Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Controversial Future of Spring Training in Pinellas...and Beyond

With pitchers & catchers reporting across the Sunshine State, we're seeing a lot of headlines about the spring training shuffle, where local communities bid against each other to try and keep MLB teams happy (even when they aren't candidates to leave the state).

The Trib's Steven Girardi writes today about the city of Dunedin's frantic negotiations with the Blue Jays, whose contract expires there in only 14 months.  Basically, politicians and county tourism folks quoted a bunch of economic impact numbers, said the team could move to Arizona (which is doubtful), and everyone should get their checkbooks ready.

The National Post recently wrote "the Jays prefer to keep their spring-training complex in Dunedin...but if Dunedin cannot deliver 'a state-of-the-art, top notch facility,' (team president Mark Shapiro) says, the club could decide by this summer to move elsewhere."

Typical non-threat threat.

Oh, and here's another: "'There were three or four places that actually came forward and expressed interest in bringing us to their city,' Mr. Beeston said during an interview (in Toronto) last week."

If the Jays wanted to spend the $50+ million required to build a new "state-of-the-art" facility like they'd prefer, they could of course, just build it themselves right now.  But they'd rather spend $58 million on Mark Buehrle and have you just build them a stadium!

The Braves' future is also very much in flux, with Pinellas bed taxes off the table until the Rays' future is a little clearer.  I participated in a forum last week with Gary Sheffield, part of the investment group hoping to bring the Braves to Pinellas, and it was clear he was a little frustrated by the slow process.

Sheff said the Braves were still interested in Pinellas, but the Times' Charlie Frago recently wrote the team did not participate in a recent meeting with county leaders regarding the future of Toytown.

Maybe it was the cold reception they got to requests for $10.5M/yr in tax money?

As I've written countless times before, the Braves (as with many MLB teams), will move anywhere someone will build them a free, spankin'-new stadium.
UPDATE: One day after this post went live, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the Braves have hired a lobbyist in Palm Beach County to explore possible subsidies there.

But if that fails...there's always Option B....

Option B is one I first wrote about in 2013: expanding the Phillies' Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater to a two-team facility.

County officials have discussed it, and it would likely cost a lot less than building a brand-new facility. Dunedin wouldn't like it, but the county would theoretically retain most of the tourism benefits from spring training.

The idea is several years old, but I can tell you the commissioners most in-favor of the idea in 2013 are still on the board.

Meanwhile, a grass-roots effort popped up to remove language in the state's 2016 tax package (HB 7099) that would allow counties to use up to 10% of its Tourist Development Tax, also known as the "bed tax" or "tourist tax," to pay for law enforcement, emergency medical and other public safety services.  The email I received regarding the effort came from the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce.

Currently, the state restricts how taxes collected from hotel room stays, only allowed to go to projects designed to increase tourism, like stadiums, convention centers, beach renourishment, and marketing.

God forbid we allow our taxpayers to spend a small portion of the tourist tax on things tourists consume!

Floridians love the idea of tourists paying for things we don't want to pay for, like stadiums.  So who thinks voters wouldn't like the idea of tourists paying for necessities like first-responders too?!?

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Monday, February 15, 2016

Link Roundup!

Here's what sports business articles you may have missed in the last few weeks:
  1. Echoing an April 2015 post here explaining roof technology has come a long way, the Tampa Tribune writes the Rays' future stadium roof options go far beyond just retractable roofs.
  2. St. Pete doesn't appear to be in any rush to get bids out on redeveloping the Trop.
  3. Don't waste your time clicking on it, but since Montreal investors can't come up with a billion dollars for a franchise and a stadium, some apparently think splitting the Rays' home games between Montreal and Tampa Bay would be a good alternative.  Of course, they continue to forget the Rays are legally obligated to play 81 games at Tropicana Field through 2027 unless they build a new stadium somewhere else in Tampa Bay.
  4. The Times' Pasco Co. columnist thinks a stadium could work in Wesley Chapel. Again, don't waste your time.
  5. Gary Shelton asks if you can "afford to continue to be a Tampa Bay area sports fan," as the Lightning raise ticket prices on the heels of similar increases from the Bucs.  The Rays have also continued to raise prices slowly over the years, but all three teams continue to have some of the most affordable tickets in the country.
  6. "The NFL's bonanza will not be an economic windfall to the L.A. metropolitan area," writes Stanford economist Roger Noll in the pages of the Los Angeles Times.  Important points he brings up are that pro teams are not big businesses, employing fewer people than a single department store.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Well, at Least Super Bowls aren't as Expensive as the Olympics!

If you ask economists, Super Bowls can bring anywhere from significant to negative economic impact to a region.  If you ask me, they can have a small-to-moderate impact (nowhere near what the league claims) to some business owners for the 50,000-or-so out-of-towners they bring to your local hotels and restaurants.

The problem is, if you remember this outstanding journalism from the Star-Tribune, the NFL expects some damn much from local communities that host the game, that many of the public benefits of the game are negated by the borderline-absurd costs.

For a great summary, check out Neil deMause's "Super Bowl Windfall Myth."   Or the Wall Street Journal.  We also saw similar disappointments from some in Dallas, New York, Glendale, etc.

The Glendale case is particularly interesting, because it wasn't so much that there wasn't positive economic impact; it's that Phoenix captured it all, while Glendale (45min away) paid for the events!

That's why I was actually happy to see the story last week of San Francisco was reimbursing Santa Clara for approx. $4.8 million in Super Bowl 50 costs.

Tampa Bay actually saw a similar cooperation during the RNC, where Tampa shared some of the federal security dollars with St. Petersburg for an event at The Trop.  Maybe - just maybe - it would be possible for a regional collaboration on something baseball-related too, in order to minimize any negative financial impact across a larger pool of people????   (I won't hold my breath)

Anyway, if you're looking for a little more reading before tonight's billion-dollar commercial, here are some of this blog's other top Super Bowl posts over the years:

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The One Thing Missing From Yesterday's Rays Conversation in Tampa

It was no coincidence the Rays released their list of stadium-search critieria Thursday night, on the eve of their first official meeting with Hillsborough County officials; the document set the tone for Friday morning's meeting.

According to the Times, the parties stuck to script and spent a few hours reviewing what the document means for the team's search moving forward.  By all reports, it was a productive conversation about building a truly iconic new ballpark that revolutionizes the stadium experience, much as Camden Yards did nearly 25 years ago.

But the conversation reportedly did not include how to finance a new stadium. The Rays' dictated the agenda and VP Melanie Lenz was quoted as saying, "It's really hard to talk about financing a project that we don't know what it's going to look like and we don't know where it's going to be."

Well, I disagreed:
We've all searched for a new home or apartment, right? Or a car? Or a boat?

Isn't "what's my budget" one of the very first things you discuss?

Except, the Rays don't want it to be. As the Times' editorial board writes this morning, "this is the fun part." This is the part where the team sells a grand vision with lots of pretty pictures.

It's also the part where the team hopes the region forgets $300M subsidizing a pro sports team may not be the best use of its tax dollars.

The editorial makes some good points, and it's worth a read, but we still haven't seen the board echo it's call for the Rays to open their books - and actually demonstrate a fininancial need - since they once did in 2011.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rays Release Stadium Site Evaluation Criteria

The Tampa Bay Rays sent St. Pete their outline detailing how they will evaluate possible stadium sites in Pinellas & Hillsborough counties.  You can read it at the bottom of this post.

It included:
  • catalyst for development
  • local authenticity
  • regional connectivity
  • site accessibility
  • size & geometry
  • financial feasibility & development readiness
The Rays also said they'd be focused on the "regional business centers," which could mean downtown Tampa, Westshore, downtown St. Pete, Mid-Pinellas/Toytown/Carillion, or any point in-between.  It most likely does not include the State Fairgrounds near I-4.

UPDATE: The Trib's Chris O'Donnell, whom I witnessed working a marathon day yesterday, adds "There is no mention of how much a new stadium may cost or how much the Rays will contribute" and the ConAgra site may be out of the mix because of the time it would take to turn over, while the Times' Charlie Frago and Rick Danielson write "taxpayer dollars a must" and the team is looking to create the next revolutionary stadium, like Camden Yards was in the early 90s.

The Rays meet with Hillsborough County's stadium search committee for the first time Friday morning.  Expect many smiles and vague press conference responses to follow!

“This process document contains the vision and criteria which will guide our search," said Rays VP Melanie Lenz in a statement.  "We look forward to taking a fresh look at all possibilities for our next generation ballpark.”
Document posted several different sizes for different platform users:

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Bucs Raise Ticket Prices...Just Like Every Team That Renovates its Stadium

Remember this tweet?
Obviously, the answer was yes, and as the Times' Greg Auman reported today, Buccaneers' season tickets are going up an average of 24% next year.  It's the Bucs' first ticket price hike in eight years, and they'll still be in the lower-third of NFL ticket price averages.

But this still serves as a good reminder that fans don't just pay for stadium renovations through tax dollars; they also pay through the tickets they purchase.  Tickets at the new Marlins' stadium went up 56%; tickets at the new Braves' stadium will go up 45%....hell, the Miami Dolphins even admitted as much in their application for state subsidies!

And, often, fans pay for stadiums in other ways too, as I reported two months ago:

Auman quoted a statement from Bucs COO Brian Ford:
"The excitement, energy and passion displayed by Buccaneers fans over the years have turned Raymond James Stadium into one of the nation's premier sports we continue to enhance the in-game experience, it is also essential that we remain competitive from a pricing standpoint while still providing our fans with some of the most affordable tickets in the NFL."
Longtime Shadow of the Stadium reader Scott Myers (no fan of the Glazer family) responded to that statement with an email to me that read:
"Competitive with whom? It should be noted that the Bucs will be receiving about $18 million as their share of the $550 million relocation fee being paid by the Rams, and they have a pretty good chance of getting one or two more windfall gifts if the Chargers and/or Raiders relocate. Does their greed know no bounds?"
My WTSP investigative counterpart and Bucs season ticket-holder Mike Deeson seemed unfazed by the news, since he - and many other season ticket-holders - locked in their 2016 prices at the end of last season, before the price hike. 
But, let this episode serve as a warning to Rays fans looking for a new Tampa Bay stadium - your tickets are going to cost a lot more than they currently do at the Trop.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Monday, February 1, 2016

Bucs Fail to Pretend to Prove ROI on State Tax Dollars; Don't Get Any

Last week, I wrote how the Bucs' application for more state stadium dollars failed at its one job: create lofty estimates of how much return on investment taxpayers will get if they give pro teams millions of dollars for projects that are already underway.

Well, Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) released its rankings of the four applicants today, and the three teams that made lofty claims were passed along to the legislature for possible funding; the application from the other team, the Bucs, was denied on the basis that it was incomplete.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, and Daytona International Speedway were each seeking between $1 million and $3 million a year for stadium renovation projects that are already underway. The legislature will get final say on the awarding of any incentives this year.

The Jaguars, Dolphins, and speedway projects all failed to secure subsidies last year, but have returned again in 2016 with similar applications promising new jobs, new income for the state, and countless other ways taxpayers would benefit by spending money on pro sports.  Even when it means removing seats and jacking up the price of tickets.

The Buccaneers' application for $12 million toward Raymond James Stadium renovations - as WTSP and Shadow of the Stadium first reported in October - was the only new application this year.
All three of the state's NFL teams already receive $2 million per year in state subsidies, but a controversial new law passed in 2014 expanded the state's stadium incentive program to include more money for more teams. WTSP previously exposed the poor return-on-investment taxpayers gets from the incentives, prompting many state legislators to reject all requests last year.
However, the 2016 rankings of the projects from the DEO - under control of Governor Scott - were drastically different than the state economist's ranking last year, estimating the Dolphins' return on investment to taxpayers at $2.22 per dollar spent; Daytona's at $1.25 per dollar, and Jacksonville's at 91 cents per dollar.  Of course, those estimates were based on data provided by the applicants.
The Bucs tell me they'll re-apply next year for the incentives, as "certain required documents" were not yet available in time for this year's rankings.
The Buccaneers' 2016 application lacked documentation on how its new construction project will increase jobs and taxable sales.  But the team has called its now-underway Raymond James Stadium renovation plans a "win-win" for both the team and taxpayers.  The county will pay $29 million of the planned stadium overhaul, which is expected to cost between $78 million and $100 million overall.
Hillsborough County owns Raymond James Stadium, but the Bucs receive nearly every penny of profit generated there, including most profits from non-football events. New subsidies - which the Bucs could re-apply for next year - could give the Bucs a million dollars per year in new tax rebates, until the end of their lease in 2027. The money would help reduce the team's financial commitment to the renovations.
The Orlando City Soccer Club was the only other team to have requested state money under the new incentive program, but the team withdrew its application before the end of 2015's legislative session and self-funded its new stadium project.  It did not re-apply this year.

Conservative political group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) lobbied against the stadium subsidies in the 2015 legislative session and plans on doing so again in 2016.

"Taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars shouldn't go to profit-seeking billionaire sports team owners that already get fed at the ticket office, concession stands, and NFL revenue sharing trough," AFP spokesperson Andres Malave told 10News in November. "AFP will continue to work with taxpayers and volunteers to hold elected officials accountable."

AFP is also supporting a longshot effort in the legislature to ban pro teams from building or renovating stadiums on public property (HB1427), but a hearing on the bill was scarpped during a House committee meeting Monday and isn't expected to get much traction.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook