Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon Returning...Without Subsidies

I first broke the news on WTSP today that the city of St. Petersburg will give a road race organizer a third chance to make a first impression, inviting it to bring the “St. Pete Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon” back to town in March 2017.

This blog helped expose how the Competitor Group Inc., a San Diego company best-known for its “Rock ‘n’ Roll” half marathon series, drew disappointing crowds to its events in St. Petersburg in 2012 and 2013 – despite receiving $130,000 in public subsidies each year – before pulling out of the market completely prior to 2014’s events. It also purchased the successful St. Pete Women’s Half Marathon from a local company, only to cancel the race two months before its Nov. 2014 running.

UPDATE: Newly-obtained records indicate "the total bill for City services & equipment was $66,253.80 for the last Rock N Roll Half Marathon in 2013. This included costs for Fire/Ems staff, Parks & Recreation staff, Sanitation services, and Traffic/Transportation staff. The police staff/equipment costs totaled in excess of $55,000."

But Competitor Group Inc. (CGI) was the largest company to submit a bid during the city’s recent RFP seeking race organizers to bring a half-marathon back to Downtown St. Pete. And, unlike its previous events in St. Pete, the Competitor Group said in its application that it would not request any public subsidies at the onset of the St. Pete Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. However, it kept the option open in its application:

“CGI would be interested in a partnership with the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission should the opportunity arise.”

Unlike CGI’s robust projections ahead of the 2012 and 2013 races that never materialized, the company only projected 7,000 runners for a March 2017 Rock ‘n’ Roll half-marathon in St. Pete. It projected 7,500 and 8,000 runners for the 2018 and 2019 races, respectively.

In 2012, CGI projected 12,000-15,000 runners but only 7,021 completed the St. Pete Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. The following year, only 4,379 runners completed the race.

The race was also plagued by frustrations from runners who were hit with $15 parking fees, a $10 fee to get a ride from the finish line in North Shore Park to the starting line at Tropicana Field more than two miles away, plus another $15 for parking to simply pick up the race packet at Tropicana Field as was required in the days leading up to the race.

There didn’t appear to be any mention of parking costs or any shuttle fees in CGI’s 2017 race proposal, but the company requested a course that starts at Albert Whitted Park, only 1.3 miles from the finish line at North Shore Park. It also told the city it was open to adjusting the course.

The Competitor Group has also hosted more than a dozen successful "Rock 'n' Roll" half marathons and marathons each year since they left St. Pete, and used their national exposure and experience to set their application apart from the local companies seeking to host a race.

CGI requested a race date during the third weekend of March, which would put next year’s race on March 19, likely fewer than two weeks before the IRL’s Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The company told the city it “would be willing to adjust the race course to accommodate planned construction near the Pier/Bayshore Drive area, assuming we are allowed to return to the area once construction is completed” and it “would also consider evaluating alternate start and expo locations to accommodate Grand Prix activities.


The nipple band-aids are once again coming off!

While the city also voted to award a November half-marathon to Pinellas-based EndorFUN Sports, the process may get delayed by a formal bid protest by the runner-up, Florida Road Races.

The initial protest by Florida Road Races (FRR) cited a number of issues.

You can continue to read about the controversy here.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Why Hillsborough Remains a Rays Stadium Longshot

There's been lots of talk in the last week about Pinellas County's list of 10 specific sites the Rays may want to consider for a stadium, based on the basic criteria set out by the team.

This blog has long pointed out that anyone with a pile of dirt thinks they have a chance at landing a stadium.  But most of them are silly...even though Tampa Bay residents won't agree on which ones are silly:
I've always said you could poll 100 Rays fans about where they'd like to see a new stadium built, and 100 would agree they'd like one built closer to where they live.
But that point was echoed this weekend by a John Romano column that said there really are only two sites the Rays can consider - Downtown Tampa and adjacent to the current stadium in Downtown St. Pete. 
But that doesn't mean a move to Tampa is a foregone conclusion. There is not a perfect plot of downtown land available, and funding in Hillsborough could be tricky.

So, yes, Pinellas County is most definitely in the picture.

But you have to understand how the Rays view this. By itself, a shiny new stadium will not change the franchise's fortunes. If it's built in Pinellas, the Rays' new home has to have some way of drawing the Tampa crowd that has never flocked to Tropicana Field.
Romano goes on to say Derby Lane promise the best hope for that, except it doesn't have the highway infrastructure to ever get fans to the stadium quickly enough.

The columnist may not be aware the Selmon Expressway is expected to be extended to the Gandy Bridge by 2020, providing a lightning-fast, ride free of traffic lights from Downtown Tampa to Derby Lane.  And that the state is connecting Derby Lane to I-275 in Pinellas County with a set of overpasses, set to be completed within just a couple of years.
So don't write off Derby Lane just yet.

But Romano continues with the option of last (and most probable) resort in his mind:
And that pretty much leaves Tropicana Field's land. Between the interstate access, the growing hipster scene in St. Pete and the possibility of redeveloping the extra acres with destination-type amenities, it's Pinellas' best bet.

In baseball scouting terms, it has the highest upside.

Now this doesn't mean the Pinellas list was a waste of time. On the contrary, it served an important purpose. It successfully pointed out what should now be obvious.
The most fans are in Hillsborough, but the money's in Pinellas.  And I have a sneaking suspicion which one the Rays will ultimately choose.*

*If they choose either option at all

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

USF's Last Chance to Leave "Have-Nots" for "Haves"

Back in March, I took a close look at USF's struggling athletic financials and how conference re-alignment has really crushed the program's momentum; the difference between the NCAA's "haves" in the Power Five conferences and the "have-nots" was growing. Last week's announcement of a mega-TV deal for the ACC is just the latest reminder.

Well, there's been a lot of talk lately about the possibility of USF capitalizing on the Big 12's expected expansion.
This is USF's last chance to play ball with the "big boys."  It will get expensive, but the Big 12's TV riches make it a much better option than staying in the bargain-basement AAC, where USF Athletics will continue to struggle to balance its budget.

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Monday, July 18, 2016

Why the "Tampa" Rays Could Use a Swear Jar

Oh boy:
Of course, Poison frontman Bret Michaels is in good company, as national broadcasters and writer/bloggers have long referred to the "Tampa Rays" and their home in "Tampa."

But it's not like the Rays have exactly gone out of their way to correct the slight to "Tampa Bay" and St. Petersburg, either.  Can you imagine how FSU would react if the national media kept calling them the "Florida Seminoles?" 

Or a rival?
Heck, even their own employees do it, even if it is unintentionally

But what could the Rays do to better-represent their region and St. Petersburg's investment in the team?  How about the same thing they did when they dropped the word "Devil" from their name in 2008?

The team developed a "swear jar":

But instead of sending pleasant or funny reminders of their official team name, the Tampa Bay Rays have generally allowed the convenient slight that suggests the franchise should be playing across the bay.

It wouldn't be such a bad tip of the hat to the team's fans around Tampa Bay who don't happen to live in the city of Tampa.  And who knows, it may even help them get some positive national exposure again?

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

"The Worst Sports Stadium Deal Ever"

If the Braves' super-secret not-so-great, potentially-illegal deal wasn't bad enough, VICE Sports suggests the Braves' boondoggle may actually be "the worst sports stadium deal ever" after baseball park funding - which was not approved by voters - basically prohibited the county from spending a planned $40 million on actual parks, which was approved by voters. Oh, and about a million other things regarding hidden costs and an unforgivable lack of transparency. Never forget: Cobb Co. commissioners did everything in their power to avoid letting the public know what they were doing. Hey Tampa Bay voters, you paying attention? Because it's dangerously close to happening here too.

And if the whole "traffic sucks in Atlanta, but lets build a new stadium in the middle of the worst part, while not accounting for any new transit" thing wasn't bad enough in Atlanta, the Braves are working on running game-day traffic through suburban residential streets...which of course, isn't going over well.

Nor is the public concession from Cobb Co. that prohibits owners of private parking lots near the stadium from operating on game days?!?!

Or that private concessionaires won't allowed anywhere near the stadium, either!

Again, I ask: Tampa Bay stadium planners - you paying attention?

UPDATE: Cobb Co. appears to be backing off the ridiculous parking ban (but don't hold your breath on the concessions)

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Manfred, Montreal, and Vegas...Oh My

Ahhhh, the MLB All-Star game. A chance to see baseball's brightest executives answer questions about the hunt for new stadiums.

Commish Rob Manfred broke from tradition a bit yesterday, refusing to threatmonger Oakland and Tampa Bay and instead politely expressing his patience, support, and hope for new stadiums in two of baseball's most-challenging markets.

But he didn't miss a chance to remind everyone that Montreal won't be getting a team until the league can successfully use the threat of relocation to get new stadiums in Oakland and Tampa Bay:
Manfred said any move to add teams beyond the current 30 must wait because of the stadium searches.

"Both of those clubs need new major-league-quality facilities," he said, "and until that's resolved, I think expansion has got to be on the back burner for us."

Of course, if Montreal relocation threats weren't bad enough in Tampa Bay, some observers really want to crowbar Las Vegas into the mix too.

But as the nation's 40th-largest media market (Tampa Bay is 11th), Las Vegas would be the league's smallest, and a serious drain on big-markets' television revenues. Plus, Vegas is about to get its first big-league franchise (hockey), so there wouldn't seem to be nearly enough disposable income in the most transient of towns to add another big-league team to the mix. After all, the blackjack tables will always come first.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Transit is the Rays' Real Biggest Problem

The TB Baseball Market blog had a nice read yesterday on the Tampa Bay market's transportation challenges and how they affect the Rays.

Figured it was a good time to revisit some of this blog's transportation-related writings from the last seven years, including a 2011 post on how the lack of transportation might doom a new Rays stadium, wherever it may end up in West/Central Florida:
Floridians aren't used to driving 60 minutes for a baseball experience, and...MLB and Sternberg underestimated Floridians' desires to drive to baseball games.

If you handed someone in Connecticut a free Yankees or Red Sox ticket, there's a good chance they'd travel 90 minutes to the game. If you handed someone in Tampa a free Rays ticket, they probably wouldn't drive 30.
A couple years later, I wrote "why transit is more important than stadium location" for the Rays:
While it's all well-and-good to figure out how many people currently live within a 30-minute drive of Carillon vs. a 30-minute drive of Downtown Tampa (hint: it's the same), the region's transportation picture will be drastically different by 2035. And the presence of light rail and/or rapid-transit buses (could) reshape our impressions of a "reasonable" commute.
Then, of course, within the last two years, local voters and politicians have dealt a few considerable blows to the Rays' long-term future by killing potential transit expansions. Read here how it impacts baseball.

Finally, here are a few other posts from over the years related to the market's transportation challenges

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