Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Pre-emptive Splash of Cold Water for Montreal Rays Fans

With the Jays and Red Sox kicking off a 2-game exhibition in Montreal, you can expect another round of defeaning "we have 106,000 fans here, so move the Rays to Canada!" rhetoric, just like last year.

No doubt, Tampa Bay's radio waves will be filled with fearmongering (whatever drives listeners).  And Montreal will ride the momentum into a newly-released plan to land an MLB team.

But will that plan include how the city plans to pay for a brand-new stadium?  Or how the city intends to make the logistical and legal hassle of a franchise relocation worth MLB's trouble?

Simply wanting a team isn't good enough.

I thank loyal Shadow of the Stadium reader Patrice Derome for keeping me in the loop on the French-Canadian media's reporting, which have been enough to keep Expos faithful and conspiracy theorists alike plenty busy:
But at the end of the day, my post from last year remains relevant - Tampa Bay has the Rays, and a contract binding them here until 2027.

Don't let that get in the way of your dreams this weekend though!

At least the Diamondbacks may give Montreal fans hope that the Rays aren't their only options...

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tell Us How You Really Feel About Diamondbacks' Posturing for Stadium Renos/Replacement

In case you missed it, the Diamondbacks, who entered the league the same year as the Rays, also think it's time to start talking about replacing their stadium.

And in case you missed it, I wasn't impressed:

I wasn't the only one, either:

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Four Takeaways from This Weekend's Stadium Saga News

  1. It was good to see the Tampa Bay Times pen an editorial echoing my post from last week on publicly vetting the majority of Tampa stadium talks. This is an important topic that appears to need a lot more attention.
  2. St. Petersburg is keeping it's stadium campaign public, vetting 15 proposals from well-known companies to redevelop Tropicana Field - with or without a baseball stadium. One team I'm keeping an eye on - Stantec, one of Jeff Vinik's big Channelside developers, who listed the Tampa Bay Lightning's Rob Canton as a project consultant for the potential Trop job.
  3. A Trib editorial made some nice points about Spring Training's economic impact by drawing out-of-state tourists, especially compared to the much higher costs of a full MLB stadium, which tend to target locals.
  4. But it's also worth mentioning that same Trib editorial dismisses "academics" who don't believe in MLB teams' economic impact claims, calling their warnings "nonsense." Too bad they didn't read the embarrassing Rays spring training economic impact report from 2014. Or the report from Tampa's 2012 Republican National Convention.  Sadly, what's really "nonsense" is the fuzzy math the Trib editorial writers use without economic justification.  But who needs economics when you're cheerleading for new stadiums?

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Friday, March 25, 2016

How Commissioner Ken Hagan Flipped on Opposition to Rays Stadium Subsidies

Hillsborough Co. Commissioner Ken Hagan, the self-appointed lead negotiator on the Rays-to-Tampa talks, promised to be totally transparent with his peers on commission regarding any stadium negotiations...except for that pesky issue of where the Rays want to put a stadium...which means conversations about funding in specific parts of town may remain secret too.

So does that mean Hagan is expecting "no public dollars" for the project, as he pledged several times along the tea party-influenced 2010 campaign trail?  And again in 2013?

Of course not.  Which makes it all the more interesting to track his shifting stances on how many tax dollars the Rays will wind up getting.
First, Hagan's 2010 pledge: "I am certainly not talking about public financing."

But six years later, Hagan flipped his stance to "no new tax dollars," opening the county up to paying for infrastructure projects related to a new stadium, as he successfully pushed for in the controversial Bass Pro Shop deal back in 2013.

He tried to rewrite history in a recent interview with my WTSP colleague, Mark Rivera, saying he's always been open to using public dollars for the Rays:

OK, so Hagan's current stance is that he doesn't want to raise taxes. But he hasn't talked about where the existing tax money for a stadium would come from.  The county has an $9.7 billion transportation deficit right now (according to Hagan), so adding new highways around a stadium rather than fixing the county's broken roads will be a tough sell.

Furthermore, the much-repeated Hagan claim of "no new taxes" would also seem to apply to taxes on rental cars and hotel rooms, which have both been mentioned by stadium proponents as possible new revenue streams for a Rays stadium.

Then last week, Hagan introduced another new tax development to the Trib's Chris O'Donnell: he's brainstorming ways - with the Rays - to make a tax bill pill easier to swallow by incorporating year-round community and cultural assets into ballpark construction.

Do you get the feeling politicians on Florida's West Coast failed to learn the lessons from Miami's baseball boondoggle, or even the Braves' secret, not-so-great-for-taxpayers deal in Cobb Co?

Here's some more of that interview with Mark Rivera, where Hagan claims the Rays are an economic engine worth hundreds of millions of dollars, then says St. Pete has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in opportunity cost by keeping the team (WHAT!?!?!?):

Claiming St. Pete's valuable land is better off without a baseball stadium - but that Tampa's would be better with one - ignores just about every economic principal in the book.  {See this chart for more

But then again, if we didn't ignore economics, we wouldn't be talking about funding new palaces for our teams in the first place!

UPDATE - MAY 31, 2016: Hagan suggests a number of different funding sources could be used to pay for park, including many which would be new to Hillsborough County.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rays Stadium Deal for Could Mirror Braves' Secret, Not-So-Great, Potentially-Illegal Deal (Pt. 2)

In case you missed the story here last year, Hillsborough Co. Commissioner Ken Hagan, the self-appointed lead negotiator for the county, is a big fan of how the Braves' deal with Cobb Co. went down - quickly, secretly, and with little public scrutiny:
“The Atlanta model was very different,” he said. “That is encouraging to me, that with all the due diligence we’re doing on the front end, once we’re given the opportunity to sit down with the team, it will not take as long as it historically has to determine a location and a fundraising package.”
Well, now that Hagan's had a chance to sit down with the Rays, he confirmed yesterday he will no longer be providing the public - or his fellow commissioners - with updates.  All the while, touting how transparent the process will be?!??
I can appreciate Hagan's desire to keep any potential land acquisitions secret for leverage purposes.  The more people know, the more expensive it could get.

Which is EXACTLY why pro teams like keeping stadium negotiations secret.  The more the public knows, the more it costs them.

You just have to shake your head - if we've learned ANYTHING from the Marlins' stadium financing debacle in Miami, it's that taxpayers lose when we keep conversations about subsidies and funding a secret!

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Don't Cry for Them: Rays Owners "Only" Grew Equity $25M Last Year

Another year, another big (estimated) fortune made by the owners of the Rays, according to Forbes.

The publication estimated the franchise to be worth $650 million in this their annual value estimations, a $25 million increase (4%) increase from a year ago.

That figure ranks the Rays 30th out of 30 MLB teams, another $25 million behind the 29th-ranked Marlins ($675 million) and a bit further behind the top-ranked Yankees ($3.4 billion).

Before you shed a tear in your beer for Stu Sternberg & the minority owners of the Rays...realize they paid about $167 million for the franchise in 2005.  That's a 289% return during a period where the stock market appreciated just 70%.

Oh, and even last year's estimated slow 4% growth is twice what the average homeowner will make in an average year on the purchase of a home.  Forbes estimates the average MLB franchise appreciated by a modest 7% last year.

Just one more reason why any "problem" in Tampa Bay is not the fans' problem, but simply an issue of the league not sharing enough of its profits across its smaller-market teams.

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USF Athletics Budget Balanced on Back of Students

The University of South Florida has had a number of recent highlights on the athletic fields and courts, standing tall against some of the biggest NCAA powerhouses in the country. But it's getting harder for USF to compete, at least financially, according to the latest report on WTSP-TV.

The exhaustive analysis of last year's USF athletics budget reveals growing expenses and shrinking revenues, forcing students and the USF Foundation to balance the budget.  It's a growing problem for schools in the "Group of Five," as they try to keep up with the athletic programs in the "Power Five," but without the robust television and NCAA revenues.

"There are financial challenges at USF," said Yulander Wells, the program's chief financial officer. "(But) there are financial challenges for other schools in the 'Group of Five.'"

USF students get free tickets to all home athletic events -- and thanks to successes in sports such as women's basketball, men's golf, and men's tennis -- USF enjoyed its highest finish in the Learfield Director's Cup standings last year (73rd), which takes into account dozens of varsity sports.

But in the sports that matter most to USF's budget -- men's basketball and football -- years of struggles are taking a toll on the department's revenues.

Other findings from the analysis include:
  • Five years of football struggles decimated ticket sales and contributions revenues;
  • The split of the Big East - and fall from an NCAA power conference - dealt a big blow to USF's television and NCAA revenues;
  • The loosening of NCAA rules on paying athlete cash stipends costs USF about a million dollars a year;
  • Head Coach Willie Taggart's contract extension costs another million dollars a year;
  • A football stadium on-campus is as much of a financial risk as it would be a possible revenue-booster.
Wells is right - a lot of newer athletic programs share the same problems. But the difference between the NCAA's "haves" in the Power Five and the "have-nots" in the Group of Five is growing.

Click here to read or watch the reports on 10News WTSP.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Sports Business Angles to Rays Cuba Trip You May Not Have Thought Of

Pretty cool opportunity this week for the Rays to show off the MLB and USA brands in Havana, Cuba.  But diplomacy isn't the only thing going on with the Rays:
  1. Team officials met again with Hillsborough and Tampa officials Friday...and apparently decided selling more tickets to corporations would be a good idea.
  2. The Braves continue to meet with officials & developers in Sarasota County regarding a new spring training home, but conveniently - they got all sides to sign confidentiality agreements to control the dissemination of information, thus we don't know how Sarasota will pay for the stadium.  The Blue Jays have a similar confidentiality agreement with the city of Dunedin; the trend isn't very good for taxpayers.
  3. The Rays' Chris Archer didn't hear back from President Obama regarding his Havana dinner offer, so he reached out to First Lady Michelle Obama.  All fun and games, right?  Except for the fact that Archer's marketing value stands to gain a few million dollars from the international exposure a photo op with the Obamas would bring.
  4. Tomorrow's Rays exhibition in Cuba will likely draw a crowd upwards of 55, just go ahead and make your Rays-to-Havana stadium jokes now.
  5. Actually, an exhibition crowd of 55,000 qualifies you for a new MLB franchise now...right Montreal fans???

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Pinellas Trying to Choose Which Multi-Millionaires to Hand Tax Dollars To

Pinellas County has a lot of tourism money coming in this time of year...and for some reason, their politicians feel like they must spend the revenue on sports facilities.

But which franchises capitalize on the bed tax bonanza is yet to be decided.

We know that the Braves liked the idea of Toytown in Pinellas County, but they also told the county they basically wanted the whole thing paid for.  So that has the team now talking to Palm Beach Co., Sarasota Co...and maybe Yeehaw Junction for all we know.

READ: Braves Willing to Move Anywhere There's $70M

But if the Braves don't get those Pinellas dollars, the Blue Jays certainly would be interested.  Whether it's a new ballpark in Dunedin or moving into Bright House Networks Field with the Phillies, talks are ongoing about the team's future.

READ: Pinellas Co.'s Controversial Spring Training Future

There's also talk of the Brewers possibly coming back to Florida, with Pinellas County a logical frontrunner to land them.  It's not the first time we've heard those rumors.

But as this blog has detailed since 2010, it makes sense.  The Grapefruit League is in legit position to steal a team away from the Cactus League, as the Brewers wouldn't mind "coming home" to their Wisconsin base on Florida's West Coast.

Of course, any county money spent on Spring Training takes away from possible dollars available for the Rays - regardless of what elected officials say - so there's a race among interests to lock up a deal before anyone else gets any ideas of how to spend bed tax money.
And right now, the team closest to a stadium deal...isn't a baseball franchise, but the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer club.  Team owner Bill Edwards hasn't kept many secrets about his vision of an 18,000-seat MLS stadium - with someone else picking up most of the $70M tab - and St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is now talking about putting it on the city's ballot this fall.  Even if the MLS dream may be more difficult than Edwards indicates.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Braves Still Willing to Go Anywhere Someone Will Build Them a Palace

In a piece of news that shouldn't really count as news....the Atlanta Braves are now talking to Sarasota County about a possible new spring training stadium in the city of North Port. 

No surprise to readers of this blog and twitter account:

The Braves are also speaking to Palm Beach County about a possible stadium on the East Coast, and have had previous talks with Pinellas County. However, discussions for Pinellas' Toytown property off I-275 and Roosevelt Blvd. have been tabled while the county works with St. Petersburg on plans for a possible new Rays stadium.  And a 2015 idea to move to Pasco Co. died when the money never materialized.

But Sarasota taxpayers beware - I previously exposed how the county never got some of the amenities promised by the Orioles in exchange for the $31.2 million in renovations they got for relocating to Sarasota in 2010. That included a Cal Ripken Jr. youth baseball academy.

But county officials and the Orioles denied misleading anyone, claiming in 2012 they still had plans to build an academy.  In 2016, taxpayers are still waiting for that youth academy.

The Braves have one more year left on their lease at Disney's Wide World of Sports, but they've shown little interest in staying in the Orlando area.

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Saturday, March 5, 2016

Holy Crap, the Times Editorial Board Issues Caution on Stadium Subsidies!

For the first time in a long time, Shadow of the Stadium and the Tampa Bay Times editorial board really seem to agree on something: elected officials aren't putting constituents first as they move forward on Rays stadium talks.
Here are three things that stand out from a weekend editorial in the Times:
Competition between cities benefits Rays, not taxpayers

The board writes the independent stadium efforts taking place in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties "should be complementary rather than competitive efforts, and the common goal should be keeping a regional asset that benefits the entire area."

Of course, this blog forecast the unhealthy "tug-of-war" over the Rays' future back in 2009.  And a series of recent tweets have warned how a regional competition only serves one goal: putting more taxpayers dollars into the Rays' pockets:

Times warns against corporate subsidies!?!
Even more surprising in this weekend's editorial is a warning about corporate subsidies, which the paper had all-but-endorsed through years and years and countless editorials cheerleading for stadium subsidies.

Previous posts have documented the Times' hypocrisy in supporting big taxpayer investments in a retail business as well as their celebrations of other stadiums funded by massive tax handouts.

But this weekend, the board writes:
Hillsborough officials have repeatedly insisted that any deal with the Rays will not replicate the flawed arrangement in 1996 that resulted in a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But the first meeting between the committee and the Rays last month was a closed, two-hour session. As the county's incentive package to lure a Bass Pro Shops to town shows, (Commissioner Ken) Hagan has a poor track record when it comes to limiting public subsidies. And (Tampa Sports Authority chief executive Eric) Hart has an interest in luring the team, as his agency would likely manage any baseball stadium.
The paper is spot-on to suggest a broader, more open conversation than what happened with the Bucs - and what's currently happening with the Rays - for a few reasons, including:
Calls for transparency
The Times editorial concludes:
Hillsborough needs to make this process more transparent. The committee's next scheduled meeting with the Rays, on March 18, is also slated to be private. The public deserves a fuller vision, especially at this early stage, of the outlines of any deal.
Transparency is a great thing. So cheers to the Times for demanding it from the officials in charge of doling out taxpayer cash.

Now, the editorial board just needs to remember transparency from the Rays is important too.  Stu Sternberg says he needs taxpayer dollars.....let him open his books and prove it.

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Kriseman, Hillsborough Leaders Planning Next Moves on Rays Stadium Saga

Following the kickoff of the city's "Baseball Forever" campaign, aimed at helping the Rays build a new stadium in Downtown St. Pete, Mayor Rick Kriseman is looking to join the team on its inaugural trip to Cuba.

A spokesman for the mayor confirmed Friday the trip is being planned, although few specifics are available at the moment. Kriseman has long advocated for improved relations between the US and Cuba.

Meanwhile, Hillsborough County leaders, including Commissioner Ken Hagan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, have scheduled their next stadium meeting with the Rays for March 18. The information was included in public records obtained Friday.

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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Rays Stadium News You Didn't Really Miss

Not every Stadium Saga headline is worth dedicating a full blogpost if you slept through the last week or so, here's what you missed*:
  • "Business of Pro Sports" Panel - Stu Sternberg, Bryan Glazer, and Jeff Vinik addressed a wide range of topics Monday night, including their shared belief that public spending on pro stadiums provided great ROI...despite what those damned economists think.
  • Sternberg's $28M investment in the Trop - The Rays' owner also said he sank $28M into Trop renovations in the last decade. Whether that's a lot or a little depends on whom you ask. 
  • Sternberg on Corporate Support - Appearing at Spring Training, Sternberg said the Rays would be seeking to build a new stadium wherever corporate support would be greatest, because the region's businesses basically haven't carried their load in buying ticket packages.  As Field of Schemes' Neil deMause put it, "it’s Sternberg who wants the new stadium so he can make more money — if businesses don’t want to support the team regardless, then maybe the stadium isn’t the problem? Just a thought."
  • St. Pete Launches "Baseball Forever" - Mayor Kriseman joins many of the region's corporate leaders to rally business interests around the team, and to start preparing a new Trop site stadium proposal.  Going to be a hard sell to both the Rays and the St. Pete taxpayers asked to pay for a second stadium.
  • Rays Book Cuba Flight - As DRaysBay's Daniel Russell writes, the Rays' visit to Havana may even more interesting to the team's on-the-field future than it is for off-the-field reasons. I'd add that anytime the Rays draw 45,000 fans to an exhibition game, it's going to make for some interesting headlines, tweets, and speculations about their long-term futures.
* "missed" is a very relative term

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