Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How Hard Will Rays Work to Replace St. Pete Councilmembers?

The Tampa Bay Times dislikes St. Pete city councilmembers.  At least half of them.

In an editorial essentially calling for councilman Steve Kornell's job (two other critics of the proposed Rays' deal are term-limited this fall), the Times' editorial board said it's time for St. Pete residents to replace obstructionist councilmembers.

I wrote that replacing elected officials was one of the three options available to the Rays if they were anxious to break the stalemate.

Except not sure I agree with the Times' claim that "the stalemate only harms St. Petersburg taxpayers" since holding out for the Rays to offer a better deal may actually net St. Pete significantly more revenue.  It's just like choosing not to trade your star pitcher in spring training.  Sometimes it makes sense.

Of course, sometimes it's a mistake too.  Nobody knows right now.  But it won't stop folks from pretending they do...

ALSO READ: Why We Need to Stop Cheerleading for Our Teams When it Comes to Business Issues

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

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Why We Need to Stop Cheerleading for Our Teams When it Comes to Business Issues

I've written before about the media's influence on the Stadium Saga, but I had to ask the following question after everyone acted so surprised this week that the St. Pete council decided not to vote on the most recent Rays proposal (which was old news to anyone who read this blog last week).
ALSO READ: Sternberg Knows Why St Pete Rejected His Latest Offer
ALSO READ: Three Ways the Rays Can Force the Issue with St. Pete
Contrary to what many readers here believe, this author is not asking you to give city council a free pass.  But if you believe the Rays are bargaining in good faith, you owe the same courtesy to the elected officials who don't profit a dime personally from these dealings.

Most of the city councilmembers who oppose the Rays' deal as it currently stands truly are trying to look out for their citizens.  That's their job.  And the media owes it to them to stop assuming they're the enemy...and that the Rays have one foot out the door.  The team owes Tampa Bay at least 13 more seasons of baseball, and not even a stadium in Montreal can change that right now.
This shouldn't be a Tampa Bay vs. St. Pete issue.  This should be a community discussion as to whether the region should spend hundreds of millions of dollars to keep this popular asset.

ALSO READ: Three Things the Stadium Saga Needs in 2015

MLB Commish Tells Montreal To Hurry Up With New Stadium So He Can Threaten Tampa Bay With It

Hot off the presses, the Associated Press reports MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred says Montreal needs a commitment for a new stadium if they want any chance of bringing baseball back.  An excerpt:
“The key thing in Montreal would be to have a plan for an adequate facility that could support baseball over the long haul,” he told The Canadian Press just a few days before Montreal hosts two exhibition games between the Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds at Olympic Stadium.

Manfred said the league prefers to make baseball work in existing markets, despite the troubles some cities have been facing, such as Tampa Bay and Oakland.

“But we have always been realistic,” he said. “At the end of the day, relocation to another market could be the only solution.”
Manfred said the league would need a strong commitment from Montreal for a new stadium before the league could seriously consider relocating a team or expanding there.
“I don’t expect people to go into the ground and build a facility without some sort of commitment that they are going to get a team,” he said. “But I do think that you need a plan, and a commitment to how that plan is going to be executed.”
While the Expos failed to draw 1 million spectators to Olympic Stadium in any of their final seven seasons, a total of 96,350 fans attended a pair of exhibition games there in March 2014 between the New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays.
One thing's for sure - the commissioner is learning important lessons about creating leverage.

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Why Tampa Bay Doesn't Flock to Rays Games (Reason #6750)

In case you missed it, NBCSports.com had a good little blog post on Florida's transient nature:
You wonder why the Marlins and the Rays don’t draw as well as they’d like to and why no one wants to give the Rays three quarters of a billion dollars for a new ballpark? This little nugget, from recent public opinion polls in the Sunshine State, may help explain it:
Florida’s MLB teams continue to lag in popularity even in their own home state. The 2 most popular baseball teams in Florida are the Braves (17%) and the Yankees (14%). They are then followed by the Marlins (12%) and the Rays (11%), The Red Sox at 8% and Cubs at 6% fill out the list of teams with substantial levels of fandom.
A huge portion of Florida is, culturally speaking, the deep south and the Braves have kind of taken over the deep south, baseball-wise, in the past 40-50 years. The other parts of the state are full of transplants and snowbirds, a huge number of whom come from the east coast and, obviously, the north. They’re not going to change their rooting stripes easily. It’s already a tall order or any expansion team to gain traction. Add that to all of the people who live there that aren’t from there, and it’s a doubly tall order.

But, of course, these things change over time. As Michael Lortz explored this in greater depth last year, there are more native Floridians now than there were 25 years ago and those numbers will increase. And people can and do change their baseball rooting habits over time, especially when they move.  It just may take a bit longer for the Florida teams than it did for expansion teams in areas with a greater native population.
This blog has always contended the Rays need to give the fan base time to mature.  In fact, Mayor Kriseman and Mayor Foster have both said this too.  But will the region be given the time it needs to grow more Rays fans...and will even that be enough to keep a franchise long-term?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Sternberg & the Rays Know Exactly How to Get St. Pete's Council On-Board with a Deal

No surprise, the St. Pete council won't yet vote on Mayor Kriseman's revised deal with the Rays.  But when councilmembers actually went on the record today indicating they'd be no vote...there was a new wave of disappointed headlines.

Stu Sternberg released a statement that read:
We appreciate the time and attention that Mayor Kriseman, Chairman Gerdes and the rest of the City Council have dedicated to this issue. We have spent many months working towards an agreement, so it is disappointing not to be able to move forward cooperatively with St. Petersburg. 
Disappointment, sure.  Surprise, no.  Sternberg and the Rays know exactly what it will take to get a deal done:
Are any of those three ideas worth it for the team?  I don't know.  But since they can't make plans to build a stadium in Montreal 13 years out, I'm guessing we'll have plenty of time to figure it out.

How Much of the Stadium Saga is Hillsborough's Fault?

In case you missed it, the Times' Tom Jones wrote an interesting piece contending the failure to fill the stands at Tropicana Field is a responsibility shared by residents of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.  A few of his insightful thoughts:
Maybe the stadium is in a bad spot. Maybe it should be in Tampa somewhere. But saying that leaves Hillsborough County fans off the hook.

Yeah, it's a pain for Hillsborough County residents to go to Tropicana Field. Know what else is a pain? For Pinellas County fans to go to Lightning games, especially because the Tampa suits can't figure out how to keep traffic moving during rush hour along Gandy Boulevard starting at the hump of the bridge. And the Howard Frankland Bridge on a weekday after work? Yeah, good luck with that.

On a weekday Lightning game night, leave downtown St. Petersburg at 5:30 p.m. and see how long it takes to pull into a parking space near Amalie Arena.

But Pinellas people do it. More Rays fans in Tampa need to do the same for Rays games. Make the effort until a Rays stadium is built in Hillsborough. And Pinellas fans, feel free to make the easy drive to the Trop. If you don't, Manfred won't be giving us the same yada-yada. He will be talking about a stadium in Montreal.
As someone who drives the Gandy Bridge home to Tampa each evening - I've griped a few times about what a Lightning game does to the evening rush hour:
Traffic is a part of being a big city.  But you're crazy if you think game-night traffic gets any better than it does around the Trop.  Give St. Pete credit for this - they built great highway infrastructure around the stadium that Downtown Tampa will never be able to match.

So while a Tampa stadium would likely increase attendance, Jones is right that the Trop's struggles are largely due to Hillsborough fans' unwillingness to travel 30-40 minutes for a baseball game.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Former Times Columnist Shelton Lands at Local Blogging Network

Former Tampa Bay Times sports columnist Gary Shelton has landed at Extensive Enterprises Media, according to the company's founder, Peter Schorsch.  The company is best-known for its flagship SaintPetersblog.com brand, but is also rapidly growing under other brands such as FloridaPolitics.com too.

According to a press release, Shelton will "provide unique insight on the intersection of sports and politics."

Wish I had trademarked that tagline a few years back!

“Having Gary join us is about more than an accomplished writer coming aboard," Schorsch continued. "This is about a longtime fan of Gary's -- me -- getting to work with someone I woke up and read almost every day. I could not be more excited."

Shelton, who spent nearly 25 years at the Times and was twice named the top sports columnist in the country by the APSE, will reportedly cover such issues as "the Tampa Bay Rays' stadium saga; the Florida Legislature’s debate over subsidizing sports stadiums; progress on new soccer teams in the state; referendums to attract sports teams to Florida communities; athlete involvement in political campaigns."

Those topics should all sound familiar to readers of this blog, but I welcome a bigger spotlight on the issues that need more good watchdogs.

Which reminds me, I should have also trademarked the Rays' "Stadium Saga" when I had a chance...

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Three Ways the Rays Can Force the Issue with St. Pete

No surprise, we have a new Times editorial advocating St. Pete's city council to pass Mayor Kriseman's latest deal with the Rays.

The board made some very reasonable arguments for why councilmembers should reverse their course and accept the latest deal, which would compensate the city about $2 million for each year they could shave off their contract that runs through 2027.

"Hurt feelings, large salaries for players and other side issues are not legitimate reasons to maintain a standoff that only hurts St. Petersburg," wrote the Times, contending the city could make far more money by redeveloping the Trop sooner rather than later.

There's something to be said for catching a wave of downtown development before the next downturn. There's also something to be said for an action that might help the region keep the Rays (as long as they don't use the deal to ultimately flee Tampa Bay).

But good points aside, the Times editorial board again failed to address perhaps the biggest issue here: that this is a business negotiation with the city dealing from a position of strength. (For what it's worth, the Trib's morning stadium editorial missed the issue too):

With 13 seasons left on the current contract, there is no immediate urgency for St. Pete to cut a deal it doesn't like.  The Rays are likely years away from being able to entertain 2028 stadium concepts, and if you believe that 81 baseball games a year are good for a community, St Pete in no rush to lose them.

So even though the Rays have made some recent negotiation concessions, it's still on the team - not St. Pete - to make this deal happen.

Here are three ways the Rays could win council approval:

1) Offer more money.  Why are the Rays offering just $2M/yr to St. Pete?  Why don't they offer a single penny for not fulfilling the contractual obligations of the 2027 season?  I'm pretty sure if Evan Longoria wanted to get out of his contract a year early, the team would expect a hefty sum in exchange.  But Mayor Kriseman's chief of staff, told the Times' Charlie Frago the city won't ask for any more money: "this is a really good deal. The mayor fought hard to get to this point."

2) Work with the mayor to cut old-fashioned political deals.  Every councilmember has some pet project they need city approval for. The Rays could work with the mayor to address some of the needs in exchange for votes.

3) Create a PAC and replace unfriendly council members.  This may be the most extreme option, and it may not foster much goodwill in the community...but if the Koch Brothers can do it, why can't an MLB team?  "No" votes Wengay Newton and Bill Dudley will be replaced this fall because of term limits, while "no" vote Steve Kornell must run for re-election.

NOTE: I'm not advocating any of these approaches; just laying out the facts...which any political insider has certainly already considered.

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.

Friday, March 27, 2015

St. Pete Releases New Deal with Rays (and a fancy infographic!)

St. Pete Mayor Kriseman sent a memo to city council Friday afternoon regarding his new and improved deal with the Rays.  {Read the MOU here}

Still needing council approval, Kriseman says this deal addresses the December concerns about redevelopment revenues.  And he adds, "failing to support the MOU will almost certainly assure that the team will likely leave St. Petersburg and the region.  It will mean that the City will have to wait at least 12 years to redevelop 85 acres."

But the sky isn't exactly falling...and the claims are a little bit contradictory. 

Either the city keeps the Rays for 12 more years...or the city gets to redevelop the Trop sooner.  Kriseman wants to indicate this is the very last chance to get something done, but as I pointed out after the last last chance, the Rays are a loooooong way from giving up.

Click below to read the entire memo:

The city, which had said no public records existed on the negotiations up until this point...even whipped out a fancy infographic today to try to sell the deal!

This is a better deal than the previous one.  The Rays made some necessary concessions.  And Kriseman made it clear he wanted a deal done by Opening Day (I wrote why it was a bad idea to set a deadline).  So a vote could come up next week...if the mayor can drum up five of eight council votes. 

However, the more likely scenario is the issue gets tabled for a while so Kriseman can continue to work behind-the-scenes to cut deals for the votes he needs.

Lesson No. 1 of Stadium Negotiations: Don't Set Deadlines for Yourself

I just can't get over the first line of Chris O'Donnell's story, "Deal to expand stadium search looking doubtful for Rays":
In what seems a last ditch effort to salvage a deal before opening day, Mayor Rick Kriseman will this week unveil a revised agreement to let the Tampa Bay Rays explore new stadium sites across Tampa Bay.
Kriseman wouldn't have to make a last-ditch effort before anything if he hadn't set a (second) arbitrary deadline of Opening Day in the first place. 

I've previously written how the mayor's self-imposed deadlines only serve to reduce his negotiating power with the Rays.  There's nothing to gain; deadlines could only make him - not the Rays -  look bad if they're missed.  In fact, it may have led to the unpopular deal the mayor couldn't get through city council in December (ahead of his first self-imposed deadline, Dec 31).

Now, a second missed deadline could further shift public opinion against the city/mayor and allow the Rays to gain more negotiating leverage without making any further concessions.

For Mayor Kriseman, setting an arbitrary deadline for a deal when you've got the upper hand on negotiations is like holding a vote on a future pier design without a plan of what to do if the voters don't choose your favori...wait, nevermind.

To the Rays' credit, it seems the team made a concession on the new deal; O'Donnell reports St. Pete will now get 100% of Trop redevelopment money instead of just 50%.  I'm guessing the team would still have to sign off on any new Trop development as long as they're still there...but wouldn't be a big issue if things are amicable.

ALSO READ: 3 Things the Rays' Stadium Saga Needs in 2015

Times' columnist John Romano advocated approval of the MOU, and the Times' Charlie Frago reported councilman Charlie Gerdes will work to persuade his fellow board members to approve it too.

But O'Donnell's informal poll of the eight councilmembers indicates there doesn't seem to be enough support to change the four firm "no" votes right now.
A quick check of the five council members who scuttled Kriseman’s original deal in December suggests Kriseman will still come up short, with only councilwoman Amy Foster saying she was close to changing her mind. Approval of the memorandum requires five votes among the eight-member council.
“I don’t have the feeling that it’s done and dead forever,” Foster said.
The four other council members – Steve Kornell, Bill Dudley, Jim Kennedy and Wengay Newton - said Wednesday they still oppose the deal.  
Recent reports that the Rays' value continues to soar makes it even less likely some councilmembers will be satisfied with the approx. $2/million "severance" offered by the Rays.
“Evan Longoria makes more than that,” Dudley said. “The city is worth no more than you pay a ball player? I find that hard to believe.”
Including interest on construction loans, taxpayers still have to pay another $58 million toward the stadium through a combination of city, county and state taxes.

By the time that debt is cleared, the final bill on the stadium will be $338 million, a figure that does not include millions more spent on upgrades and maintenance.
Kriseman can't afford another "no" vote from the eight-member council, so backing off the Opening Day promise may be in his best interests.

After all, the Rays may prefer to avoid stadium discussions during the season, but if Kriseman happened to work out a deal in May, the Rays would be happy to sit back down to the negotiating table, Bob Buckhorn's dinner table, the Seminoles' blackjack table...or just about any other table that might help them get out of Downtown St. Pete.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

MLB Commissioner Asks Local Governments to Help His Billion-Dollar Business; Admits Boogeyman Helps

The Tampa Bay Times' Marc Topkin reports from Port Charlotte that new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred called on "local government to provide assistance in resolving the situation."
"You have to conclude that the stadium issue is the key issue because the Rays have put a great product on the field consistently for a really long period of time,'' Manfred said during a visit to Rays camp this morning. "It's not a situation where you can blame a lack of support on the fact you don't have a good product. (Baseball operations president) Matt (Silverman), (principal owner) Stu (Sternberg), the whole Rays team has done a fantastic job in really difficult circumstances putting a competitive product on the field.''
"From our perspective it is very difficult to get a new stadium done without cooperation, help, assistance from local government,'' Manfred said. "We're hoping - we're hoping - that Stuart gets that kind of help so that they can get a facility that will keep the Rays and keep them competitive for the long term.''
Manfred says the Athletics and Rays stadium issues are  "1 and 1-A, they're a single entry in my mind.''
Actually, I give a lot of credit to Manfred for his transparency;  he admits Bud Selig's Boogeymen are quite the asset in threatening local governments into offering stadium subsidies:
Asked in general about the other viable markets seeking a team, Manfred said, "obviously having a market that wants baseball, that could support a team, provides leverage to a team that's trying to get something done somewhere.''

Romano Writes His Semi-Annual Column Urging St. Pete Council to Advance Stadium Discussion

Tampa Bay Times sports-turned-metro columnist John Romano writes today it's time for St. Pete's city council to approve Mayor Kriseman's latest pitch for a Rays deal, which reportedly addresses the redevelopment issues that lead to December's rejection:
It's in the city's best interest.

All these months later, those council members fail to see that. They're too hung up on today's details, and they're not considering the bigger picture for the city.

They cling to the stadium use agreement as if it is the only thing St. Petersburg has going for it. And, yes, it's a powerful document that should be given its due weight.

But any bureaucrat can enforce a contract. True vision and leadership requires looking beyond the facts to understand the ramifications.

And playing hardball with the team today makes it more likely that St. Petersburg suffers in the long run.
Romano has advocated for a deal for a long time - even when he admits the money the Rays are offering "stinks."

But for as much as everyone in the region wants St. Pete to stop playing hardball, we shouldn't forget the Rays are playing even harder.

Offering somewhere in the ballpark of $2 million/year to break its current contract is the equivalent of asking St. Pete to short sell a home with significant equity on it.  And if Forbes is to be believed, where the Rays lack in income, they make up for in mortgagable equity.

Romano continues:
Here are the two most likely scenarios that will come of the mayor's proposed deal with the Rays:

1. The team finds a stadium site in Tampa, and St. Pete can begin redeveloping 85 acres of prime real estate at the same time its downtown is taking off.

2. The Rays discover there is no room, nor funding for a stadium in Tampa, and they discover their best bet is building on the opposite end of the Trop land nearer downtown.
I've always maintained North St. Pete/Mid-Pinellas, closer to the Howard Frankland Bridge, may be the best bet...but I digress.
Demanding the Rays pay more under the memo of understanding is a losing bet. It only guarantees the team will wait out the end of the lease, which is bad news for St. Pete.
It can dare the Rays to find a better deal in Tampa. And if the Rays do, then St. Pete continues growing its downtown while still keeping MLB in the region.

It's a gamble without much downside.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Forbes: Rays' Value Skyrockets to $625 million

This should stick a fork in the "Rays need help" argument.

According to the latest Forbes valuations, the Tampa Bay Rays are now worth $625 million.  That's a whopping 29% more than last year's estimate and almost quadruple the team's value when Stu Sternberg assumed principal ownership in 2005. (The Yankees remain No. 1, also up nearly 30% to $3.2 billion)

The bad news is that the Forbes estimates the Rays are turning just $7.9 million in operating income, their second-lowest mark in a decade....despite a record $188 million in revenues overall.

Yet, the folks at Forbes are no dummies, and the high value of the Rays reflects big potential earnings down the road.  Which is why St. Pete councilmembers may feel slighted when the team is only willing to give approx. $2M/year to get out of its current contract.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why the NFL's Ban on Blackouts is Self-Serving

Acknowledging TV revenues are surpassing stadium revenues, the NFL has announced the suspension of its controversial blackout policy for 2015.

It was just three years ago the league lowered the threshold for a blackout from a 100% sellout to just an 85% sellout.  But it was no concession to the fans...it was for the betterment of the league's bottom-line because the threat of blackouts had lost its mojo.

So likewise, this year's suspension of the blackout policy isn't a concession to fans...it's an acknowledgement that the league doesn't need to threaten fans to buy tickets as long as they keep watching on television.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sternberg Does, In Fact, Get Why St Pete Rejected His Last Offering

Taking a look back at a Martin Fennelly column from this past week, he wrote how Rays' owner Stu Sternberg "doesn't like (his) potential villain role":
He added, “I still don’t quite understand where the opposition is necessarily coming from. The one thing that came out of the (city council) was the idea about our development rights, which was never our intention, and it obviously got a little bungled there that day, but we cleared that up right away. And yet, still, there’s always something else, something else. We don’t even know what it is that we can do differently, and it’s little bit dismaying.

“I just don’t exactly know why the council people feel it’s not in the best interest of the citizens of St. Petersburg to get the land back, develop the land, have a bunch of taxes coming in, create construction jobs, create long-term jobs, still have baseball in your midst and guarantee that baseball is going to be in your midst for multi-, multi-, multigenerations. I don’t get it.”
But Sternberg does get it - he gets that council's job is to protect the financial interests of its citizens.  And many on council don't feel they're getting enough in exchange for letting the team break the terms of the deal it signed.

It's just that Sternberg's job happens to directly conflict with council's: he needs to get the Rays out of their current contract - for as little as possible - so they can explore new stadium sites in Tampa (or elsewhere) without damaging the bottom line.

And that's why we've had eight years of stalemate in the Stadium Saga.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Times' Trigaux Lists "10 Tampa Bay Projects We Can't Afford to Screw Up"

Courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times.  Pay attention to these, Rays fans.  Trigaux's grades reflect progress so far:
1. Transportation that works. Our mass transit strategy — how shall I say this politely? — stinks. Hillsborough County's plan bombed a few years ago in a voter referendum, then Pinellas County tried its own version in 2014 with equally disastrous results. Now we seem to be passing this ill-planned dud back to Hillsborough, setting that county up to go 0 for 2.

Anybody who says this area can simply keep relying on more roads clearly does not drive enough around here at peak traffic times. Even if we do build more roads, the clear trend is toward more tolls. Either way, toll roads or mass transit, transportation is going to become more expensive.

But will it become more efficient? Could Tampa Bay actually deliver a regional solution to a regional transportation problem? So far, it's proved a sadly laughable process. Grade: D
2. A viable next home for the Tampa Bay Rays. The small-town pettiness that's infected the debate over the whereabouts of a future baseball stadium should make you wonder if we still really want a Major League Baseball franchise here. St. Petersburg's lasting tunnel vision still limits the Rays from looking broadly across the region for a potential site that might draw more than last-place attendance numbers. Tampa and Hillsborough sound macho enough when insisting they have the sports mojo and real estate the Rays seek. Then they cry pauper when talk turns to a modern-day stadium with a price tag of three quarters of a billion dollars or more by the time the Rays clear the legal quagmire of their Tropicana Field contract. Grade: C
10. Regional cooperation. The idea of "regionalism" often prompts a backlash from local communities who see threats to their self control. Yet more than half the projects on this list could be improved upon, if not solved, with greater regional cooperation of political will, economic ambition and, yes, money. The key is to understand when working at the regional level can really help (see Nos. 1, 2, 6, 7 and 9) and when it's not necessary. Tampa Bay claims it's becoming more regionally conscious. I see modest progress on the best of days and major backpedaling on the worst of days. But good grief — keep trying. Grade: C-

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sternberg Encourages St. Pete to Move Past Those Pesky, No-Tax-Payin' Baseball Tenants

An annual rite of spring, Rays' owner Stu Sternberg offered up some thoughts down in Port Charlotte today.
On the ongoing stadium issue:

“I’ve been very animate and clear that I want to find the pinpoint perfect spot in the Tampa Bay region. I still believe in the (Tampa Bay) area more so than people at (Major League) Baseball, more so probably than the national media. I believe in it and I want to make it work, but it has to be in the right spot.

“Those who follow the game and follow the way attendance goes at sporting events, we, more than any other market, need to be pinpoint perfect on where our next facility is going to be, whenever that happens.”

On if there is any new proposal to get out of the Tropicana Field contract with the city of St. Petersburg. (In December, city council rejected an plan that would have given the team three years to explore stadium sites in Hillsborough and Pinellas.)

“It could have happened. It went for a vote way back in December and much to my dismay nothing came of it. I understand we can’t just snap our fingers. But from the mayor’s (St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman) vantage point, he’s been in office for a little more than a year, true to his word he was willing to explore things toward the end of the season with us to try to hammer out an agreement. True to mine last year I wasn’t going to press on it until he got his legs under him.

“In two month’s time, we (Rays and Kriseman) are able to hammer out an agreement that I think is a bit unfair to us and a bit unfair to the city if people want to look at it that way. But certainly, at our level of where we can see to make this thing work and went before a (city council) vote in December and didn’t pass.

“So now I’d like to think the mayor has some work. Maybe there’s something else we can do. We have spent time speaking to most if not all of the people on the council. We remain open to having meetings with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week at any point in time. I still don’t quite understand where the opposition is coming from.

“The one thing that came out of the commission was the idea about our development rights, which was never the intention and obviously got a little bungled that day, but we cleared that up right away, and yet there’s always something else.

“We don’t even know what it is we can do differently. It’s a little bit of a dismay because the mayor is somebody who had a hell of a mandate coming in here to run this city and do things, and I think the mayor is looking out for the citizens of St. Petersburg, recognizing that having baseball in their mists, whether it’s in St. Petersburg, Pinellas or Tampa, is in the best interest in the citizens of St. Petersburg.

“I just don’t know exactly why the council people feel it’s not in the citizens of St. Petersburg’s best interest to get the land back, develop the land, have a bunch of taxes coming in, create construction jobs, create long-term jobs, still have baseball within their mists and guarantee that baseball is going to be here for multi-, multi-generations. I don’t get it.”
Interesting notion - if it's in St. Pete's best interest to develop land as something other than tax-free baseball land, why would it be in Tampa's best interests to do the opposite?  It's a question covered in this blog before.
On the perception that he is not being truthful about his motives to either stay in the area or move the team to another part of the country or Montreal:

“If I were a fan on the other side of it, there’s a tendency not to necessarily believe what the owner of the baseball team has to say. The walk that I walk has been what it is. I’m true to my word. I try to be as honest as I can about payroll going up, payroll going down, ‘Where do we stand in the future?’ This is not about trying to play people or anything.

“We tried to build a stadium seven years ago (in downtown St. Petersburg). We tried in earnest and it fell flatter than a flat pancake. The timing necessarily wasn’t right for whatever reason. There was some opposition. We’re still at it. We could take any of those other routes. We’re here to compete, we’re here to win, we’re here to have baseball grow in the region even though we’re last in attendance.

“It’s still a magical thing for me and my family and for the fans that follow us and the hundreds and hundreds of thousands who watch us on TV and listen to us on the radio... We have a very dedicated following, and that’s who we’re here to play for."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Pinellas Again Discusses Increasing Bed Tax for Stadium(s)

The Pinellas Tourist Development Council - in charge of the county's lucrative bed tax - spent the day debating whether there should be a cap on capital projects funded by tourists, according to the Times' Tony Marrero.

Those in favor of building a new Rays stadium and/or new spring training facilities oppose a cap;  but many hoteliers favor a cap to ensure the county's biggest tourist-draw, the beaches, money gets spread across the county's biggest tourism draw:
The council, of which (St. Pete Mayor Rick) Kriseman is a member, voted 7-4 to recommend to the Pinellas County Commission that spending on capital projects such sports stadiums account for no more than 40 percent of the revenue raised by the county's tourism tax. Kriseman wants a 50 percent cap to make more money available for projects such as renovating Al Lang Field and the recently-announced plan to build an 1,800-seat baseball stadium at Walter Fuller Field, both in St. Petersburg.
Wednesday's joint meeting with the County Commission was called after Kriseman and other community leaders raised concerns about a previous cap proposal. Comments from commissioners indicated there is still hope that Kriseman and allies such as Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski, who announced Wednesday that her city will ask for as much as $50 million in bed tax money for a new stadium and training facility for the Toronto Blue Jays, can convince four of seven commissioners to approve the higher cap.
But wait, there may be a way to keep everyone happy!  Except people visiting Pinellas hotels, of course:
The overall pot might grow even larger. At (Commissioner John) Morroni's suggestion, the tourist council agreed to consider approving a sixth center (sic) of bed tax that Pinellas is allowed by law to levy as a high-impact county that brings in at least $30 million in annual bed tax revenue.

Kriseman and others have said revenue from the sixth cent could be targeted for a new Rays stadium. After the meeting, Kriseman said the county should not raise the tax unless there's a specific need for it.

"Unless somebody tells me something that convinces me otherwise, I think we ought to put that sixth cent in our pocket," he said.

Rays Stick with Marketing Campaign that Sold 17,857 Tickets/Gm Last Year

"If it's a winner, why switch?" Tampa Bay Times business columnist Robert Trigaux rhetorically asks, in describing the Rays' recently-unveiled 2015 marketing campaign, which will once again feature the "Rays Up" mantra.

Trigaux reports how "Rays Up" seemed to resonate with fans in 2014; which, after another last-place attendance finish, begs the question of what would attendance have looked like with an unsuccessful marketing campaign?!?

Jokes aside, there's something to be said for sticking with a single campaign and reinforcing what you want fans to take away from it.  With all the other changes Rays fans will see on the field this year, at least the message from the front office will be familiar.

Among the tidbits revealed in Trigaux's piece:
• Watch for the Rays (sunshine) "burst" graphic that appears on player hats and shirts to gain an even higher profile. "It's kind of our Nike swoosh," says Brian Richeson, Rays vice president of sales and service. Also watch for more "Carolina blue" on Rays uniforms rather than the darker cobalt blue so commonly used by some other teams. And fans that purchase "flex pack" games (three, six or nine games, for example) receive their tickets on a Rays card, introduced in 2014, that this year will feature parking at the Trop at half price.

• More than two dozen promotional giveaways at games this year will range from a Rays cowboy hat (6/26) and fedora (8/8), to a Rays camo tank top (5/24), an intense looking Chris Archer bobblehead (4/25) and, for comic relief, a Longoria-styled rubber duck (4/19).

• Noting the 10-year anniversary of the Rays under owner Stu Sternberg, Fernandez and Rays Foundation head Suzanne Luecke want to leverage the "Rays up" message in the team's expanding community involvement, with projects ranging from Take Stock in Children education scholarships, Chris Archer's involvement in the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program and a Be Water Smart effort to help reduce child drownings, among other campaigns.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Also Making it Impossible to Enjoy a Game Under the Florida Sun: the Florida Sun

According to the CBC, Montreal's mayor met with St. Pete's Mayor Rick Kriseman this weekend while on his spring break in Florida.

"I told Denis Coderre not to touch my team," Kriseman was jokingly quoted in an otherwise-forgettable article that also dropped the "Devil Rays" name unintentionally.

My favorite passage, attempting to describe the team's problems with the Trop:
The roof isn't retractable, making it impossible to enjoy a game under the Florida sun.
Also making it impossible to enjoy a game under the Florida sun: the Florida sun.  Clearly the author hasn't spent much time here in the summer.

Monday, March 16, 2015

John Oliver Takes on March Madness, NCAA

John Oliver is killin' it over on HBO - not uncovering new investigations, but by shining a solar-sized spotlight on previous investigations that need more attention.

This week, it's the NCAA's unwillingness to pay college athletes:
(not suitable for blasting speakers while at work)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Decades Later, Still Hard Feelings From Trop Neighbors

My WTSP colleague Eric Glasser takes a deep look at much of the bitterness, resentment, and distrust that exists in Midtown St. Pete 30 years after the city used eminent domain to drop Tropicana Field into the middle of a historic minority community.

When the promised jobs and economic development failed to come, residents grew distrustful of the city...and now that we're talking about an economic boom downtown from the possible departure of the Rays, those residents (and their descendants) wonder where their share of the profits are:
Hundreds of people lost their homes and livelihood as the City used its power of eminent domain to make room for what would eventually be called Tropicana Field.

It would sure be nice, says Grayson, if they'd consider sharing some of the wealth it created with the decedents of the displaced.

"But you think they'd do that?" she laughs, "No."

"It was a whole community. We had stores, they had restaurants and all of that. It was just gone. They just took it," says Grayson. "It's over now. But I just wish you could've been different."
It's a good story - check out the short article and video here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Kriseman, Rays Team Up for Latest Agreement

Big announcement from St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman and Rays' President Brian Auld today...but it has nothing to do with where the Rays play, according to the Tampa Bay Times.  Although it did have something to do with Pinellas County's bed tax revenues, a potential source of Rays stadium funding:
Kriseman announced plans Wednesday to build an 1,800-seat stadium at the Walter Fuller baseball complex in western part of the city.

The facility would be renamed Walter Fuller Baseball Championship Field.

The mayor said at a noon news conference that the city would likely seek funding for the project from Pinellas County's convention and visitor's bureau or the county's Tourist Development Council. He did not provide a cost estimate or a timetable for construction.

The facility is part of a long-planned transition of baseball operations away from Al Lang Stadium in downtown, which has been transformed into a soccer stadium for the Tampa Bay Rowdies under an agreement with Rowdies owner Bill Edwards.

The Walter Fuller field would be used for the city's baseball programming, including its international baseball season featuring developmental players from Puerto Rico and Canada.

According to Kriseman and architectural renderings released Wednesday, the new Walter Fuller facility would have the feel of an intimate minor league ballpark. Plans appeared to call for a deck along the first base side of the park.

The mayor said the stadium would bring many people to a part of the city they wouldn't normally travel to.

On another baseball matter, Kriseman said he has been talking to City Council members and hopes to complete an agreement by Opening Day with the Tampa Bay Rays that would allow the team to look outside the city for a new stadium site.
A city press release added Walter Fuller would play home to nine international games this year, with Canadian and Puerto Rican teams playing minor-leaguers from the Tigers, Yankees, Orioles, Phillies, and Pirates.

Former mayor Bill Foster brought international baseball to Al Lang several years ago, but it never quite developed into the huge draw he had hoped.  Nevertheless, it's better than no spring baseball in St. Pete!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The "Murky" Economics of Spring Training...and How Florida Could Do it Better

This time of year, we don't just see a lot of "spring training is back" stories, but also a lot of "spring training means big bucks" stories.  Every reporter in Florida - including yours truly - has done them at some point.

But as this blog has covered before, reporters don't challenge outrageous economic impact claims enough...even though the claims seldom hold water.

Last year, I showed how Charlotte County's Rays Spring Training impact report wasn't worth the paper it was printed on, let alone the tens of thousands of dollars the county paid for it.

And the National Center for Business Journalism detailed how teams force cities to bend over backward to finance new stadiums without the benefit of clear direct economic benefits.

And Neil deMause wrote on FAIR.org how most reporters ignore warning signs and just repeat whatever claims are handed to them on a platter.

Sadly, in 2015, most news reporters just don't do a good job covering sports business stories.  Last week, one story on Tampa's FOX station reported the seven MLB teams that train in Florida (there are really 15) meant $753 million to Florida annually (calling BS on that study).  Then again, those numbers seem to have come from the governor's office, so take them with a grain of salt.

ALSO READ: If MLB Teams Had No Stadium Subsidies, Would They End Spring Training?

Shall we dissect more examples?

A 2013 Blue Jays spring training economic impact report - commissioned by the City of Dunedin, which is trying to get county funds to upgrade the Jays' facilities - claimed $80 million in annual economic impact. 

However, the report uses questionable methods to get to that number, including trying to take responsibility for the spending of 25,000 out-of-state visitors who acknowledged they were in Florida primarily for something other than baseball.

Then there was a 2009 Grapefruit League economic impact report, commissioned by the state, which wasn't all that bad, actually.  But it didn't mention anything about the "substitution effect" of spring training gobbling up the disposable income of Floridians who may have otherwise spent the money in other areas.  So $96 million of economic impact from Florida residents wasn't "new" economy from Spring Training, just expenditures transferred from other Florida industries such as movie theaters, beach restaurants, theme parks, etc.

Sommer Mathis writes in "Spring Training Stadiums Are a Bad Investment, And No One Cares" that "the economics of spring training are murky at best, and a truly bad bet at worst."  This isn't because anyone questions how out-of-state tourists are flocking to Florida for baseball...it's because Florida and Arizona have made so many concessions to MLB, the biggest benefits to taxpayers are negated by having to constantly put tens of millions into new stadium projects.

It's a complicated ROI argument, and nobody has a precise answer. Spring Training is a great thing for Florida...which makes it all-the-more frustrating when legislators pass new stadium subsidy laws that their own staffers indicate will have "an indeterminate negative fiscal impact” on spring training.  Gov. Scott signed that bill into law last year.

Friday, March 6, 2015

If MLB Teams Had No Stadium Subsidies, Would They End Spring Training?

If we stopped subsidizing spring training, would MLB teams stop training in Florida?

Doubt it. 

Yet for five years, Governor Scott has supported a subsidy arms race with Florida's only spring training competitor, Arizona.  It seems to be to great benefit to the "special interests" Scott has railed against.

Why not just sign a peace treaty and protect taxpayers, Governor?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Vinik Finally Gets Bed Tax Money for Arena Update

Four years after Lightning owner Jeff Vinik announced he'd pump $40 million into the Ice Palace - with or without help from the county bed tax - and millions more a year later, Hillsborough County approved a 50/50 split with Vinik on a new round of 2015 and 2016 upgrades, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Mike Salerno reports the $25 million renovation will include the arena's club level, restrooms, and concession stands:
Earlier on Wednesday, the Hillsborough County Commission approved a plan to reimburse Lightning owner Jeff Vinik $12.5 million of the cost of those upgrades after they’re completed.

“When the arena was designed and developed in the mid-1990’s a true club level was contemplated but never constructed,” Lightning President Steve Griggs said in a statement. “Our goal is to build a club level with proper amenities for our season ticket members and other guests wishing to sit in this area.”
In return for the community’s investment, Merrill said the Lightning agreed to extend their non-relocation agreement through May 31, 2021. If the team leaves before then, Vinick (sic) agreed to pay the county $5 million for operations and maintenance.
Other upgrades to the arena that won’t be as visible to fans include a modernizing of the locker rooms and spaces that performers and the media use, which haven’t been upgraded since the arena opened in 1996, the team said. There are also plans to install an internet protocol television system that will allow computerized menu boards at concessions and a master system for controlling the arena’s video monitors.
Flashback May 2012:

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"Sometimes Public Funding is Necessary" for Public Stadiums

Devout reader Scott Myers put this on my radar a few weeks back, but I'm only now catching up on it:  Former Cincinnati Mayor Jerry Springer and Keith Olbermann discussing public subsidies for stadiums.

Springer admitted "there's no economic reason" for a city to build a stadium, but "sometimes public funding is necessary" to build them because they are legit civic assets.

Olberman agreed, adding if building stadiums made economic sense, owners would just build stadiums themselves and keep the profits.  But alas, "that's what voters are for," he explained:

This weekend in the Tampa Tribune, columnist Joe Brown summed up Springer's post with, teams should stop "play(ing) the economic-development card," and focus on their real benefits to the community, a sense of identity:
When a team is winning, it’s hard for most local residents not to get swept up in the enthusiasm, as the championship runs of the Bucs, Rays and Lightning have shown. It’s something that can unite a community as few other things can.

Nobody in St. Petersburg is asking for an economic impact study for the city’s new pier. It will be built because it’s considered a part of its beautiful waterfront, something to enhance the quality of life here, just like a city park or a museum. The same applies to Tropicana Field.
“Generally communities say this is something they want even if it doesn’t make economic sense,” said (St. Pete Councilman Karl) Nurse on the funding of a new ballpark for the Rays.

True. So now the city council will have to decide what’s in the best interest of St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay area’s baseball fans.
“Are the Rays willing to accept the fact that they are located in a growing television market which, no matter where you put a stadium, is going to be inconvenient for a third or 40 percent of the region?” asked Nurse.
As they often say on TV, stay tuned.

St. Pete Council Talks Rays Again Thursday

THURSDAY UPDATE: Council moved right past the baseball discussions, saving their voices - and opinions - for another day.

After St. Petersburg's council voted to pitch the mayor on their plan for keeping the Rays, the following appears on tomorrow morning's council agenda:
(a) Resolution of the City Council of the City of St. Petersburg, Florida expressing its desire to keep St. Petersburg the home of the Tampa Bay Rays for decades to come.

(b) Resolution of the City Council of the City of St. Petersburg, Florida requesting
Administration to provide City Council with a proposed scope of work and cost to retain a consultant to determine the economic impact to the City of St. Petersburg from
  1. the Tampa Bay Rays remaining in St. Petersburg beyond the term of the use agreement,
  2. the Tampa Bay Rays relocating to Hillsborough County following the term of the use agreement or prior to the end of the term of the use agreement subject to City Council approval, and
  3. the Tampa Bay Rays relocating to a location outside the Tampa Bay region following the term of the use agreement or prior to the end of the term of the use agreement subject to City Council approval.
(c) Resolution of the City Council of the City of St. Petersburg, Florida requesting the Tourist Development Council to
  1. propose an amendment to the Tourist Development Plan to provide that an allocation of one percent of the five percent tourist tax revenues be available to finance the construction of a new stadium in St. Petersburg for the Tampa Bay Rays unless it is concluded that the Tampa Bay Rays will not build a new stadium in St. Petersburg, and
  2. recommend such proposed amendment to the Tourist Development Plan to the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners.
Don't expect too much from the Mayor on the new deal he apparently negotiated - he's only talking to council behind-the-scenes about it and I was told "no records exist" when I made a request to the city for a draft of the agreement.

According to a Times profile of Brian Auld, the Rays' president is also working - on a limited basis - behind-the-scenes with willing councilmembers.

But for now, as always, I'll be keeping an eye on the developments for you tomorrow: