Sunday, November 22, 2015

What St. Pete Leaders Still Don't Agree on Regarding Rays Going Into 2016

In case you missed it, the Trib wrote again this weekend about St. Pete's interest in building a new stadium on the site of the current one:
Trickier, however, is how to make it work — how to make a baseball stadium attractive not only to the Rays, but to baseball fans who largely have stayed away from the Trop, where the team has finished last in attendance in 10 of its 18 years, and next-to-last in three other years.
Everyone now knows what we first started identifying in 2009: the Trop problems were not as much facility-related as they were location-related.  I also forecasted in 2010 that perception-related issues would continue to push attendance numbers down. 

But there are even more issues to resolve moving forward, as the Trib explains:
“Letting the Rays look isn’t the difficult question,” city council member Darden Rice said last week. ”The difficult question is, what if they look and they want to come back and build a new stadium at Tropicana Field?”

Or, as Rice and others said, deciding whether a baseball stadium is the best use of the 85 acres of prime real estate on the edge of the city’s booming downtown.
Sounds like St. Pete's council has been reading up on important blog posts like this one!

The Trib also weighed Andrew Zimbalist's "MLB wants to be downtown" comments with the new mentality of, "look, the Braves can build in suburbia!"  It's a debate playing out in the Toytown vs. Downtown discussions.

ALSO READ: Would St. Pete taxpayers foot bill for another stadium?

But one of the most interesting comments in the Trib story comes at the end, from St. Petersburg councilman Jim Kennedy:
Kennedy, who has opposed letting the team look outside the city, said if the Rays make a more permanent commitment to St. Petersburg more people will come to the games. Kennedy, a season-ticket holder, said baseball is generational, where grandparents, parents and kids follow the same team, and it needs time to take root.

“When you have a 30-year use agreement and you try to get out 10 years into it, it doesn’t lead to a whole lot of unity,” he said.
Actually, the Rays started planting those seeds just 25 games into their contract.

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  1. "the Trop problems were not as much facility-related as they were location-related. I also forecasted in 2010 that perception-related issues would continue to push attendance numbers down"

    Actually,no Noah, it's BOTH. The Trop is NOT a baseball friendly ballpark - just look at it. The field is awful. The seating is awful. And no amount of cosmetic changes will ever make it a baseball stadium. Now throw in a really bad location and you have the situation today. Sad thing is, they had the opportunity back then to make a real ball park and didn't...

    1. Tom, if you took the time to talk to the fans at the Trop, you'll find surprisingly few complain about the stadium.

      And if you ask fans in Tampa why they don't go, almost all will say they don't want to drive there. Ask what they hate about the Trop, they'll have trouble naming specific building problems.

      But the more people like you - and the Rays - say "the park sucks," the more it develops a negative reputation and it loses any cool factor it once had:

    2. Ya, I believe (and most would as well) that if you picked the Trop up, and dropped it in Channelside that they would draw at least 20k a game like the Bolts do, which would be a 25% increase...
      The 2 biggest things is, 1 - St. Pete is not just surrounded by water (no people), but a big part of St. Pete is on a very tight budget or don't care for baseball, plus their snow birds fly north during the summer.
      2 - The Rays have to get closer to not just Tampa, which also has 4x's the Latino pop of St. Pete which historically loves baseball, but closer to Tampa's blooming "bedroom communities" & Orlando which is (round trip) 50! mi. closer to Channelside...
      The Braves are moving to be closer to it's fans & the money, Tampa's that for the Rays...

    3. Oh, and 3 - Tampa can offer more corporate support w/ not just daily att., but more importantly season ticket support...

    4. The Rays will never sell many tickets to Orlando fans, so get that out of the way now...and I don't think young Latinos buy tickets any more than middle-aged white men do. Just ask the Marlins.

      As for the Braves, they aren't moving because of population....they're moving because someone will build them a free park and they can reduce their travel time to other spring stadiums.

    5. Well, you got me on the Miami comparison, but to say "never sell many tickets" is crazy. To think that if they built the park in Tampa, and wouldn't draw way bigger numbers from i4's Polk, Osceola, and Orange county, again is crazy. Not only would they draw from that way, they would draw bigger numbers from those from N & S along i75, I'm talking Riverview, Brandon, Wesley Chapel, the Villages, etc..
      Plus, projections of the stretch between Tampa & Orlando by 2050 is to explode into a "mega-region" (Orlampa), and think if downtown Tampa by then, it's where they'll want to come play...

    6. And I was talking about the Braves in Cobb county, not Pinellas...

  2. I agree with the statement "the Trop problems were not as much facility-related as they were location-related...". The TROP is not a bad place to see a ball game in 72 degree comfort. Brian Auld says that Rays need to draw 10,000 more fans a game to be viable. It will be pure folly to build a new stadium in the same location as the TROP and then expect 10,000 more fans per game to magically appear.

    In any case, if a new stadium is built, wherever that may be, it should be 100% paid for by the Rays and MLB.

    1. A new stadium not in St. Pete means that part of the existing fans that attend games will not go to the new location. No mass transit.

      So how many fans from the existing average (15 403) will stay home if there's a new stadium downtown TB? 5 000? 7 500?

      So the challenge here is to sell at least 15 000 more tickets per game, if not more. The bar is higher for the Rays and this problem is probably more difficult to solve than building a new stadium with funding.

    2. ? Where they'll lose some attendees from St.Pete, they by far make up for that in Tampa, DUH!
      Plus, Tampa can offers more corp. support which will not just help daily att., but more season tickets...

    3. I hope you're right. But it's still a challenge in my point of view. Not impossible but the bar is way higher that what everyone may think.

      When I read that the TB Lightning (which is a popular team that draw good numbers) in not profitable (see latest Forbes estimate), Rays will need way more fans attending games and watching TV to be profitable in a new stadium, especially if Sternberg need to fund a big part of it.

    4. I think it's a stretch to suggest a baseball stadium will draw 30,000 for more than a few years in either TB or MTL.

    5. Noah, in Montreal, the target average attendances based on the initial feasibility study is between 27 673 and 31 634.

      We'll see what the revised study/business plan will use as assumptions, we expect this study to be released soon (hopefully, this is the major announcement that Mayor Coderre talked about few weeks ago).

      Once that said, if Montreal can't maintain a minimum average of 22 500 to 25 000 years over years, there is a major problem in my mind.

    6. That's wonderful for Montreal. I'm sure the Rays could get a study that also projects between 27,673 and 31,634 fans each night for 30 years at a Tampa stadium.

    7. Noah, you don't seems to understand the market in Montreal, the capacity of this market in 2015 to have important crowds even 5-10 years after the arrival of a franchise.

      Stop assuming TB and Montreal are in the same boat in term of attendance, market size, attendance behaviours. Things are not equal.

      I'm not talking about a study or a poll, I'm talking about real fans paying real $$$ to sit down in real seats.

      Just the fact that the Montreal Canadien now worth almost 6 times the TB Lightning is an example of how big such market can support a sport team.

      Yes, baseball in not hockey but on the other hand, the financial structure of MLB is way more beneficial/profitable for a team in a smaller market than the NHL is with a salary cap and very few revenues sharing.

      Just to put the numbers in perspectives, Habs regional games on RDS (only the french network for ~60 games) represent ~$68M/year. If the Expos only get a third of that, it's ~$23M/year. That's only the local TV right, not the national ones with radio and the english TV network.

      In order to make sure you have a good understanding of the market, you are invited to the Red Sox vs Blue Jays games in April 2016. With a Big O at full capacity with probably a tribute to Pedro Martinez, you will feel something that very few fans experienced in their lives in a "not-very-adequate-baseball" stadium. Can't imagine the same crowd in a real downtown baseball stadium!

    8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    9. Aha Noah, these Expos fans are funny, aren't they?
      2 things!
      1- the Tampa Bay metro has more then a 1/2 million more people & is expected to double, YES double, by 2050 along w/ Orlando, which will be one of the FASTEST growing areas in North America.
      Plus, I'm sure many will flee Montreal to here from the "mini ice-age" by 2030 (

      2- the Expos drew 7k less fans then the D'Rays in their last year of 2004, 4k less in 02', 9k less in 01', 7k less in 00', and on!
      And, that's a team that plays in the (2nd) largest city in all of Canada compared to only the (79th) in the US! Yes, 79th!
      And, HOCKEY? Their only drawing about 2k less, or .1% more captivity of the arenas, ONLY .1%!
      And, by the way, our football team draws over 40,000! more fans per game...

      Soooo! Please don't compare "markets", cause "you don't seems to understand", thanks for playing...

    10. @ B. Dufala

      1. MTL = 3.8M people with a very high density. Way higher than TB, with major mass transit system. Check your numbers. Just in case, US numbers does not worth more than Canadian numbers, there is no exchange rate to apply on them in that case!

      2. You compare 2004 numbers to 2015 potential numbers. Two different situation that can't be compared. You can do better than that, I'm pretty sure.

      Once that said, you are too, invited at the Big O with Noah in April 2016. It good to read your passion for your region. Just hope that more people like you voice their point-of-views.

      Remember "Montréal est une femme". You may fall in love with our city like I felt in love with the TB region and plan to go there again without any doubts.


    11. Let's not forget sponsorship and corporate bases as well, in which Montreal has a clear advantage. Heck, they even have high profile sponsors for the Montreal Baseball Project, getting in on the ground floor for when the Expos return.

      So again, like Pat said above, come to the games in Montreal in April, and then tell us whether or not Montreal makes a great market. Noah, you could do a special report on it, maybe get the station to pay for it :)

    12. Pat brings up lots of good points, but the 2004 numbers aren't to be completely ignored in my book...

      And while MTL holds a corporate, transit, and density advantage.....TB holds a major tax advantage....and relocations aren't exactly cheap.

      If MTL wants the Rays (or any team), their opening bid will be a 100% subsidized stadium.....and it would likely take additional sweeteners from there.

    13. Noah, 100% subsidized stadium in Montreal is out of question. Investors knows that, fans knows that and governments/tax payers are clear on that too.

      Once that said, the rationale (and the debate that we can't wait to start over here) is to what extend public funding (subsidized or loans) should be allocated to such project (stadium).

      The fact are that Federal government don't give money to fund sports stadium. They will fund infrastructure projects around a stadium but will never directly fund a stadium. So we are talking about giving a land, financing a Light Train System, investing in parks or in the roads, bridges, ...

      Provincial government could fund some projects/stadium (like they did with the Videotron Center and the Saputo Stadium) but the Bell Center was 100% funded by private investors (with maybe some cities tax rebates). Money can come from Tourisme Quebec and Tourisme Montreal from their annual tourism budget, like they did for the F1 annual race on Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve that have major impact on tourism in June every year.

      Finally, cities could invest in stadium (like they did in Quebec city and in the Saputo Stadium) or give a land (which is probably what will happen, the equivalent of $25M-$50M).

      Now this is the subsidized part of the equation, and the feasibility study proposed 66% from the governments. That study was a first look at the whole situation and it's not what the investors will ask. A revised study is expected (probably already done) with a business plan. This plan will highlight what the investors are requesting.

      But it's not the only element of the equation (in Montreal, I can't speak for TB).

      The other elements are funding (loans) from governments (Provincial or cities) or from government organizations (like CDPQ, IQ, ...) or other funds structure like Fonds de Solidarité FTQ (own by Union and it's members). CDPQ funded George Gillett when he bought the Montreal Canadien. It was a loan with condition. And it was profitable for all parties.

      Finally, there are other tools that could be used. Immigrant/Investors program is one of them.

      My point here is that the dynamic in Canada (and in Montreal) is very different from what we see/expect in the US. I'm not saying that no subsidized funds will be involved in the project, but between 100% and 0%, there's a big margin.

      Finally, on very interesting comment from a former marketing VP of the Habs, is that stadiums are now the most important asset for teams to control the fans experience and the sponsorships revenues. Having a subsidized stadium means that a team is loosing some of it's ability to control the revenues and this is a major concern for teams owners.

      With the value of the MLB teams, branding is now a more important asset than the premise by itself. And having constraints to manage the branding is more damageable to the profitability than funding privately a stadium.

      This is why might see a different approach on stadium funding in the future, especially in Canada. With the big media conglomerate that desperately need premium sports content, funding heavily and privately a stadium may be more probable than what we think over here. Like what MLSE did it in Toronto, owning all remises and sports team to guaranty the sports content to Rogers.

    14. Sadly for Montreal fans, if the public/private sectors don't step up and fund a stadium in its entirety, the Rays won't be doing anything more than flirting with you enough to make their current partner jealous.

      Teams want to control everything that goes on inside a stadium....but they really want someone else to pay for building it.

    15. How about you worry about the Tampa area and the Rays... leave what Montreal will do to get a team to those in the know...