Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Three Things the Rays' Stadium Saga Needs in 2015

This post could be alternatively titled, "(Brian) Auld Lang Syne: Should Rays' Old Acquaintances Be Forgotten?" But it just didn't make quite enough sense.

But the point is, without the ability to hit rewind on an uncomfortable month in the Stadium Saga, we can focus on hitting "reset" in 2015. Time to put aside hard feelings between the Rays and St. Pete (and any frustrated fans)...and focus on three needs that will define progress in the stalemate:

1) A True Regional Approach Toward the Rays

On one hand, it's encouraging Tampa politicians have never criticized their counterparts across the bay. They've never made Bill Foster, Rick Kriseman, city council, or anyone else the "bad guy" - in fact, they've basically supported every decision those leaders have made.

But on the other hand, why plan a Hillsborough County site-search team instead of a search team that spans multiple counties? As much as people say Tampa Bay is past its "parochial rivalries" that have created decades worth of divides on issues like the airport, the Bucs, and the Rays...the region is not past these rivalries. We see it in social media, we see it in politics, and we see it on issues of ballpark financing.
UPDATE: We just saw it in a Letter to the Editor too!

Bring up the most logical way to fund a stadium - a multi-county tax - and elected leaders in both Hillsborough and Pinellas immediately shut down the idea. "Help pay for a stadium in that other county? No way," they say. Yet the multi-county tax is the mechanism that made "successful" stadiums in Denver and Milwaukee possible.

We need to remember anytime Tampa and St. Pete "compete," both sides lose.   It would be best to have the difficult conversations about where to build - and how to fund - a next-generation Rays stadium as a region.  Oh, and while we're at it, maybe figure out how to incorporate transit improvements too.

2) Transparency From the Rays Regarding Money

Watch my exchange with Rays' President Brian Auld here - he promises transparency on stadium financials...but provides no further details.

In fact, the Rays have repeatedly failed to answer questions about how much they will put forward for a new stadium; how many tax dollars they expect to go toward the project; and how much revenue a new stadium would actually mean for them.

In numerous exchanges over the years, Stu Sternberg has repeatedly declined to even offer a "ballpark" figure on any of these questions.

We can debate all day whether the Rays should open their books if they expect public financing. But what should be a no-brainer is having an open, honest conversation about how much a new ballpark will cost our local municipalities...and if we think that price is right.

This discussion should happen sooner rather than later, and the Rays should start talking rough numbers of what they'll spend and what they want in subsidies. Also, what impact would these new revenues have on the team's payroll? 

Claiming ignorance on these issues is not being transparent.

3) Less Heavy-Handedness from Editorial Boards and Sports Talk Hosts

As soon as St. Pete's council rejected the Rays' recent ultimatum, the Times' editorial board tore them a new one, criticizing them as "minor league" for not caving to the team's demands.  The Trib's criticisms came the next day.  But I wrote how these criticisms were inappropriate...and lots of prominent writers around town seemed to agree with me for once.

It wasn't the first time the Times' editorial board trashed anyone who dare stand in the way of the Rays' march to a new stadium...but the "at all cost" attitude is counterproductive.  Why not advocate smarter questions and solutions instead of caving to the demands of a wealthy business?

Of course, Tampa Bay's sports talk hosts buy into the fearmongering too.  "The sky is falling" and the Rays are moving, they contend.  You'd think they had never covered a team's relocation threats before.

But fearmongering isn't good.  It leads to political pressure, which often leads to politicians making decisions that are not in the public's best interests.

No, stadiums do not have to generate profit for a city - they're loss-leaders, intended as a community investment.  It's just that sometimes, the investment is so great it's not worth it.  Few politicians have ever publicly stated this because...fearmongering, which leads to political pressure, which can lead to bad decisions.

This region doesn't need more fearmongering - it needs more good questions and answers.  Why squelch questions about stadium financing and public subsidies and taxpayer protection?  That doesn't do anyone any good, including Rays fans hoping for a peaceful compromise.

MLB's threats aren't nearly as dangerous as those from the newspapers.  Let's just hope we see fewer of both in 2015.

Happy New Year everyone - for the best updates on the Stadium Saga in 2015, I encourage you to follow Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook or it's updates on Twitter.


  1. You missed the most important point: Manfred's point of view on the situation.

    We will probably have his thoughts on the Saga when he will be in Montreal April 3-4, 2015. Can't wait for those pre-season games!

  2. I don't anticipate Manfred's point of view changing anything. He's likely to just sit back and wait for Montreal or Tampa Bay to get their act together, and which ever one does it first gets the team. Sure he'll rattle the saber, but its a matter of Montreal lining up a potential ownership in part and/or whole, and getting some sort of commitment to publicly contributing funds to a new stadium. They don't even need to talk to the Rays to do this. They can/will work behind the scenes through MLB under the pretext of getting an expansion team. Montreal is certainly going in the right direction, but it will take some time.

    Tampa would have a leg up, if St. Pete weren't holding onto their agreement like grim death. It helps in the short term, medium term, but in 3 years time Montreal could be significantly further along in their quest for a new stadium and team. Does anyone see the status quo in 2020? St. Pete holding on tight, and the Rays merely waiting until 2027 to move on?

    1. This is what I was commenting in previous posts. After 6-7 years of stadium stalemate, what's another 3? For me, it's easy to see no stadium solution in Tampa in 3 years time. It's also reasonable to see Montreal have 90,000+ in attendance for just 2 days/year over the next 3 years. With this, the already mentioned Montreal investors would be more likely to put in more money.

      These are all assumptions, I'll give you that. But they are in NO WAY far-fetched.

      In terms of public money for a stadium, why would Tampa be more likely to produce this money than Montreal? In my opinion, the 2 cities are even in this regard. The Loria/Marlins Park fiasco may even put Tampa at a disadvantage as Floridians would be more reluctant.

      PS, I am not the same person as the first Anonymous post

    2. Averaging 45,000 per game for two games is not much of an indicator. Recall that the brand new Tampa Bay Devil Rays averaged over 30,000 for 81 games in 1998.

    3. I agree with the 2nd anon post. I don't think Montreal is far fetched. I'm considerably more skeptical of any progress in Tampa Bay over a 3 year span. I also agree that every Florida city might be at a disadvantage in appetite for public spending toward a stadium. Quebec just built an NHL arena for a team that doesn't exist entirely with public funds. Now hockey and baseball are different animals in Quebec, but a few well attended Montreal exhibitions will get the entire region thinking of the early 80's good ole days. Which will bring investors and will bring an appetite for partially funding a stadium. I think this is less far-fetched than, St. Pete getting out of the way of a stadium search in Tampa and the region coming together to contribute to a new stadium.

    4. And look at Denis Coderre (Mayor of Montreal) picture celebrating the new year.

      Not a Habs tuque, an Expos tuque! 2015 will be a great year for baseball fans in Montreal. ;)

    5. While Coderre is celebrating the Expos and the beginning of an exciting year coming, Kriseman is playing down his plan for the next year:

      The mayor said his focus next year will be on economic development in St. Petersburg's challenged south side.

      "We need to have more restaurant choices, and grocery store choices, and retail choices for the people that live in south St. Pete," Kriseman said. "I want a commitment from a business that they are going to locate in south St. Pete."

      What else need to be said?

  3. Regarding point 3 - "Less Heavy-Handedness from Editorial Boards and Sports Talk Hosts"...
    We should all keep in mind that the Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times receive advertising dollars from the Rays, which of course go away if the team goes away, as would possibly Sports Talk Hosts jobs.