Saturday, November 22, 2014

Weekend Reading List: Pinellas Bed Tax Dollars, Women's Final Four in Tampa

  1. Tampa Tribune: Pinellas Co. will cap stadium subsidies at approx. $5.25M/yr (for now...with another $7M potential from increasing bed tax)
  2. 10 News: Tampa lands NCAA Women's Final Four in 2019
  3. Times Editorial: Region shines in hosting big sporting events

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Florida Teams Claim State Dollars Will Make Already-Underway Stadium Projects More Magical

We knew Florida's new stadium subsidy process would be a non-binding/rubber-stamp kind of exercise, but nevertheless, teams are still jockeying for that "high-priority" label that would earn them up to $3 million a year in state tax dollars.

So what were the good reasons the Jaguars, Dolphins, Orlando Soccer Club, and Daytona Int'l Speedway argued were worth adding state dollars to complexes that are already being built or renovated?

According to the News Service of Florida, renovations to EverBank field in Jacksonville will help lure more tourists from England.

A $110 million soccer stadium in Orlando (which only cost $84 million the city approved it) would increase tourism from South America, and would be a "one-of-a-kind downtown venue."  That, of course, must make the Magic's new Amway Arena feel like crap.

In Daytona, a $90 million contribution to the already-underway $400 million speedway renovation would all of a sudden mean the venue could start hosting "non-sports events" that bring "thousands of visitors to Florida."  Because that's worth $90 million in state dollars...

And the Miami Dolphins want $90 million too, even though their owner is one of the richest men in the world.

Care to read more?  The News Service of Florida may dissuade you:
The intent of the review process is to reduce lobbying for stadium projects.

Based upon sheer paper volume, Orlando and Jacksonville would be the front-runners in the new funding process.

The application from Jacksonville, supported by the Jacksonville Jaguars, stands at 954 pages.

Orlando, working to assist the Major League Soccer expansion Orlando City Soccer Club with a new 18,000-seat stadium, submitted a 1,144-page application.

Less bulky, Daytona International Speedway LLC filed a 110-page application. South Florida Stadium LLC, filing for the Miami Dolphins' home, submitted 219 pages of material.
I'm completely shocked - and unshocked - by what I read, so when you have a quiet moment alone to laugh out loud...try and read the whole story.

Buckhorn Retreats More from Rays Stadium Flirtations

Yesterday, Mitch Perry - formerly of Creative Loafing, now working in the political blogosphere - wrote about Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's likely approach toward a new Rays stadium.  And as this blog has started to document, the mayor has muted his longtime support for a Downtown Tampa baseball stadium:

2011: Buckhorn says Downtown Tampa is best location for new stadium
2011: New stadium in Downtown Tampa "would be absolutely transformative"
2012: New stadium may be only three years away
2012: Next stadium "needs to be in Downtown Tampa"
2013: Rays stadium "integral" to Channelside redevelopment
2013: It's Downtown Tampa or nothing for a new stadium in Tampa

Obviously, more recently, Buckhorn acknowledged a new USF Medical School (1/6 the cost of a new stadium) could be a much bigger & better fit for Downtown Tampa.

That said, there still is one very promising piece of land for a stadium downtown - the home of the old (but still operating) ConAgra plant.  But Buckhorn tells Perry relocating ConAgra could add $70 million to the price of the project:
“I’m still committed, given the opportunity, to focus on an urban stadium. I think what MLB and the Rays want. I think there are other sites in downtown that could work,” he says, including the Tampa Park Plaza area running north of Channelside toward Ybor City on Nebraska Avenue.
But outside of the downtown core, there are few city TIF/CRA property tax dollars available for a stadium.  Perry continues:
[I]n the aftermath of Greenlight’s wipeout, Buckhorn says flatly that he would not propose a referendum to pay for any construction costs because “it won’t pass.”

“I think this will be a monumental lift to find a financing mechanism that would work,” he said. “I think the Rays would have to come to the table with serious money. I think it would have to be a smaller stadium, 30,000-35,000. I think the financing would be multi-layered from multiple sources. It’s not going to be simple like Raymond James (Stadium) was, which was one source of revenue that’s bondable over 30 years.”
Buckhorn will sit on a stadium search committee with county commissioner Ken Hagan should St. Pete come to an agreement with the Rays allowing a search.

But dreams of a Downtown Tampa stadium may be giving way to the realization that something closer to the Howard Frankland Bridge (and future bay bridges) may be a better option.

Also, for Buckhorn, one of the state's brightest future political stars, it may not be in his best career interests to stick his neck out on this issue and take unnecessary political risks in his second term.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sheffield Group Fails to Meet Another Deadline, Forcing Commissioners to Change Deadline Again

Last month, I detailed how a group of developers led by Gary Sheffield failed to meet a deadline - for the second time - to secure $23 million for a new baseball complex in Pasco Co.  Only upon coming up with the cash, will the group get an $11 million payout from county bed taxes to complete the project.

Sheffield and his partner, James Talton, tried to convince commissioners that $3 million in cash and eligibility for another $20 million in EB-5 financing would suffice.  Of course, being eligible for a loan and actually securing one is a much, much, much different ballgame.

Realizing this, commissioners were unimpressed...but apparently not enough to kill the plan, according to a story today from the Tampa Tribune.  In fact, they granted a third extension:
On Tuesday, they set a drop-dead date of Dec. 5 to guarantee at least $3 million for the design and permitting of the park. They'll decide on Jan. 13 whether to accept the deal or terminate the contract.
This is the last extension because we have commitments we have to make,” Chairman Ted Schrader said. “I think we all agree it's a fantastic location, it's a great project. We just have to make sure we have the right partner.”

Sheffield said he's confident he and Talton will be able to secure the funds by January. “We're close. We're so close it's not even funny,” he said.
I've always said the ambitious 100-acre project near Wiregrass Ranch was overly-ambitious for a private developer, but when a small community has big-league dreams...nothing will stop it from extending deadline after deadline.

Rays Stadium Negotiations Non-Update Update

In case you missed this tweet:
The Tribune's Chris O'Donnell reports lobbyist records show the Rays are quietly meeting behind-the-scenes with Pinellas County Commissioners...but the commissioners interviewed seemed to think the two sides were still a ways off from announcing a deal.

I checked again to see if St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman or city legal staff had any draft drawn up yet, but I'm told no public documents exist yet on negotiations.  Read into that what you will.

But Kriseman's Chief of Staff, Kevin King, tells O'Donnell the mayor is "determined to meet his self-imposed end-of-year deadline to announce a deal."

Stay tuned...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Rays' Payroll Disadvantages Could Get Worse

$100 million for Pablo Sandoval?
$140 million for Jon Lester??
$325 million for Giancarlo Stanton???

We are seeing teams throw some silly dollars at free agents this offseason...and we can expect the madness to continue for a long time. 

Actually, it's not so mad considering how flush the league has become with television money.  As I've been saying for years, television dollars are surging for sports teams and everyone is getting rich off it.

You'll notice there haven't been any teams claiming "losses" in recent years - instead, they've changed the messaging on new stadiums to "the rich teams are demanding we make more profit...or else."

So the big problem isn't a lack of profits - it's that the league isn't sharing them like its counterparts in the NFL, for instance.

Which is why Bud Selig's real lasting legacy is competitive imbalance.  The money is pouring in, but it's not getting distributed equitably.  And the discrepancies will only get worse as the league - and its biggest owners - get richer. 

Joe Henderson just wrote about the impact of salary inflation on the Rays:
It won’t be long before a player who costs $7 million a year now will cost $12 million or more. It doesn’t take too many of those to eat into the profits.
The Providence Journal also addressed the issue this weekend, actually suggesting great parity across the league, with television contracts as an equalizer.  Not sure I believe any of it, but Cubs GM Theo Epstein was quoted as saying Chicago's next TV deal in 2019 would be "the magic bullet, the paradigm-shifter."

The brightest light at the end of the tunnel for the Rays is that Selig's successor, MLB C.O.O. Rob Manfred, is intimately familiar with the revenue sharing problem and could take steps in future bargaining sessions to close the gap.  It won't fix the plight of the middle-market team, but it certainly will help.

Now That's Just Crazy!

Metro columnist Earnest Hooper writes this morning, "Sometimes crazy ideas leap from my mind and can't be contained. Even when they should." {link to Times' site}

Among the crazy ideas:
What if the next transportation initiative includes multiple counties and funding for a new Rays stadium? Yes, it could draw even more opposition from people opposed to public financing of stadiums, but it also could draw baseball fans to the ballot who otherwise would sit out
What's even crazier - the idea leaping from Hooper's mind actually appeared in this very blog nearly three years ago.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Henderson: New Stadium May Make Us a Better Place, But Won't Make Rays a Better Team

Joe Henderson hit another home run on the Rays' Stadium Saga today, penning a column that puts the difficult decisions in proper perspective: don't build a stadium to make the Rays more competitive; build a stadium because you want the team to play in Tampa Bay for generations to come.
As franchises in all pro sports like to say, it’s about being “competitive.”

If you look at the numbers, though, I’m not sure the way the Rays have to do business changes that much with a new stadium. They would have more money, yes, but at the same time, revenues are escalating in many franchises around the majors.
This is a point I've written about ad nauseam:  a new stadium might draw 25,000 fans, but it won't make much of a difference to the Rays' bottom lines.  I may have tweeted it a few times too:
Henderson's Sunday column continues with a look at all that TV money:
The real difference-maker for franchises is in the rights fees they draw from cable companies because, unlike national TV money, it isn’t shared with other franchises.
Their ratings have generally been strong, ranking in the upper half of MLB teams for the last several years. Even if the Rays can negotiate a deal that doubles their Fox Sports money (a major assumption) though, how does that stack up with $340 million a year the Los Angles Dodgers will receive through 2038 from SportsNet LA?

Do we have to ask why former Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman bolted Tampa Town for a job running the Dodgers in Tinsel Town?
This is the exact problem which led me to write about Bud Selig's lasting legacy of competitive imbalance last month.

Which leads Henderson to conclude "scrap(ing) about $700 million together to build" a stadium has nothing to do with making the Rays more competitive:
For all the talk about the Rays as a crown jewel for Tampa Bay, no one has yet come up with a regional idea to pay for a new stadium.
Mention regional cooperation on something like this and it’s like when the waiter brings the bill for dinner, and everyone at the table looks the other way or reaches for their cellphone until someone finally gets stuck with the check.

I’ve always felt there is only one reason that any city gets involved in projects like this. Raymond James Stadium was built because voters decided they wanted professional football in town, not because of the alleged economic bonanza these franchises bring to a community.

If the Rays get a new stadium, it will be for the same reason. One side of the bay will have decided we’re better off with baseball than without, and we’d all like a better place to watch the games.

It won’t be for the economic impact, and it certainly won’t be because the Rays will start spending like the Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Take it or leave it on that basis.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fallout From Rays "Imminent" Deal - Day 2

A new Tampa Tribune editorial echoes much of what we've already heard through the first few days of this week's Stadium Saga rumor cycle.

But let's hone in on a few key passages:
The 85-acre Tropicana site is ripe for development and is off the tax rolls. Developing the area, with or without the team nearby, would boost tax revenues and stretch the downtown east into a rapidly developing area.
So the Trib claims replacing a stadium with something else would boost tax revenues?  Then why would Tampa want to reduce its tax revenues with a new stadium??  Don't stadium proponents claim new facilities tend to boost everyone's bottom line???  Questions worth asking as we move forward.
Of course, any agreement to let the Rays explore other sites needs to protect the taxpayers and hold the team accountable. But those provisions should be achievable, and the team should be allowed to enter into discussions about a site that it believes will bring the greatest chance of success.
I'd like to know what "hold the team accountable" means, because almost nobody has been calling on the team to make a good-faith financial offer, or even open its books to show it needs public help.  Let's hope that changes.

Elsewhere, NewsTalk Florida's Chris Markowski & Jenna Laine shot this quick video discussion on the topic, raising some good points along the way.

Markowski likened the Stadium Saga to buying a new Maserati, but asked, "can we afford a new Maserati?"  He also questioned Florida's commitment to baseball, suggesting a Tampa stadium may not draw much better.

Laine said workers in Downtown Tampa "can't make the drive" to Downtown St. Pete for a game, although the Rays have openly questioned why the hell not.

I'm not sure being "the butt of jokes" nationally - as Laine suggested - is a good reason to plunk down hundreds of millions of tax dollars to replace The Trop early.  But Laine and Markowski at least asked the question if Hillsborough residents would be OK with spending on a third big-league stadium (fourth if you count Steinbrenner Field).

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

X-Rays Spex: An Open Letter to Stu Sternberg

"An open letter to Stu Sternberg," reposted from X-Rays Spex:
Dear Stu,

While you’ll deny the rumors you’ve been in contact with New York investors regarding a potential relocation to Montreal, you’re adopting the same tactic other owners have used for years now: Exploiting another city — in this case Montreal — as leverage in the fight for a publicly financed stadium. Is Montreal a legitimate threat? Who can really say?

What I will say, you’re not making the organization that I love very likable. Perception is everything, and if the Bay Area perceives you to be less than honest — especially since you haven’t come forward with any evidence the organization is losing money — there’s no way that either side of the bay will vote in favor of a new facility for the Rays.

(And yes, I believe they deserve a new stadium)
In the end, if both Pinellas and Hillsborough voted down their respective publicly funded mass transit referendums, there’s no way a publicly funded stadium will be approved if the organization isn’t up front and honest.


Fallout From Rays "Imminent" Deal - Day 1

As with every hint of any stadium news, sportstalk lines blew up yesterday.  Can't say I heard many new intelligent opinions infused into the conversation, but I'll share one interview here - WDAE's Steve Duemig chatting with St. Pete Councilman Bill Dudley.

"We have taxpayers who have footed the bill for Tropicana Field," Dudley said, "and we have a responsibility for protecting their interests."

Now, Duemig suggested the responsibility ends in 2017, when the city finishes paying its portion of the stadium, and for some reason, Dudley agreed.  But I'm pretty sure Dudley was simply indicating that's when the payments cease - it doesn't actually end the city's responsibility for protecting the contract it negotiated.

We know the Rays think St. Pete owes them a free pass on escaping the contract, but remember - THEY SIGNED THAT CONTRACT!  And remember this too:
If St. Pete had paid for the Trop in up-front cash instead of taking out bonds, would their financial interests be over the day the doors opened?  Of course not.

So at the end of the day, debt service isn't directly tied to how much value remains in the city's contract with the Rays.

Duemig and Dudley also reminded listeners how good the ingress/egress is at the Trop, and traffic for a Tampa stadium could be considerably worse without transit.  I mean, have you ever tried to take I-275 into Tampa via Malfunction Junction or the Howard Frankland at 6 p.m.?

Duemig also brought up one of my favorite misunderstandings of the Stadium great it would be to put the Tropicana Field land back on the city & county tax rolls.

To which, I always respond with, "if the land in St. Pete would be more valuable as something other than baseball, wouldn't the same go for land in Tampa?"

Other times progress on the Stadium Saga was "near" or "imminent":
September 2014 | August 2013July 2013 | July 2012June 2010

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

20 is the new 40

This blog has covered in-depth Bud Selig's lasting legacies of stadium subsidy-chasing and competitive imbalance.  But the other sad reality of his tenure as MLB commissioner has been the reduction of perceived lifespan of a stadium.

For a long time, stadiums were considered investments that would pay dividends for 40 or more years.  That includes buildings such as Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, and Dodger Stadium.  Like a skyscraper, the facilities were simply built to last.

But the pressure on cities to "keep up with the Joneses" has slashed the perceived lifespan of a stadium in half, often eliminating the net benefits to the communities that spend huge amounts of money to build them.

And the attitude has spread across numerous leagues:
  • The Atlanta Falcons were told by the NFL their 18-year-old stadium was inadequate, so Georgia is forking over more than $500 million to build them a new home;
  • The Atlanta Braves will leave their once-"unrivaled" stadium in 2017, after just 19 years of baseball;
  • The Washington Redskins are lamenting their 17-year-old stadium and seeking a new future home;
  • The Miami Heat, owned by one of the world's richest men, Micky Arison, insisted in 2013 - in the middle of LeBron mania - that they needed new subsidies for their 13-year-old facility, which replaced a 12-year-old facility;
  • The Columbus Crew asked for a new soccer-only stadium to replace their 14-year-old soccer-only stadium;
  • The Tampa Bay Rays were already asking for upgrades 25 days after signing a deal to move into what is now Tropicana Field...and of course, haven't stopped since;
  • And of course, spring training ballparks need to be replaced or seriously upgraded every decade, or else players may not be able to properly prepare for the season!
Smart people recognize how silly this is.  But sometimes you have to wonder how many smart people there are in the Florida legislature.

This past spring, not only did the legislature carve out more money for stadium subsidies in Florida, but they also made it easier for teams to leave long-term leases early by reducing the damages they'd have to pay.

New stadiums are more state-of-the-art than ever...which makes it all-the-more ironic that society feels the need to replace the half-billion-dollar buildings every 20 years.

Times: Deal Between Rays & St. Pete is Imminent

An update from the Tampa Bay Times today on St. Petersburg's stadium negotiations with the Rays:
Kriseman "would like to get it done within the next month but definitely before Christmas'' so he can bring it to the City Council for approval, Council Chairman Bill Dudley said last week.
This in and of itself is nothing new, but Charlie Frago and Stephen Nohlgren provide some nice behind-the-scenes details at what's being ironed out.

No surprise, the penalty the team would pay for leaving remains a major sticking point, as it did throughout Bill Foster's tenure as mayor:
[L]ast summer, Foster and the Rays came close to a deal based on a different compensation scheme. There would be no up-front fee just to go look — but the final buyout price would be arranged in advance.

Foster reportedly was asking about $5 million for each season lost, and the Rays were reportedly offering around $2 million to $3 million.
The big challenge for Kriseman and city attorneys is how to let the Rays look in Tampa while still protecting the city's ironclad contract.  If the city wouldn't suffer "incalculable" damages anymore with a Rays move to Tampa, why would they have any claim of "incalculable" damages in a move to another state?

The Times adds Kriseman may once again face resistance from St. Pete's city council, just as a proposed Rays amendment did in 2012:
Council member Amy Foster said her constituents are frustrated by the long, secretive negotiations. "A lot of people feel like these negotiations should take place in the sunshine," she said.
Then, there's the issue of how to pay for a $500 million stadium, the land under it, and any damages to St. Pete.  But why worry about that stuff until there's another city offering a subsidy package we can compete against?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Is Anyone in Tampa Bay Ready to Address Elephant In the Room - How to Pay for a New Rays Stadium?

I've long-contended the Rays' Stadium Saga has not focused enough attention on how to pay for a new ballpark. It's more evident than ever this morning, as Jerome Stockfish of the Tampa Tribune wrote about the $3M/yr in state stadium subsidies that might one day be available for a new Rays stadium (although MLB is currently not eligible for new funds).

The Rays already tap into the fund to the tune of $2M/yr, so these are not newly-discovered funds. They are also not nearly enough to pay for a stadium, despite what the article's headline suggests.

Furthermore, the article suggests the money would be available for the next 30 years, totaling $90 million.  But the way financing work, this revenue might only bond $30-$36 million in present-day construction costs.

The money sure would help, but we are still a LONG way from figuring out how to pay for a new Rays stadium.

$36M from the state, plus $150M from either Pinellas or Tampa taxes, plus maybe $200M from the team still leaves you $100M short of an inexpensive fixed-roof stadium.

If St Pete has to be compensated for early contract termination, as Hillsborough and Tampa leaders have suggested, the gap gets even bigger. 

So how do you close that gap if nobody will talk about it?  It's pretty clear the Rays are hoping someone else figures that problem out for them. Or else, Boogeyman.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Times Suggests Amending Rays' Ironclad Contract Because Team Could Use a Pick-Me-Up

I had just asked the administration in St. Pete last week if any documents or notes had been drafted yet on the stadium negotiations, for in Florida, they would be public record.  I was told they are not.

That means that Mayor Rick Kriseman is being extremely careful (understandably) to avoid creating public records, and/or he isn't as close to amending the Rays' stadium contract as many would believe.

Maybe that's why the Tampa Bay Times just cranked out another "Time to break Rays stadium stalemate" editorial {link to Times' site}.  The board contends allowing team's ability to search for stadium sites in Hillsborough County would reverse the trend of negative news this offseason:
Kriseman recognizes that it is not in the best interest of city and county taxpayers to cling to the status quo. Every week that passes without a deal is a week that ticks off the Tropicana Field lease and weakens the city's hand.
(Every week that passes is also an extra week of the region enjoying the team's benefits without forking over extra dollars.  Should we replace Raymond James Stadium now too under the same logic?   I digress...)
The Rays are not going to be playing in the outdated Trop when their lease expires in 2027, and there will come a point when the team could calculate it makes more financial sense to break the lease than keep drawing small crowds and waiting for a new stadium.
When Kriseman campaigned, he indicated he'd get a deal done quickly.  But as I wrote at the time, he was about to learn how difficult protecting the city's interests would be...and how the newspaper would eventually turn on him

It's now been 11 months...and the Times is losing patience.
The Oakland A's recently signed a stadium lease extension, moving the Rays to the top of the short list of teams with stadium issues.
Fearmongering.  The A's can still opt out of their "new" lease in 2017.  The Rays' use agreement runs through 2027.  There was little done to satisfy MLB's demands for a new ballpark in California, and there was little done to make the Rays' situation any more pressing than it was a year ago.
The real pressure to break the stadium impasse is from external forces in Tampa Bay. In Pinellas County, other interests are eyeing the resort tax money that will become available when Tropicana Field bonds are paid off next year. That revenue stream would be needed to help pay for any new stadium in Pinellas. In Hillsborough County, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is moving forward with his downtown Tampa development plans and shows no interest in making room for a baseball stadium. Potential revenue streams that could pay for a new stadium in Hillsborough also are being looked at for other uses. Tampa Bay development is moving forward as the stadium issue stands still, and options will be foreclosed by inaction.
The editorial board is right on revenue streams potentially drying up.  But in the 2020s, new revenue streams - both public and from MLB - will open up.  So the situation may not be quite as dire as described.

Instead of pushing Mayor Kriseman to give in to the team's demands, maybe the paper should go back to advocating the Rays demonstrate a financial need for assistance first?

A brief history of Times editorials on the Stadium Saga:
The history goes further back than that, but for a good synopsis, watch my 2010 piece on newspapers cheerleading for new stadium projects.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Political Aspirations May Mute Buckhorn's Stadium Support

The great hope for Florida Democrats in 2018 - a Bob Buckhorn gubernatorial run - may be the worst possible thing for Rays fans hoping for a Tampa stadium.

Both Tampa Bay newspapers had stories this morning about the future possibilities for Tampa's mayor, and as William March reports, Buckhorn is one of Florida Democrats' few promising stars:
“You're going to see that bench emerge out of the mayors that have served as CEOs,” he said in an interview later. “That would give us a far more competitive field, more focused on results and with a track record.”

Right now, Buckhorn said, he doesn't know whether he'll be interested in the 2018 race.

“I am absolutely focused on my re-election this spring and finishing the progress we've made,” he said. “If I don't do my job I have no future.”
That means many of the mayor's decisions from now on (and arguably leading up to this point) are to put him in position to run for statewide office. 

I wrote in 2013: "Buckhorn's bright political future may prevent him from ever diving head-first into the Rays stadium issue - it's very risky territory for a politician."

We can expect Buckhorn to cheerlead a new stadium effort in Tampa, but I'd be surprised to see him support a plan that requires substantial local tax dollars.  Tens of millions in stadium subsidies could translate to tens of millions in attack ads in 2018 hammering him as a tax-and-spender.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

REPORT: Sternberg, Rays Met with Montreal

I know nothing of the credibility of Montreal newspaper La Presse, but they have a story out today claiming the Rays did, indeed, meet with Montreal businessmen twice last spring.

The following is directly copied from Google's French-to-English translator:
A first meeting was held in New York with the Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg, according to our information . A second meeting was also held last spring with senior management Rays to present the study commissioned by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal on the sustainability of the return of major league baseball in Montreal. Montreal business people have also been in contact with a dozen teams in baseball, with the aim to explain the seriousness of their approach and their study.

According to our information , the Rays were clear in their trade with Montreal representatives: they want to do everything possible to ensure the future of the team in the long run in the Tampa Bay area . In this regard, two issues will be crucial over the next two years negotiating a future contract with the local TV ( the current contract ends after the season 2016) and the construction of a new stadium, preferably near the center -town Tampa Bay. The Rays did not intend to seriously look at another option without having tried everything in both cases.
According to La Presse has learned, the group of a dozen business people in Montreal, headed by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, would have no difficulty in finding short-term investors who inject up to 200 million to become minority shareholders of a team ( ex .: 33 % share of an estimated 600 million team). According to this formula favored by the group, a current owner would move the team and remain the majority shareholder. Montreal business people then would have a large but minority in the team. This scenario is related to the construction of a stadium in the city center to be financed mainly by public funds (the study of Ernst & Young evoked 66% of public funds and 33% of fund owners of the team).

The dozen business people interested in the Montreal Expos return favors the scenario where a small number of them (between two and four investors) would be common to about 200 million (ex.: three investors 75 million each for a total of 225 000 000 ) . They immediately want to drop a too complex shareholding structure as that of the former Partnership Expos . Some members of the group are open to the idea of ​​creating a second group of local shareholders who hold only a small share in the ownership of the team. But it would be the first group of local shareholders that invest substantially all of the amount required and who would play the role of the local minority shareholder.

In the scenario of an expansion or full redemption of a team, the group of people of Montreal business is less optimistic can raise the necessary funds (between 500 and 650 million , according to various estimates), at least for the moment.

Over the coming months, overseen by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal group will update the study of the accounting firm Ernst & Young on the sustainability of the return of a team of major baseball in Montreal . The aim is to update the study in time for the two preseason games that will play the Toronto Blue Jays at Olympic Stadium in Montreal at the end of March. The announcement of the two games Toronto Cincinnati will be confirmed today during a press conference at the Bell Centre .

Last December, the Ernst & Young study concluded that the project valued at 1.025 billion (525 million for the purchase of a team, $500 million for a stadium downtown ) was profitable provided that public funds finance two thirds of the construction of the stage ( 335 000 000 500 ). However, the data on which the study is based are more than one year. Some things have changed since then, including the value of local TV rights, which continue to be renegotiated upwards in several cities in baseball.
Interesting read, but it seems to indicate there is $200 million available to buy a minority share of the team. That does NOT mean there is any money available for a stadium.

Stay tuned.

Joe Maddon Gives Trop One Final Jab

I had written that Joe Maddon, certainly no fan of Tropicana Field, would have likely left the Rays (or any other medium-market team) regardless of the Stadium Saga.  He more or less confirmed that {link to Times' site}, as Marc Topkin writes he told reporters yesterday in Chicago "it was time to move on":
Would you have stayed if the Rays had solved the stadium issue and had better resources?

"That's always been a big problem there, and I'm hoping they do rectify it and get it moving forward. You saw the group we've had over the past several years and a lot of guys had to peel off at different moments before it was their time to peel off. We just couldn't sustain it. I think the most pressing issue there would be to get a new ballpark. And once they do that, because they're so good at player development and scouting and things like that. and once you get the guys in the system that are very good at bringing out the best in the player, a lot of it is based on information that they generate from upstairs.

"Truly, a new ballpark in a more accessible area could really benefit with that group. They're great guys. You're never hear me say anything bad about that group. They were great to me and my family. I'm going to miss them. But it was time to move on."
A look back at Maddon's love/hate relationship with Tropicana Field:

Monday, November 3, 2014

Requests for State Stadium Subsidies Come Pouring In

Florida's rich history includes orange juice, hurricanes, and handing over barrels of money to rich sports teams and leagues.  But now, with a new law requiring proposed recipients to prove their need and worthiness, will that slow the spigot of public cash subsidizing private businesses?

Doesn't look like, according to a story I saw on
The Miami Dolphins, Orlando City MLS, Daytona International Speedway, and the Jacksonville Jaguars have submitted a combined $9 million in requests for tax incentives, more than what the state has to spend.

South Florida lobbyist Ron Book said the Dolphins application was deemed complete on Friday and that the team is seeking $3 million in the current fiscal year.

Gray Robinson shareholder Chris Carmody called the City of Orlando’s response to the application “voluminous.” It is seeking $2 million for the next 30 years or a $60 million incentive. The Orlando City Soccer club begins playing in 2015.

Daytona International Speedway applied for $3 million and the Jacksonville Jaguars had applied for $1 million.

Applications were due to the Department of Economic Opportunity on November 1, a Saturday. The department has 60 days to review the applications and must, by February 1, give a list to the Legislature identifying which projects deserve the funding and in what order. There is no requirement for the Legislature to abide by the department’s recommendations.
Will the new - and supposedly improved - program be anything more than a rubber stamp?

Will the process limit the state's eight-figure annual stadium subsidies to the projects that truly need and deserve it?

And will outside influences lead the DEO and/or legislature to hand over millions anyway?

Insight on all of those questions could be gleamed from what the Jaguars did late last week, when they hired one of the state's top lobbyists, Brian Ballard.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Rowdies' Year-End Attendance Numbers Unimpressive

The Rowdies wrapped up their 2014 campaign last night in front of an announced crowd of 6,377.  It brought their fall average, according to the Doherty Soccer blog, up to 4,301.  The team's spring earlier in the year was 4,998.

All-told, the team's 4,550 average for 2014 marks a modest improvement of about 500 fans per game from 2013.  But its far off the pace suggested by owner Bill Edwards when he took control of the team last year.

This blog has documented Edwards' push for stadium improvements in St. Pete and his goal to one day land - and fill - a 18,000-to-20,000 seat stadium.  He suggested the team could draw 7,000 per game this year.

Lingering stadium issues haven't helped Edwards' efforts, so we'll keep an eye on future years to see if St. Pete's most prominent businessman can turn this project around like he has so many others.

ALSO READ: How the Rowdies' Stadium Saga will go down

Columnist: MLB Should Just Pay its Way Out of Rays Stadium Stalemate

Howard Megdal, writing for USA TODAY, offers up two ways for MLB to "solve" the Tampa Bay Stadium Saga "problem":
One is a league-sponsored initiative to build a stadium, centrally, in Tampa/St.Pete. The other is to pay enough money to get the Rays out of their lease and move them to Montreal. Both methods should manage to invest properly in making one of the franchises less dependent on revenue sharing for survival. It's good business practice and good for the overall perception of the game.
The flaw in this logic, however, is that neither of these options are in MLB's best financial interests.  Spending $100M+ to relocate the Rays and reduce their profit sharing by a few million a year makes zero sense.

And spending $400M on a new stadium makes even less sense.  Remember, stadiums are only profitable if you get someone else to pay the bulk of them.

There is no doubt a price that would get the Rays out of their contract with St. Pete...but since the goal is apparently to help the Rays generate more profits, compensating the city doesn't really seem to have ever been on the table.
Disclosure: USA TODAY is owned by the same company, Gannett, that owns my station

Op-Ed: Rays' TV Money Will Blow New Stadium Money Away

I love seeing things like this printed in the paper:
A new ballpark, whether in St. Petersburg or Tampa, likely would bring in more revenue, but that might be offset if Rays ownership has to pick up a large portion of construction costs and service the debt that would go with it.
It came courtesy of Tampa Tribune guest columnist Joe Brown, who has always had a firm grasp on the Stadium Saga.  He's right - stadiums generally don't make sense unless you can get someone else to build it for you.

Brown adds:
For the longest time, the talk about the Rays financial problems have revolved around Tropicana Field.

In the age of regional cable networks shelling out billions of dollars to some teams, however, The Trop is a secondary issue to the Rays TV deal with SunSports. Forbes magazine estimates that with the new, richer deals signed by many teams, local television revenue could exceed $1.5 billion in 2015. In this day and age, it’s not butts in seats that matter most; it’s eyeballs on screens.

That’s why the Los Angeles Dodgers, playing in the second oldest park in the National League, had baseball’s highest payroll after the team signed a 25-year deal with Time Warner Cable that will pay an estimated $6 billion.

The Rays’ current cable deal, which runs through the 2016 season, pays the team $20 million a year, which looked good when signed but is paltry compared with some of the recent deals other clubs have inked.
The Trop may be considered a burden by Bud Selig and others, but in the short term that’s the least of the Rays’ handicaps.
It was 2010 when I first wrote of the Rays' impending windfall of TV cash that would help close the revenue deficit the team and league love to hint at.  But for as much as I loved seeing it detailed in the pages of the Trib, it sadly won't get nearly the eyeballs Nick Cafardo's latest boogeyman column will get in the pages of the Boston Globe.

Cafardo Suggests Rays Should Consider Relocating to Montreal

Boston Globe scribe Nick Cafardo, who is well-tied to both the Montreal and MLB communities, has long driven much of the Rays-to-Montreal hype.  Today, he adds more fuel to the fire:
When you think about it, such a move makes a lot of sense. The Montreal business climate is a lot different than it was when the Expos were there. The Montreal Baseball Project will meet with Major League Baseball soon to discuss a financial plan for a team and a new downtown stadium.

If Sternberg isn’t interested, he should be, though it appears in the next few weeks there might be optimism associated with the Rays at least being able to discuss a new stadium in Tampa, though who knows if even that would help.
With a new stadium, the Rays at least would tap into a corporate base where tickets would be eaten up by big companies, which would at least improve the sale of high-priced seats and suites. Maybe that would work, maybe it wouldn’t.
Montreal will host exhibition games before the start of the season for the second straight year to show the strength of its potential fan base. The Blue Jays and Reds will play after a Blue Jays-Red Sox possibility fell through. Last season for Blue Jays-Mets, Montreal drew more than 96,000 fans for two games at Olympic Stadium.
First of all, Cafardo probably overestimates to corporate base of Downtown Tampa, which would be stressed pretty thin if the Rays were introduced to a landscape that already features the Lightning and Bucs.  It's that very reason, I believe, that Jeff Vinik doesn't want baseball anywhere near his hockey team.

But it's also silly for Cafardo to suggest 96,000 fans for two games translates to regular-season sales.  I have no doubt Montreal would sell a ton of tickets to its initial season, as the Rays and Marlins did too.  However, the long-term stability in Montreal may not be any better than Tampa Bay's unless someone coughs up a half-billion dollars for a new stadium.