Thursday, October 30, 2014

Buckhorn: Medical School Could Be "Bigger Than Baseball"

WUSF's Mark Schreiner reports from a USF Board of Trustees workgroup today that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said a new medical school in Downtown Tampa could be "bigger than baseball."
Buckhorn was referring to the possibility that the Tampa Bay Rays could eventually move from Tropicana Field to another field of dreams on an empty lot in downtown Tampa.
"It's 365 days a year (vs. 81 home games for a baseball team), it creates a medical educational cluster down here," Buckhorn said. "The students that work here will fill up the buildings that will be built, the retail will follow to service the medical students. I mean, it really is a more sustainable economic engine than just an arena or a baseball stadium."

"Now that doesn't mean they're mutually exclusive," Buckhorn, who's married to Dr. Catherine Lynch, Associate Vice President of Women's Health at USF's Morsani College of Medicine, said. "I think we can accommodate both, but I think in the long run, the relocation of the Medical School is a more significant economic development project than almost anything we could imagine, including baseball."
Both a medical school and a baseball stadium could possibly succeed in Downtown Tampa, but as I suggested earlier this year, Buckhorn and Vinik have both made clear what their priorities are.

UPDATE: Jamal Thalji adds {link to Times' site} Buckhorn suggested the next-most logical site for a baseball stadium downtown would be the current site of the ConAgra plant, but "I think it is safe to say that the Vinik group has plans other than baseball for their holdings...but we have assumed that for the past year."

For what it's worth, I've assumed that since 2012...but who's counting?

Regardless, the ConAgra dream would be wonderful for Downtown Tampa - far better than a stadium on Vinik's land. It would remove one of the biggest eyesores downtown, while replacing it with something that connects two thriving parts of the city.

But the challenges remain the money.  On top of $550+ million in stadium costs, you'd be looking at a likely 8-digit fee to relocate the plant, plus an 8-digit buyout of St. Pete's contract.  Start saving, Tampa.

Romano Infuses More Common Sense to Rays-to-Montreal Rumor Mill

John Romano's Thursday column echoes much of what I've written on this blog about Montreal: the threats are empty {link to Times' site}.

It was good to see him acknowledge "it is in the sport's best interest to perpetuate the notion that a large, baseball-hungry market is just a moving van away."  As any regular Shadow of the Stadium reader knows, MLB's real business is fearmongering and threatmongering.

It was also good to see Romano evolve from his 2011 suggestion that contraction rumors may be worth paying attention to.

For what its worth, I wrote a week ago the Montreal talk was just talk.  A year ago, I wrote moving to Montreal doesn't make financial sense for MLB or Sternberg.  And five years ago, I predicted Rays ownership would quietly stoke rumors about some other MLB-starved city to jumpstart negotiations here.

But I'm glad Romano infused more common sense to what has become a mockery of a discussion.  Here's an excerpt from today's column:
The rumors exist because it is in the sport's best interest to perpetuate the notion that a large, baseball-hungry market is just a moving van away. We should know, because Tampa Bay played that wanna-be role to great acclaim in the 1980s and '90s.
But as Tampa Bay found out while wooing the _____ (fill in the blank with White Sox, Rangers, Athletics, Twins, Mariners or Giants), baseball owners are masters of the tease.

And so Montreal will soon discover.

I'm not suggesting Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is behind the whispers that talks are ongoing north of the border. It actually makes no sense for Sternberg to rattle any cages right now, because he is about to get his long-awaited chance to sniff around Tampa.

But the baseball commissioner's office likes to promote the idea of a city breathing heavily on the other end of any phone. So do most of the other owners. It's just good business for them.

But that doesn't mean Tampa Bay fans have anything to fear in the short term.

Here's why:

Baseball has used the threat of relocation to get billions of dollars in public financing for new stadiums during the past 25 years.

The White Sox were going to move to St. Pete. The Rangers were going to leave Arlington for Dallas. The Giants were also coming to St. Pete. The Astros were going to northern Virginia and the Mariners, Orioles, Indians, Brewers, Marlins, Padres and Pirates were willing to go anywhere.

But there is a huge difference between those situations and the Rays' standstill. In all of those cases, the teams either controlled or were near the end of their stadium leases. So any threat to leave at least had the appearance of being legitimate, if not the reality.

That, obviously, is not the case in Tampa Bay.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Fault in Selig's Stars

Of course Bud Selig would turn a question about Friedman/Maddon leaving into innuendo about the Rays' stadium situation.  It's his thing.

But don't believe the hype/rumormill/fearmongering.

A new stadium isn't nearly enough for medium-market teams to keep all of their stars - just ask the Indians (Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia); the Padres (Adrian Gonzalez); the Marlins (Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle); or the Mariners (ARod in 2000).

The only thing that would allow the Rays to keep their stars (on- and off-the-field) would be modernizing MLB's broken revenue-sharing model in the mold of the NFL.

In the meantime, we'll just get the league officers name-dropping Montreal and the Rays issuing statements denying the rumors {link to Times' site}:
"We are committed to making baseball work in the Tampa Bay region. We will do everything we can to make that happen and right now things are moving in a productive and positive direction. We have not spoken to Montreal — or any other city, including Tampa — about relocation at any point."
Selig & MLB have perfected their tactics...and its amazing the country hasn't caught on to the Boy Bud Who Cried Wolf.

It seems just about every stadium saga goes down the same way...and as fans of the Giants, White Sox, Mariners, Twins, Marlins, and Brewers could tell you...those threats are generally empty and the team stays.

We'd all love a productive, adult, threat-free conversation about building a new ballpark...but that just isn't in MLB's business plan.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bud Selig's Lasting Legacy: Competitive Inbalance

Many have pointed to taxpayer-funded stadiums as Bud Selig's lasting legacy on the MLB landscape.  But I'd add another legacy: competitive imbalance.

I've written before about how the influx of cash - and the league's inability to share it all among its franchises - has created an unfair system that rewards teams that happen to play in larger cities.

According to the LA Times' Bill Shaikin, Selig blamed Tropicana Field's revenues for failing to keep the Rays competitive.

Sorry Bud - for $35 million and potentially $25 million, respectively, Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon would have left the Rockies, Brewers, or Orioles too.

It's the system, stupid.

Success is not directly related to attendance, or the Rockies, Brewers, and Orioles would have been in a lot more playoff games in the last 20 years.

Selig simply hasn't fostered a culture of sharing revenues to preserve parity in MLB like we see in other leagues.  With somewhere around $9 billion in revenue this year, there is no shortage of profit in baseball - merely a shortage of sharing.

This is not the fault of Tampa Bay - this is the fault of Major League Baseball.

Why didn't the Buccaneers' struggles at the gate affect their payrolls?  And why are small-market basketball and hockey teams from San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Pittsburgh able to thrive?

It's the system, stupid.

Which is why Selig, Sternberg, and everyone else would rather focus the conversation back on the Tampa Bay taxpayers, (whom the league has been profiting off since the early 1990s when several teams used the market as leverage for new stadiums).

Shaikin describes Selig's response yesterday to a straightforward question:
Does Selig consider Tampa Bay a viable major league market?
He paused — a long pause — then declined to answer. He said he prefers to leave that judgment to the owner in each market.
Funny...I seem to remember a lot of opinions from Selig and MLB's richest owners about the Tampa Bay market...

It's the system, stupid.

A brief history of Selig and the Stadium Saga:

Yes, We Know...Sternberg Likes Montreal...but Fearmongering is Part of MLB Plan

I was completely unsuprised to see the New York Daily News' Bill Madden write about Stu Sternberg eyeing Montreal.  He writes whatever Bud Selig wants him to write about:
[T]here is growing belief that the economically depressed Tampa Bay area won’t support the Rays no matter where they play. And according to sources, Sternberg has had discussions with wealthy Wall Street associates about moving the Rays to Montreal, which has been without a major-league franchise since the Expos were transferred to Washington in 2005. As one major-league official put it to me Friday: “Say what you will about Montreal, but the Expos drew well over two million fans four times there in their heyday, while the Rays did that only once, their first year.
Of  course, Jonah Keri, baseball's preeminent expert on both Expos and Rays' history, summed it up nicely:
Expect a lot more talk of Montreal.  Not because the Rays are in danger of leaving Tampa Bay anytime soon...but because Sternberg will attempt to strike while the iron is hot.  It's one of MLB's Dirty Little Tricks.

The more fearmongering about the Rays moving to Montreal, the more willing Tampa Bay's elected officials will be to open up the tax coffers.  And the departure of Joe Maddon & Andrew Friedman will serve to distract from the big-picture problems of an MLB system where revenue-sharing is shunned.
     (hint: its working - local media fall for it every time)

Just remember, St. Pete currently has a ironclad contract with the team that prohibits it from leaving town before 2027. 

Just remember, MLB owners don't typically get taxpayer handouts without creating leverage.

And just remember, no matter how hard MLB tries, an old stadium and small payroll still haven't stopped teams like the Rays, A's, and now Royals from having some pretty awesome seasons.

A brief history of Rays-to-Montreal rumors:

Friday, October 24, 2014

Low Attendance Won't Cost Tampa Bay the Rays, but Played Factor in Friedman/Maddon Exits

It was nearly two years ago I wrote this:
Relocation and contraction are Bud Selig's pipe dreams, but the biggest nightmare possibility of inaction is the exodus of Sternberg, Matt Silverman, Andrew Friedman, and Joe Maddon.
Half the nightmare is here.

Joe Maddon's departure from the Rays today follows Andrew Friedman's last week.

Which reinforces my previous comments that the stadium/attendance frustrations weren't likely to cost Tampa Bay its team...but it was ultimately going to play a factor in the changing of a very valuable guard.

According to the Times, Maddon said he left for the money "and opportunity."  While the Rays were believed to have offered upwards of $3 million, Marc Topkin wrote he could possibly command up to $5 million a year.

A look back at Maddon's love/hate relationship with Tropicana Field:

Why Tampa's City Council Had to Reduce its Potential Stadium Funds

We seemingly have the conclusion to the City of Tampa vs. Hillsborough County tiff over TIFs...

The Tampa Bay Times' Richard Danielson reports Tampa's city council has agreed to a reduced share of future property taxes proceeds from CRA/TIF areas, including Downtown Tampa...which means there may not be as much money available for bonding projects, like a stadium:
Through 2043, the county estimates it will keep at least $280 million more in downtown redevelopment revenue than it would have kept under the terms of the deal it signed in the 1980s.

In other words, if the downtown CRA had been continued on its previous terms — all for the city, none for the county — officials say Tampa could have expected to receive an estimated $660 million over the next 28 years for redevelopment projects.

Instead, under the new deal, the county now will keep at least $280 million of that total.

That still leaves an estimated $380 million for CRA projects over a 28-year period.
On one hand, the county could easily decide to still contribute those dollars to a new stadium.

But on the other hand, once those future revenues are considered "general revenue" and could be spent on things like schools, roads, and law will be much harder, politically, for commissioners to redirect the dollars to a stadium.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rays TV Money - Like Stadium Funding - Depends on Leverage

A new post by Cork Gaines explores what the Rays stand to make on a new television contract...and echoes thoughts I've been posting on this site since 2010 about an impending windfall of TV money:
But that number may largely depend on whether SunSports is bidding against itself. Their price to keep the Rays obviously goes up if the team can get two different parties in the region to compete against each other. 

Sound familiar, politicians of Tampa Bay who want to build a new stadium?

Two Good Graphs, and Why the Bucs Need Twitter Help

In case you missed it, Cork Gaines has a good look at the Rays' TV ratings:
Then, I also noticed a cool Twitter graphic Meredyth Censullo posted, showing the somewhat limited reach of "Bucs Nation":
With 202,000 followers, the Bucs have the third-smallest Twitter following in the NFL; only Jacksonville and Arizona have fewer followers.

Of course, you should already be following tweets by @StadiumShadow!

Rays' New President Talks Stadium Saga

Brian Auld made his first public appearance as Rays' president this week, telling the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. the team wants to work with business leaders on a new park, according to the Tampa Bay Business Journal's Chris Wilkerson:
"Baseball can be a catalyst for economic development," Auld told the crowd of about 500 business leaders at Amalie Arena. He referenced cities like Baltimore and San Diego that have used stadium projects to enliven underdeveloped parts of the community.

He noted the 25-year history of Tropicana Field and acknowledged that the location of a new stadium – wherever it lands in Tampa Bay and whenever it gets built – will be the beneficiary of an economic spark.
[W]hen Auld said, "We are just getting started," it seemed to mean something else. It had less of a "think of the things we can accomplish together" feel to it and more of a "even though we've been talking about this for years, we are just getting started," feel.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Where Rowdies Owner Bill Edwards Puts His Campaign Donations

St. Pete business tycoon Bill Edwards may be a rookie when it comes to owning a pro soccer team, but the Rowdies' owner is a grizzled veteran when it comes to political contributions.  Since 2003, Edwards has given more than $1.3 million to political campaigns, 99% of which affiliated with Republicans.

 Recipients of Edwards' donations include the Republican Party of Florida, National Republican Committee, Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan, Latvala's Florida Leadership Committee, Ohio Congressman John Boehner, and Gov. Charlie Crist prior to his party-switches.
The donations were among the many findings of my recent piece for WTSP/10 News on political contributions from sports teams and sports stars.  To see the entire list and interactive database, continue reading here.

The few Democrats Edwards has supported include former New York congressman Gary Ackerman and former Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd.

WTSP found no political contributions from the team itself, but at least one current executive donated to David Jolly's congressional campaign in 2014.

Where Buccaneers' Players, Glazers Put Their Campaign Donations

When it comes to athletes contributing to political campaigns, no Tampa-area players have been as engaged as former members of the Bucs.  Nearly a dozen players have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to mostly-Democratic campaigns, including Kellen Winslow Jr., Michael Clayton, and Cato June all donating to Obama.

The donations were among the many findings of my recent piece for WTSP/10 News on political contributions from sports teams and sports stars.  To see the entire list and interactive database, continue reading here.

The Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, also leaned to the left, contributing $46,000 to National Democratic committees and another $4,800 to Charlie Crist's Independent Senatorial run in 2009.

However, the team itself has been largely bipartisan with its campaign contributions, donating tens of thousands of dollars to both the state Democratic and Republican parties in the late 1990s when it was working to build a stadium with public dollars. The Bucs also donated $57,800 to Moving Hillsborough Forward in 2010 and $25,000 to Friends of Greenlight in 2014.

Other donors in the database include former coach Raheem Morris and former players Chidi Ahanotu, Jamael "Ronde" Barber, Brooks, and Brad Culpepper.

Lightning, Vinik Donate Generously to Political Campaigns

In addition to support of regional transit efforts ($75,000 worth), the Tampa Bay Lightning - through personal donations from top executives - has also contributed money to every sitting Hillsborough County Commissioner.

The findings were included in my recent piece for WTSP/10 News on political contributions from sports teams and sports stars.  To see the entire list and interactive database, continue reading here.
Team CEO Tod Leiweke has contributed to the campaign accounts of all seven Hillsborough County commissioners.  He also has contributed to Florida's attorney general, Pam Bondi, Congressional candidate Gwen Graham, and when we worked for the 49ers in 2008-2009, he contributed $10,000 to the NFL's political action committee.

And owner Jeff Vinik donated more than $50,000 to national Republican committees as well as $73,300 to the Romney Victory Fund in 2012.

Other individuals included in the comprehensive donation report include top Lightning executives and former star Dave Andreychuk.

Rays Start Funding Republican Campaigns, Contrary to Sternberg's Previous Political Leanings

The Tampa Bay Rays have made their first major political contribution in Florida, a $15,000 check to the political action committee run by powerful State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. 

The donation was among the many findings of my recent piece for WTSP/10 News on political contributions from sports teams and sports stars.  To see the entire list and interactive database, continue reading here.

The Rays had never made any major political contributions previously, other than $101,120 in contributions to the non-partisan transit campaigns in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

The donation to Latvala's powerful PAC underscores the importance of teams lobbying the legislature when they are interested in landing large taxpayer stadium subsidies.

"The party that has the majority gets to pass legislation...and reaps the benefit of those dollars," said former legislator Lars Hafner, D-St. Petersburg, who pointed to all the other Florida sports teams that have also poured money into Republican coffers in Florida.
Previously, Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg had tended to favor Democrats, including a $5,000 donation to President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012.  Also, minority owner Timothy Mullen has been a loyal Democratic contributor, writing large checks to the campaigns of both Barack Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
However, not all Rays owners lean left; minority owners Thomas Sansone and Vince Naimoli have both been loyal Republican donors for years.

Other individuals included in the comprehensive donation report include Rays President Brian Auld, President of Baseball Operations Silverman, broadcaster Dewayne Staats, former manager Lou Pinella, and Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs.

Athletes, Teams Donate Big to Political Campaigns

Sports teams – as well as their owners, executives, and athletes – are some of the nation's most loyal political contributors.  And since most teams receive some sort of public subsidy, certain donations also raise questions about how the contributors are influencing lawmakers.

I analyzed thousands of financial records from federal, state, and local elections offices for WTSP/10 Investigates to follow how millions of sports dollars are pouring into political campaigns.

"What these owners are asking hundreds of millions of dollars, so anyone would take that return on investment," said former legislator Lars Hafner, D-St. Petersburg.

Individual donors include former local stars like Derrick Brooks, Dave Andreychuk, Wade Boggs, and Shelton Quarles; current executives like Rays President Matt Silverman and Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke, as well as all of the owners of Tampa Bay's major pro franchises.

Rays owner Stu Sternberg has favored Democratic candidates in the past, but the Rays recently started donating more money to state-level Republicans. Hafner suggests Sternberg isn't shifting political leanings, but is seeking access to state's dominant party.

"The party that has the majority gets to pass legislation…and reaps the benefit of those dollars," Hafner said.

Yet the Rays' $15,000 contributions to Republican lawmakers and their committees this year pale in comparison to the donations of their fellow stadium subsidy-seeking counterparts. In recent years, the Florida Panthers and their subsidiaries have contributed $124,000 to state-level GOP campaigns; Miami Dolphins-led organizations contributed $83,000; the Orlando Magic gave $37,000; and the Jacksonville Jaguars forked out $28,800.

To see the entire list and interactive database, continue reading here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Another Miami Team Making it Tough on Rays Stadium Hopes

As if the Marlins Stadium boondoggle wasn't enough, the Florida Panthers' continued push for stadium subsidies while drawing south of 10,000 fans a game this season will not do the Rays any favors when it comes to convincing lawmakers to spend state dollars on a stadium:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Vinik Offers Channelside Land for USF Medical School...Not Stadium

It is all happening so fast.  After years of inactivity downtown, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is now moving fast to assemble land, hire lobbyists...then this:
The WUSF report indicates the offer includes a parcel near the corner of Channelside and Meridian, and plans will likely shape up over the next couple of months.  The annual legislative "ask" from the Board of Governors is in January.  WUSF adds:
USF is asking for $62 million in state funds over the next three years, including $17 million in the upcoming session, for a new Medical School building, along with another $15.8 million for the Heart Institute. The Board of Governors told USF officials last week that they need to pick a location for the school - whether it's on the Tampa campus or downtown - before they'd consider that request.
As far as Vinik's contribution, the donation of land is quite common for a developer looking to increase the value of his surrounding land.  The USF Medical School is also believed to be the reason he hired lobbyist Brian Ballard, among others.

So far, most of Vinik's contributions - include $60 million in arena upgrades - have come out of his own pocket.  Which is why he's probably due some help from both state funds and downtown CRA funds.  Just don't expect any Rays team funds - there has been no talk of adding a stadium to the Channelside plans.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Topkin: New Rays Prez Optimistic About Stadium Saga

Marc Topkin spoke to new Rays president Brian Auld today {link to Times' site}.  An excerpt:
"I'm optimistic," Auld said. "I think that things are going very well with (St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman). I think we're having productive talks. And I really look forward to seeing what the future brings.

"Obviously, we need to figure it out, and we understand that, I think our incentives and the community's incentives are perfectly aligned. Now figuring out exactly what that is and where the stadium should go is very challenging. But it needs to go in the best place for the Rays and it needs to go in the best place for the community."
Topkin reports the Rays and St. Pete are still hopeful for an amendment worked out before the end of the year, but its curious why all talk has been about location...and so little about the more important issue - financing.
Auld said in his previous role as senior vice president of business operations he had "ridden side-car" on the stadium issue and felt he was "up to speed" but also would rely heavily on Melanie Lenz, the vice president of development who took over much of the stadium project when Michael Kalt departed in January for private business. Auld also said he would consult frequently with principal owner Stuart Sternberg.

Developers Fail to Front Most of Promised Cash, County May Hand Over $11M Anyway

Facing a Tuesday deadline (which was already extended) to come up with financing for its spring training youth baseball mega-complex, a Gary Sheffield-endorsed group of investors has apparently come up with enough evidence to convince Pasco Co. to release $11 million in bed tax dollars.  The Trib's Laura Kinsler reports:
With minutes to spare before a midnight deadline, Blue Marble founder James Talton and former Major League Baseball star Gary Sheffield came through with a financing plan for the $23 million needed for the county to release $11 million in tourist tax revenue it has pledged to help build the complex.
But with its $50 million investor gone, so too for now, are dreams of spring training at the complex.

And an even bigger red flag to me is that $20 million of the $23 million is in the form of EB-5 investment {RECORD SCRATCHES}.  The federal program allows foreign investors to earn visas in exchange for loans.

The investment group qualified - but did not secure - the funding. 

As I've covered before, the problem with EB-5 funding is that it is typically short-term financing, it's limited in capacity, and there have been problems relying on the funding mechanism in the past.

Simply put, qualifying for the funding doesn't mean you have 20 foreign investors lined up to write you million-dollar checks each.  The developers admit it could take a year to accomplish this.  I suspect it won't even be that easy.

Oh, but having just $3 million in the bank of the desired $50+ million isn't stopping Sheffield from still talking about luring the Braves to Wesley Chapel, Fla:
Sheffield said he already has had preliminary discussions with the Braves about relocating their Spring Training facility from Disney’s Wide World of Sports to Wiregrass. Talton said if they do land an MLB team, the company would have to buy additional land within Wiregrass Ranch.
The only hope for Pasco taxpayers if the county approves the subsidy, is that officials mandate some sort of clawback provision in case the developers fail to hold up their end of the bargain.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sternberg, Silverman React to Friedman's Departure

After learning Andrew Friedman would head from the West Coast of Florida to the West Coast of the continent, Stu Sternberg & Matt Silverman held a conference call.

Sternberg - as quoted by Josh Vitale of the Charlotte Sun - still kind of mopes a bit about the "challenges" he accepted when he purchased the team.  But he struck a fairly up-beat tone by the end of it:
  • “From Day 1 when he came in here, when we all came in here, we knew what challenges we had. Obviously we would have liked to have been further along in that area, but Andrew has lived through that and worked through that as well. But at the end of the day, whatever happens with our attendance and as far as our stadium is concerned, it has an effect on everything that’s done in the organization. We work around it, we work hard and we try to work smart, but when you finish last in attendance or near the bottom consistently, it permeates throughout the organization.”
  • “I don’t expect anyone to be joining him in Los Angeles.”
  • “The level of confidence wasn’t that great to begin with. Year to year, it’s not that great. Given the hand that we’re dealt and how we go at it, it’s half a miracle that we get done what we get done and get to where we get to. Having said that, if Andrew were here and we weren’t having this phone call today and the Rays were just moving along, I wouldn’t have a lot of confidence that we were going to become a 90-win team next year like we had been for a period of time, either. Now, having said that, you go through the offseason, you get to spring training and you have some expectations. We certainly had some expectations coming into last season where a lot of people on this call said we were as good a team as anyone in baseball. So I never really have a lot of confidence in these things. The games have to be played. But I do have confidence in the process, and I’m very confident in the process we’re going to have in doing all the things necessary to make certain that we put us in the best position to win.”
Vitale also quotes Silverman, who will be taking over his friend's position:
  • “Personally, this is a very difficult day for me. It’s one filled with sadness, as one of my best friends in life has moved away and taken a different job. That’s the primary emotion. I’m pretty sure I’ll feel differently a couple days from now or a couple weeks from now, and I’ll be invigorated by the challenge we face, just like I am every October when we turn the page and look toward the next season. But now, I’m dealing with a lot of sadness, a lot of reflection, as well as a lot of good wishes for Andrew.”
  • “I have a lot of familiarity with the operations of our baseball department, and I’ve worked very closely with almost everyone in a leadership position. In terms of the ins and outs of trades, it’s something that we approach as a group, not just in baseball operations, but also with Stu and with me. Andrew has been the one executing those, but that will be different going forward, obviously. But I’m very familiar with it, and I’ve had a unique vantage point for nine years watching Andrew, observing and pitching in when necessary. I’m prepared for the challenge.”

Some Good News for the Rays Today...

The Rays may have lost Andrew Friedman to the Dodgers today...but at least they got some good news when Charlotte County Commissioners approved $120,000 in spring training upgrades at the Charlotte Sports Park.  Most of the money will go to sound system and concession improvements.

The county's deal with the Rays has to be one of the best spring training deals out there, as $120k is pennies compared to what some other counties are forking over for six weeks of baseball.

However, you'll still never convince me the Rays are bringing $21 million to Port Charlotte each spring.

Friedman Leaves Rays for Dodgers

The Rays confirmed the bombshell announcement this afternoon that General Manager Andrew Friedman was headed to the Dodgers, with President Matt Silverman essentially replacing him as GM.

Silverman's new official title will be "President of Baseball Operations," while the Rays will promote VP of Business Operations, Brian Auld, to president.

No word on if Silverman, who has a rapport with St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, will continue to be the lead negotiator on the stadium issue.

UPDATED 6:15pm:

Earlier in the day, these were the immediate reactions to the news:
Credit to Rays Index, one of the first to tweet the rumor:
Rays fans are just hoping the rumor was only half-true...

Monday, October 13, 2014

Tampa Bay's Transit & Population Density Problems

The Tampa Bay Times pointed to a recent study that's very topical given our region's ongoing transit debate.  It showed how Tampa Bay fares quite poorly when it comes to transit accessibility, or how well we get people to their jobs.

The region ranks 34th out of 46 major metros in "number of jobs within 30 minutes of walking and transit."  You can see the heat map here.  This is a reflection of limited walkability and bus routes.

But the study also shows another major handicap the Tampa Bay region has faced when it comes to both traffic and sports issues: population density.

At end of day, the region's sprawl is why we've been fighting for decades over the location of things like Tropicana Field, Raymond James Stadium, the airport, etc.

Because no matter where you put a major facility, its going to be inconvenient (i.e. more than 30 min away) for more than half the region's population.  Transit may change that...but that remains a heated debate topic.

Then again, it would also help if the region would change its collective mindset as to what an "inconvenient" drive is.  Again, fans in some of the more established sports cities think nothing of a 60- or even 90-minute commute to a game.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Tampa Bay Considering Four New Stadiums

It's crazy to think various interests are considering four new stadiums in Tampa Bay right now...and of course, all of them would likely require significant public contributions.  The Rays and Rowdies have been thoroughly covered in this blog.

But we also now have USF seemingly testing the waters a little more on an on-campus football stadium, as the Tampa Bay Times reports AAC commissioner Mike Aresco has spoken with USF President Judy Genshaft about the idea.  No surprise, he likes it.

Then, there's the Gary Sheffield-sponsored spring training idea in Pasco County, where Sheff suggested a deal to possibly relocate Braves spring training was "imminent."  Well, the Tampa Tribune reports the deal lost its financing backing prior to Friday's county financing deadline.  So what did the county do?  Extend the deadline, of course.  I'm still skeptical spending tens of millions of dollars - regardless of where they come from - on a massive baseball complex makes sense in Pasco County.  But the new deadline is now Tuesday.

So, possibly four new stadiums in the next decade in Tampa Bay...and that doesn't include the inevitable "ask" from the Glazers for Raymond James Stadium upgrades!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Local Fan Demands Rays Open Their Books

Scott Myers has made it clear he is no fan of sports owners who lobby for public subsidies.  I've even let him guest-write a blogpost.

Now, he's penned a new blog over on claiming, "The Glazers fleeced us. Will Stu Sternberg do the same?

He lays out all the arguments against the "sweetheart deal" the Bucs got at Raymond James Stadium - the same deal that elected officials swear will never happen again.

Then, he provides a potential solution to make sure a new Rays stadium doesn't take advantage of taxpayers: force the team to open its books.

Sorry Scott - I, for one, won't be holding my breath.

Inside Baseball: Tampa & Hillsborough Haggle Over TIF Money

It may not mean much ultimately to the Rays' long-term prospects for a new stadium in Downtown Tampa, but Richard Danielson reports {link to Times' site} the city and county are about to finalize a new agreement on future TIF-sharing.

While an extension of the current plan would likely give the city of Tampa about $150 million in bonding capacity for new downtown projects, the county wants some of the money back.

Danielson reports the new deal might reduce future revenues to just $100 million (the county wants to spread some of the money elsewhere).  But of course, if a stadium was on the table, the county would most likely return any TIF surplus (and thensome).

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

FBI: Brits Threatened Glazers

We knew the Brits were no fans of the late Malcolm Glazer, but we had no idea the FBI had investigated threats after he purchased Manchester United back in 2005:
The FBI released more than 120 pages of partially redacted records, including details on threatening telephone calls and emails, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Associated Press.

On the morning of May 12, 2005, the day Glazer became the majority shareholder, a male caller with a British accent called the Buccaneers headquarters in Tampa, asked many questions about the Bucs and ended the call by saying he wished Glazer were dead, according to an FBI report on the threat.
Several hours later, a male caller again speaking with a British accent identified himself as a member of the Manchester United Action Group and warned that the Glazer family would be in danger unless Glazer backed down from his takeover bid, the FBI report said.
Another call came the following day, with the man saying he was the same person who had called before and asking, “Do you remember me?” The caller said he knew people who “were ready to take action against Glazer,” and against another person whose name is redacted.
The AP also reports the NFL beefed up security at every stadium the Bucs visited that year.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Memo to Any and All Cities of America:

Memo to any and all cities of America (courtesy of Field of Schemes):
"Don’t sign lease clauses based on team profits and loss, because the teams can cook the books however they want."
The site issued that warning based on the new rumors of another Arizona Coyotes sale and the potential for more stadium subsidies on the heels of already-outrageous handouts last year.

But Schemes points out no city in American should still need this advice after hearing former Blue Jays exec and MLB President Paul Beeston say: “I can turn a $4 million profit into a $2 million loss and get every national accounting firm to agree with me.”

UPDATE: A really outstanding must-read from The Guardian makes the case that American cities continue to allow their own pillaging at the hands of rich franchise owners:
The story in Detroit has played out in almost every American metropolis, at least those that crave to be a “major-league” city. For decades, sports franchises have leveraged hometown pride and promises of economic spin-offs to garner billions in government handouts for stadium construction. Such megaprojects typically produce far fewer tangible benefits than advertised. And they siphon public funds away from other programmes. Still, extraordinarily wealthy franchise owners – a tiny group of athletic oligarchs – continue to bend American cities to their will.

College Football Fandom Map Shows Why USF Struggles

Another phenomenal infomap from the New York Times.

What Makes Jeff Vinik an Exceptional Owner:

Flashback - May 2012

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Two Years Ago Today: Times Calls on Rays to Step Up

Two years ago today, the Tampa Bay Times editorial board penned, "Next move on stadium is up to Rays," urging the team to step up and compromise with St. Pete {link to Times' site}:
LeClair's (Pinellas/Carillon) proposal, regardless of its shortcomings and its failure to suggest any financing, deserves a credible examination and thorough response from the Rays. That doesn't mean Sternberg should abandon his position that the Rays need to look in both Hillsborough and Pinellas. Among the viable options:
  • Agree to examine LeClair's proposal in return for looking in both counties for a limited period. St. Petersburg's lease would remain in effect.
  • Offer a financial incentive to the city, either a cash payment or benefits tied to stadium expenses.
  • Outline how the Rays could help test the market for redevelopment of part of the Tropicana site.
  • Open the franchise's books to verify its financial condition.
  • Suggest that the Rays could move spring training back to St. Petersburg if a new stadium wound up in Hillsborough County.
If the goal is to keep Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay, there are ways to move this discussion forward. Foster has at least opened the door, and Sternberg should seize the opportunity.
As far as we can tell, the Rays haven't made a good-faith effort to do any of the above, at least publicly. 

So for all the pressure the Times has put on then-Mayor Foster and now-Mayor Kriseman to cut a deal...maybe its time to repeat the call for the Rays to put their cards on the table?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Too Many Blog Topics, Too Little Time

In case you haven't had enough from Vinikville and the Stadium Saga this's everything else I didn't have time to elaborate on:
  1. Bill Edwards and the Tampa Bay Rowdies take over Al Lang Stadium, bid adieu to baseball.
  2. SaintPetersblog: Poll shows 2/3 of St. Pete residents don't want Kriseman to let Rays stray...but they wouldn't mind bed taxes paying for a new Pinellas stadium.
  3. Shadow of the Stadium: Readers blow up comments over mention of Montreal.
  4. Readers blow up editor's mailbox over mention of Tampa stadium.
  5. Columnist Joe Henderson says a Downtown Tampa stadium could be a home run...but acknowledges taxpayers shouldn't be asked to pay $300 million (or more).

Vinik Moves Forward on Two Hotel Projects

Not only did Jeff Vinik's rezoning proposal sail though Tampa city council yesterday (any surprise after the love he received last week?), but the Lightning's owner also made his purchase of the downtown Marriott Waterside official.

A monster day for most; another day at the office for Vinik.

We expect to hear before the end of the year what his "master plan" will include, but it seems a little less likely by the day that baseball would be a part of it.

Times Editorial Board Issues Cheers, Warning on Hillsborough Negotiations

In the last week, St. Pete's mayor met with the Rays and Hillsborough County voted to meet with the team if St. Pete irons out a contract amendment.  For what its worth, these same pieces of "news" occurred in 2012 too.

Yet hope springs eternal when any potential development arises, and the Tampa Bay Times editorial board applauds the efforts {link to Times' site}.  But it also warns about the enormous financing issue nobody has any suggested fixes for yet:
(The Tampa Sports Authority negotiating committee) will be more of a front; any baseball stadium deal in Tampa will almost certainly involve public money, regulatory and planning considerations and any number of other concessions by city and county governments in Hillsborough. The principal players won't be the sports authority members but Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan, who conceived the idea for a working group.
The Times also warns about Hagan's desire to keep the group from having to work under Florida's Sunshine Laws.
Transparency isn't Hagan's strong suit, and he will need to work openly throughout this process. Hillsborough's move at this early stage, though, is more about positioning as St. Petersburg and the Rays look to open up the search, and about reclaiming some leverage from Buckhorn, who has cultivated the notion of a baseball stadium in downtown Tampa.
If you remember back to January 1, the Times urged Kriseman to solve the Stadium Saga "within months."  And on March 31, it continued its rich history of pushing for regional collaboration on the issue.

Yet, here we are in October, with the Rays still waiting for permission to explore sites in Hillsborough County.....because, of course, they won't even consider sites in Pinellas County until St. Pete makes concessions in its contract.

That means since 2008, we've had hundreds of "developments," more than 20 editorials, and zero actual progress in resolving the long-term questions regarding the Rays.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Former Mayor Bill Foster Warns Hillsborough About "Savvy," "Ruthless" MLB Owners

As Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan makes moves to prepare Tampa's side of the bay for a possible Rays courtship, the one guy who may know more about the Stadium Saga than anyone is issuing a warning.

"Mr. Hagan has no idea what he's up against," former St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster said.  "(Tampa Bay and the Rays) are up against 29 other owners who do not want Major League Baseball in Florida....they're savvy; they're ruthless; it's going to be very interesting."

"The only way to protect the taxpayers of (St. Petersburg) would be a binding, unambiguous, clear, concise buy-out provision," Foster said, indicating the Rays weren't interested during his term as mayor.  Ultimately, the prolonged episode may have cost him last fall's election against now-mayor Rick Kriseman.

Foster has prodded Hagan before, so its no surprise the Hillsborough Commissioner dismissed Foster's concern that allowing Rays to look in Hillsborough would weaken St. Pete's contract and would allow the Rays to flee town.

FLASHBACK 2011: What's going on inside Bill Foster's head
FLASHBACK 2011: Foster weary of MLB's "tricks"

Foster tells me he's rooting for Kriseman to strike a deal that both protects St. Pete taxpayers and keeps the Rays around for decades to come.

"If not," Foster said, "the Rays will have a maple leaf on their jerseys" - a nod to the Canadian city of Montreal, where baseball fans have started calling for the Rays to relocate.

Hagan, Hillsborough Inch Closer to Rays Negotiations

Hillsborough County's Ken Hagan got unanimous support from his fellow commissioners Wednesday to form a select committee to work on possible stadium negotiations if - and when - the Rays work out an amendment to their current contract with St. Pete.

Hagan indicated the committee would operate under the umbrella of the Tampa Sports Authority (TSA), and would include himself, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, TSA CEO Eric Hart, and one member of the private business community.

"It's critically important that our community is unified," Hagan said after the vote.

He also got 7-0 commission support to line up a list of financial institutions to qualify and bid on potential debt service on the stadium, even though he admitted he didn't know how much taxpayers might ultimately be on the hook for.

"We know back in 2008, (the Rays) were amenable to investing $200-$250 million in a stadium," Hagan said. "(We don't know if) they're still considering that...(but) when you're considering a $500-$600 million facility, you're certainly going to have to have a considerable portion of that come from the team."

When asked if a similar $200-$250 million commitment from the team would be enough to get a Tampa stadium deal done, Hagan said, "I think it gets us in the game."

"(A new stadium) will certainly require multiple funding sources," Hagan continued. "It's going to be critically important for not only the team, but also the private sector to participate in any stadium, (regardless) of where its located."

Buckhorn added that the financial challenge was "huge," and indicated the jury was still out on whether it would make sense for the city to contribute public funds. He speculated the process would be "complex," & "not without its drama."

Buckhorn has always claimed Major League Baseball wants the Rays to play in a new downtown stadium, but in recent weeks, he has been much more hesitant in his support of a Downtown Tampa stadium.   The timing coincides with Jeff Vinik's exciting new plans for new office, hotel, retail, and possibly even university buildings downtown.

"It will be tough to find sites downtown that make sense," a reserved Buckhorn said Wednesday afternoon.

Hagan campaigned in 2010 on a platform of building the Rays a new stadium, although he said at the time he didn't support any public financing for the project. In the years since, Hagan has shifted his platform to "no new tax revenues," while repeatedly "flirting," as he calls it, with the notion of luring the team to Tampa.

But after years of talk, elected officials in Tampa are still waiting for the Rays to negotiate their "out," as well as indicate how they expect to finance a new $500-$600 million stadium.

Hagan added that St. Petersburg's Mayor Rick Kriseman "has to protect his city and do what's best for his constituents," but also "he sees the big picture and the opportunity St. Pete has to really do something special (by redeveloping Tropicana Field)."

That, of course, raises the question, if Tropicana Field is more valuable as something other than a baseball stadium...wouldn't the same go for land in Tampa?

Continue reading this story on

Why Rays Players, Managers Speak Out Against Trop

We know how Rays executives feel about Tropicana Field, and thanks to guys like Joe Maddon, Evan Longoria, and David Price - we also know how the guys in uniform feel about it.

This week, Maddon was quoted by the Times as saying, "To not have a legitimate major-league ballpark would be the only minus within the whole organization.  And the moment we're able to get a new ballpark on the ground and running that's when this organization has a chance to really (turn into a top organization)."

Then, he followed up the comments at his season-ending press conference, as reported by Martin Fennelly:
"I’ve also stated that the new ballpark is a situation that we would like to get done here, and I’m not going to back down from that at all."
But it wasn't Maddon's first foray into the Stadium Saga.  A brief history of comments from him & his players:
The frustrations are understandable, but they don't help the situation...they only inflame it.  And over the years, you'd think the team would have had enough time to hone its message.

A closing reminder from Buster Olney:

Malcolm Glazer's Death Ends Family Run on Forbes 400

With Malcolm Glazer's $4+ billion fortune now presumably split among his kin, the Buccaneers' owner - and his family - no longer make the Forbes 400 list of richest people in America.

The new richest sports owner in the world is now Steve Ballmer, of Microsoft fame, after he purchased the Clippers.  The $2 billion purchase price was just a fraction of his estimated $22.5 billion overall wealth.

Ballmer supplants another Microsoft product at the top of the franchise-owner list, Paul Allen, who owns the Seattle Seahawks, but is worth just a paltry $17 million.  His value is up more than a billion dollars since 2013...not a bad year.

Other notables include Miami Heat owner Mickey Arison ($6.4 billion) and the Dolphins' subsidy-seeking owner, Stephen Ross, whose value was up more than 10% ($6 billion).