Thursday, December 29, 2016

Dick Vitale: Build New Rays Park in St. Pete

Dick Vitale may loathe Trop attendance, but he's throwing his support behind the city of St. Pete's "Baseball Forever" campaign to build a new Rays ballpark on the Pinellas side of Tampa Bay:
To his credit, Vitale drives up from his home in Sarasota dozens of times a year to support the Rays, and he's also an unabashed critic of the Trop's critics.  I'm sure he doesn't want to have to navigate Tampa traffic 30-40 times a year.

But the bigger question remains, WHY ARE TAMPA AND ST. PETE COMPETING OVER THE RAYS?  Nobody stands to lose more than the taxpayer when you hand a pro sports team free leverage.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Rayz Have 99 Problems...But Gettin' Rich Ain't One

What do the Tampa Bay Rays and Jay-Z have in common?

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Strong's Deal with USF Worth $9.8 Million (maybe*)

Charlie Strong's new head coaching contract at USF will pay him $9.8 million over the next five years, with the majority of the salary coming in the back half of the deal, according to the deal just released by the university.

The contract also sets a buyout figure of up to $2.5 million if Strong, the former head coach at the University of Texas, leaves USF for another job before the end of the five-year deal. The buyout would drop to $1.7 million if Strong were to leave in 2020 or 2021, prior to the Dec. 31, 2021 expiration of his contract.

The deal, signed this week, also guarantees the former University of Texas coach perks such as:
  • A country club membership;
  • A courtesy vehicle or $800/mo stipend;
  • Revenues from football camps Strong runs at USF;
  • A suite at all home football games plus six season tickets;
  • Four season tickets to all USF home basketball games.
By contrast, former coach Willie Taggart, who left USF for Oregon, received a similar salary and most of the same perks. But Taggart's contract also included a number of additional performance bonuses and a second vehicle (or stipend of $1,200/mo).

Strong's assistant coach salary pool will also grow from $1.6 million in 2017 to $3.4 million in 2019. Taggart's pool was $2.4 million in 2016.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Free Tickets for Tampa Bay Politicians

Many of the politicians who decide how many tax dollars will go to benefit Tampa Bay’s professional sports franchises are also accepting free tickets to those teams’ games. And many of those elected officials are failing to properly disclose the gifts.

As part of my duties for WTSP-TV, I've been tracking the attendee lists for Tampa Sports Authority’s luxury box at Raymond James Stadium, as well as state gift disclosures for Tampa Bay-area politicians over the last three years. And a number of potential conflicts of interest might be present, as the Bucs, Lightning and Rays have all courted local governments for tax money in the past 12 months.

The Tampa Sports Authority (TSA) refused interviews for this story but said its suite typically includes beer, wine, liquor, and a number of casual food items such as burgers and Cuban sandwiches.  Occasionally, crab cakes and sushi may be added. And access to politically-influential business leaders is always on the menu.

Florida law generally allows local politicians to accept gifts, such as free tickets, but it also requires politicians to publicly disclose any gift received over $100. Some officials tell me they outright reject any ticket or gift offers, for they could be perceived as a conflict of interest. But some gift-receiving politicians are better about filing their required state disclosures each quarter than others.

“I believe that anybody who is making a decision, if they are serving a public entity ... should disclose (receiving tickets),” said former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who filed quarterly gift disclosures every quarter while in office, even if he didn’t accept any gifts during the period.

“Needless to say, I think we all know we have to keep a very close eye on politicians,” said current Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Stacy White. “Sometimes a gift can be a favor in return for some type of preferential treatment, perhaps a vote.”

But White was among the politicians we found failing to disclose some of the tickets he received from the TSA. While he had filled out gift disclosures for tickets in the past, he did not in the spring of 2015 or 2016, when he received a total of 10 Monster Jam tickets to the TSA suite (value: $450).

“That was simply an oversight by my part, but I genuinely appreciate and respect that you hold government officials accountable,” White replied. “Rest assured that we’re going to look at these not only once or twice, but three times looking forward.”

10Investigates also found that tickets to the TSA’s suite at Raymond James Stadium commonly end up in the hands of politicians’ friends and family members, rather than in the hands of business leaders or charities. An agency spokesperson said the TSA’s goal of the ticket allocations was “to further community relations, economic development and the like.”

Other findings:
  • Hillsborough Commissioner Sandy Murman received three luxury box tickets to the 2016 Outback Bowl for her husband but did not disclose them. She said she thought it was to be disclosed at the end of the year. She purchases her own Bucs tickets to avoid any appearance of a conflict.
  • Commissioner Les Miller has regular access to Bucs and USF suites, but because the tickets are always left for his wife, former city councilwoman Gwen Miller, he isn’t legally obligated to disclose them.
  • Tampa City Council members and Hillsborough County commissioners on the TSA board do not consider their stadium tickets as gifts, even though they get two suite tickets to every game, match and concert held there. 10Investigates found no disclosure for the tens of thousands of dollars in tickets they receive each year, and there is no way to tell if they are bringing friends, family, associates or even campaign donors.
  • Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a frequent guest of local sports teams, has publicly disclosed receiving Tampa Bay Lightning playoff tickets four times from three different sources: the team, SunTrust Bank and the Tampa Bay Times (twice).  He also disclosed a pair of tickets to the Glazer Family’s Buccaneers suite in 2014, but told 10Investigates he has never received any suite tickets to Tropicana Field.
  • St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman – as well as city council members – regularly disclose receiving free concert and sporting event tickets, typically from the city’s allocation at public venues such as Tropicana Field, the Mahaffey Theater and the St. Petersburg Grand Prix. Several Pinellas commissioners and Tampa City Council members also received Rays tickets from local organizations and businesses.
  • Many politicians have also disclosed receiving free travel expenses for trips to Cuba (including Kriseman and Pinellas commissioner Janet Long) as well as international economic development missions (Kriseman and Hillsborough commissioner Al Higginbotham).
  • State Senator Tom Lee, who is not allowed to accept any gift worth more than $25 as a state legislator, received a pair of suite tickets to the Feb. 2016 Monster Jam at Raymond James Stadium from the TSA’s lobbyist, Ron Pierce. Lee later paid Pierce for the Monster Jam tickets, but Pierce was allowed to keep the money. Lee sent 10Investigates a canceled check to Pierce for tickets to a number of undisclosed events.
  • The office of USF President Judy Genshaft is given full discretion on whom to invite to her suite at Raymond James Stadium for USF home games, but the office has struggled to provide the records on who has attended in recent years.  An invite list shows most local mayors and Congressional members have been invited, but several of the individuals said they never attended. The university receives – and lobbies for – tax dollars from local, state, and federal governments.
  • 10Investigates requested the public records on politicians receiving free tickets at University of Florida and Florida State University football games, but neither university was able to provide records in time for publishing.
  • About half of local council members and commissioners in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties did not fill out a single gift disclosure in the last three years.
The Rays, Buccaneers and Lightning also all invite politicians to games, often in the club or suite level. But since the teams are private businesses, their records are not available through public record requests. The Lightning use the same lobbyist as the Tampa Sports Authority.

The city of Tampa also has an additional provision in the city code requiring all elected officials - as well as any employees who are appointed, work in procurement, permitting or zoning - to fill out additional disclosures annually for any gift, including tickets, over $100 in value. Tampa's public records liason told 10Investigates the city doesn't have a single disclosure on file in recent years.

Commissioner Murman added that Hillsborough’s county attorney’s office will add gift disclosures to its annual ethics training to improve compliance and transparency in the future.

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Role Reversal: Selig and Manfred Lobbying for Rays Stadium

Since there's no Hall of Fame to the business of baseball, Bud Selig was selected for induction into the regular ole' Baseball Hall of Fame. Because, you know, a lasting legacy of competitive imbalance is something we should all celebrate.

But then again, when EVERYBODY in MLB is getting rich....who's to complain?

Of course, Selig was happy to share his opinions on the Rays stadium saga.  However, it was a far cry from the fearmongering theme he used to pressure Tampa Bay for so many years (see links below). This week, he told reporters he was "optimistic" about the situation.

Hell, it's a new offseason! Stu Sternberg has said he's "optimistic" too!

Then, there's current commissioner, Rob Manfred, to rain on the parade.

The man who said just two months ago that he was "positive about the prospects for a (Rays) stadium"...said this week, according to Marc Topkin:
"I think getting, not only a new facility, but a facility that is more appropriately located within the Tampa-St. Pete market would be good.

"Ultimately, there has to be an end game. If in fact, there's not a site or there's not a financial arrangement that's viable and we become convinced of that, our rules allow for the possibility of relocation.

"At that point of desperation, it's possible a team would be allowed to relocate."
Calling on the public to cough up tax dollars?  Check.

A pleasant reminder the team can relocate?  Check.

A non-threat threat and fearmongering?  Check.

Seems like Manfred really did learn a thing or two from Selig.

A brief history of Selig and the Stadium Saga:

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Rowdies to Advance MLS Push Today

Bill Edwards and the Tampa Bay Rowdies have called a 6 p.m. press conference today to call for community support in their push to join the MLS.

It's an challenging, but inevitable attempt by Edwards, and it was first forecasted by this blog in early 2014.

The challenge is twofold:  Edwards needs to convince the MLS and Orlando City Soccer Club to add another I-4 team; and he needs to convince St. Pete, Pinellas County, and/or the state of Florida to fund major stadium upgrades.

Because you don't make money on new stadiums by funding them yourself.

UPDATE: The Rowdies launched a formal campaign for MLS membership and a new stadium expansion. Edwards says he will self-finance the $80M stadium campaign.

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