Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Times Doubles Down Support for Rays Sympathizers

While the Tampa Tribune changed its endorsement in a key St. Pete city council race, despite frustrations and disagreements on the issue of a Rays stadium...the Tampa Bay Times also made a shocking endorsement, choosing a full slate of stadium-supporters in an election filled with complicated issues that go far beyond baseball.

The Times doubled-down on its support of Mayor Kriseman's negotiated deal, endorsing no-name Philip Garrett in District 5 over heavily-favored incumbent Steve Kornell, a liberal councilman the paper has long-supported.  Acknowledging the endorsement was purely about baseball, the Times picked Garrett over "obstructionist" Kornell.

ALSO READ: Kornell will switch vote for $55 million

Other Times endorsements include incumbent Charlie Gerdes and embattled newcomer Lisa Wheeler-Brown.  Supporters of the Rays deal are hoping either Garrett or Wheeler-Brown can win and give Kriseman the fifth vote he needs to break the stadium stalemate and allow the Rays a chance to look at sites in Hillsborough County.

ALSO READ: In Trying to Advance Stadium Interests, Newspapers May Do Opposite

Just how surprising were the Times' endorsements?
Depends whom you ask, but here's one observer's reaction:

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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Monday, September 28, 2015

Trib Endorses New Stadium Opponent

Claiming St. Pete's District 7 council race was all about the Rays stadium was doing everyone a disservice.  And now that the Tampa Tribune editorial writers are looking at a number of issues and recent missteps by their formerly-endorsed candidate, Lisa Wheeler-Brown, they've had a change of heart on their endorsement.

The Trib endorsed Wheeler-Brown's opponent, Will Newton, for the November D7 runoff.  You'll remember Newton is the brother of the current council's biggest opponent of a Rays compromise, Wengay Newton.  The two brothers share similar views on the stadium.

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Why Everyone's Gaga for Toytown

Two quick thoughts on the Tampa Bay Times' most recent Rays-related editorial regarding the tug-of-war between the Braves and Rays over Toytown (that isn't really a tug-of-war at all):
  1. The editorial board summarized the Toytown interest this way: "as usual, the key issue is money."  After spending years putting the emphasis on grabbing great land parcels before they disappear - this may be the first time the board really acknowledges finding the public funds necessary for a new stadium are a bigger problem than finding the land for one.
  2. Have you ever wondered why there's so much fuss over a Toytown site they Rays haven't shown interest in, located in a county so many fans assume the team wants to leave?  Either because the team isn't sure it wants to leave Pinellas....or the Rays simply need Pinellas money in-play to leverage Hillsborough money.  Duh, it's the blueprint
I first wrote back in 2009 that if I had to bet on where the next Rays stadium would be built, I'd bet Mid-Pinellas/Toytown because of Pinellas County's available tourist tax.  And there's been little in the last six years to convince me it's not still the frontrunner.

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

There is No Rays vs. Braves Tug-of-War

While the Braves may not have cleared their Spring Training pitch with MLB, there is no threat of them ultimately doing anything the league doesn't want them to do (i.e. move in on Rays' turf without permission).

That's because MLB isn't 30 different privately-owned teams.  Remember that pesky antitrust exemption?  In the eyes of the law, it's one single business entity.

MLB can restrict relocation like it did when the Giants wanted to move to St. Pete.  It can kick business owners out of their own ballparks like it did with Marge Schott.  And it can certainly control where its teams spend their springs.

So even if the Rays had no idea the Braves wanted to move Spring Training to any county with available tax dollars up for grabs Pinellas County, nothing will happen without MLB's approval.  That is, nothing except a big boost of leverage for the Rays in their stadium campaign.

Stu Sternberg definitely owes John Schuerholz a beer at the next owners' meetings...

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Friday, September 25, 2015

MLB Denies Previous Knowledge of Braves-to-Pinellas Pitch

To answer the question about how much knowledge MLB & the Rays had regarding the Braves' spring training pitch in Pinellas County (aka Are the Rays Very Lucky? or Very Smart?), it seems my assumption may have been wrong and the Rays are just lucky.

Major League Baseball put out a statement today that indicated neither they nor the Rays had any idea the Braves were considering a move to Tampa Bay:
“Earlier this week, Major League Baseball and the Tampa Bay Rays learned of the St. Petersburg Sports Park proposal for the first time.  Major League Baseball appreciates the support that it has received for the construction of Spring Training facilities throughout the State of Florida. The most pressing need, however, is the construction of a Major League-quality facility for the Rays.

“Major League Baseball is committed to working with the Rays to secure a new ballpark in cooperation with the Tampa Bay region.  This can only happen with the support of local political and business leaders.”
If you believe the league, it's still kind of a non-statement statement.  Basically, the league is open to whatever...and it still wants a new Rays stadium.  And the Rays still haven't commented...but sure, they'll take the help creating leverage on Pinellas County.

Ho hum, just another day in the Stadium Saga...

UPDATE: The Tampa Bay Times reports the Rays' Brian Auld issued a statement that read, "the Rays appreciate MLB's attention to this matter. We fully agree with and support their statement."

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Braves Look at Pinellas; Are Rays Very Lucky? or Very Smart?

On Day 1, it's the stadium-related headlines. On Day 2, everyone tries to break down what it means. (Actually, I try to do that on Day 1 too, but I digress...)  Anyway, Braves/Rays speculative headlines abound today.

Wouldn't it be brilliant if the Rays & MLB came up with the Braves-to-Toytown proposal in order to create the kind of leverage they weren't able to create via a St. Pete/Tampa tug-of-war?

MLB rules prohibit spring training stadiums and big-league stadiums from infringing upon each other...without permission.  So there's no way the Braves got this involved in a Toytown spring training proposal without consulting MLB & the Rays.
CORRECTION: The Tampa Bay Times reports this does not apply to spring training ballparks.

That could mean one of three things:
  1. The Rays & MLB are assuming the Rays will be gone from Tampa Bay in a decade or so, thus diminishing any negative impact of a Braves spring training relocation. In fact, it could be positioned as a consolation prize for Pinellas County.
  2. The Rays & MLB want to stay in Tampa Bay, but are using the pressure on Pinellas County's limited tourist tax bonding capacity to force St. Pete's hand.  Forced to make a decision about where bed tax revenues would be best-spent, the city could allow the Rays permission to begin negotiating for new stadium sites.
  3. The Rays & MLB want a taxpayer-funded stadium at Toytown and - unable to negotiate with Pinellas County right now - the Rays have coordinated with the Braves, MLB, and developers to orchestrate a bait-and-switch.  The proposed 10,000-seat stadium becomes a 25,000-seat stadium and the Rays move closer to the bay bridges.  The Braves could even share Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater without major expenditures.
Option 3 is a longshot; but all three theories mean a considerable bump in leverage for the Rays as they continue to push for a new stadium.

The team, of course, had no comment this week.   St. Pete councilmembers tell me they were caught a little off-guard by the Braves news, but it didn't have a big impact on where they stood.

But county commissioners, who have the job of deciding where those bed tax dollars go, may have their hands full in upcoming months trying to sort out all the outside interests.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What a Pinellas Braves Spring Training Pitch Means for the Rays

I've been a little busy with stuff lately.

But good story by my colleagues at the Times today, Tracey McManus and Charlie Frago, who reported there's a new effort to court a third spring training team to Pinellas County. 

The proposal is one of three submitted for the humungous and conveniently-located - but environmentally troubled - Toytown complex.  And you'll recognize the names involved: Darryl LeClair, who tried to build the Rays a stadium just a few miles away; Gary Sheffield, who tried to build a spring training park in Pasco Co.; and the Atlanta Braves:
Listed as the team's architect is Populous, one of the nation's leading firms for sports architecture and the same firm that's building the Braves' new Cobb County Stadium. The proposal says the site plan can be modified to host two Major League Baseball teams for spring training, which is a trend in the sport.

The proposed complex would be much like Disney's "Wide World of Sports" complex near Orlando, where the team is under contract for one more year. That facility includes much more than baseball fields. It would include including facilities to host tournaments in a dozen sports, including basketball, soccer and swimming.

The proposal would include a 10,000-seat baseball stadium with berm seating for an additional 1,000 fans, a 15,000-seat fieldhouse for basketball or other indoor events, a track and field facility with 20,000 seats, an aquatic center with a pool and hockey rink and a 200,000-square foot dormitory that could house 800 people.
The Times reports the proposal projects annual revenues of more than $800 million...but everyone who knows anything about this stuff should still expect the venture to request county and state tax dollars anyway.
Part of the 258-page proposal is a letter from Braves president John Schuerholz to Sheffield, confirming "extensive discussions" about the proposal and "significant interest" in "exploring a partnership." The Braves are "especially interested," he writes, "given the youth sports initiative and positive impact it will provide to kids of all ages, backgrounds and circumstances." Schuerholtz said construction could begin by next year with the facility set for completion by the 2018 season.
One would think the Braves are "especially interested" anywhere tax dollars are available.

Another big question mark in this plan is whether the county would try to kill two birds with one stone by relocating the Blue Jays to Toytown as well.  Currently training in Dunedin, the team has hinted an eight-figure stadium may be necessary to keep them there.

But the biggest question mark: are county leaders willing to contribute bed tax dollars toward a new spring training complex when it would take away from potential Rays stadium funding?

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Unforced Errors Abound for Rays' Best Political Hope

While the Rays continue to refuse to get involved in St. Pete's pivotal District 7 council race, the owner of the Tampa Bay Rowdies is doing the opposite.

SaintPetersblog reports Bill Edwards, a well-known and well-financed Republican supporter, has bankrolled a campaign mailer for Lisa Wheeler-Brown, "preferred choice of much of the local Democratic Party establishment."

There is a lot at stake for baseball fans, with Wheeler-Brown vowing to give Mayor Rick Kriseman the fifth vote he needs to get the Rays MOU approved; while her opponent, Will Newton, has indicated he would not.

But there may be even more at stake for Edwards, who could benefit from the Rays leaving St. Pete so he can move ahead with his Rowdies stadium ask?

Of course, unforced errors like this and this won't help Wheeler-Brown, Edwards, or Rays fans in Tampa...

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Kriseman Throws Out His Second First Pitch

It nearly took the entire season, but St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman got to throw out the first pitch at Tropicana Field for the second time in his mayoral career.
Former St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster, who stood up to the pressure of the Rays and paid the price for it at the ballot box, didn't get to throw out a single Trop first pitch in his four years in office.

It's becoming an annual honor for local mayors who have been supportive of the Rays' campaign to leave the Trop, as Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn threw out a first pitch earlier this year for the fourth time in four years.  And Kriseman is now up to two in his two years in office.

Photo ops!  No wonder mayors love sports stadiums!

UPDATE: Kriseman was also named to a leadership position on the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Mayors Professional Sports Alliance - a group created "to share among the mayors information, resources, and support on issues related to professional sports and to work effectively with leagues, players and owners."  One can only hope Kriseman is taking good notes from the other member cities that have recently lost their shirts in stadium negotiations.

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Take the Money and Run

It would be an embarrassment of riches for the Glazer family...except they don't really ever seem embarrassed by it.

Forbes estimates the newest value of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to be somewhere around $1.51 billion - a 23% increase in just the last year - yet, just 24th in the NFL.  Of course, NFL TV revenues are the biggest factor in the Glazers' ever-increasing fortunes. 

The only bad financial news for Glazers these days is the Cowboys are now worth an estimated $4 billion, continuing to put some distance between Dallas and the Glazers' other investment, Manchester United, most-recently estimated at $3.1 billion.

Is that why rumors rumours are circling England the Glazers may sell off another $400 million chunk of Man U off to the public...and potentially even the whole team?

Unlikely.  Man U returns to the Champions League next year, and that's expected to boost in revenues by an additional $60 million.  And personally, if I had the chance to cash in $400 million of my investments right now, I would too.

So times are good for the Glazers, who:

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Weekend Reading: TV Money, Ticket Firesales, & the Importance of "Cool"

Some weekend reading for you as you await the first full day of 2015 NFL games...
  1. Fields of Green - "The NFL's TV ratings are about to skyrocket," contributing to approx. $12 billion (!?!) in revenue this year.
  2. Fields of Green - "Leagues, teams and media companies may already be facing a bursting bubble," if cord-cutters disrupt the seemingly unstoppable trajectory of cable-rights fees.
  3. LivingSocial - The Orlando Magic follow the Florida Gators in selling tickets on the deals site, a sign that teams continue to struggle to get fans off of the couch and into the arena.
  4. Tampa Bay Times - However, not all teams are struggling at the gate - the Tampa Bay Lightning feel good enough about their strong ticket sales that they're targeting the secondary ticket market and threatening to take season tickets away from anyone who resells more than 50% of his/her account.  How has the team been so successful?  It's not the location; it's not the arena; it's an owner who has made his product the coolest in town.
  5. Field of Schemes - "No, Nationals Park is not an exception to the rule that stadiums don’t do squat for local economies," since it is impossible to tell what the Navy Yard would have become without baseball in the booming construction market that is Washington D.C...and the city could have arguably done more with that $600 million by spending it in other ways. 

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Toytown Development Moves Forward

It's long been the opinion on this blog one of the most likely places for a new Rays stadium would be the Toytown property in the East/Central part of Pinellas County: it's right off the highway; it's not far from the Howard-Frankland Bridge; and most importantly, Pinellas County has the money to pool together for a new stadium.

It's not ideal (the cost to clean up the former landfill might be prohibitive, for starters)...but as I wrote this summer, it's something.  The county tried to move the project forward once, in 2010, before the economy doomed the deal.

But things may be back on track now as the Times' Tony Marrero reports, with three developers, including stadium-minded Darryl LeClair, bidding on the 240-acres of land at Toytown:
A Bay Buzz reporter who called Thursday was forwarded to a prerecorded message by Chris Eastman, Echelon’s chief development officer at Echelon, that confirmed the company submitted a proposal.

“Out of respect for the company’s process, we will not be commenting to the media at this time,” Eastman said.
The bids aren't public yet, so we don't know if stadiums were included in the plans, but a second bidder has an intriguing tie to stadium speculation - the LLC's name was "SunRay Park":
SunRay Park remained a mystery Thursday. There's a SunRay Park and Casino in Farmington, N.M. but it's unclear if there's a connection. A message left at the casino was not returned. 

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