Friday, October 2, 2015

Four Ironic Twists to Bucs Stadium Stories...and Two Important Life Lessons

A day after I wrote about some of the finer points/problems in the Bucs renovation negotiations, I found so much irony abounding in Hillsborough County:

1) Hagan says the Bucs are robbing fans
Hillsborough Co. Commissioner Ken Hagan - a known stadium proponent and member of the Tampa Sports Authority (TSA) - had frustrated quotes in both the Times on Wednesday night and the Trib on Thurday night

One topic - the Bucs' refusal to give Tampa Bay a ManU soccer game in exchange for a second regular-season game abroad each year:

“They own Manchester United — why can’t we get a game here?” Hagan told the Trib. “There’s a reason why the Glazers are disliked internationally. It’s frustrating. They said the request for a second home game elsewhere was an insurance policy.”

I feel ya, commish.
Hagan painted a picture of reality to the Times, however: "Whenever it appears that we are close to an agreement, they always change the terms. The reality is, based on the terms of the original lease agreement, what is in the best interest of the fan is not always in the best interest of the taxpayer."

The irony is that Hagan has been Greater Tampa's single-biggest proponent of helping pro sports teams land tax dollars.

He campaigned in 2010 on a platform of building the Rays a new stadium, although he said at the time he didn't support any public financing for the project. In the years since, Hagan shifted his platform to "no new tax revenues," while repeatedly "flirting," as he calls it, with the notion of luring the team to Tampa.

He also considered additional tax dollars for the Bucs this summer if they'd make it more of an "Ethan Allen"-type of renovation, versus a "Rooms to Go"-type of renovation.

But the kicker was this quote to the Trib, regarding an attendance-related clause on the second game abroad:

"Winning cures everything, historically, and this market has reflected that. If the Bucs win, people will return in droves."

I'm sure the Rays rolled their eyes upon reading that line.

2) Trib editorial says Bucs out of bounds
It only took one request from the Bucs to get the Trib editorial board to call for accountability? An excerpt:
Oddly enough, the super-generous lease terms give the Bucs all revenues for home Bucs games and cost the taxpayers $250,000 in operating costs on game day. It would save tax dollars to have the team leave town for two of the eight regular-season home games.

But it would cheat the fans who helped build the $168 million stadium and rob the city of playing host to American’s mega-sport, the NFL.

The Bucs shouldn’t demand a second off-site game, and if they insist the TSA should refuse.
Where has the Trib been the last seven years of the Rays' Stadium Saga, where the team has passed up reasonable offers, declined to open their books and demonstrate a need, and refused to even talk about what kind of financial contributions they'd put forward?

Even more irony: the Glazers are worth a Forbes-estimated $4.7 billion.  Just sayin'.

3) The Bucs expect Hillsborough to abide by letter of contract, but not them
The Bucs are holding the TSA & taxpayers to every penny they're owed in the original 1998 contract. More than $25 million worth. 

But the team still wants a concession from the county in exchange for releasing them from the $11 million practice facility clause...that the team decided against taking advantage of...and will disappear off the books in 2028 if the Bucs doesn't choose to build a new practice facility...which would be silly since they've already got a $30-plus-million facility.

"We reserve our right to the $12 million allowance in perpetuity," Eric Land, former chief operating officer for the Buccaneers, told the St. Petersburg Times in 2007.

4) The Bucs getting bad press after they leaked story to select reporters to soften the blow. 
Despite some not-so-friendly columns from the Trib's Martin Fennelly and the Times' Tom Jones, the initial reactions to this week's news could have been worse.

The Bucs knew their demands were over-the-top, so on the same day I got the negotiating documents through a public records request from the Tampa Sports Authority, the team fed the two reporters they felt the most comfortable with to break the news.  Not the worst idea, as it helped sugar-coat some really negative news.

We'll see how the final negotiations play out this month, but the bad news for taxpayers is Hillsborough County voters approved a deal so sweet for the Bucs that TSA finds itself on its heels, trying to preserve any semblance of a fair deal. 

And it wouldn't be very NFL-like for the Bucs to settle for anything less than arm-twisting and leveraging taxpayers for every penny they can...even though they already have most of them.

LESSON 1: Elections have consequences.
LESSON 2: NFL profits almost always come before fans.

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