Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Kriseman Wants Tropicana Field 2.0 in St. Pete

With fans, elected leaders, and the Tampa Bay Rays anxious to commence a stadium search in Hillsborough County, the top elected official in St. Petersburg says he's anxious too: so he can prove to the region that the current stadium site, near Downtown St. Petersburg, would make an ideal site for the Rays' next stadium too.

"I don't know anywhere else that really has the land; has the funding; and has the highway access," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said of the 85-acre Tropicana Field site. "The last piece is the (development) happening in that area."

Kriseman has been pushing his city council to let the Rays look at stadium sites across the bay, confident his city's stadium potentials will stack up better. The mayor points to Downtown St. Pete's explosive growth, particularly in the "Edge" and "Grand Central" districts, immediately adjacent to Tropicana Field. Activity around the stadium is no longer limited to just Ferg's Sports Bar.

"You're talking about an area within walking distance of the heart of your downtown," Kriseman said, adding that 85 acres offer double the redevelopment potential of Jeff Vinik's 40-acre, $1 billion plans in Downtown Tampa.

Furthermore, building a new - but better - ballpark on the current stadium site would mean little-to-no land acquisition cost and outstanding infrastructure with two highways, I-375 and I-175, feeding straight from I-275 into St. Petersburg's downtown.

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But Kriseman has not been able to convince a majority of councilmembers to let the Rays first look in Hillsborough County. The team, locked into its current use agreement through 2027, has said it will not consider any stadium sites in Pinellas County until it can consider all stadium sites in Tampa Bay.

Meanwhile, the Rays' attendance continues to flounder, leading the league in futility again, with an average of 14,686 fans per game (lowest since 2005) heading into Tuesday night. Kriseman blames the troubles on Tampa highway construction and says despite the low attendance numbers at Tropicana Field, Hillsborough residents are warming up to the idea of crossing the bay for baseball.

"I think there's that pushback right now because it still isn't easy to get here because of the roadway system in Tampa," Kriseman said. "But I do think, like I said, that's going to be gone in another five years."

St. Petersburg's Chamber of Commerce, which has spent much of the eight-year-long stadium stalemate on the sidelines, is also getting behind the idea of a new, next-generation downtown St. Pete baseball stadium.

"You've got the fifth-largest city in the state of Florida. You've got the most Fortune 500 companies in the region located right around here," said the Chamber's chair-elect Greg Holden. "(But) I think St. Pete is a community that has to train its businesses (to support MLB)."

However, Holden said Pinellas County's available bed tax revenues and available land could make other sites along St. Petersburg's Northern border just as interesting for a new stadium.

For years, speculation and rumors have circulated that the downfall of greyhound racing in Florida could prompt the private owners of Derby Lane to sell their 130 acres along Gandy Blvd. Although the track is in the middle of its 90th racing season, its ownership is now acknowledging it would welcome bids to redevelop the property.

But whether anyone is interested in paying their yet-to-be-determined price is unknown.

"The door is open," Derby Lane spokeswoman Vera Rasnake told 10 Investigates, "but (the owners) have not been approached."

Derby Lane offers outstanding highway access, just a few miles from the Gandy Bridge.

Additionally, several miles of overpass construction should give drivers a seamless exit from I-275 to the track's front door. If the Selmon Expressway is extended Southbound along Gandy Blvd. in Tampa, drivers could soon reach Derby Lane from East Hillsborough County without encountering a single traffic light.

ALSO READ (2/3/15): Rays could move to Derby Lane
ALSO READ (7/22/10):
Mayor Foster offers up Derby Lane to Rays

While the track's footprint is big enough for countless mixed-use development concepts, the price tag for the land alone would likely be in the tens of millions of dollars. Employing 544 people, the track isn't exactly "turn-key" ready for baseball. And if the legislature ever warms up to the idea of slot machines at the track, its value could explode.

Derby Lane also isn't within St. Petersburg's city limits, so it is unclear if the city would be willing to continue funding stadium bonds at the same – or increased – levels.

For now, with no developers eager to jump on the opportunity, it appears the party most-willing to talk about Derby Lane's redevelopment potential is Derby Lane's ownership.

The Toytown development, located just East of I-275 and just South of Roosevelt Blvd., offers up 240 county-owned acres of almost-prime real estate, just 10 minutes from Westshore.

Why "almost-prime?" Toytown used to be a landfill and lots of questions remain about the ability to build on it. While the land may be free for the right developer, there's no telling how much extra it might cost to build on the unstable debris.

Yet just last week, Pinellas County commissioners voted last week to put out a Request for Negotiations (RFN) on the site.

"Interest in the development of the Toytown site has increased in recent months," the county's economic development director, Mike Meidel, wrote in a memo. He also told commissioners the county was recently approached with offers (WATCH – item 23b).

The last time the property went out to bid, developers had to include a sports complex in designs, which could include baseball.

"(The Rays) are a regional asset," Kriseman added, saying he could support whatever site the Rays determined to be the best. "So if that means they relocate to Toytown...it simply means I have 85 acres now (at the current stadium site) that I can put back in play and redevelop."

But Kriseman knows Pinellas County sites have a big advantage over Hillsborough County sites because of robust tourist tax revenues and the ability to finance hundreds of millions of dollars in new construction without creating "new" taxes.

As 10 Investigates reported several times over the years, St. Pete and Pinellas County could likely cover upwards of $150 million in new construction just from existing revenue streams. The county is also on the verge of increasing its bed tax to 6% - a luxury afforded only to the state's top tourism destinations, of which Hillsborough County currently is not.

The additional 1 cent tax - primarily paid by tourists - could bond an additional $90 million or so for stadium construction. That could put public contributions at $240 million locally, quite possibly enough to help the team build a new stadium.

ALSO READ (11-19-12): St. Pete, Tampa chambers study ballpark finances

While all the aforementioned tax dollars could go toward other city and county projects, elected and business leaders seem to have an appetite for more baseball and the fans it draws from all over the region.

"We all know there's a financial advantage here," Holden said, indicating businesses and developers might share in the cost of a stadium. "You share some of the infrastructure cost and you look at the ingress/egress here and the potential for tying in...transportation, it really presents a compelling position location-wise and financially."

The Tampa Bay Rays declined comment on this story and have repeatedly said they wouldn't consider any sites in Tampa Bay until they could consider all sites in Tampa Bay. There are no signs St. Petersburg's council will allow a region-wide search before the team changes its offer or several councilmembers are term-limited out of office later this year.

But behind-the-scenes, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan has said the county is "ready" with search and finance teams the minute they get the go-ahead.

Free, undeveloped land appears scarce in prime areas, although rumors continue to fly around potential property for sale in the city's urban core.


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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Putting Derby Lane Rumors in Context

It's been five years since then-mayor Bill Foster suggested the Rays could leave Tropicana Field if they'd consider a move to Derby Lane, the dog track sitting just outside St. Pete's city limits along Gandy Blvd.

Foster saw the offer as a compromise to the team's complaints that the Trop was too remote of a location.  But his olive branch was soundly rejected by the Rays, and five years later, the stalemate continues to drag on.

This weekend, the Tampa Tribune plastered the resurgent rumors on its front page: "From racing to Rays? Dog tracks eyed as stadium sites."  The story explained how the decline of dog racing in Florida has the privately-owned Derby Lane open to a buyout. 

Derby Lane is a centrally-located piece of land that would make a much more-appealing stadium location for most Hillsborough County fans.  And, Pinellas County's existing revenue streams give it a significant leg-up on funding a stadium.

Except when I spoke to a track representative earlier this week, she confirmed nobody from the Rays, the city, nor any private developers has had even a preliminary conversation about buying the property.

It's a story my WTSP colleague, Kendra Conlon, reported on back in February.  But it appears the only thing that's changed since then... is some folks are working behind-the-scenes to drum up more talk of Derby Lane's potential.

Any chance it could be the track, rather than the Rays?

I had a good chat last week with Mayor Kriseman about stadium possibilities in St. Pete and I will post more on it later this week.


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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Stu Sternberg's Very Unproductive Ultimatum Five Years Ago Today

Stu Sternberg says he doesn't like to talk about the Stadium Saga during the season...but that wasn't always the case.

Five years ago today, Sternberg delivered his ultimatum to St. Petersburg, basically saying "let us look for new stadium sites in Hillsborough County, or we won't look at new stadium sites anywhere at all here."

Five years later, the team still hasn't (publicly) looked at new stadium sites, even though several have been offered and the team insists Tropicana Field is not an adequate home for the 13 more seasons remaining on the contract.

I've always said Hillsborough doesn't have the money to make a new stadium work on the Rays' (publicly-funded) terms...but it offers significant leverage to the team in order to get a possible new stadium in the Mid-Pinellas region, closer to the bay bridges.

In case you're bored this Sunday, here's another good read from June 2010: How Newspapers are Driving the Stadium Debate.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Read of the Week: Lightning Prove Again the Value of Sports to Tampa

In case you missed it, Joe Henderson's post-playoff piece about how the Lightning's bid for the Stanley Cup explored the emotional side of sports subsidies and our intrinsic desire to keep our teams - often at any cost.  He spells it out:
Name something else that could cause an estimated 19,000 fans to come to Amalie Arena on Monday night to watch the game on the mammoth scoreboard. That was nearly double the crowd the Tampa Bay Rays drew for a home game about 20 miles away in St. Petersburg, and that raises a question Tampa and the surrounding area have grappled with for years: Are these teams worth the cost?

A point needs to be made up front about the economic impact big-time sports has on a community: ‘Tis a trifle.

I get it.

Eventually we’ll get down to dollar-crunching in the effort to get the Rays a new stadium in the right location, and the price tag will be alarming. They’ll toss around economic impact studies to justify the expense, and most of those will be shot full of holes by people who understand spending that kind of money for a sports team makes no fiscal sense.

Or cents, either.

But I suspect it will happen anyway, on one side of the Bay or the other, and the area will be better for it — and not because of the money they bring here.

The Lightning just spent the last month reinforcing that point.
It's a point that's been made before - my favorite example is the "mailman in the driveway" example from Pete Kerasotis.  Here is an excerpt from his piece in 2010:
"How about that game last night?"

It was my mailman, with me standing at the end of my driveway, chatting about the Orlando Magic's dominating Game 1 win against the Atlanta Hawks the night before.

This, I thought, is what a sports team does. It brings people together with a common topic, and even a common sense of pride. It does it in boardrooms and family rooms, at the water cooler and at the checkout line.
Actually, Henderson's prose was eerily similar.  This week's piece continues:
Talk about the latest action by the county commission doesn’t dominate the water cooler conversation. People won’t tell their grandkids years from now about the great regulations enacted by city council, but they will recall that year Tampa was turned on its ear by its hockey team.
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At the end of the day,  Henderson acknowledges stadiums are very expensive and cities should spend wisely.  But........
There is something else to remember, too. About midway through the third quarter of that Super Bowl game, do you think anyone cared about the terms of the Bucs’ lease at Ray Jay?

Some people say Tampa is not rich enough, large enough, or passionate enough to support three pro sports teams. I think they’re wrong. People used to say hockey would never work here, either. These teams are part of the city’s fabric and identity. And when times are flush, like now, they bring people together like nothing else can.

As the Lightning just proved, you can’t put a price tag on that.
Unfortunately, municipalities DO have to put a price tag on it as pro teams have become fiercer than ever at the negotiating table and ruthless as ever in demanding public subsidies.  At some point, pro sports is not worth the cost.  But Henderson is right - few fans in Tampa Bay are worried about that this week.


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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pinellas Wants to Raise Bed Taxes...Not for Stadiums

Expect some debate on this one...

WTVT's Steve Nichols reports the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council is asking county commissioners to raise the "bed tax" (aka "tourist tax") from 5 percent to 6 percent.  It would be worth an additional $7M/yr:
"If you go to Clearwater Beach, there's six cranes in the air right now," TDC member and hotelier Russ Kimball said. "We're going to need money to market and promote that area, and I think downtown St. Pete and St. Pete Beach are right behind us."

Tourism director David Downing emphasized a growing audience for Pinellas tourism advertising. The TDC uses some of its marketing dollars to underwrite expanded air service to Tampa International Airport from Latin America and Europe, and recently targeted China and the West Coast as potential growth markets. 
Pinellas qualified for the extra bed tax last year after collecting more than $30 million in 2013 from its 5 percent bed tax. However in 2014, the TDC was reluctant to make the recommendation. 
Nichols reports state law restricts how the sixth cent can be spent, limiting it to marketing, beach renourishment, and non-professional sports facilities.  But much of the $7M/yr - which could be bonded into a new $90 million chunk of cash - could ultimately go toward a new pro sports facility with the right accounting measures. 

Since this as seen as "making the tourists pay," there's a good chance Pinellas County Commissioners will approve the measure in August.  I reported last year how many of the current commissioners have supported using the sixth cent to pay for new stadiums, possibly even for the Rowdies.  But how would the county's tourism board feel about that?


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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Rays Attendance Watch: June 17

Well, this isn't good.  Through 35 home games, the Rays are drawing a MLB-low 14,326 fans per game.

At the same time last year, their disappointing-at-the-time number stood at 18,444 and columnist John Romano wrote the team's typical second-half bump was dependent on them being in contention (the team wasn't; attendance was flat - and disappointing - the rest of the way).

Well, the Rays are somehow in first place right now, and their long-suffering competition with Lightning playoffs are over...so time to drop a hundred grand and flood the airwaves with commercials reminding your fans of what they've missed recently at The Trop!
Disclosure: I work for a TV station, but that's not a reason I'd advocate an ad-buy

What say you, Stu?

Actually, very little, according to the Times' Marc Topkin.  But Sternberg did point out attendance was worse than he (or anyone) probably expected this year and while it was "nobody's fault," he reminded St. Pete's council "the clock (is) ticking."

ALSO READ:  Hurry up and pass MOU or else we'll have to hurry up a few years from now!

There's a lot to be said for St. Pete's opportunity to turn Tropicana Field into something other (something better?) than a retail business with large parking lots.  But it's also a convenient talking point the Rays turned to in January 2013 when it became clear the team couldn't cry poor anymore.

The Rays are clearly hoping to wait out the changing political winds until there are five friendly faces on city council - possibly this coming offseason. They may even have a little extra juice at that time with some really ugly attendance numbers to compliment their really impressive team.


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Monday, June 15, 2015

The Surprising Rays Stadium Graph the Tampa Bay Times Didn't Print

This weekend, the Tampa Bay Times editorial board opined how the city of St. Pete was losing hundreds of millions of dollars (in opportunity cost) by choosing to keep the Rays at Tropicana Field rather than redevelop the stadium's 85-acre footprint into something else.

I wrote how the editorial was rife with huge - and all-too-convenient - assumptions to bolster the paper's cheerleading for a new stadium in Tampa.

But, for fun, let's use the Times' same assumptions and look at a different chart - one they didn't publish (click to enlarge):
Disclaimer: This uses the same flawed assumptions the Times used in its Sun. editorial
Disclaimer 2: Don't confuse transparency and perspective for advocacy.

Economic assumptions aside, if the Times contends St. Pete would be better off without baseball, you have to assume the same for Downtown Tampa - a city that already has Lightning games, major concerts, arena football, and convention events 75+ times a year.
If St. Pete stands to lose economic impact by simply keeping the Rays, Tampa would stand to lose even more by keeping the Rays and having to pay for a new stadium.  That goes especially for the 2017-2019 years, where the city might potentially be spending money to build a stadium without holding a single event there.

So readers, before you click that "comment" button, remember, this isn't advocating anything other than transparency and perspective.  But if you're going to jump on the Times' editorial bandwagon, you'd better have some better reasons to do so than a silly graph.

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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Saturday, June 13, 2015

7 Assumptions the Tampa Bay Times Crammed into One Rays Stadium Editorial

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board came out with is now-monthly criticism of the St. Petersburg councilmembers who oppose loosening up their grip on the Rays' long-term contract.

The latest installment maintains St. Pete would profit by letting the Rays leave and redeveloping Tropicana Field into something else.  The\ board said delaying the process of letting the team leave is "financially irresponsible."
This editorial comes with a pretty graph too!

It's not the most outrageous claim since some economists believe anything other than baseball is a better use of land than baseball.  But in supporting its claim, the editorial board makes a LOT of assumptions to substantiate it:

Assumption 1: St. Pete would be able to replace Tropicana Field with a huge development within three years of the Rays leaving in 2020
Remember how big of a deal Tampa made about it's $1 billion Jeff Vinik/Bill Gates redevelopment news? That's a lot of spending. So even though 85 urban acres in St. Pete is promising and exciting, St. Pete doesn't exactly have anyone lining up yet to drop $1 billion in development right now.  If it did, getting that fifth vote from city council would be a cinch.

The Times is wrong to assume $1 billion in development is automatic;  it's wrong to assume there's a limitless demand for new residential, commercial, and retail in St. Pete;  and it's wrong to assume there's zero chance of another building bubble that could derail development.

Assumption 2: Any developer interested in the Trop site would not consider building anywhere else in St. Pete
The Times is assuming the huge benefits from new development would only come once the Trop site is cleared.  But if a developer with money has in interest in Downtown St. Pete, he or she will likely find a smaller piece(s) of property to work with in the meantime.  That means the city isn't missing out on the entirety of the guesstimated $1 billion worth of development by keeping MLB right now.

Assumption 3: Trop redevelopment would bring $30M/yr to the city by 2023, climbing to (and past) $100M/yr in 2027
To the Times' credit, the editorial includes significant sourcing of its methodology.  But these numbers are just guesstimates and don't factor any potential risk from an economic slowdown.

Assumption 4a: The Rays would not relocate anywhere else within the City of St. Pete
The Times calculations assume the economic benefit from the team would cease in 2027.  However, if the city retained the Rays by building a new stadium in the Gateway/Mid-Pinellas region a decade from now, the assumed revenues from MLB-related activities would continue past 2027.

Assumption 4b: The Rays would not relocate anywhere else within the City of St. Pete
On the other side of the coin, if St Pete lets the Rays start planning for a new 2020 stadium and the city has to spend new tax dollars on a stadium in a few years - something that's a real possibility given the advantages of the Toytown, Derby Lane, or other mid-Pinellas sites - any economic improvements from redeveloping The Trop would be negated by the tens of millions spent from 2020-2027 on a new stadium.  Of course, the Times didn't factor this into its graphic.

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Assumption 5: There is no better deal available to St. Pete than the one currently on the table.

The editorial writes, "It is foolish to harp on how much the Rays should pay to for the opportunity to look, or to focus solely on the team's economic impact on the city. The big money is in the economic impact of redeveloping 85 acres."  While a few million dollars here or there seems petty in the big picture, those who aren't convinced redeveloping the Trop is a guaranteed billion bucks (for any of the above reasons) may have good reason to hold out for a more legit business offer from the Rays.

Assumption 6: Just about anything other than baseball would be more profitable to the city than baseball. 
The Times' most convincing case is that St. Pete businesses may be better off without baseball.  It's a topic this blog has delved into at great lengthThe Rays even admit professional baseball is a retail business, suggesting poor jobs and wages compared to year-round businesses.

So under those assumptions...how about a similar chart with Tampa's opportunity costs with and without a stadium?  Would baseball be the highest-and-best-use of Tampa land?  Using the same metrics from this editorial, the answer is a resounding "no."

Then again, it's never hard to find certain sets of statistics and assumptions to support your argument. 

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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Friday, June 12, 2015

On Stadium Subsidies, are Mayors Driven by Peer Pressure?

Neil deMause writes on Vice.com more and more cities are starting to push back against the seemingly unstoppable march of pro teams toward bigger and bigger stadium subsidies:
(Calgary) Mayor (Naheed) Nenshi, however, appears ready to buck the trend of democracy being the first casualty in stadium deals. More remarkably, he's one of several mayors—most newly elected to office—who seem eager to tell sports team owners to take their subsidy demands for a long walk off a short pier.

In Anahiem, Mayor Tom Tait shot down his own council's plans to give Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno $245 million worth of parking-lot land for the low, low price of $1. In Oakland, Mayor Libby Schaaf told the Raiders she won't give them a dime of public money that she can otherwise "spend on police, parks or libraries." In Minneapolis, Mayor Betsy Hodges has declared she'll oppose $50 million in tax breaks for a new MLS soccer stadium, calling the demand "extraordinary" and calling out Minnesota United's owners for pretending that tax breaks aren't a public subsidy.

Nenshi not only wants to air arena proposals in public, but also insists that there be a net public benefit from any public expense. Friends, can we call it a movement?

"As a social scientist, I'm not quite ready to pull the trigger and say it's a trend," says Villanova sociologist Rick Eckstein, co-author of Public Dollars, Private Stadiums, the definitive book on why mayors so often bend over backwards to meet local team owners' subsidy demands.

Still, Eckstein calls it heartening that even a handful of elected officials are acknowledging two oft-ignored truths:

a)As innumerable economists have yammered about for decades, stadium subsidies rarely pay off;

b)As keepers of rare and valuable sports business commodities—namely, places to play sports, and large, ticket-buying and television-watching populations—cities and municipalities have the leverage to just say no.

"It's refreshing that after 20 years of yelling about this stuff, five or six people are starting to listen," Eckstien says.
It's a little bit of a different situation in St. Petersburg, where Mayor Rick Kriseman has struck a deal with the Rays that some critics call a "short sell" on its existing contract.  Kriseman says he expects St. Pete to be able to put up a competitive new deal that could keep the Rays long-term...but that, of course, would mean new tax dollars going to the team.

But deMause continues with an interesting concept:
Having other mayors on his side "helps tremendously," Tait says. "In Anaheim, I was absolutely alone, and the pressure was tremendous. You do question, gosh, by relying on math and stuff, am I crazy?"

The notion of elected officials being driven by peer pressure, like so many overgrown high-schoolers, may sound crazy to anyone who thinks of people in power as, well, powerful. Only mayors are people, too. Eckstein recalls a conversation he had with then-Dallas mayor Laura Miller during her battles with Jerry Jones over subsidies for a new Cowboys stadium. (Jones ended up building it in nearby Arlington, in exchange for $325 million in city sales tax receipts.)

"I talked to the mayor of Dallas a few years ago, she said basically she was alone and she would call other mayors to see if they would also oppose stadium plans in their cities," says Eckstein. "And they were really reluctant to, because no one wanted to be the first."
Rightly so, deMause has great skepticism the momentum can last...after all, mayors love stadiums.  So do governors.  And Congress.
There's still a long way to go—at this month's national mayors' gathering, Tait expects, any panel on sports stadiums will still be about how great they are for economic development, not how to cut a deal that's worth it for your city and its taxpayers. 

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Monday, June 1, 2015

The Rays Would Play Regular Season Games in Montreal...Except...

Good friend of this blog, Maury Brown (@BizBallMaury), wrote today on Forbes.com "5 Reasons Why The Tampa Bay Rays Should Play Some 2016 Regular Season Games In Montreal.

No surprise, one of the reasons would be the pressure it would put on Tampa Bay politicians to work on a stadium faster.

But one problem....
St. Pete has made it clear it would take legal action - if necessary - to protect its contract and prevent the Rays from talking to other baseball markets.  And while many Tweeps brought up the precedent of the Orlando series the Rays played a number of years back...there's one more problem...
So au revoir to that idea...

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