Thursday, April 30, 2015

Why the Relocation of the Rays/Orioles Series May Hurt Both Team's Attendance Numbers

The Rays and Orioles will make the best of a bad situation this weekend by playing the O's three home games at Tropicana Field, a move necessitated by the unrest in Baltimore.

Fans can buy general admission tickets to the games in St. Pete for just $15, but with poor notice and so many other sporting events going on this week (Kentucky Derby, NFL Draft, Lightning Playoffs), I'm not sure any of the games will crack the 10,000 fan mark.

From what I understand, the games will count toward the Orioles' attendance numbers, which already dropped from 33,288 per game (9th in MLB) to 29,960 per game (15th in MLB) after their record-breaking fan-less matinee on Wednesday. 

But aside from the impending impact on the O's May numbers, the relocated series could also impact the Rays' official attendance over the next few months.

UPDATE: TBO's Roger Mooney reports the attendance will count toward the Rays' home average attendance numbers, which will certainly suffer from the short-notice relocation.
UPDATE 2: The Rays say player stats will count as Rays home stats, but Mooney was wrong on the attendance; the gate stats will - in fact - count as an Orioles home game.  You can see the numbers reflected in the most recent MLB attendance standings, where the Orioles slumped to 19th.

Because many individuals/families only attend a few Rays games each year, there's a good chance a game this weekend could be the only trip many fans make to The Trop for several more months.  That could limit the Rays' official attendance numbers even more.

Even if the Trop sold out this weekend, the Orioles get to keep profits from the gate (although I'm not sure about concessions, parking, etc).

Of course, these are just minor footnotes to a series relocation necessitated by unexpected national events.  But hey, at least St. Petersburg will get three bonus games to capture some of that MLB economic impact!

UPDATE 3: Mooney also reports the Orioles will have to stay in Tampa because of the short notice; Stu Sternberg said the team is happy to spread the love!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Are Fans Tiring of Stadium Saga? You Bet They Are!

We've seen a lot of talk lately about the Rays' poor start at the box office and the possibilities of Stadium Saga fatigue.  Well, prepare to see a lot more, because as I first wrote in 2010, declining attendance numbers are all but a forgone conclusion as the team's frustrating campaign for a new stadium drags on.

Just ask the Expos, whose attendance dropped to 4,000 fans many nights when MLB indicated it was done with the market.

At 18,000+ fans per night, the Rays are a long way from those Montreal lows.  And its ownership group has done less complaining about the stadium as it has done in previous years.

But what I wrote five years ago still rings true:
From my vantage point, it seems that the Rays have created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In continuing to point out problems with the Trop, the Rays (perhaps inadvertently) are building - and reinforcing - the stadium's negative image.

Why else would so many people dislike the Trop but have trouble explaining why? It's like politics. The more the issue is discussed on talk radio and on the evening news, the more people will believe it. Perception is reality.
And, in a separate post from 2009, I also predicted the team would "re-affirm its commitment to stay in the area, but it won't be shy about its need for a new park."  The post also included:
It will be right about that time a high-ranking team executive (Stuart Sternberg? Matthew Silverman? Stadium Czar Michael Kalt?) will take a trip to Charlotte.  Or Portland.  Or some other MLB-starved city.  A trip like that would normally go under-the-radar, but a well-placed call to someone like Peter Gammons or Rob Neyer will drop the tip that the Rays are exploring other communities.
By the way, great minds must think alike, since Gary Shelton wrote last week, "You know how it will work. Stu Sternberg will show up at an exhibition game in Montreal. There is no funny business, he’ll say. He just wanted to see a ballgame. Then a team official will be seen in Charlotte. Or Las Vegas. Or somewhere."

The Rays are continuing down the path they set out on in 2010 when Sternberg gave the region an ultimatum and essentially demanded St. Petersburg amend its contract.  He created a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the only real change in the Stadium Saga since then has been in the attendance numbers.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Rays First Pitch Count: Tampa Mayor 4, St. Pete Mayors 1

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn will throw out the Rays' first pitch Thursday night against the Red Sox...the fourth time he's been invited for the honor at the Trop in his four years in office.

For those of you keeping score at home, that's three more than the mayors of St. Pete have thrown in the past five years (Foster: 0; Kriseman: 1), even though the Trop is located in St. Pete.

Kriseman will probably add to his total later this year, but the news should be enough to reignite the Tampa "flirting" rumors and light up the sportstalk airwaves for a couple of days.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Why Pro Teams (in Other Cities Too) Need Your Money to Rip Out Seats

My last stadium report for WTSP, “Why pro teams need your money to rip out seats,” focused on how pro sports teams – including many in Florida – have sought tax dollars for renovation projects that drop stadium capacities. It’s often not in taxpayers’ best interests, but of course, elected leaders keep choosing to support the project anyway.

At least Floridians can take heart that it’s happening in other places too.

Field of Schemes reports how the Cleveland Indians have yanked out 7,000 seats thanks to tax subsidies…and the result is pretty ugly.

For what it’s worth, the Rays spent a few million of their own dollars last year to retrofit the Trop and remove a few thousand seats. It created the 360 concourse experience…which I wrote at the time, may increase alcohol sales enough on its own to justify the construction.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Pro Teams Want Your Tax Money So They Can Rip Out Seats (and Charge You More)

For all the talk by professional sports teams about drawing more fans to new ballparks, keeping their facilities "relevant," and "improving the fan experience," a comprehensive analysis by 10 Investigates reveals most new revenue from taxpayer-funded stadium construction projects comes not from increased attendance, but from increased ticket costs.

That means taxpayers are spending money on new sports facilities so team owners – often billionaires – can charge them more than ever before to attend the games. 

And even though taxpayers often foot the majority of stadium construction costs, the private teams and leagues keep most of the revenues, while often reducing the number of seats available. Fewer fans at a game can mean fewer jobs at the stadium as well as less economic impact in the areas surrounding the stadium.

In January, 10 Investigates showed how lawmakers keep opening state coffers wider and wider for professional sports teams and leagues, even though state economists suggest there’s little return on investment. Other findings included how pro teams often build or renovate their stadiums anyway, even when they don’t get “necessary” tax dollars, and how campaign contributions often go hand-in-hand with assistance from powerful politicians.

ALSO SEE: Gov. Rick Scott mum – again – on stadium spending

Even the applications from four pro organizations currently looking for tens of millions of dollars in tax money indicate questionable return on investment to Floridians.
The Miami Dolphins, seeking $90 million from state taxpayers over the next 30 years, acknowledge they draw fans from all over the world to major events like the Super Bowl, BCS Championship, and Orange Bowl. But they’re seeking the money as part of a renovation project that would remove 10,000 seats.

Their application indicates the team would help make up for the lower attendance with a 10% hike in ticket prices, plus “significant price increases in areas with new clubs.”

The application for Daytona International Speedway (DIS) suggested similar price hikes. Although the track didn’t specify exactly what it would be using tax dollars for, it was also seeking $90 million over 30 years toward its “Daytona Rising” renovation project that “reimagined the American Icon.” The project dropped the track’s capacity from 147,000 to 101,000.
But even with fewer fans, the track told the state it will generate more revenue. Those “increases” came largely from inflation and an estimated hike of nearly 10% in ticket prices from 2015 to 2016.

Florida’s controversial new stadium subsidy law requires applicants to prove return on investment to taxpayers, but specific exemptions were written in for the Dolphins and Daytona International Speedway, neither of which needs to show any increase in tax revenue.

READ: Daytona's application
READ: City of Orlando/MLS application
READ: City of Jacksonville/Jaguars' application
READ: Dolphins' application

The Tampa Bay Rays currently benefit from $2 million per year in state funds that help pay for Tropicana Field, but the team could apply for another $3 million per year if it were to build a new Florida stadium.

The team could potentially benefit from moving closer to the population centers of Hillsborough County, and Rays President Brian Auld recently told The Economist Club of Tampa the move – plus the presumable buzz of a new park - might eventually mean 5,000 more fans per night, which would mean $15-20 million in new revenue. But he didn’t talk about the even greater gain to be had by raising ticket, concession, and parking prices on the 17,000 fans already attending games.

When the Miami Marlins opened their new taxpayer-subsidized ballpark in 2012, average ticket prices climbed 56%. They have receded a bit with demand, but still sit 52% higher than they were in 2011, the team’s final year at its old home, Sun Life Stadium, even though 2014 attendance was only up 13% from 2011.

According to the Team Marketing Report Fan Cost Index, other costs associated with attending a Marlins game climbed with the new ballpark too. The price of beer, hot dogs, parking, programs, and ballcaps all climbed significantly after Marlins Park opened. Most of the new revenues were retained by the team, helping its overall value, as estimated by Forbes, nearly double since 2011 to $650 million.

The Fan Cost Index lists the Rays as baseball’s third-most affordable experience, largely due to the availability of free parking and low-price tickets – two benefits Rays fans may not get to enjoy as much at a new ballpark.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

More Great Advice for Politicians Thinking About Building a Stadium

Yesterday, I posted this important advice for elected officials who may one day even think about cutting a deal with a pro team.

Today, even more from the National Conference of State Legislators. Not exactly the first place you'd turn for good articles on sports business, but the deputy editor of Politifact wrote a fiscal paper designed for state lawmakers to make wiser choices on stadium subsidies.

His 10 tips are really, really smart.  Here's a few excerpts:

1. Ensure the project will attract out-of-towners.

If this goal isn’t achieved, studies show, new projects will simply divert existing entertainment money from restaurants, movie theaters and the like to the stadium, rather than increasing overall economic activity.

4. Choose the neighborhood carefully.

Where geography is concerned, “downtown stadiums are almost always winners, even when home to terrible teams,” says Arthur C. Nelson, director of the Metropolitan Research Center at the University of Utah. “The farther away from downtown you get, the greater the likelihood of local economic failure, even if the team does well,” he says.

5. Locate projects near mass transit.

Building a facility that will encourage event-goers to use close-by mass transit will maximize the positive impact for the surrounding neighborhood. With a sure ride home, sports fans will more likely stick around the area after the game.

6. Be wary of one-sided economic projections.

Supporters of stadium projects—including teams, business groups and government officials—often hire consultants to produce reports that estimate a project’s long-term economic impact. These typically include estimates of the direct impact of the stadium (jobs in construction and stadium operations), as well as the induced impact (money spent by visitors at the stadium or in the vicinity) and the indirect impact (money spent by stadium employees and local businesspeople as a result of new business drummed up by the stadium).

Typically, these reports offer projections that are hard to prove and easy to skew toward the rosiest of outlooks. This, combined with the propensity for stadium projects to experience cost overruns, suggests that it’s always worth taking consultants’ projections with a big grain of salt.

As the saying goes, cautions Allen Sanderson, a University of Chicago economist, “Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.”

7. Insist on keeping the parking revenues.

“You cannot let teams keep the parking revenue from the lots around the stadium,” says Murphy, who is now with the Urban Land Institute. When teams are allowed to keep it, “surface lots become the highest and best use of the land.”

8. Drive a hard bargain.

The key to a successful project “is keeping the public’s share of the cost to a minimum,” says University of South Florida economist Philip Porter. That requires hard bargaining and refusing to approve a deal until the team has some significant skin in the game.
And avoid getting sucked into bidding wars at all costs, warns Pakko of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. They rarely produce any winners. “Sports franchises have monopoly power,” he says. “There are a limited number of teams, so cities are asked to bid against one another, whether or not having a local team is economically viable.”
And, as a bonus, University of Chicago economist Don Coursey included a list of questions for journalists (or elected officials) covering economic development projects!
  • Why does this project require public funds?
  • Why can’t it be completed using private funds?
  • Who will construct the project? Who will operate the project? Will these groups of professionals, laborers and managers come from the local population? Will the majority of their earnings stay within the local economy?
  • What assumptions are you making about the spectrum of users of your project?
  • How much revenue will be new injections into the economy, as opposed to simple, zero-sum movements of money within the economy?
  • How much of a primary draw will your project generate? If the project is just one of the many things that people might use or visit within a region, how are you accounting for this in your measurement of visitor revenue for your project?
  • How much economic activity will the project promote indirectly? Who computed the “multiplier”—the amount of additional projected economic activity from every dollar spent directly on the project in question?
  • Why is your project the best use of public funds? How does the impact of your study compare to alternative uses of the same funds?
  • How do you expect the economy to be affected if the project is not funded and built?
  • How will you address whether the project has met the community’s and your goals? Have funds been set aside to support a subsequent analysis of its actual impact?
Now, if we could only get elected officials to pay attention to articles like this...

Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Consider printing this out and smacking a public official upside the head with it."

Neil deMause said it best when he said Aaron Gordon's Vice Sports story on lopsided stadium deals was "worth a read" and worth smacking government officials "upside the head" with.  A few excerpts:
This week, the Bengals are installing a new scoreboard; it costs $10 million and Hamilton County taxpayers are picking up three-quarters of its cost. Why would the county agree to give the Bengals even more money? It's because of the cherry on top of the sweetest stadium deal ever made: the state-of-the-art clause.

According to the Bengals' lease, if 14 NFL stadiums have something, then taxpayers must buy the Bengals that thing. It's like if your parents were contractually obligated to buy you a new iPhone if all your friends got one, every year for 30 years, but if you were a billionaire and your parents were barely breaking even. Good deal for you, bad for your parents.
There are so many problems with these clauses that it's hard to know where to begin. One of the first problems is how to rank stadia by state-of-the-art-ness. According to the Rams' lease, such things are measured by at least 15 different components: "everything from luxury boxes to club seats, lighting, scoreboards... regular stadium seating, concession areas, common areas (such as concourses or restrooms), electronic and telecommunications equipment," as well as locker and training rooms, and the field itself.
Because of the vagaries of such matters, the Rams have tremendous leverage in negotiations. In his book Field of Schemes, deMause estimates that, if the city wanted to keep the Rams, the city's Convention and Visitors Commission would have to put aside $36 million every year to keep the Edward Jones Dome a "first-tier" facility.

There is no good reason for any public official to entertain such a clause, much less grant it. Teams have state-of-the-art clauses because of two factors: they had the gall to ask for one, and the politicians had the stupidity to give it to them. In 2010, Demause conducted an interview with Jim Nagourney, a now-retired sports facility manager and consultant who was part of the Rams stadium negotiation. The way deMause tells it, "[the Rams] were just throwing stuff in there and they were amazed when St. Louis actually went for it."

The only appealing aspect of state-of-the-art clauses to politicians is that they probably won't have to deal with it. Even a decade later, most local governments will experience significant turnover. A state-of-the-art clause helps get the deal done without ever costing the current government anything. It's somebody else's problem, by design. Of course, as Hamilton County and dozens of other municipalities have learned, this is true of publicly financed stadium deals in general.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Rays Stadium Headlines Still Getting You to Click

After a disappointing Rays season-opening loss in front of a full house, the Trib's Steven Giradi wrote, "On Opening Day, no one’s thinking about stadiums and politics."

No one...except his Trib counterpart Chris O'Donnell, who wrote how the Rays' fortunes could change next offseason with St. Pete city council elections.  And, get this: one of the new frontrunners, Ed Montanari, isn't any more likely to think $2M/yr for terminating the city's deal with the Rays is a good deal as his predecessors!

ALSO READ: Rays could influence elections if they want

But no one else was thinking about stadiums and politics...except Bright House Sports' Rock Riley, who wrote about Stu Sternberg's promise never to move the team as long as he owned the franchise.

And the Times' Matt Baker, who wrote about Sternberg's desire to avoid stadium discussions for the next six months.  And the Times' Claire McNeill, who wrote about opening day questions on- and off-the-field.

And finally, the Team Marketing Report, which again ranked the Rays as one of the most affordable baseball experiences out there (28th out of 30 teams), largely thanks to low average ticket prices and the ability to park for free.  Although the beer prices are higher than average!?!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Oh, Florida

Maybe Stu Sternberg Will Negotiate Stadium Saga During the Season

This just doesn't seem to be a smart move from a business that's anxious to move a stalemate forward:
Matt Baker writes:
“We are not doing this during the season,” Sternberg said before the Rays hosted the Orioles on opening day in Tropicana Field. “The one thing that I’ve found to ring correct and true was that you focus on baseball during the year, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Sternberg said he remains committed to keeping the Rays in Tampa Bay for the next 50-100 years. He said his door is always open and that he’s willing to look at any documents or proposals put in front of him. But the team “won’t be putting any work” into the stadium issue.

Last week, the council voted to hold a workshop “as quickly as possible” into the stadium issue and whether the Rays could look for a new stadium in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

“If it happens, great,” Sternberg said. “If it didn’t happen in December, and it didn’t happen in January, and it didn’t happen in February, and it didn’t happen in March, and here we are in April. There’s always hope.”

Sternberg called the Rays’ payroll – about $70 million – “beyond uncomfortable” and said it would put the franchise in the red financially. He said the Rays could boost the payroll from the bottom of the majors if its attendance rose accordingly.
The refusal to talk stadium stuff during the season isn't surprising; but as I wrote last week, the Rays have "an office full of smart folks who can certainly deal with their off-the-field business while Matt Silverman, Kevin Cash, and others do the on-field work."

It's also worth pointing out Sternberg said he wouldn't "re-re-renegotiate" if St. Pete's council rejected his December deal.  I said it wasn't believablecouncil rejected the deal;  and sure enough, the Rays re-re-renegotiated.

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Montreal May Be a Better MLB Home than Tampa Bay; Too Bad it Doesn'tMatter

A.K.A. - Rays to Montreal? Fat Chance (Pt. IV)

No article about Montreal's 96,545 fans for two exhibition games this weekend drew as much attention as Jon Paul Morosi's column, "Tampa Bay fans, take note: Passion for baseball is greater in Montreal."
Based on my firsthand experience, I can tell you -- unequivocally -- that there is greater passion for baseball in Montreal than Tampa Bay.

Does that mean the Tampa Bay Rays are about to become the Montreal Expos? No. The Rays have a lease with the City of St. Petersburg to play at Tropicana Field through 2027. An agreement with the city and/or a lengthy, expensive court battle would be required for the Rays to leave for a new market before then. Neither process is afoot.

But another extraordinary turnout at Olympic Stadium this weekend should be noted for what it is: a clear demonstration that Montrealers feel a greater connection to the team they lost than Tampa Bay fans do for the team they still have.
There are good Major League Baseball fans in Tampa Bay, but there aren't enough of them. It may be that the Tampa Bay region -- with plenty of families and retirees who love the game -- is best suited for spring-training afternoons and inexpensive minor-league games. There is no shame in that.
Here's the shocking thing - I think Morosi's column is largely on-the-money.   Compared to Tampa Bay, Montreal holds advantages in transit, corporate support, and 30- and 40-somethings with disposable incomes that grew up watching the team.

However, it's a moot point right now because Tampa Bay has a team.  And a contract.

Because of the legal issues, there's no chance the Rays leave Florida in the next five, six, seven, or eight years.  Maybe longer.

Eight years.  Do you realize how more Montreal columns Morosi will be able to milk out of this?!?

ALSO READ: 3 Things the Rays Can Do to Break the Stalemate
The question isn't which market would be better right now;  the question is, which market would be better for MLB in 2026, 2027, or 2028?  And how long it would take MLB to recoup relocation investments?

There's plenty of indication that leaving prior to 2027 would be costly for the Rays;  the city of Seattle got $45 million from the Sonics after they left for Oklahoma City with two years left on a lease (which nearly became $75 million), and Minneapolis got an injunction blocking the contraction of the Twins since the team still had one year left on its lease at the Dome.

So you're plunking down money now for those 2022 Montreal Rays season tickets....I've also got some submerged land in Tampa Bay to sell you.

FLASHBACK Oct. '13: Rays to Montreal? Fat Chance
FLASHBACK Mar. '14: Rays to Montreal? Fat Chance (Pt. II)
FLASHBACK Dec. '14: Rays to Montreal? Fat Chance (Pt. III)

Morosi acknowledges an MLB return to Montreal is - at best - a long way off, but an even better handicap of the situation in Quebec actually comes from British Columbia, where The Province's Ed Willis writes the strong showing may be all for naught:
So it has the endorsement of MLB. But what does that mean? Montreal might have value as a potential market, but it has more value to baseball as a stalking horse. Selig’s comments were made as the Oakland A’s continued their interminable search for a new park in the Bay Area. Manfred spoke as the Tampa Rays were trying to leverage a new ballpark in their town.

Hate to be cynical, but we’ve all seen this game played too often in too many places to buy the story MLB is selling.

In the end, it would be like the Jets’ return to Winnipeg. Maybe it isn’t the ideal market, but there’s enough history, enough pride and enough love to sustain a franchise. Montrealers can see it. The question is, can anyone with some real dough see the same thing?
Willis' conclusion that it all comes down to money is spot-on...which is why a potential hostile departure from Tampa Bay would be at least a decade away.  It would just be too damn expensive otherwise.

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Friday, April 3, 2015

Weekend Must-Reads: Montreal Rays Rumors, Bud Selig's Honesty, and Rowdies Politicking

Ahead of MLB's Opening Day, it's a good time to get caught up on a lot of important sports business literature:
  1. Toronto Star - In the first of dozens of "Montreal Will Have a Shot at the Rays" stories this weekend, columnist Richard Griffin writes that Montreal was a victim of bad ownership...and "a calculated business move with villains around every corner."  He implies those same business decisions could be an opportunity for the city to land MLB again.
  2. The Guardian - In the second of dozens of "Montreal Will Have a Shot at the Rays" important question rises: "In a province that’s in debt, where using taxpayer funds for pro sports purposes can prove an extremely difficult a 35,000-seat stadium would be built in the largest North American city without a major league franchise, is the tough question which will eventually need answering."
  3. Washington Post - Let's look back at this 2004 story from Steve Fainaru; need evidence of why "private investors" aren't going to fund a half-billion dollar stadium in Montreal?  Bud Selig addresses a stadium's cost vs. revenues: "Can a ballclub build a stadium and survive? No."
  4. Florida Today - The legislature is cracking down on Fla. license plates that don't sell 4,000 plates a year.  But at the same time, they may introduce a new Tampa Bay Rowdies plate this year.  Forget the fact that the Rowdies are only averaging 5,000 fans per game; if you own a sports team and contribute to politicians, anything is possible!
  5. Bloomberg - NASCAR's much-heralded Hall of Fame in Charlotte is only five years old, but it's drawing just half of the promised number of visitors.  The publicly-financed facility just needed a fresh infusion of $5 million in bailout money.
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Henderson: Stadium Stalemate Takes Two Stubborn Sides

I wrote Tuesday that the Times' editorial writers (and countless others) were wrong to blame St. Pete's council for the stadium stalemate.  I also wrote the headlines were unfair.

That was followed by a Mitch Perry piece echoing my sentiments, a councilman's shot back across the bow at the Times, and now a Joe Henderson column in the Trib contending "council deserves some blame for Rays mess, but not all":
Even though the council on this issue is the Jose Molina of governance — baseball fans will know what I mean — there are some mitigating circumstances, starting with this little nugget the other day from The Associated Press: The average player salary this year will top $4 million for the first time.

Forbes reported that Major League Baseball is worth a rec­ord $36 billion, and although the Rays ranked 30th out of 30 franchise values at $625 million, that’s not chump change. With that kind of money floating around and the Rays clearly in need of a new playpen, baseball’s implied threat that we’d better figure out how to build them a new stadium takes more than a little nerve.
Yes, a modern stadium in the right location would help the Rays’ bottom line. It also would help the MLB’s bottom line. So I don’t see why the MLB can’t chip in here with more than just warnings and help pay for part of whatever we can come up with.
Henderson continued to point fingers at both sides, indicating "council is overplaying its hand."  He fears six months of inaction since the Rays don't like to talk stadium stuff during the season.  But the team has an office full of smart folks who can certainly deal with their off-the-field business while Matt Silverman, Kevin Cash, and others do the on-field work.  Hopefully some of those smart business folk attend the next St. Pete council to contribute to the open dialogue aimed at breaking the stalemate.

Oh, and one correction for Henderson, who wrote, "But, you say, the lease runs through 2026. That’s a long time. Not really, at least in stadium years..."

Just because the Rays aren't offering St. Pete any compensation for the 2027 season doesn't mean it doesn't count.  The current use agreement (not a lease) at Tropicana Field runs through the end of the 2027 season unless otherwise altered.
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Just How Sweet was the Glazers' Sweetheart Deal?

The elected leaders in Hillsborough County keep saying, "there will never be another sweetheart deal like the Bucs"...but nobody realized it was a "sweetheart" deal in the 90's when they thought it was the only way to keep their football team.

So just how sweet is that deal?

Well, consider this - according to William Levesque's article in the Times this week, the taxpayer-backed Tampa Sports Authority has to assume all the risk of holding concerts at the taxpayer-owned Raymond James Stadium...but if there happens to be profits left over at the end...the Bucs get half!

No risk, half the reward!  Pretty sweet!

Taxpayers have such a raw deal at RayJay, even a monster act like Taylor Swift may only net the Tampa Sports Authority a few hundred thousand dollars after expenses and the Glazers' cut.

Compounding the problem?  Taxpayers keep building "one-of-a-kind" venues to compete with all their other one-of-a-kind venues.

My WTSP-TV colleague Eric Glasser writes, of the five or six major concert venues along the I-4 corridor, "the venues may, at times, have to outbid each other for some of those big-name acts. And that, in some cases, could mean giving away more of the concert proceeds than they in the past."

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

What Went Down Today at St. Pete Council When They Brought Up the Rays...Again

No votes today, but lots of chat.  Here's a summary:
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Why Another Fixed-Roof Stadium Seems to Make the Most Sense for Tampa Bay

I spent a lot of time in 2012 talking about how an open-aired stadium in Florida is crazy, and how a translucent, fixed-roof stadium would make a lot more fiscal sense for the Rays & Tampa Bay than an expensive retractable roof.

It hasn't garnered much attention yet, but today, we have a nice piece in the Times from Stephen Nohlgren about ETFE materials could potentially bring the cost of a new stadium down from that $500-$600 million mark so frequently tossed around.
"Miami is an enclosed stadium with a hard deck and (is) air-conditioned. It is designed that way,'' (Mike Wekesser, lead designer on Target Field and now sports design director of the architectural firm AECOM) says. "You could bring down the cost — I don't know by how much — by using lighter material. You would bring down the tonnage of steel, and in Tampa Bay, concrete. It is one of the biggest costs in any stadium.''
Some interior spaces, such as luxury suites, always need AC. Admitting enough light to support natural grass could conflict with providing enough shade for fans. And in Florida, hurricane standards come into play.

Still, "I think you can find a way to put a skin on a new ballpark that does not have to be retractable,'' Wekesser says. "The roof could be more like a canopy or umbrella, with side ventilation so air could pass through. The edges could be opaque enough to get shade. It could have that open-air feel of old-time baseball.
What Nohlgren didn't address is how teams in Southern cities like Miami and Phoenix seldom even use their retractable roofs on summer nights because it's so hot. 

A good point was also made by Matthew Brown in a five-part Stadiafile series - often echoed by the Rays - that "clubs must remain ambitious and creative, retractable roofs or not, in their quest to create the best and most exciting ballparks possible to cater to and help craft future fans."

So the good news for Tampa Bay is that we may only be looking at a $400-$500 million price tag for a state-of-the-art new stadium instead of $500-$600 million.  The bad news is, the region still falls far short of paying for a fixed-roof stadium without the majority coming from the Rays or MLB.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tampa Bay Fears Stadium Stalemate "Crisis" (Pt. II)

Interesting passage in the pages of the Tampa Bay Times:
Sternberg, speaking before Friday's season opener, said it wouldn't be long, perhaps within months, before MLB and commissioner Bud Selig get involved.

"It's imperative that we get this thing moving," Sternberg said. "The can has been kicked down the road and the road is not much longer … But there needs to be some progress. … And I think my patience is greater than Major League Baseball's."

Foster said the city has no concerns about the team leaving and isn't too worried about increased threats.
The article was written on April 1, 2011 - four years ago today.  On that day - just as today - the sportstalk lines were lighting up with concerned Rays fans proclaiming, "the end is near!" 

Well, four years later, the Rays haven't yet moved to Charlotte, San Antonio, or Montreal...and they aren't anytime soon either.

ALSO READ: Tampa Bay fears stadium stalemate "crisis" (Pt. I)

This is a two-way street; as I wrote yesterday, we shouldn't assume the stalemate is due to St. Pete leaders being stubborn; it's due to St. Pete and the Rays failing to meet in the middle.

And since it's the Rays asking for help (albeit nicely), it's up to them to step up their game.

ALSO READ: 3 things the Rays can do to break the stalemate

It's also worth revisiting this 2011 advice from the Times' editorial board:
Sternberg should make a reasonable offer to St. Petersburg after the season and ask the City Council to vote on it or make a counteroffer. He also should open the Rays' financial books to confirm that the franchise is not making mountains of money.
Key word: reasonable.  Is only $2M/yr from the Rays reasonable?  Is agreeing to simply vacate the city's ballpark land reasonable?

Who's to say what's reasonable?  For the people of St. Pete, it's their elected leaders.  And the majority of those leaders have decided the current offer is not reasonable.

So as the stalemate drags on, the next editorial from the Times should echo their 2011 statements:  the Rays should bring a more reasonable offer to the table; and the team should open its books.

Oh, and while we're at it, can we stop fretting about this being our "last chance" to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay?  Don’t believe the hype.

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Tampa Bay Fears Stadium Stalemate "Crisis" (Pt. 1); Minnesotans Chuckle

Had a good chat yesterday on Tampa Bay's 1040 AM "The Team" with Tom Veit, specifically addressing why all the "sky is falling" urgency over the Stadium Saga from the airwaves and newspapers is unnecessary.

We know St. Pete councilmembers - backed by a strong contract that runs through 2027 - are waiting for the Rays to offer them a better deal in exchange for altering the terms of the contract.  We also know stadium stalemates often take a decade to figure out (Minneapolis, Miami for example).  And relocations are costly, risky, and not typically worth it.

So what happens if this stalemate continues for another five years?

It's possible we could find ourselves in 2020, with the Trop drawing fewer fans than ever and the Rays still at the mercy of St. Pete (although they'd at least have a new, lucrative TV contract by then).

You think Montreal is going to build a stadium in 2020 with legal issues still lingering?  Of course not.  You think they'll clear a plot of land out with the intention of letting it lay fallow for eight years while the Rays count down to their final game at the Trop in 2027?  Of course not.  Especially given how tough it can be to break an existing contract.

Just how tough is it to break an existing contract?

In 2002, MLB threatened to take the Twins away from Minneapolis.  A judge awarded the city an injunction that required the team to finish out its lease at the Metrodome.  And the Twins had just one year left on their deal.  For those of you keeping score at home, the Rays currently have 13 seasons left on their Tropicana Field contract.

But even before MLB threatened to contract the Twins, the franchise was years and years into its own stadium stalemate with relocation threats.  A short history:
  • Summer 1997 - A major corporation steps up to sponsor a new N.C. stadium and relocation bid.
  • October 1997 - The Twins say they'll stay if they get a new state-funded stadium by an arbitrary Nov. 30 deadline; some lawmakers reply with a promise to end to stadium handouts in America once and for all! (ha)
  • November 1997 - A months-long bid to build the Twins a new stadium and stave off the N.C. move fails. Media calls the decision a "death knell," while one lawmaker says, "The citizens of Minnesota saw baseball die." He also suggests the reporter may not live long enough to see baseball return to Minneapolis.
  • November 1997 - "It's all over but the packing, defeated supporters of a new Minnesota Twins stadium said...we'll tell our children and their children what it was like to have baseball."
  • November 30, 1997 - Deadline comes and goes, Twins don't leave.
I'll spare you the next six years of threats, ultimatums, and hardball negotiations.  (Sound familiar yet, Tampa Bay?)  But in 2009, the Twins eventually opened their new stadium.

What lessons can be learned?

Well, the large majority of Twins fans' concerns through the mid-1990s and early 2000s proved unfounded. 

Just remember that when sportstalk hosts and newspapers tell you the fat lady is ready to sing; she may really be many, many years away.  And the stadium "crisis" may only be a crisis to a team owner who finds himself with limited leverage.

ALSO READ: Tampa Bay Fears Stadium Stalemate "Crisis" (Pt. II)
Teams build anyway, even after lawmakers fail to fall for threats