Wednesday, April 1, 2015

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 


  1. This leaves me with two questions:

    1) Were the Twins perpetually last place in attendance at the Metrodome during this period?

    2) Who paid for Target Field?

    My point is, its all well and good to assume that the Rays are safe until 2027, but the fact remains that somebody still has to agree to pay for the stadium at that point. If the taxpayers won't do it, you know the ownership group won't, especially given the lack of significant attendance bump experienced in Miami. Also, does the lease forbid the Rays from playing special games away from the Trop, ala the Expos in Puerto Rico?

  2. Here are the answers:

    1) I found the numbers from 2001 only. Attendances were way higher than what the Rays have in the last 5 years.

    2001 - 25th
    2002 - 20th
    2003 - 20th
    2004 - 23rd
    2005 - 22nd
    2006 - 19th
    2007 - 22nd

    2) All the details in the Montreal Feasibility Study:

    Funding: Combination of Minnesota Ballpark Authority (64%) and Minnesota Twins (36%)

    Construction from 2007 to 2010

    Cost: $390M

    City infrastructure: $155M

    Rays can't play games outside from the Trop if I understand the Use Agreement well enough. If they do so, St. Pete can take legal actions, I think.

    1. Thanks for looking those things up.

      As for playing games away from the Trop, yes they can. In 2007 (if I recall correctly) the DRays played some games at Disney.

  3. " And relocations are... not typically worth it."

    Noah, why do you like to have Canadians yell at you and call you names? You know they are going to flip when they read that...

    This is a great piece. The Rays have time to figure this out before the threat of relocation can actually have an effect. IF this is still going on after 2020, I will seriously start to worry about them relocating but until then, the Rays only have one dance partner.

    1. Relocations have worked fairly well in Milwaukee, Atlanta, Texas, Minnesota, and DC so far. However, being Canadian, I will apologize for pointing that out, haha.

      Seriously though, as mentioned in the newer article as well, Stu and the gang have been trying to create urgency for a while, but I don't know, this one feels different. Maybe because in 2011 there were no viable relocation targets, whereas in the last few years, Montreal has gone from snowball's chance to a very likley possibility. Either than, or Stu is tired of whining, and will just cash out now that the team is so valuable, and he can buy his own island.

    2. If Montreal can go from a "snowball's chance to a very likley [sic] possibility" in just a few years, maybe the situation in Tampa Bay can get worked out too!

    3. Haha, yeah, gotta type when the boss wasn't looking.

      It's definitely something that could happen for TB, and the ball is genuinely in their court, as it has been for the last decade, and we are no closer. Either way someone is going to have to budge. After all, how many ideal spots in their territory are there? Is there a spot that is located centrally to their core fanbase, with ideal highway and traffic conditions to avoid long waits on gamedays? But of course, we're not even able to think about those locations yet.

  4. Noah, I'm curious as to whether MLB was willing to financially compensate Minneapolis/Minnesota, or were they simply trying to eliminate their team with no compensation?

    If the latter is the case, then I don't think the situation here in St. Pete is the same if Stu or a future owner offers to buy his way out of the use agreement.

    I agree that there's precedence of forcing a team to play out the remainder of their contract in a particular market, but that may only be the case if MLB forcibly tried to remove the Twins with no compensation to the region. If Stu or a future owner offers a lot of money to leave, it's a whole different story to me.

    What do you think?

    1. I don't know specifics, but I do know you'll have trouble finding a team that was able to pick up and leave with 8-10 years left on their contract. Especially not with the kind of language in the deal that the Rays originally agreed to.

    2. Do you have a link to the use agreement? Maybe I'll read it sometime this long weekend


    4. Noah, "Sorry, we couldn't find what you were looking for" the page is no longer available...

  5. Right on, as to the sports radio geniuses and the newspapers.

    Noah, I think it would be enlightening to see what the Twins were originally projecting the overall cost would be in the mid-90s versus what the actual cost ended up being. And is there an easy explanation as to why stadiums have become so expensive to build in the last decade? If the cost trend continues, building a stadium in 8-10 years might just be absolutely cost prohibitive, or the cost might at least make it easier to say no. Is a downsized/more economical 25,000 seat stadium somewhere in the Tampa Bay area a non-starter? Obviously, stadium designs can only put fans so close to a baseball diamond, but maybe baseball needs some innovation in design to make everything feel closer (a la small, intimate European soccer stadiums, or the NHL experience for that matter). Could they not move the dugouts closer, add some screening, and move the backstops up? Build the bull pens beneath the stands to move the fans closer (fans then only watch 10 players not moving, rather than 10 players plus both bull pens not moving)? Outfield upper deck front rows the same distance from the plate as the lower deck? Yeah, you have more dangerous foul balls and fewer people moving up on pass balls, but you shorten the leisurely saunters to the mound. And combined with building only a 20k to 25k seat stadium, you could really find some savings on construction costs, the stadium footprint requirements, and parking needs. It would be neat to hear real and innovative proposals, rather than the club asking for a hall pass to engage in "Evaluation Activities." On a side note, it is remarkable that an economic impact analysis had not and still has not been presented to the City Council. Also, I think the Rays can have a minimal number of "Excused Games" away from the Trop--hurricanes here, or a game in Orlando or a series in Japan, etc., but those exceptions are not a big deal.

  6. Litigation is complicated and uncertain, but since you brought up the Minnesota judge's injunction, I think it is worth noting here that one of the undercurrents of the Rays negotiations is the Rays' effort to get the City to agree that the value of the remaining years on the Agreement is X dollars.

    Way oversimplifying here: an injunction is a serious equitable remedy (as opposed to a remedy at law (legal remedy) such as cash damages), mandating that a party do something or prohibiting a party from doing something.

    In the case of a preventive injunction, a movant for preliminary injunctive relief must make a “clear showing” that 1) there is a “substantial likelihood” that it ultimately will prevail on the merits; 2) there is a “substantial threat” that it will suffer “irreparable injury” unless the injunction issues; 3) the threatened injury to the movant outweighs whatever damage the proposed injunction may cause the opposing party; and 4) the injunction, if issued, would not be adverse to the public interest. (Blackwell, Fla Bar Journal May 2012)

    A party seeking mandatory injunctive relief (i.e. requiring someone to affirmatively act, rather than preventing that person from performing some act) also must establish that irreparable harm will result if the injunction is not issued and that he or she does not have an adequate remedy at law. (Blackwell)

    As you can see, a fundamental element is whether the harm is irreparable (that is, the movant cannot be made whole by cash damages). An illustrative example of this is a paper mill that is located in the middle of a neighborhood. This mill spouts out noxious fumes that give 250 residents headaches and other illnesses, to say nothing of the effect on property values. This is a classic nuisance. The residents cannot be made whole by simply allowing the paper mill company to pay cash to compensate for the hit to the residents' health and home values. A judge would find that such irreparable harm merits the extraordinary relief of issuing an injunction to shut the plant down.

    If the City admits that it values the harm of a Rays departure as X dollars, then the Rays can say to a judge, look, this is how much the harm will be. It is not irreparable (unquantifiable and irreversible), because this is how much the City has already agreed to accept. The Rays would say cash damages of X are adequate and an injunction (either preventing the Rays from playing baseball elsewhere or mandating that the Rays play in the Trop) is over-kill. Thus, the MOU, which sets out a schedule of compensation over time, is at its heart a means of weakening the crucial element of irreparable harm in the City's future case. The threat of an injunction is a powerful source of negotiating leverage. Every day injunctions force parties to the settlement table. Out of all of the weapons in the City's arsenal, the injunction is probably its sharpest blade. The MOU would have had the effect of blunting that blade.

    1. Thanks for all these explanations and details. Highly instructive in such debate and situation.

    2. One question that I have regarding the negotiation process is:

      Does the Rays can use the fact that they repeatedly tried to negotiate over the years (and I'm saying they did it in good faith or not) in order to get around the Use Agreement or to limit the damage if they decide to leave St. Pete (for another city, no matter where at this stage)?

    3. Sure, negotiating in good faith is a good way to operate. Judges do pay attention to the way the parties in litigation have conducted themselves. But here on a scale of 1 to 100, with 1 being least significant, I would give "good faith negotiation" a 5. Parties sign contracts all the time. The same parties sometimes modify those contracts on agreeable terms. But what matters to the judge is whether and how the parties have performed the obligations described in the document they signed. So far two things have happened. The Rays attempted in 2008 to get a new stadium without telling many people about it. And in 2014/2015, the Rays have attempted to negotiate an early termination of their Trop obligations. Both times the other party to the deal simply said no. One party proposed a modification to an existing contract. The other party said no. Plain and simple. Both parties have acted within their rights, but neither party's case would get any special weight for "good faith negotiating." If anything, the conduct of the 2008 waterfront stadium proposal, as well as the proposal of the first MOU being buried on a friday afternoon during the holidays (with a request for fast-track approval), would make a judge think twice about the Rays' negotiating tactics.

    4. Very clear.

      Thanks again.

  7. Let's please note that the average major league player's annual salary for the 2015 season is $4.25 million or $106 million per team. To build a $600 million stadium costs just $38 million per year for 30 years at 5%. Keeping in mind that MLB is already highly profitable, and most teams are very profitable, no taxpayer dollar should ever be needed again to help pay for any allegedly needed new stadium. All the owners need to do is start negotiating sane player contracts and they will continue to have way more money than they will ever need.

    1. "Is the community's life better [with a new ballpark]? Yes," Selig said. "Can a ballclub build a stadium and survive? No."

    2. Well if Bud Selig says the opposite of what I say, then I am indeed on solid ground! The real reason Selig brought baseball to DC was so that George Will could be made to feel more important than he already thinks he is.

    3. A man who presided over a decade (at least) of rampant cheating at every level of the MLB system, which went to the very essence of his sport (the junior college to NCAA pipeline was probably the most rotten), now offers me an opinion on the economics of stadiums. With a straight face, he thinks I give his opinion any weight. Hahaha. Imagine.