Thursday, December 28, 2017

The "Template" Hillsborough Wants to Use for a Rays Ballpark is Breaking the Bank in Georgia

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution took a look at what Cobb Co. residents are paying - and getting in return - for the Braves' new stadium.  And the numbers aren't pretty, as Field of Schemes succinctly summarizes.

Basically, Cobb Co.'s absolute best, most liberal accounting scenario is a $5.2 million boost in revenue related to the ballpark.  Unfortunately for taxpayers, they're paying nearly $9 million a year out of their general fund for the stadium, plus tens of millions a year in associated financing costs, and tens of millions more in transportation costs associated with the stadium.

That's not good ROI to simply lure the team from an Atlanta home they weren't threatening to leave.

And the kicker, is that Cobb County just doesn't have that kind of money available:
Cobb County is currently in a fiscal crisis — as Lutz notes, “Since the first pitch in April, fees for everything from senior centers to business licenses have gone up. Libraries are in danger of closing, and there’s talk of a new penny sales tax to fund the police.” None of that is solely the fault of the stadium, as she notes, but starting each year with an extra $20 million-plus hole in your budget does not help at all.
Let's remember that the Rays' biggest stadium cheerleader in Tampa, Ken Hagan, has called the Braves' secretly-negotiated, more-expensive-than-anticipated stadium a "template" for a new ballpark in Hillsborough County.
There is no price too great for some politicians to get a new stadium where they'll eventually get free tickets.

And not to dismiss the certain intangible value of having big-league teams in your community...but out leaders really should be asking more questions about the ROI on the Rays' nine-figure "ask."

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Forbes' #SportsMoney50 List

Just to toot my own horn a little bit - but also in an effort to share some outstanding resources out there on Twitter - I point you to Maury Brown's annual #SportsMoney50 List on, which includes some of the must-follow accounts for sports fans and sports business fans.

It's the third year in a row he's included Shadow of the Stadium, calling it this year, "indispensable", and "keeps reporting on course and doesn’t get caught up in homerism. For good or bad, Shadow of the Stadium presents it unvarnished."

If only we could now remove the homerism from all sports and sports business reporting!

Regardless, tons of good accounts to follow in that article, so check 'em out.

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Friday, December 22, 2017

USF Sells Just 12% of Ticket Allotment for Birmingham Bowl

Don't expect a lot of green in the stands Saturday at the Birmingham Bowl...or in the USF Athletics budget after they have to eat the cost of 8,800 unsold tickets.
With the Bulls spending a second straight bowl season in Birmingham, not exactly a desirable vacation destination for the already-sparse USF fan base, the school has sold just 12 percent of its required 10,000 ticket allotment for the game, as the 10-2 Bulls will take on 6-6 Texas Tech.
It means USF will eat the cost of more than 8,800 tickets, likely worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. 
According to USF Associate Athletic Director Brian Siegrist:
  • The school sold 1,162 tickets;
  • Distributed 1,635 tickets internally to the band, staff, and guests of players/coaches;
  • Distributed 4,505 to Birmingham-area charities;
  • Gave 2,698 tickets back to the bowl as unused.  
The bowl pays teams for appearing in the game - approximately $1 million each, according to published reports - but the money gets shared with the American Athletic Conference (AAC).
It's also not cheap sending hundreds of players, staff, and band members to a bowl game; according to athletic department filings with the NCAA, USF spent $627,371 on last year's Birmingham Bowl.
However, football and men's basketball are the only sports at USF that run a surplus on annual revenues and expenses, due to substantial television money coming in through the AAC.
I've previously covered the university's growing problems balancing its athletic budget, as teams in small-conferences find it harder and harder to keep up with big-spending teams in the country's five major conferences.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Tallahassee's Leading Stadium Supporter Resigns

Although his scandal is related to sexual harassment, powerful State Senator - and onetime gubernatorial hopeful - Jack Latvala has resigned his seat after just about everyone had called on the Pinellas lawmaker to step down.

The news comes less than a day after a retired judge released his investigation into sexual harassment claims against Latvala, finding probable cause and potential criminal violations.

Latvala's departure strikes a blow to pro sports teams in leagues in Florida hoping to curry favor in Tallahassee, as he helped rewrite laws in their favor, preserve funds for new stadiums, and was expected to champion state funds for both the Rays and Rowdies.

In exchange for his favorable treatment, Latvala has routinely received big campaign checks from teams and their wealthy owners.

Recently, legislative leadership has been very anti-stadium subsidy, and its unlikely to change in the near future with Latvala out of the picture.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Sarasota County's Multi-Million Dollar Timing Hiccup with the Braves

With the U.S. House attempting to finally eliminate the federal subsidy of bonds used to finance stadium construction, Sarasota County bit the bullet and took out $21.6 million in bonds to help pay for the Braves' new 8-week-a-year home in North Port.  The bonds were sold on Dec. 13 at a 3.7% rate.

Unfortunately for Sarasota taxpayers, the Senate erased the proposal from the federal tax plan two days later, meaning the county failed to take advantage of the subsidized rate that sports owners - and the governments that support them - typically enjoy when financing stadium construction.

But a county spokesperson told me Sarasota had no choice but to take out the taxable debt due to "uncertainties" related to the tax cut bill, including the possibility of the stadium subsidy elimination going into effect retroactively, from the date the legislation was first introduced, Nov. 2.  The county had to meet a closing date on the deal of Dec. 21.

In essence, that means instead of having all Americans subsidize their stadium debt, Sarasota County will fund its portion of the debt all themselves.  And that bad timing likely will cost taxpayers of Sarasota County several million dollars, as the difference in financing charges on tax-exempt bonds and taxable bonds is substantial.

That said, there's good news to the North for Rays fans, as the tax exemption basically remains in place for all future U.S. stadiums (note: Montreal is not in the U.S.), and it won't cost Hillsborough or Pinellas quite as much should they decide to try and bust their budgets to make a new stadium work.

But, before I go, some final irony:

In the same editorial the Tampa Bay Times criticized Congress' new tax plan as raising debt and primarily benefitting "businesses and the wealthy over the poor and middle class," the Times also applauds the abandonment of the tax-exempt bond reforms.  Which is kind of befuddling, since the tax exemptions for investment profits related to pro stadiums is another handout that benefits the rich, not the middle class.   Hmph.

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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Pinellas May Give Blue Jays Free Pass on Lease Guidelines

PINELLAS COUNTY, Florida – In a lucrative deal to renovate and expand the Blue Jays’ longtime spring training home in Dunedin, county commissioners appear likely to waive county guidelines that suggests only contributing to expansion projects that lock the tenant in for 30 years or longer.

The Blue Jays and city of Dunedin have been negotiating only a 25-year extension in exchange for an $81-million project, funded mostly by county and state taxpayers. The failure to meet the county’s minimum guidelines for length of lease was first brought up on this blog more than a year ago, but the length of the extension has not changed.

County staff tells me the guidelines can be waived by commissioners, who have now affirmed their support for the project three times in the last year or so;   however, the Blue Jays and city of Dunedin have not yet locked down all the specifics of the deal, so it will still require one more commissioner sign-off.

That means the good people of Dunedin and Pinellas County are still waiting to enjoy all the made-up economic benefit the project will bring.

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Ybor City Coalition Concerned about Rays Stadium Funding

The Ybor City Development Corporation (YCDC), a citizen advisory board to Tampa's Community Redevelopment Agency, sent a letter to Mayor Bob Buckhorn last week expressing concern that taking land for a proposed new Rays stadium off the county tax rolls could have adverse impact on property tax revenues that help fund local projects in Ybor City.

"The YCDC Board of Directors looks forward to being a part of the process and welcomes the opportunity to weigh in on stadium discussions that pertain to the Ybor City National Historic Landmark District," the letter wrote.

RELATED: 14 ways taxpayers could be asked to fund Rays stadium

While the city of Tampa - and the Community Redevelopment Agency - would both have to be involved in funding discussions, it has been Hillsborough County staffers and Commissioner Ken Hagan who have taken the lead.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn's office said Wednesday they had not responded to the YCDC letter.

RELATED: Hillsborough's chief stadium negotiator mum on details...time and time again

Read the text of the entire letter here on

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Some Perspective on the $61 Million Deal Between Hillsborough Co. & the Lightning

So you probably saw that Hillsborough staffers have lined up a deal that would extend the Tampa Bay Lightning's deal at Amalie Arena for an additional 16 years, through 2037.  The cost?  $61 million dollars worth of renovations, or $3.8 million per season.

Field of Schemes' Neil deMause acknowledged it wasn't the worst stadium deal in recent memory, especially since many teams (like the Bucs, for instance) get cash without a promise of extending their lease at all. 

However, deMause also makes a good point about Hillsborough's ROI:
"(Vinik) already has innumerable reasons not to flee town, even before handing him $61 million as a bonus. Far be it from me to tell Hillsborough County officials how to do their job, but are you guys sure you’re good at this whole lease negotiations part of it?"
Two days later, deMause added:
The Tampa Bay Times insists that giving the Lightning $61 million in tax money to upgrade their arena in exchange for a lease extension isn’t really a subsidy, because it’s tax money that couldn’t have been spent on teacher pensions anyway. Seriously, guys, how many times do we have to point out that money is fungible, so the hotel-tax money could be spent on some other tourism-related expense, and that could be used to free up cash for other things, including, sure underfunded teacher pensions?
This is actually something I've written about extensively, as stadium cheerleaders have consistently mislead the public on what bed tax dollars can be used for - far more than just stadiums.  In fact, Attorney General Pam Bondi recently opined that it is legal to use tourist tax dollars for things like transit, since duh, tourists can benefit from that too. 

Also, Hillsborough has been paying for things like the cross-bay ferry and certain events with general revenue funds, when they could be using bed tax money.

There is even momentum in Tallahassee to remove all restrictions on bed tax funds, so they can be used on things like police or roads or even, heck, schoolteachers too.

So by inking a new deal with Vinik now, Hillsborough might prematurely commit away funds that could soon be eligible for more pressing needs.  Of course, that's part of the reason why the Lightning want the deal now.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Rays Sue Former Concessionaire Centerplate

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – The Tampa Bay Rays have filed a federal lawsuit against its former concessionaire, Centerplate, for a breach of contract, alleging they “surreptitiously cut corners, underreported gross receipts, concealed performance issues, underpaid the Rays, and underperformed under the Concession Agreement to the detriment of the Rays and their fans.”

The Rays did not renew their contract with Centerplate, owned by Volume Services Inc., after the 2017 season. In August, a Sports Illustrated article ranked Tropicana Field as the major league’s worst when it came to concession health inspections.

The lawsuit, filed Friday, alleges “Centerplate consistently failed to perform and neglected its obligations despite the Rays’ repeated calls for improvement” and failed to “deliver the requisite quality of service and standard of performance required…to properly operate and maintain the concessions equipment and facilities…to keep or provide accurate records to the Rays regarding revenues and commissions owed… to pay the Rays its agreed-upon share of the revenues from concessions (and) to indemnify the Rays for Centerplate’s negligence.

“As a result of Centerplate’s frequent contractual violations, its pattern of misconduct, and overall mishandling of the Stadium’s concessions, the Rays have suffered significant harm. Centerplate’s inappropriate actions and glaring failures sullied the Rays’ brand and reputation, shorted the Rays on considerable revenue and other sums due and owing, caused significant lost profits, and inflicted extensive out-of-pocket costs.”

The lawsuit also alleges:
  • Despite complaints from the Rays following critical 2010 ESPN and 2013 ABC News stories on the stadium's concessions, Centerplate failed to remedy problems and demonstrated a "pattern of inadequate senior level oversight and accountability."
  • Disputes over revenue include "Centerplate further admitted owing over $200,000 for
    credits that were 'incorrectly recorded' from 2007 to 2009."
  • "Not only did Centerplate cause significant damage to the Rays’ brand and reputation through its operation and management of the concessions and resulting media  attention, Centerplate’s chief executive created additional backlash and brought further harm to the Rays through his personal misconduct" when a video surfaced of the man, Des Hague, kicking a dog in a Vancouver elevator.
  • Centerplate has refused to pay legal bills related to a concession sign falling on a fan's head.
  • "In early 2017, the Rays learned that Centerplate had incorrectly advised employees
    of zoning laws and attempted to serve alcohol at the Stadium before the time allowed by local law."
  • "In cleaning up Centerplate’s latest mess, the Rays have found countless new cleaning and maintenance issues, damaged equipment, and concealed neglect requiring extensive repairs, replacement, sterilization, and other out-of-pocket expenses," including to stadium beer lines.
This story was first reported on, and I will continue to post developments, as well as the lawsuit, there as I wait for the Rays and Centerplate to return comment.

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Rays Want to Put No More Money Toward New Stadium Than They're Paying Wilson Ramos

The latest stadium news from Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg was that he was standing by his $150 million contribution figure, but that it "could change" if season ticket, sponsorship, and other business partnerships exceeded the team's projections for a new stadium.

ALSO READ: Sternberg Tries Tricking Tampa Bay with Sticker Shock

Exceeding the team's expectations seems like a longshot at this stage in the game, but it was a call to Tampa to put its money where its mouth is and start coughing up either stadium money or season-long commitments now.  But Marc Topkins details:
The $150-million...allows them "to make a contribution, pay off our debt over 25 years – whatever it has to be – and still do what we want to do, which is put a more successful product on the field. … For us to be able to go in and break even again at a $65M payroll, it doesn't make sense. We want to be able to jump the payroll if we're taking that sort of risk."
$150 million, paid over 25 years, with tax-free municipal bonds, is only like $8-10 million a year.  The Rays want to pay just $8-10 million a year for a new stadium.

That's what they're paying catcher WILSON RAMOS next year.

It's a good time to turn the clock back 6.5 years to a Shadow of the Stadium post from 2011, "What Stu Sternberg is Thinking."  An excerpt:
A new stadium could represent $200 million in value to the Rays, including tens of millions in revenue in each of the first few years. And while Sternberg would put a portion of that money into his own pocket, the rest would undoubtedly go back into the team, creating a better product for fans. He sees it as a win-win.

But the problem is that a new stadium would cost substantially more than $200 million. So Sternberg needs help.

private developers may be eager to donate land for a new park, there’s no financial gain to be had from building the actual stadium for a team. That leaves a funding gap for a retractable-roof stadium of approximately $300 million.
The numbers may have grown due to inflation, and we honestly may never know what percentage of new revenues Sternberg will put toward payroll versus toward franchise investors.  But one thing's for sure: that funding gap is monstrous and Hillsborough County still has no idea how to make up the difference in Tampa.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Times Editorial Passive-Aggressively Suggests Taxpayers Should Cough Up Hundreds of Millions for Rays Stadium

I really can't believe how easy some are making it for Stu Sternberg and the Rays to leverage taxpayers.

Days after I warned how the Rays' initial low-ball $150 million offer and inflated $800 million estimate on a stadium was designed to reduce the expectation of how much the team should ultimately contribute...the Tampa Bay Times dedicated its lead editorial to explaining how Tampa Bay should only expect Sternberg to contribute "in the $160-$280 million range," since "recent history shows the typical team paying 20 to 35 percent of the cost of a Major League Baseball stadium."

Except that figure includes incredibly unpopular and lopsided deals where teams screwed taxpayers, like the potentially-illegal, "worst sports stadium deal ever" in Atlanta where the Braves suggested taking on approximately half of their new stadium's cost, only to pile a hundred million dollars on taxpayers later, reducing their load significantly.

Or the Marlins' deal, which the Times' called "one of the most ridiculed deals in recent memory," before suggesting the team's 24% contribution to the stadium was a model to be copied.

In a contrasting opinion piece in the same paper, former sports columnist Joe Henderson writes Stu Sternberg should go find a few more pennies in his sofa cushions:
By the way, how did the price jump to $800 million? The Oakland Athletics, the Rays' roommate at the bottom of baseball's attendance list, recently announced plans for a $500 million stadium that, get this, THEY WILL PAY FOR!

That's right. A team struggling nearly as much at the ticket counter as the Rays said its new home will be privately financed. That's how it should be.
Unfortunately, that won't be how it goes down in Tampa Bay.

For, as I've written since 2009, the whole Rays Stadium Saga (and almost every other pro team's stadium campaign) has been designed as a showdown between competing communities to see who will offer the team more money.

Except, Tampa doesn't have much to offer.  So, expect a few more years of hardball negotiations, leveraging, and posturing - there's no happy ending to the Stadium Saga on the immediate horizon.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why 20 is the new 40 (RIP, Georgia Dome)

Tomorrow morning, Atlanta will blow up a perfectly-good stadium because, mostly, it has a roof that doesn't retract.

The stadium, fit to host Super Bowls and decades worth of SEC championships will be imploded after just 25 short years...once again proving that stadiums have pretty much zero equity (or in the case of Atlanta or Montreal's domes, negative equity) once a team decides its done playing there.

Let's flashback to my "20 is the new 40" post:
For a long time, stadiums were considered investments that would pay dividends for 40 or more years. That includes buildings such as Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, and Dodger Stadium. Like a skyscraper, the facilities were simply built to last.

But the pressure on cities to "keep up with the Joneses" has slashed the perceived lifespan of a stadium in half, often eliminating the net benefits to the communities that spend huge amounts of money to build them.
Few pro teams stay in one place for more than a dozen years now without demanding more taxpayer-subsidized upgrades.  And by the time a stadium turns 20, it's already time to plan its replacement.
New stadiums are more state-of-the-art than ever...which makes it all-the-more ironic that society feels the need to replace the half-billion-dollar buildings every 20 years.
Before you dismiss this as just crazy Georgians being Georgians...check out this 2010 Shadow of the Stadium post that suggests no city in America is safe from the 20-year-old itch:  "Replace the Georgia Dome" Talk Troublesome

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Stu Sternberg Hits Tampa Bay with Sticker Shock So He Can Deal a Numbed-Down Blow Later

I first thought this Tampa Bay Times article was from 2008:
But then I realized the news of Stu Sternberg estimating the Rays would put only $150 million toward a new stadium in Tampa Bay was published Wednesday night.

That means the team seems to want to fund a smaller portion of a new stadium than they were in 2008, when they offered up the same $150 million for a less-expensive stadium in St. Pete.  Adjusted for inflation, their 2017 opening bid is actually 13% less money than they were willing to spend ten years ago.

Longtime columnist Joe Henderson asked if Sternberg was joking.   And one Pinellas County Commissioner reacted this way:
No matter what you thought, money has always been - and remains - the biggest problem in the Rays' Stadium Saga.  But we can draw a few conclusions from Sternberg's comments:

1) The funding gap is ENORMOUS; and maybe bigger than even this blog thought
Commissioner Ken Hagan has repeatedly said there would "never again be a sweatheart deal" like the one the Glazers got at Raymond James Stadium.  Except, as this video shows, the Rays' stadium is likely to be WAY more expensive, even when adjusting the Buccaneers' 1998 haul for inflation:

There is no way Hillsborough (or even the deeper-pocketed Pinellas) is coming up with $650 million in public cash for a new stadium, so they two sides had better start hawking peanuts to private donors who may have a sweet spot for baseball.

2) Sternberg knows $650 million isn't happening
So why did he hit everyone with the sticker shock of $650 million this week?

Either because it's the next step in Sternberg's exit plan, finally coming clean that not even a new ballpark means significant new revenue unless someone else pays for it (as this blog has written dozens of times)...

And/or he's setting public expectations high - and his initial offering low - so that coughing up $350-400 million in public money later may seem like a deal.  It's a topic this blog covered in 2016:
This way, the Rays are now perfectly set up to "settle" sometime down the road for a fixed-roof stadium at a much lower overall cost...once the public has committed its chunk of the cash.

We should end the conversation about a retractable roof right now.  The Marlins' don't use theirs, the region can't afford one, and the technology has come a long way since the Rays' last stadium foray in 2008.
But Sternberg knows there is no appetite to fund major subsidies for a new stadium in Tampa: not on Hillsborough's county commission, where four of seven commissioners have already spoken out against any tax funding for a stadium;  not in Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's office, where he just had to fight for a controversial tax increase to pay for basic city services and wastewater upgrades; and not in the statehouse, where several bills aim at banning all sorts of stadium subsidies and the biggest proponent of stadium investment, State Sen. Jack Latvala, is sitting on the sidelines as allegations of sexual misconduct play out.

So what does Sternberg do with that?  Well, a savvy negotiator creates leverage.  And he's doing his best.

Sternberg is well-aware there are at least 14 different types of public subsidies the Rays could target to subsidize a new home.

3) Transparency from Rays??
Sternberg said the $150 million figure was based on the team's estimated revenues from a new stadium - something he told me five years ago the Rays don't do.

So, I guess now in 2017, the team all of a sudden knows what kind of ballpark they want to build and generally what kind of revenues it can expect from it?  Does that mean the Rays will finally be a little more forthcoming about financial issues?

Because three years ago...
If Sternberg was serious about only contributing $150 million, at least he's being honest (although I'm not convinced).  Because so far, the only real money talk we've heard from the Rays and MLB is how taxpayers had better start coughing up money.

Transparency has not been a priority here, and little has changed since I said this 12 months ago:

We know from the Marlins' new stadium that a new park, even in the wrong place, will increase a franchise's value by hundreds of millions.  So c'mon Stu, show us the money.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Ken Hagan Screwed His Fellow Commissioners - and Almost Rick Kriseman - to Screw Me

Ken Hagan basically confirmed my theory Wednesday that he gave the news of the Ybor City proposed stadium site to a few friendly reporters - before his fellow commissioners, who said they were "embarrassed" by his secretive move - in order to screw "a reporter" who he believed had uncovered the news.
So that was "properly," commissioner?
Actually, he admitted it wasn't Wednesday, promising he "will try to do a better job communicating," and essentially apologizing to Mayor Bob Buckhorn & Hillsborough commissioners for going all lone wolf on announcing his pet project...but he said it had nothing to do with influencing the St. Pete mayor's race, as some had suggested.

I actually believe him.  Hagan wanted to screw me for this story, and make sure I didn't unveil his beautiful baby. 

In fact, here's the exact moment when I told him I had public records he was willfully neglecting to turn over to me, in accordance with state law:
Now granted, Hagan tried to keep his cool and didn't take time examining what exactly I was holding in my hand (it wasn't the land use agreements he feared it was)...but just a week later, he took his victory lap as the architect of the masterful Ybor deal.

Hahahahahaha. Transparency.

Except the masterful deal forgot one thing: financing.  And Hillsborough doesn't have any money for roads, let alone a new stadium.  Oh, and Stu Sternberg said later on Wednesday the team would only be looking at a $150 million contribution to a stadium.

Good luck with that, commissioner. You now own that problem.

Oh, and a potentially bigger problem he also owns? Proof public documents existed that he seemingly refused to turn over - a possible criminal violation of state statutes.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

This Week in MLB: Anticipating More Manfred Non-News on the Rays Stadium Saga

The MLB owner/GM meetings are this week in Orlando, and for the first time since Ken Hagan announced the preferred Tampa site for a tug-of-war with St. Petersburg possible new Rays stadium, we will hear from Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Which of the following talking points should we expect Manfred to hit?
  • "We are encouraged by the progress..."
  • "Time is of the essence..."
  • "This issue is on our 'front-burner'..."
  • "Blah blah blah blah Montreal..."
  • "We look forward to hearing more about the offers on the table ($$$)..."
  • "We can't do this without the support of the community ($$$$$)..."
UPDATE: Manfred said Thursday,"There needs to be support from the community in order to be successful in completing it."

One thing's for sure - the next step in this process is MLB and the Rays seeing how much money they can extricate from public coffers. So unless Manfred is willing to shed some new light on how much is expected...or how much the league/team will put up...don't expect any real news to come out of this week's press conference.

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What Kriseman's Win in St. Pete's Run-Off Election Means for the Rays

Ten weeks after a razor-tight primary, two St. Pete mayors duked it out in a run-off for control over city hall for the next four years.  And it appears Mayor Rick Kriseman will hold off former mayor, Rick Baker, by a two-to-three-point margin.

Of course, a mayor will leave many footprints on a city's legacy, but one significant influence that Kriseman will continue to have pertains to the future of the Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Rowdies, both of whom currently play in old St. Pete stadiums.

As I wrote this summer, St. Pete seems to be too small for two top-level teams, and Baker had been a natural ally of the Rowdies after quarterbacking their MLS 2 St. Pete campaign. Meanwhile, Kriseman has been a reliable partner to the Rays and already offered the team significant public dollars that would, at the very least, help them leverage more out of Hillsborough County if they aren't serious about sharing in the redevelopment opportunities at Tropicana Field (also explains why the Rays contributed more than $80,000 to Kriseman's campaign.

Now, with the election in the books, it would seem the next domino to fall in the Stadium Saga would belong to the Rays, who could call a press conference to discuss their next move (seeking money) as soon as this week. But that may not prove to be a pleasant - or brief - chapter in this saga.

What won't help the Rays is Montreal's biggest MLB cheerleader, Mayor Denis Coderre, getting upset by challenger Valérie Plante earlier this week. Plante criticized Coderre on the campaign trail for a willingness to spend large amounts of tax dollars on projects like a new stadium. So that may be one weaker chip for the Rays/MLB to play as leverage.

Also newsworthy on Election Day in St. Pete - Gina Driscoll, who campaigned on an open approach to supporting and funding a new Rays stadium, beat out Justin Bean, who was a consultant on the Tropicana Field redevelopment project and said "no public funds" should be used for the stadium other than infrastructure and surrounding development.

In D2, Brandi Gabbard, who liked the idea of a Derby Lane stadium in North St. Pete, beat Barclay Harless, who promised "not one dime" for the Rays until the city gets its sewer problems under control. And in D4, incumbent Darden Rice, who has supported Kriseman's path on the Stadium Saga, knocked off 21-year-old challenger Jerick Johnson.

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Transparency.

Ken Hagan, Hillsborough County's self-appointed stadium negotiator, has been working behind-the-scenes to get a deal done for the Rays. He even promised to brief everyone on his dealings 18 months ago:
But that didn't happen and his fellow commissioners tell me and other media outlets they're pissed.

Hagan helped create a private non-profit entity so he could negotiate a land deal without having to deal with public records.  He praised the secretly-negotiated, more-expensive-than-anticipated, possibly-illegal Braves deal. He never got buy-in from the City of Tampa.

Hell, Hagan didn't even tell Tampa's mayor or the Rays that he was announcing his deal last week.  And he went out of his way to withhold the news from media outlets that have previously challenged him on transparency issues and his lack of compliance on public record laws.

Now, Hagan wants you to know that he has the PERFECT location for the Rays!...but somehow has not yet discussed financing specifics yet with the team.

How's that for transparency?

Actually, it matches the Rays' record on the subject.

This blog has spent years calling for the Rays to be more transparent regarding its stadium "need," and what kind of tax money it is looking forThe Tampa Tribune once joined the chorus.  The Tampa Bay Times has also joined recently, writing "secrecy will erode public confidence, especially in this era of public skepticism of government."  It penned a similar editorial in 2016

But the same thing is happening in Tampa that happens in cities all over the country. Even though sunshine protects taxpayers, politicians go out of their way to keep their discussions private.

By foolishly thinking they can out-negotiate leagues that squeezes taxpayers for a living, many politicians only succeed in ensuring their legacy as pro sports' "sweethearts."

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Hillsborough Pitches Rays Stadium Proposal - Now What?

Hillsborough County's Ken Hagan surprised his fellow commissioners, county staffers, and probably even the Rays today, when he announced he had cobbled together 14 acres of land near Ybor City for a possible Rays stadium in Tampa.

It seemed most media outlets in town were called to his office, except mine, WTSP-TV. Shocker, really.

Maybe its because I've always said land isn't the biggest problem in the Stadium Saga; funding is.  And guess what?  It still is.

Here was other immediate reaction and perspective:

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Handy-Dandy Guide to How "Not Your Tax Dollars" are Really Your Tax Dollars (The Extreme Public Cost of a New Rays Stadium)

If the Rays are going to get a new stadium somewhere in Tampa Bay, it's clear from what local politicians and columnists are saying, it will cost taxpayers a pretty penny. But we've now seen several of them suggest local residents won't have to pay for the public subsidies. 


So here's a handy-dandy guide to how "not your tax dollars" really are your tax dollars, with some educated guesses as to how much each potential funding mechanism might contribute toward a new Rays stadium:
  1. Hotel/bed taxes - $60-75 million: Your first hint that these are taxes? The word "tax" in the title. Yes, tourists tend to pay more of these than locals.  And yes, state law restricts how you can use the dollars.  But...
    1. Despite what Hillsborough Co. leaders have tried to convince you, bed taxes CAN be used for more than just stadiums. They can be used for pretty much any event or capital expenditure that helps bring tourists to your county - often, more successfully than pro teams.
    2. Earlier this year, I found at least $550,000 a year in items earmarked in the county’s general revenue budget that could be covered by the bed tax, freeing up general revenue tax money for roads, law enforcement, etc.
    3. The money can also be used for marketing your county, which apparently, Tampa is in need of, since a dozen downtown/Ybor-area hotels just added a marketing fee on top of the bed tax to make up for the lack of marketing spending.
  2. Land - $15-30+ million: Any public giveaway of land for a stadium is a taxpayer subsidy. Consider the opportunity cost taxpayers could be missing out on through other uses of that land:
    1. If the city/county were to simply sell a developer 15-20 acres of prime real estate near Tampa's downtown, the project should conceivably net the county well north of $1M per acre.
    2. If the right development is chosen, as Commissioner Ken Hagan and so many others like to remind those around Tropicana Field, the land could net much more revenue and opportunity as something other than baseball.
    3. Of course, any fee the county pays to acquire land will cost taxpayers too.
    4. Then, there's the cost of relocating the facilities and/or residents that are currently there.  For instance, the Tampa Park Apartments would require relocating hundreds of families. Or Hagan's idea of relocating the sheriff's office would mean tens of millions more for a new HCSO facility.
  3. Future property tax growth/community redevelopment area (CRA) - $?? million: Also known as tax-increment financing (TIF), this method earmarks city and county general revenue property tax dollars within a defined district, to be used on special projects within that same area. The districts are specifically designed to cure blighted areas, and it is also somewhat limited in bonding capacity:
    1. The biggest variable would be how the CRA is drawn. Some of Tampa's existing CRA's produce zero revenue, while others produce more than a million per year.  This is why most CRA/TIF districts are pretty limited when it comes to future bonding capacities.
    2. The only CRA currently producing significant revenue is the Downtown district, but the city and county have already committed $100 million from that CRA to Vinikville "Water Street Tampa" and surrounding development near Amalie Arena. So don't count on a new ballpark complex leaning on Vinik's money.
    3. Again, these are REAL PROPERTY TAX DOLLARS that could go to pay for anything else the city or county needed: roads, cops, sewers, etc.  And when the TIF district fails to produce the revenue projected, as they sometimes do, general revenue tax dollars typically have to make up the difference.
    4. As Neil deMause recently wrote, incremental tax revenues "are generally pooh-poohed by economists as a subsidy by other means, since all evidence shows that entertainment spending in one part of a metropolitan area just ends up being cannibalized from somewhere else."
    5. Politically speaking, Hillsborough Co. commissioners recently fought over a CRA designed specifically for transportation improvement - they couldn't agree, and the county still desperately needs transportation money. Oh, and the House Speaker is also trying to end CRAs, which could limit how much the county is able to actually bond out. So its far from a guaranteed source of revenue.
  4. Entertainment district tax - $?? million: An additional sales tax could be added to bars, restaurants, and hotels within a special district, giving the Rays a way to capture revenue from private businesses adjacent to their park.  But the city and county don't need a new ballpark to institute a new tax if they want new revenue; those funds could pay for important infrastructure or existing commitments like Water Street Tampa.  Or any of the city's other pressing needs that require raising taxes. So directing new revenues toward construction bonds does, in fact, comes at the expense of other taxpayer needs.  Oh, and ask Cincinnati what happens when you bank on sales taxes funding your stadium and the economy slows down
  5. Infrastructure considerations - $20-80 million: Hillsborough County has a problem in that it cannot afford the roads and transit it desperately needs. But committing to fund new roads and infrastructure around a Downtown/Ybor stadium would most certainly take away from the infrastructure needs elsewhere in the county.
  6. Future development rights - $?? million: If Hillsborough County is to partner with the Rays, as St. Pete has proposed to do, any concession on future developments rights or revenues on public property is a taxpayer expense, even if it is deemed one with positive ROI.
  7. Naming rights - $40-50 million: Forget about any benefit from naming rights to that public stadium - the teams are quick to insist these are their revenues, contributing to their bottom line; not the public's portion of stadium bills.
  8. Rental car taxes - $?? million:  It's been a while since it was suggested rental car taxes could be raised in Tampa to help pay for a new stadium, and the Hillsborough Aviation Authority has since raised the rental taxes twice to pay for airport expansion.  So even if this is no longer a likely source of revenue, it's worth repeating that it could most definitely pay for other things around the community.
  9. Terms of a lease - $?? million: Will the Rays pay the county fair market rent, like most private businesses do that work out of a public space? Because anything short of market value  is a concession taxpayers are making at the expense of general revenue dollars.  Also worth keeping an eye out what kind of concessions taxpayers may have to make when it comes to stadium maintenance - a secret subsidy that adds up if public officials aren't careful  in negotiations.
  10. Property tax breaks or "Payments in Lieu of Taxes" (PILOTs) - $50+ million: Most businesses in Florida pay property taxes. When they don't, it comes at taxpayers' expense. And while there are various forms of the PILOT mechanism, they basically allow a team to skip out on paying property taxes, because of silly reasons like, "they're paying their construction bills instead" or "because they're good community stewards."  If only we were all that lucky!
  11. Sales tax concessions on construction - $20-30 million: When a developer constructs a building, he or she pays sale tax on the materials. But when pro teams build a stadium, they will often try to skirt paying those taxes by getting the municipality to purchase materials for them as a straw-buyer, tax-free. It's like a 16-year-old giving you money to buy him beer. It's just shouldn't be accepted.
  12. Tax-exempt bonds (federal) - $50-150 million: Just like giving private businesses a free pass on paying sales taxes, governments will often take out tax-free bonds on stadium construction so they can secured at lower rates than private businesses have access to. They're a better deal for pro teams because the taxpayers aren't getting their due revenues on the transaction.
  13. New Markets Tax Credits (federal) - $?? million: These federal subsidies, designed to incentivize private businesses to move to and invest in low-income "distressed" communities, can be tapped into in a creative way to benefit stadium development...without actually benefitting the communities the taxpayer is spending money to support. 
  14. Existing general tax revenues - $?? million: Do I even need to spell this one out? I shouldn't, but St. Pete has suggested spending several million dollars a year - on top of bed tax revenues and development rights - to keep the Rays in the 'Burg.  Obviously, this money could be spent on police, roads, or sewers.
You may also hear about foreign investment EB-5 funding as a possible mechanism on a new stadium, but the program's capacity is somewhat limited...and it is short-term bonding only, not the 30-year kind of bonding that the county would prefer for such a large project.

All-in-all, there's a good chance taxpayers would have to help pay for much of a new Rays stadium one way or another.  So don't believe elected leaders who promise there "won't be another sweetheart deal" like the Bucs got with Raymond James Stadium:
  If you know a politician who could use some education on these things, I'd recommend Judith Grant Long's Public-Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilities.

In the meantime, remember the important lesson Neil deMause has written about a million times: this conversation shouldn't be about “How can we get a new sports venue built?” - it should be about “What would make it worth our while to get a new sports venue built?”  

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Ken Hagan Does Not Like Tough Questions

Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan is privately negotiating with the Tampa Bay Rays for a potential new stadium near Ybor City.  And even it seems the proposed stadium would include hundreds of millions of public tax dollars, Hagan has yet to reveal how many and how it would be funded.  He also is taking campaign contributions from one of the men reportedly involved in selling the county land.

He also refuses to talk about it:

For the full investigation and background, visit

RELATED: March 2017 - Ken Hagan Does Not Like This Blog

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