(The Rays) can dream all they want about what a fancy urban stadium would mean to growth and development, but it won’t matter unless they can figure out how to pay for it. I know where they need to start, though. Major League Baseball needs to pony up.I've recently written that we shouldn't assume a new stadium will cost $600+ million; a fixed-roof option with a translucent roof (roof technology has come a long way in recent years) would be a much-more economical option, possibly in the $450 million range.
A few days ago, the National Football League announced the St. Louis Rams can move to Los Angeles. As part of that deal, the league pledged $100 million for the franchises in San Diego and Oakland to find solutions to the stadium problems in those cities.
Why wouldn’t baseball want to do the same here?
The Rays will have to pay a big part of the bill, too, but even that won’t be enough to cover the whole cost. If the landing spot is Tampa, I’m guessing city and county leaders will cast a longing eye toward tourist taxes and rental car surcharges as a major funding source.
A stadium will have to be everything Tropicana Field is not. Fans will demand a retractable roof, air-conditioning and all the other do-dads that are a staple of modern stadiums. No sense building something unless it is done right.
The problem is, doing it right is enormously expensive — probably $600 million, minimum.
That might make a stadium possible with $200 million from the Rays; $150 million from MLB; and $100 million from tax coffers. Of course, neither the Rays nor MLB will want to spend that much, and Hillsborough County doesn't have a spare $100 million without drawing from general property tax revenues (via CRA/TIF districts).
But it's worth pointing out MLB is richer than it's ever been before and they're able to pay players more than they ever have before. This is largely in part to the fact that local taxpayers are paying more of their expenses than ever before.
And, as I wrote in 2011, the Rays' Stadium Saga is MLB's Problem, not Tampa Bay's:
With $7B in revenue last year, there's plenty of profit in MLB to go around. And although revenue sharing is considered by some a crutch and a problem, it's neither; revenue sharing is a symptom of the league allowing teams to spend dollars proportional to their cities' size (because its more profitable that way).
As much as the Steinbrenners and Lucchino/Werner/Henry clans may want revenue sharing reduced, it will remain an important part of the MLB business model as long as salaries continue to grow (which they will). But since the big clubs profit more if the smaller clubs profit more, a stadium in Tampa Bay is so important to everyone in the league.
A good point is raised by Maury Brown of The Biz of Baseball, who says MLB owners already padded their pockets on the backs of Tampa Bay:
St. Pete built the then-Florida Suncoast Dome in 1986 to try and bring MLB to the market. When it was completed in 1990, it, and Tampa Bay-St. Pete became a lever to get new stadiums around the league built. Whether it was the White Sox, Giants, or Mariners, all used relocation to the new Dome as a way to get shiny ballparks built.The stadium debate isn't about the Rays - it's about the profits of all 30 MLB clubs. If simply building a new stadium was the instant fix some people suggest, MLB would step in to help close the $200 million funding gap Tampa Bay faces in building a $500-$600 million stadium. But it's not. Unfortunately, the stadium debate is much like the national debt debate and there's no instant fix.
The problem in Tampa Bay isn't just about the fans or the market - it's about MLB. It allowed its business expenses to skyrocket, and now it wants you to help fix it.
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