Avoided

The Rays held a Twitter chat today with President Matt Silverman:
He actually fielded some tough questions:
You won't find many team presidents willing to step in front of screaming liners like that, but there were a few doosies not even Silverman wanted to touch:

Monday, September 15, 2014

What USF's Stadium Dreams Mean for Rays

In addition to all the issues I pointed out this weekend about a possible football stadium on USF's campus, there's one more: it would make things more difficult for a new Rays stadium in Tampa for a few reason:
  1. There are only so many tax dollars available for a stadium. If USF decided to build its own stadium, the school would undoubtedly ask Hillsborough County - and maybe also the city of Tampa - for contributions.  And the school's talented lobbyist, Mark Walsh, would court the state legislature.  But these are the same troughs the Rays would have to draw from.
  2. There are only so many private dollars available for a stadium. If USF is to make a stadium happen, it will have to lean on Tampa's biggest corporations for donations, sponsorships, and ticket commitments.  There aren't many big businesses in Tampa, and the Rays are hoping to one day leverage them into contributions too.
  3. If USF leaves Raymond James Stadium, the NFL will pressure for upgradesIt's only a matter of time before the NFL tells Hillsborough County a 100%-financed stadium isn't enough and "if you ever want another Super Bowl again," tens of millions of dollars of upgrades will be necessary.  Granted, this isn't a very good time to ask, but if USF ends its RayJay relationship for any reason, the NFL could pounce.
So a USF stadium would not be good news for the Rays.  Unless, of course, a county commissioner and one Tampa Trib reader get their wishes: a dual-use Rays stadium on USF's campus.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Paper Reports New Stadium Not Only Possible Use for Tampa Tax Dollars

This blog has long documented all the hungry mouths anxious for a cut of the public dollars supposedly available for a new Rays stadium.  In Downtown Tampa, there could be up to $150 million available.

But of course, there will be competition for the money, and Richard Danielson wrote this weekend {link to Times' site} that Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is in the mix:
The University of South Florida, now exploring the idea of moving its medical school downtown, could be another.

Buckhorn made clear he still likes the idea of a downtown ballpark, but the city has not committed its downtown development money to that project.

"I'm not going to spend seven years waiting for a stadium deal when we have an attractive option in hand," Buckhorn said in an interview at City Hall. "We're going to try to be as helpful as we can to make these things happen."
Vinik, if you remember, forewent tax dollars in 2011 and 2012 when he made approximately $45 million in upgrades to the Ice Palace Forum Amalie Arena.

But this is not the first time we've seen a "Tampa stadium money in jeopardy" kind of headline.

In fact, its similar to an old post on this site that theorized what Tampa could do with its downtown TIF revenue once the convention center is paid off in 2015:
[O]f course, if you don't spend the money on a stadium, it could go to a variety of other projects such as roads, the Forum, Channelside, or as County Commissioner Victor Crist suggests, renovated blighted neighborhoods.
But the debate, which comes after a similar one started in neighboring Pinellas County, drives home the real urgency in the Stadium Saga.  It's not a race to prevent the Rays from leaving town (their contract runs through 2027), but a race to claim available funds before some other project does. 
We should also keep in mind $100 million doesn't go very far in this equation and might simply be the cost of buying out St. Pete's contract a decade early
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is also quoted in Danielson's article echoing a point I've made countless times on this blog - that a stadium may not be highest-and-best use of downtown development opportunities (especially if the team doesn't plunk down the majority of the cost):
Asked which he thought would give downtown the bigger economic boost — a stadium or the medical school — Buckhorn didn't hesitate.

"In the long run, I think the med school," he said. "That's not to say we won't pursue a stadium given the opportunity with equal vigor."

But unlike a stadium, which would sit empty most days, a medical school would create "a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week environment that would attract thousands of young professionals" who would fill up apartment towers, shop and dine out downtown, Buckhorn said.
The Rays never comment on these kind of watercooler newspaper stories, but the more the topic appears on the front page, you can bet, the happier they are.

USF Looking Into Whether Replacing NFL Stadium with Campus Stadium Could Cure Ills

Even though students have all but stopped attending USF football games and the USF community in Tampa is making its disgust with the lowly program known on social media, the school is forging ahead with plans to explore the costs and benefits of a possible on-campus football stadium.

USF plays 20 minutes from campus at the Buccaneers' NFL-quality Raymond James Stadium, while its nearest rival, UCF is enjoying successes from its new on-campus stadium.

However, media outlets so often miss the fact that UCF's stadium has burdened its students with a huge amount of debt, which every single kid who takes a class pays via student fees.  UCF is just about the only big college that relies on its students to balance its budget more than USF, which will tack $1800 onto most students' bills by the time they graduate, even if they don't attend a single sporting event.

Willie Taggert is right: an on-campus stadium adds to atmosphere.  But its also in incredible risk.

It will definitely increase student attendance by thousands - if not tens of thousands.

But last year, UCF's budget listed $4.6 million on stadium bonds, maintenance, and rentals.  USF spent $877,372.  So that nearly $3M annual difference would have to be made up by students and private donations - another area USF has been woeful.

This is a good opportunity to revisit the problems wanna-be football powerhouses face:  enormous costs with limited returns as well as the soon-to-be-growing cost of D-I football
So even though USF's attendance may climb with an on-campus stadium, the construction could also handcuff the school - and students - for decades.  Difficult issues like these are the exact reason fundraising expert Mark Harlan was recently named the school's new AD.  Good luck, Mark.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Tropicana Field Re-Financed, Stadium Negotiations Back On

In case you missed it today,
St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman said he talked stadium with Matt Silverman recently and will talk again soon.  He's told Frago the two sides may finally write the next chapter in the Stadium Saga this off-season, and things have gone so well because "both sides have kept them private."

Last week, the mayor's office said talks were on-hold in recent months because the city was refinancing bonds on Tropicana Field.  But the Re-Fi is complete, and now the real fun can begin!

For-Profit Racing Company Buys St. Pete Women's Half Marathon, Then Scraps Race

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - A racing company that failed to fulfill its promises after taking public subsidies for its Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon series is now scrapping a second St. Petersburg race, just two years after purchasing it from a Tampa Bay-area company.

The San Diego-based Competitor Group, which purchased the locally owned-and-operated St. Pete Women's Half Marathon in 2012, notified registrants this week of the cancellation of the 2014 race, scheduled to be run on Nov. 23.

According to a message on the company's website, Competitor Group "had to change our plans for this year and refocus all of our resources and attention to building a completely new and unique series for 2015."  However, a company spokesperson tells 10 News the race is merely "postponed" so the group can re-launch the series under a new vice president.

Runners who already signed up for the St. Pete Women's Half Marathon or 5k race have the options of transferring registration to another Competitor Group race or receiving a full refund.

The cancellation comes a year after the company announced the cancellation of its St. Pete Rock n' Roll Half Marathon race after just two annual runnings, despite receiving tens of thousands of dollars in public subsidies.

10 News first questioned the Rock n' Roll projections in 2012.  The inaugural race ultimately failed to live up to its promise of 12,000-15,000 participants.  In 2013, the numbers were even worse.

The Competitor Group also failed to respond to numerous requests about its charitable claims this summer.  10 Investigates revealed how for-profit companies often fail to put significant dollars in the hands of the charities they claim to help.

The St. Pete Women's Half Marathon was to benefit the Edith Sanford Breast Cancer Foundation. The Scottsdale race, scheduled for Nov. 2, was also "postponed" until 2015.

Company spokesperson Dan Cruz said "no dates or markets have been decided upon for the 2015 series," but hoped to know by the end of the year.

"The Women’s Running brand is experiencing a time of tremendous growth on social media, digital traffic and increased print magazine subscriptions," Cruz added.  "Brand editor Jessie Sebor was recently promoted to Vice President, now overseeing the Women’s Running event series and it became apparent the races were falling behind the brand standards of everything Women’s Running has come to represent.

"Therefore we made the difficult decision to postpone two events in 2014 - Scottsdale and St. Pete – and look forward to coming back in 2015 with an innovative, bigger and better Women’s Running Series."

Numerous runners complained on the company's Facebook page about travel plans that could not be cancelled, but Cruz says "We’ll certainly cover the costs for anyone who booked non-refundable travel."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Stu Sternberg, Who Doesn't Like to Talk Payroll, Says Payroll Will Drop

Rays executives used to frequently say they didn't like to forecast payroll numbers because they didn't want their opponents to have the intel.  However, not a season goes by these days that we don't see some comment from Stu Sternberg or Andrew Friedman about the team's struggles to compete financially. 

Marc Topkin reports {link to Times' site}:
Sternberg said the 2015 payroll is "clearly going to be lower" than this year's franchise-record $80 million, and he pointed out — albeit a small sample size — that they have had the most success when they have spent least.

"We've run payroll into the ($40 million range) and gotten into the World Series and well into the playoffs, and our two highest payrolls … the years we stepped it up (percentage-wise) were 2009 and 2014, and those are the only two years we haven't played significant September baseball," Sternberg said. "That doesn't mean you're not going to go at it again if you can, but we spent some money on a couple of big signings, for us at least. It still comes down to performance for all 30-35 guys at least."
Sternberg echoes a point this blog made prior to the 2014 season, that talking payroll is largely pointless, since the team said they had "no flexibility" in payroll prior to 2010, when they won the AL East.  And after that season, Friedman acknowledged modest success and competitive teams may in fact be sustainable.

As I've always said, its a huge testament to the Rays' front office.  And of course, with more tools, Friedman would certainly craft a better product.

But talking payroll is also an excuse to bang the stadium drum another time.  Sternberg also told Topkin, "I don't know what'll dramatically push the attendance up. And I do believe that a number of years of really losing baseball, we're in jeopardy.''

What's ironic is, back in 2012, Sternberg said adding payroll showed "the faith we have in this market."  So is he implying a reduction in 2015 payroll indicates a reduction in faith?

Maybe, but he also said in 2012 the team was "sustaining [financial] losses," which we know isn't true.  So take everything he says publicly with a grain of salt.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

This is How Fables Become Facts

If you repeat an economic claim enough, people will start to believe you.

The tourism advocacy group "Visit Tallahassee" put out a report about the economic impact of FSU football.  That report went unchallenged.  Warchant.com reposted it.  Then statewide group "Florida TaxWatch" quoted it in a report of its own. 

Without getting into the nitty-gritty, I can dispel the report's credibility simply by pointing to its assertion that the FAU and FIU football programs are operating in the black.  If you regularly read this blog, you know students at those schools have to pay hefty subsidies to make up for all the money the programs lose.  So let's just assume there are plenty of other things the report isn't telling you.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Business Journal takes a closer look at the University of South Florida's Under Armour deal, which pays approximately $1 million in product and another $625,000 cash annually.

While the contract includes some potential bonus incentives, its nothing compared to some of the other deals profiled by sister publication Portland Business JournalCheck it out - there's a searchable database of contracts for the country's biggest football powerhouses, including FSU ($4.4M/yr from Nike) and UF ($2.3M/yr from Nike).

Dehydrating Your Fans for Profits

Extortion is illegal.  So is price gauging.  Yet few in law enforcement (or public office) seem to care that sports teams that play in hot stadiums don't have water fountains and charge $5.00 for a bottle of water.

But ESPN's Gregg Easterbrook does:
Reader Jim Medwid of Alden, New York, attended a recent Bills preseason game and reports: “The concourses are now wider, but all drinking fountains have been removed from the stadium, which prohibits bringing in any kind of bottle, even clear-sided water bottles.” So taxpayers paid $90 million for renovations that force Bills ticket holders to buy $5 water bottles from the concession stands, and guess who keeps the profit.
As Neil deMause points out, "No drinking fountains and a ban on water bottles sounds like not just a terrible idea, but a recipe for lawsuits the first time someone passes out from dehydration on a hot day."

As the University of Central Florida could tell you, it's not a popular play.  However, the NFL isn't really about popular...it's about profitable!

Which, of course, is why those same Bills are "being sold for 10 figures (while also claiming) it requires a new crib after it took state money for the old one."

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Vinik, Lightning Donate $25,000 to Greenlight Campaign

Following the lead of the Bucs and the Rays, who each donated $25,000 to the Friends of Greenlight political committee, the Lightning & owner Jeffrey Vinik recently made a similar donation, according to records filed with the Pinellas County Supervispr of Elections Office: http://www.votepinellas.com/?showurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.voterfocus.com%2Fws%2FWScand%2Fcandidate_pr.php%3Fc%3Dpinellas%26el%3D21

The group, which has raised the better part of a million dollars so far, supports this November's transit referendum in Pinellas County.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Buckhorn 3, Kriseman 1 (on First Pitch Honors)

For those of you keeping score at home, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn threw out the first pitch at Tropicana Field earlier this week, his third time by my count.

It's becoming an annual tradition for Buckhorn, as elected officials in Tampa and Hillsborough County continue their courtship flirtatious relationship with the Rays.

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman has thrown out one "first pitch" in his first year in office, a rate that could either increase or decrease, depending what happens with the ongoing Stadium Saga negotiations...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Forum Gets a New Name, Vinik Talks Channelside

Lots of Jeff Vinik in the news today, not just with the renaming of the Tampa Bay Times Forum to the Amalie Arena {link to Times' site}.

Jamal Thalji also reports he shed a little light on some of his big Downtown Tampa/Channelside redesign ideas {link to Times' site}.  But Vinik nipped one rumor in the bud:
"I'm not going anywhere near baseball," he said.
For more on why Vinik and baseball shouldn't be used in the same paragraph...this site has no shortage of good info.

Romano: Rays Stadium Search Deal May Be Close

In this morning's Times, sports-turned-metro columnist John Romano greets the six-year anniversary of the start of the Stadium Saga with potential stalemate-breaking news {link to Times' site, featuring a nice photo of my shoulder and ear}:
An agreement between the Rays and St. Petersburg that would allow the team to begin conversations about future stadium sites seems to be growing near, based on conversations with those involved.
The story is light on details and heavy on innuendo.  However, Romano indicates the major sticking point of former mayor Bill Foster's negotiations with the Rays - the price the team would pay if it breaks its contract - may be omitted from these negotiations:
Instead, the team might be allowed to look at potential sites in Hillsborough County with further discussions in St. Pete to follow.
This is dangerous legal territory;  both Foster and the city's attorney, John Wolfe, (as well as this blog) have expressed caution over giving up leverage without guarantees in return.  Remember, MLB teams are far better than municipalities when it comes to creating and maximizing leverage.

St. Pete's new mayor, Rick Kriseman, is also an attorney by trade, like Foster.  And he reminds us that two attorneys can come up with two completely different interpretations of the same contract language.

We have yet to see what kind of agreement - if any - may be ironed out, but until Wolfe retires, you can expect Kriseman and city council to continue to hear his warnings

Romano's column also touches upon Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik's plans to forge ahead on Downtown Tampa redevelopment without baseball {read here to find out why}.  But he echoes the point that there is no real shortage of land for a possible stadium in the neighborhood.

He also mentions Tampa's Westshore district, which both the ABC Coalition and this blog have long considered a logical stadium location.  It serves as the region's business hub as well as its darn-near-geographical center of population.  Romano says a 60-acre plot, where Jefferson High and two other schools sit, could accommodate a stadium:
West Shore, along with downtown Tampa, were the two Hillsborough sites identified by that blue-ribbon committee as having the corporate base necessary for a stadium location. If Hillsborough officials decide that land is in play, it creates another potential stadium site that would have to be explored quickly before it is earmarked for something else.
We'll see how this chapter of the Stadium Saga plays out, but Mayor Kriseman remains in a tough spot.  Any concession on the current contract is a piece of leverage abandoned; but at some point, Kriseman and St. Pete may decide the positives of a compromise outweigh the negatives.

Romano's piece may be an indication of forthcoming progress or just wishful thinking from a regional-minded columnist.  He's right that a compromise could be a win-win-win for Pinellas, Hillsborough, and the Rays....but that depends on the terms of an agreement.

UPDATE: Mayor Kriseman's office tells me they haven't been communicating with the Rays lately; because the city is refinancing the bonds on Tropicana Field, they were advised to postpone all talks until the new financing is secured.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Attention on Attendance: Rays, Bulls, College Football

As Rays attendance numbers slowly drip down the drain like beer from your fall football tailgate, we have a few pieces of attendance-related news to catch up on:
  • The Wall Street Journal reports college football ticket prices - coupled with improved television technology - is contributing to sagging attendance at even the most hardcore football powerhouses.
  • The WSJ story also includes a table that shows no school saw a bigger drop in student attendance since 2009 than USF.  They were joined at the bottom of the list by lots of other mid-majors.
  • Finally, there's a small glimmer of hope for Tropicana Field crowds - St. Pete will contribute another $500k from its stadium improvement fund to regular stadium maintenance.  The money will go toward A/C, restroom, and walkway upgrades.