Friday, July 14, 2017

5 Questions About the True Cost of Tampa's 2021 Super Bowl Bid...and its Secrecy


The Tampa Bay Sports Commission has just five weeks left to secure the necessary commitments to host Super Bowl LV in 2021, including hotel rooms, infrastructure and public resources. However, taxpayers may never know the extent of the promises – or their cost – because so much of the NFL’s bidding process remains secretive.

Over on WTSP, I dug deeper on what the championship game could cost taxpayers – and why the process isn’t more transparent. And got answers on the following five questions:

Question 1: Why don’t taxpayers know what’s promised to the NFL?
Free parking, presidential suites and outings at local golf courses are just the beginning of what potential host cities promise to the NFL in hopes of landing a Super Bowl.

Had it not been for a leaked document from Minneapolis’ 2014 bid, the world may never know the extent of the concessions made behind closed doors.

“The Super Bowl is one of the most competitive bid processes out there,” said Rob Higgins, Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. “If our first Super Bowl bid came to light, I don’t know that we would have had a second or a third or a fourth.”

Higgins said the NFL expects – and rewards – confidentiality. While the Tampa host committee plans on disclosing how all public dollars will be spent, many of the promised resources and concessions to the NFL are covered by private donations.

Published reports have pegged the private fundraising for recent Super Bowls between $40 and $80 million, although Tampa doesn’t have the same corporate base as the last two host cities, Houston and Santa Clara/San Francisco.

Question 2: What will the Super Bowl cost taxpayers?
Higgins said the public cost to the 2009 Tampa Super Bowl was slightly more than $4 million, although that didn’t include countless man-hours from city, county and state employees, who were redirected from their typical duties to work event-related tasks.

However, security demands have increased since then, and Tampa’s then-Mayor Pam Iorio also aimed to cap city expenditures at $1 million when the bid was submitted in 2005.

This year, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and the Tampa City Council passed a resolution that promised to provide an endless slew of city services, from police to fire to landscaping, “at no cost to the NFL” and without any cap.

Buckhorn says the city has been successful at limiting expenditures to approximately $1 million for similar events, such as the College Football Championship game in January, and he would hope to do the same in 2021.

“We’re going to be financially responsible in how we pursue (major events), but I think it's well worth the investment,” Buckhorn said.

The NFL will also enjoy perks such as free parking and tax abatements at virtually every event it participates in Super Bowl week, and won’t even have to pay the typical state sales tax on tickets, since the legislature passed a law exempting Super Bowl tickets from state taxes. With an average Super Bowl ticket price now more than $1,300, the NFL will pocket an extra $6 million from the tax abatement.

That could be part of a free tax package worth more than $10 million to the league; money that won't be spent on Florida's schools, roads or safety agencies.

Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, the state-funded Florida Sports Foundation and several other local agencies are all expected to contribute cash toward Tampa's hosting effort as well.

“(The NFL) has monopolized the minds of the American public,” said longtime Tampa city councilman Charlie Miranda, a longtime opponent of subsidies for pro teams. “There's nothing wrong with being a millionaire or a billionaire. But you have to have some human interest in your heart for everybody that lives in those cities.”

Question 3: Why should taxpayers pay for any of the Super Bowl?
The NFL is expected to bring in $14 billion in revenue this year. The city of Tampa is expected to bring in $0.9 billion – and its employees tend to make a lot less than the NFL’s. So any contribution toward the NFL’s expenses irks some critics.

“The city doesn’t come first and it doesn’t come second,” Miranda said. “Greed comes first, and more greed comes second.”

However, Buckhorn suggested a seven-digit investment was well worth the returns if that’s what it takes to get a Super Bowl and the international exposure that comes with it.

“We all recognize sports is a business,” Buckhorn said. “To some degree, it’s in the business of municipal extortion.”

And because other cities are willing to provide free resources to the NFL, Tampa has to play the game too if it wants to host the Super Bowl.

“It’s very difficult to swim against the stream,” Miranda added.

Question 4: Does Tampa “need” another Super Bowl?
Four previous Super Bowls, the 2012 Republican National Convention, and the 2017 College Football Playoff championship game were all billed as events to “put Tampa on the map.”

Isn't the Big Guava on most maps by now?

“People know where Tampa is; they didn’t know us before,” Buckhorn said. “That exposure we get (from a Super Bowl) even though there’s a cost associated with it and we recognize that - is invaluable.”

"You've got so many different corporate influences that come into a community for (a Super Bowl),” Higgins added. “To us, it's really unlimited potential of what the residual value can be for an event like this."

Buckhorn also says it’s hard to put a value on the civic pride that comes with hosting a Super Bowl.

Question 5: What is the real return on investment (ROI) from hosting the game?
The NFL and its partners have claimed Super Bowls are worth hundreds of millions of dollars to a community. But those inflated figures are frequently – and easily – disproven.

RELATED: 10Investigates breaks down inflated economic impact reports

Some economists studying receipts after a Super Bowl concluded the actual economic impact of the event – because of disruptions to the typical economy – may be closer to zero.

“Move the decimal one place to the left,” Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson told 10Investigates for a previous story about team- and league-sponsored economic impact reports.

But Higgins, Buckhorn and other proponents of sports tourism say the true impact is somewhere in between the two extremes.

“I see restaurants that are staffing up, catering businesses...hotels that are filled,” Buckhorn said. “But most importantly, I see that international exposure we get from TV...and you can’t replace that.”

"It's not just about the economic impact of it,” Higgins added, “the social impact of the College Football Playoff national championship was phenomenal as well. (It brought) $1 million to our local schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco...that's a phenomenal return on investment."

Higgins also pointed to nearly 38,000 mentions of Tampa in news programs and more than 100 million social media impressions for the city from the championship game as well.

RELATED: Tax receipts show no college football boom

For many Tampa businesses, the economic impact could hinge on how disruptive the event will be to the typical February tourist bonanza. The 2012 RNC showed how heavy security could hurt more businesses than a big event can help. But the 2017 College Football Playoff championship game showed how successful an exclusive event can be in Tampa when several game-related events were opened up to the general public.





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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Stu Sternberg, Jeff Vinik donate to Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan

Tampa Bay Rays principal owner, Stu Sternberg, donated $1,000 to the 2018 re-election campaign of Hillsborough Co. Commissioner Ken Hagan, the county's biggest cheerleader for a new Rays stadium in Tampa.

The donation was disclosed in Hagan's June fundraising report, filed with the supervisor of elections office this week. Hagan raised over $100,000 in the month, much from the real estate industry, and has no established opponent yet standing in his way of a fifth straight four-year term on the county commission.

Sternberg and other Rays executives have also donated to the 2017 re-election campaign of St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman. Both Kriseman and Hagan have suggested public dollars should be used in financing a new home for the MLB club.

Hagan also reported $6,000 in June contributions from Jeff Vinik-controlled companies, including the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Other Ken Hagan stories:
June 2017 - Hagan Calls Secretly-Negotiated, Expensive, Possibly-Illegal Braves Stadium a "Template"
March 2017 - Ken Hagan answers questions about stadium secrecy
January 2017 - Hillsborough County Can't Stop Negotiating Against Itself Over Rays
May 2016 - Hillsborough, Rays Talk Stadium Locations; Still Pretend $200+M is Hiding in Sofa Cushions
March 2016 - How Ken Hagan has flipped on stadium subsidies and March '17 Update
Sept. 2015: WTSP investigation leads to ethics complaint against Hagan







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Monday, July 10, 2017

All-Star Weekend Does Not Make Rays Rumors "News"

Long time, no talk!

My apologies for not blogging more lately, but my real job comes first...and, well, there hasn't been much Rays stadium news lately.

But that all changes every year at this time - it's All-Star Weekend in Miami!

OK, so there still probably isn't much news on the Stadium Saga front to report, since Hillsborough doesn't have any money to buy the team a stadium and all legit Pinellas options probably hinge on late-August's St. Pete mayor's race.

But I'd still expect MLB Commish Rob Manfred to carry on the league's rich tradition of using the Mid-Summer Classic as an opportunity to manipulate/scare fans into action on stadium sagas. This blog has been tracking the tradition since Bud Selig in 2010.

Just don't give the comments the time of day; Selig never did "intervene" in the "inexcusable" situation he was concerned about...and even Manfred admits creating a boogeyman, like Montreal, helps pressure cities like Tampa and St. Pete.

UPDATE:
Manfred says MLB won't expand until it can no longer hold relocation over heads of T.B. & Oakland

But the great irony in whatever Manfred implies about Tampa Bay's "problems" is that the host of the optics are far worse for the hosts of the All-Star Game, the Marlins.

The Associated Press penned a piece from Miami identifying some factors that have hurt both Marlins' and Rays' attendance, including ballpark location and a transient fan base.

But while the Marlins have a sparkly new ballpark that didn't accomplish much other than lining Jeffrey Loria's pockets with public dollars, the Rays are actually drawing much better TV numbers.

Neither the Rays (15,680 avg) nor the Marlins (20,904) are doing well at the gate, per your annual All-Star Break attendance update.


UPDATE: Manfred says TB better market than Montreal right now and is "hopeful" for progress

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Times' John Romano writes "Tampa Bay could learn from Miami's stadium fiasco" and public dollars should only be spent in conjunction with "a provision requiring a percentage of profits be split with local governments if the team is sold."

That would be wonderful and all, but it kind of undermines the reason teams seek public support: to boost the value (and thus sale price) of the franchise. If the team has to share profits with the public, it may as well just take out a mortgage and fund the thing itself.

I agree with Romano that this kind of agreement would go a long way toward earning Stu Sternberg a place in Tampa Bay fans' hearts again. But I just don't see it happening.

At the end of the day, the Rays' next step may ultimately depend who wins the Rick Baker vs. Rick Kriseman mayoral battle.

Kriseman has already offered up significant subsidies to keep the Rays downtown, but Baker has not shown the same willingness.

It may be no coincidence then that the Rays have financially supported Kriseman's re-election campaign.





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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Braves Don't Bother with New Economic Impact Report, Figure Old Bogus One is Just Fine

TAMPA BAY, Florida - The Braves want $20 million from the state of Florida for a new spring training home in North Port, on top of the subsidies they are already getting from the city, county, and land developer. And they're relying on an old study that's been wildly criticized to justify the spending.

In an application submitted to the state this week, the West Villages Improvement District claimed a new $75 million spring training park, primarily financed from city revenues and county bed tax dollars, would reap $1.7 billion in economic rewards for the county.

But according to the application, that figure was based on extrapolations from a 2009 statewide spring training economic report from Dr. Mark Bonn, a Florida State University professor who was recently spotlighted by 10Investigates. Bonn is not an economist, but has a rich history of selling reports to municipalities with robust economic impact claims they can use to justify large spending projects.

RELATED: Why you should never believe an economic impact report

10Investigates also caught Sarasota County stretching the truth in February, when they tried to sell the project as one that would "pay for itself."
Following watchdog warnings from 10Investigates during the negotiating process with the Braves, the county scored some concessions from the team and developer to better-protect taxpayers before agreeing to a final contract on a new stadium

The $20 million grant money sought by the West Villages, Braves, Sarasota County, and City of North Port has already been allocated by the state for new spring training projects, so there may be little that critics of stadium subsidies in Tallahassee can do to stop it.






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Friday, June 2, 2017

Hagan Calls Secretly-Negotiated, More-Expensive-Than-Anticipated, Possibly-Illegal Braves Stadium a "Template"

Hillsborough's stadium cheerleader-in-chief, Ken Hagan, again called the Braves' new secretly-negotiated, more-expensive-than-originally-promised stadium the "template" for a new Rays home in Tampa Bay.

That's not new...but with Braves attendance at just 30,109 through SunTrust Park's first 21 games - by the way, below the team's avg. attendance in 2013, when the deal went down - let's take a fresh look at all the problems with Tampa Bay wanting to emulate what Cobb Co. did for the Braves:




This blog has posted at-length about how pro teams seem to be making as much money outside the stadium (real estateancillary development) as they are inside the stadium these days, so Hagan's comments are kind of no-brainers. But the lack of transparency and willingness to lead the way on public subsidies are a bigger deal.





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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Tampa Lands Super Bowl LV, Politicians Amazingly Refrain From Making Economic Claims

As I reported for WTSP this week, the Super Bowl's return to Tampa is not yet a done deal, as local organizers have a 90-day deadline to secure a slew of agreements from local businesses and taxpayer-funded agencies that spell out exactly what concessions will be made to the NFL for the "right" to host the 2021 game.

Among the requirements the NFL makes of host cities is to provide all police, fire, medical, and other governmental planning services free-of-charge during - and leading up to - the Super Bowl. Those expenses may run into the tens of millions.  Tampa's City Council agreed to those terms last year.

We also know, from a leaked 2013 NFL document, the league typically expects a long list of hotel-, entertainment- and transportation-related concessions from host cities.

But the most jaw-dropping news this week may have been how the Super Bowl-to-Tampa news didn't prompt the typical claims of robust economic impact.

I'd like to think that may have something to do with my frequent watchdogging on inflated and unfounded claims from local politicians, related to spring training, St. Pete's new pier project, the 2012 Republican National Convention, and the 2017 college football championship game - even once bringing a four-year-old in at one point to simplify the equation.

RELATED: Numbers don't support college football playoff economic boom

There have also been numerous economists who have looked into the economic impact of Super Bowls, and time and time again, most academics find the game's disruption to the local economy negates most gains a city would otherwise enjoy. In short, some industries win while others lose.

So yes, while Super Bowls are special, they are also expensive.

Last fall, Tampa's city council agreed to not only provide all police, fire, and medical services for Super Bowl week for free, but also any governmental planning, infrastructure, and security costs associated with Super Bowl events.

In addition to hosting football championships, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission has also enjoyed recent success luring less-complicated and less-expensive sporting events (along with their visitors) to town, from youth tournaments to the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four and 2019 women's Final Four.






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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Happy Anniversary Shadow of the Stadium!

This is that special week each year I sit down to eat cake (by myself) because Shadow of the Stadium has survived another 12 months!

The last year hasn't exactly brought forth the most consequential Stadium Saga news, as the Rays continue to bide their time, hoping for a change in both leverage and attitudes toward public financing.  But Hillsborough has no money for a stadium and Pinellas faces doubt about throwing good money after bad.

So it's another opportunity to look back at some of the real interesting pivot points of the Stadium Saga turns nine (and this blog turns eight)....as well as an opportunity to remind you that the blog's goal (1,400 posts and counting) is to provide some big-picture perspective on where, when, how, and if a new Rays stadium should be built in Tampa Bay (along with other local sports business news):







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Friday, May 5, 2017

Rowdies Win Referendum; Other Summer Reading

In case you slept through the week of Tampa Bay sports business news, St. Pete voters gave the city overwhelming approval to work out a long-term deal with the Rowdies to renovate Al Lang stadium (supposedly with private funds, although many suspect annual public rent/maintenance subsidies).

Nothing is likely to happen without MLS awarding the city an expansion franchise...which is unlikely to happen (IMHO) without the Rays deciding their future first.  Neither the league nor the Rowdies like their prospects of drawing 20,000 fans to Downtown St. Pete if the Rays are still there, possibly in a new stadium.

Some tweeters suspect MLS loves the referendum news, solely because it ups the ante on other cities competing for expansion franchises:
But, as always...time will tell. In other recent sports business news:






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Monday, April 17, 2017

How Paid Consultants Fool You on Economic Impact Reports

Ever wonder how easily teams can make small economic impact look like huge economic impact (typically, when they're lobbying for your tax dollars)?

I can explain it to you in 90 seconds. View the short video below:

https://www.facebook.com/10NewsWTSP/videos/1538086016225145/





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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Florida's Leading Economist on Sporting Events Is Not an Economist

The state of Florida spends nearly as much money every year on professional sports stadiums as it does maintaining the Sunshine State’s top tourist attraction, its beaches. However, my latest WTSP investigation found the author of so many economic impact reports that support public sports subsidies may not be the expert economist state leaders believe he is.

The resume of Dr. Mark Bonn, a professor at Florida State University’s Dedman School of Hospitality, boasts of dozens of reports compiled for municipalities all across Florida, including some statewide organizations. Bonn’s side company, Bonn Marketing Inc., recently received $23,000 from just one study, commissioned by the Toronto Blue Jays and city of Dunedin to show the economic impact of spring training.

But emails uncovered by WTSP suggest Bonn encouraged the gaming of numbers to help justify a large public stadium renovation project. And several established economists call Bonn’s work deeply-flawed, resembling marketing propaganda more than an economic analysis; which may be appropriate, since Bonn’s background is in marketing, not economics.

Fuzzy Math

Bonn’s economic impact estimates have become the go-to statistic for politicians who either don’t know better or don’t care. But it doesn’t take an expert economist to recognize his reports often make unfair assumptions to get to a rosy conclusion about his clients’ projects.

For instance, Bonn’s recent report that claimed the Blue Jays created $70.6 million in economic impact for Pinellas County each year failed to take into account the fact that many out-of-town visitors who came for baseball attended multiple games; Bonn’s report considered every ticket-holder for every game a unique visitor to the county. He also seemed to forget in his initial draft to take into account that many spring training ticket-holders were Pinellas County residents.

Bonn’s Blue Jays report also failed to take into account some basic economic principles, such as substitution (where one business, such as baseball, cannibalizes economy from other local businesses, such as movie theaters or restaurants, rather than create new economy) as well as “leakage” (where money spent locally, such as at Dunedin’s stadium, doesn’t stay locally because out-of-state businesses get much of the revenue).

And a public records obtained by 10Investigates revealed Bonn was encouraging his clients to use inflated numbers to make their case for taxpayer subsidies stronger.

Emails sent by the Blue Jays revealed apparent frustrations at time with their consultant, including a suggestion on Dec. 17, 2016 that Bonn use more realistic numbers in one of his calculations.

Bonn responded, “This is your call, but as your consultant, I do not recommend going down this path, as it generates only a negative outcome and provides a good argument to defeat your proposal.”

Emails also indicate that Bonn was concerned with preserving robust estimates. And he suggested removing the methodology from his report to reduce the number of questions county leaders might ask.

The investigation also found:
  • Beaches are barely funded better than pro sports stadiums in Florida, despite a state survey that suggested 26% of out-of-state visitors came to Florida for beaches, versus just 6% for sports.
  • Many local counties allocate far more bed tax dollars to sports venues than beaches, including Pinellas.
  • Dr. Bonn teaches wine tasting and marketing at FSU, but not economics.
  • When asked why economists take such issue with his work, Bonn said, "well, I have economics classes...it’s basically a fine line."
  • When asked how he could suggest using bigger numbers to get to a desired result, Bonn said "it’s natural, I’m a consultant."
  • When asked if being a consultant is different than being an economist, Bonn responded, "no; I consider myself an economics background."
For more, continue reading the story on WTSP.com.


RELATED:
2017 - Please Stop Acknowledging "Economic Impact Reports" 2016 - Yankees Pinch Pennies, Produce Laughable Economic Impact Report Without Having to Hire Economist
2015 - Teams Prove the Scary Repercussion of Not Publicly-Financing Stadiums...is They Have to Pay for it Themselves
2013 - You Can Make an Economic Impact Report Say Anything

   



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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Rays' Franchise Value Soars Again; Still Lowest in MLB

Last year, the Rays' estimated value, according to Forbes, "only" grew by $25 million. Well, what a difference a year can make.

According to the newest Forbes MLB valuations, the Rays' franchise is now worth $825 million, a 27% increase since last year and nearly a 400% increase since Stu Sternberg bought the team in 2005.

Of course, the Rays are still the league's least-valuable franchise (A's are next at $880 million), thanks to the fact that everyone is getting really really rich from TV and digital deals.

ALSO: Rays have 99 problems, but gettin' rich ain't one

Forbes estimates the Rays pull in $205 million a year in overall revenues, with $32 million in operating income.

Basically, everyone's getting rich.  Especially the highest-valued teams (Yankees - $3.7B; Dodgers $2.8B; Red Sox - $2.7B).

So as I say every year, this is just one more piece of evidence that 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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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

St. Pete Makes Stadium Pitch to Rays

The City of St. Petersburg and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce made its ‘Baseball Forever’ stadium campaign pitch today to the Rays; the 43-page plan was presented at Tropicana Field, behind closed doors...although the documents are public.

The best place for the breaking news was @StadiumShadow on Twitter.  Here are some highlights:





For further reading, the Tampa Bay Times write-up is here.  Or, additional Shadow of the Stadium references:






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Budweiser, Official Rays Sponsor, is Clueless Where the Rays Play

Roll of the eyes for this Budweiser goof:

Of course, the Rays don't play in Tampa.  Tropicana Field is in St. Petersburg, which was not lost on fans.  But Budweiser's response seems to indicate the slight was unintentional/ignorant:
Hey, at least Bud's sponsoring $5 Friday night stadium beers. The only catch: you have to drive to St. Pete to get them.





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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Turns Out College Football Championship Didn't Bring $300 Million to Tampa

The City of Tampa may have a highlight reel to show off its successful 2017 College Football Playoff championship, but Hillsborough County doesn't seem to have the tax receipts to prove the event was an economic success for the region.

Initial data, just released from the Florida Department of Revenue, show no spike in taxes collected in Hillsborough County from sales in January 2017, when it hosted the national championship and a number of large events surrounding the game. The data will be reviewed and adjusted by the state next month.

While many factors play into a county's tax collections on any given month, Hillsborough saw just a 6% gain in tax receipts from the same month in 2016, on-par with the state's 6% growth from the same time period. Hillsborough's gain was also consistent with previous year's reports, where the county posted 4-6% gains most months compared to the same periods in 2015.

Pinellas and Pasco counties also posted similar tax numbers in January 2017 compared to their 2016 trends, each up 4% from 2016's reports. Polk County saw the bay area's best January 2017, reporting 12% better sales than from the previous January.

VIDEO: Why you should never believe an economic impact study

When Tampa landed playoff championship week more than three years ago, Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan claimed the event would bring somewhere between 1,700 and 1,800 full-time jobs, as well as $250 million to $350 million in economic impact.

However, that kind of revenue would have generated an extra $17.5 million to $24.5 million in sales taxes, which there seems to be little evidence to support.

While it is difficult to determine all of the factors for taxable sales countywide, supporters of the national championship game point to large crowds gathering at Tampa-area hotels and establishments the week leading up to the game as proof the event is good for the economy. But economists are quick to point to tax data, which often refutes the robust claims of major events.

Rob Higgins, Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, told 10News the numbers from local hotels and Tampa International Airport were extraordinary. But overall, Hillsborough collected $127 million in taxes from January 2017 sales, compared to $120 million in January 2016.






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Sunday, April 2, 2017

All the Rays Opening Day Reading You Need

  1. FLORIDA'S BASEBALL FAILURES: Rays beatwriter Marc Topkin lands above-the-fold today with a look at why, entering their 20th season, the Rays have not been able to prove Tampa Bay is a viable baseball market...and why so many around MLB are disappointed in the Florida baseball experiment. (Yet Commissioner Rob Manfred still maintains he's "optimistic.")
  2. SHADOW OF THE STADIUM: Get caught up on everything you may have missed in the last week, from Stu Sternberg's non-news news to the nitty-gritty on new stadium revenues to how much you should really pay attention to the Tampa Bay Times' annual Rays frustratitorial.
  3. PAYING FOR A PARK: Joe Henderson strikes the perfect pitch in a column about why the Rays are stuck between a rock and a hard place moving forward on the Stadium Saga. Hint: it's the same reason this blog has lamented about for years...neither MLB nor the Rays want to foot the bill.
  4. UNCERTAINTY: Times columnist Dan Ruth muses about the lack of certainty in the Rays' future, especially when it comes to paying for a stadium.
  5. FLASHBACK: Here's a 2015 Shadow post worth re-reading about why there's never been as much urgency on the Stadium Saga as some would have you believe. And the sequel post on why "the end is near" fears are unnecessary.
  6. CARTOON: South Tampa artist Charles Greacen turns the Stadium Saga into a political cartoon.
  7. MONTREAL: MLB has reportedly told Montreal it can play Rays-Jays home games at Olympic Stadium in 2018, but that would require either the City of St. Pete or the Toronto Blue Jays to give up three home games, which is unlikely.  Meanwhile, Maury Brown reports Montreal isn't as close to landing a team as they'd like to think.
  8. BASEBALL: And of course, there's all that on-field stuff too. The Times has a nice special section this morning worth picking up.  Or, find the coverage online.





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Friday, March 31, 2017

The Tampa Bay Times' Annual Opening Day Frustratitorial

The Times' editorial board published its annual Opening Day editorial, complaining about the slow pace of the Stadium Saga for an eighth running. The gist is pretty much the same every year, but the specific fears have evolved:
  • 2014 - 2016: Please just hurry up and do something!
  • 2012 - 2013: The Marlins have a new stadium!!
  • 2010 - 2011: St. Pete losing leverage in negotiations
The opening graf lays out what is likely an overly-aggressive timeline for the Rays & local politicians...but give them credit for optimism!
The Tampa Bay Rays open their 20th season Sunday in sold-out Tropicana Field with new turf, new concessions (a $13 grilled cheese burger!?), new players — and a familiar discussion about prospects for a new stadium. By Opening Day in 2018, there should be a site selected for the next Rays ballpark and a general agreement on how to pay for it. The continuing uncertainty is unhealthy for the Rays and for a region that is enjoying a growth spurt but cannot afford to lose major-league baseball.
Of course, it isn't finding a site that's the biggest challenge; it's the financing and lack of appetite for public subsidies.

That's unlikely to change in the next 12 months.  But at least the Times isn't contributing as much to MLB's fearmongering as it used to back earlier in the decade
Although, it's good to see they're not afraid to recycle a lede:
The sellout crowd at the Tampa Bay Rays' 14th season opener tonight at Tropicana Field will find new food choices, a new playing surface and plenty of new players. What the franchise needs to ensure its long-term future in the region is a serious conversation about a new stadium.





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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Forbes' Billionaires List: Where are Tampa Bay's Franchise Owners?

The latest Forbes list of billionaires came out last week, and 51 Floridians made the list this year.

That included Heat owner Mickey Arison, Jags owner Shahid Kahn, and some guy named Michael Jordan...but surprising to some, nobody from the Glazer family.  And both Jeff Vinik and Stu Sternberg have a ways to go still.

Source: Forbes, Florida Trend

I was recently asked on a radio show, hosted by former Congressman David Jolly and my former WTSP colleague Preston Rudie, if billionaire sports owners were the "new norm" and how that might affect the sports landscape.

My answer was that we'd likely see more Steve Ballmer's buying teams, but it doesn't mean they'll be willing to lose money on them. 

A $5 million contract may be monopoly money to most of these billionaires, but realize that most of them got rich by being shrewd businessmen & businesswomen.  And they don't like running businesses at a loss.

So while Tampa Bay is hoping someday for next Mark Cuban - a rich guy who doesn't seem to care as much about the bottom line as he does winning - the reality is, the best any city should hope for is more Jeff Viniks: owners who are shrewd enough to run their franchises as a loss leader, so they can advance their other business interests (real estate) while hopefully (most years) enjoying success on-the-field/ice/court as icing on the cake.





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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What's a New Stadium Really Worth to Rays?

Of all the fallout included in Sunday's post, "New Non-News on Rays' Stadium Location Search...and What Comes Next," the one piece of writing I couldn't quite cram in came at the bottom of John Romano's column.

He gets around to the real issue in the Stadium Saga, how the heck are the Rays going to afford a new stadium without taxpayers making it rain millions on them?

It's a well-covered issue on this blog, including a 2012 post that ironically came after a John Romano column proclaiming the Rays "are as good as gone."  I asked, "how many more fans are needed to warrant the investment (in a new ballpark)":
Thirty-thousand?  That would bump the Rays up to 15th out of 30 teams and would mean an extra 870,000 fans a year.  But 30,000/game seems unsustainable given the fact that the Marlins only drew 27,400 in their first season and playoff teams like Cincinnati and Baltimore only drew 28,978 and 26,610, respectively, this year despite their modern stadiums.

Twenty-five thousand?  That would bump the Rays up to 24th in the league in attendance and mean 465,000 more fans a year.  But there's a big question if the Marlins could draw that many next year or if the Rays - by moving from a county with 900,000 residents to a county with 1.1 million residents could either.

Twenty-three thousand?  Is it worth $500-600 million for 303,000 fans a year?  If the ticket average is $25, that's $7.5 million a year for the Rays.  Add parking and concessions and maybe it's $15 million a year for the Rays.  Might just be cheaper for Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties to hand the team an annual tax credit.
Romano's 2017 take on the same issue questions how much revenue the team would need to make a real investment in a new ballpark:
For the Rays, this has always been a mathematics question. If they can boost their revenues $15 million a year in a downtown Tampa location, then they would invest a certain amount in construction. If a new stadium on the Trop site only boosts their revenues $5 million a year, then one might assume their investment would not be as high.

The difference at the Trop site is there is an abundance of property that does not have to be purchased, and the Rays currently hold the development rights through their stadium use agreement.

Those rights could go a long way toward deferring the team's costs, and they would allow the Rays to be partners in whatever development goes up around the stadium.

This doesn't mean a site in downtown Tampa won't suddenly become available at a better asking price, but the odds seem a lot less likely than a week ago.

What's now clear is that St. Pete is still a viable location, and that Hillsborough voices are less optimistic than in the past. All of which makes the Trop site seem a lot more attractive today.
Of course, readers of this blog knew Pinellas always had viable locations, since its got the most available tax money. And, if we are to learn anything from Atlanta, it's that MLB teams don't care quite as much about ballpark location if they can make a bundle of profit on real estate and ancillary development.





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Sunday, March 26, 2017

New Non-News on Rays' Stadium Location Search...and What Comes Next

As the dust settles on the non-news news that the Rays' top choices for a new ballpark location are not available and Stu Sternberg's diagnosis that the team's future in Tampa Bay is very much "unknown," it's a good time to remind Shadow of the Stadium readers that you already knew all this from years of posts on this site.

You knew there was not going to be a "pitch-perfect" stadium location anywhere; you knew the "great" prospects around Ybor City and Channelside were deeply flawed; and there was never an easy solution to any of the challenges the Rays have identified.

But as the news cycle churns, Times' columnist John Romano echoed those sentiments this week, writing Sternberg's comments were more or less "inevitable":
If you're a realist, you understand that this was never going to be a pretty process. It involves too much money, too many government layers and far too many variables when it comes to finding suitable land in a market that is close to being built-out.
But what I disagree with Romano on, is his assertion that Sternberg's comments were "significant."  They simply are not significant, and they are simply not news.

Why the comments were not significant

Sternberg's brief quotes in Marc Topkin's original Times article were either one of two things:
  1. Passing comments from an owner increasingly-frustrated taxpayers aren't tripping over themselves to hand over land and build the team a stadium.
  2. Or, calculated comments meant to further distract & divert attention from the team's biggest challenge, as identified by Shadow of the Stadium since 2010: land isn't the biggest problem in the Stadium Saga; funding is.
I'm inclined to give Sternberg the benefit of the doubt, and believe it was Option No. 1.  But another thing readers of this blog know is pro teams never let a good opportunity go to waste, and the Rays are no strangers to distracting the conversation from their impending problem of how to pay for a new stadium.

         WATCH: Why you shouldn't feel too bad for Rays

Field of Schemes elaborates on Sternberg's distraction/diversion strategy, one that was executed by so many other pro teams previously:
It’s not a sure strategy, but it’s certainly worked in the past, and it sure appears to be the endgame he’s preparing for — with the aid of the Tampa Bay Times, which assigned five people to work on this story and didn’t bother to quote a single person who wasn’t either a Rays official or a local politician in favor of building a new stadium. Oh, journalism.
Regardless of what Sternberg intended by his comments, the fact remains that this is just more of the status quo in the Stadium Saga.  No news to see here.

What Sternberg's comments actually accomplished

Well, we of course got a few days' worth of newspaper columns out of it, including the Times' Martin Fennelly penning this head-scratching paragraph: "Tampa Bay needs major league baseball. Major league baseball needs Tampa Bay."  I'm just not sure that's true.

But even more fired up were the area's sports talk hosts, who never miss an opportunity to wax poetic about the Rays' plight.  And that gets politicians fired up too.

Hillsborough County's stadium cheerleader-in-chief, Ken Hagan, suggested to the Times that Pinellas was to blame for dragging their feet years ago, then added he had concerns about the team's "ability to have a significant investment'' in the ballpark.

If Hagan didn't hate this blog so much, he would have known by now the public cost of a Rays stadium in Hillsborough County looks to be immense.  I mean, everyone else around the county - including a very hands-off Bob Buckhorn - seems to acknowledge it.

What Hagan's comments actually accomplished

If you really want to read into Hagan's epiphany about the actual cost of a stadium and pretend its news, here's John Romano's take on what it could indicate:
This could simply mean that the Rays are not willing and/or able to make a sizable contribution to the building of a stadium. It might mean Tampa and Hillsborough County officials recognize it will be difficult to persuade taxpayers to pony up as much money as the Rays expected.

It might mean Hagan, as the point man for the Hillsborough effort, is already anticipating a Rays return to St. Petersburg, and he's beginning to assign blame ahead of time. It has not gone unnoticed that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has never made the Rays a top priority, which could be construed as a shrewd politician recognizing this deal was going to be difficult to pull off.
Buckhorn's pullback from the Stadium Saga was first noted here way back in 2013, when it was clear to me a controversial stadium standoff (coupled with the lack of funding) wasn't worth risking his political future.

But Hagan has only doubled down in recent years, suggesting taxpayers should open up their pockets to help the Rays move to Tampa, holding private meetings with the team and refusing to disclose details, then encouraging the county to start talking money with the team when St. Pete was under the impression the two sides of the bay would cooperate before the wound up in a bidding war.

Last week's comments were the first time he expressed much of any doubt in Tampa's ability to land the team.

So what happens next?

Well, the Rays aren't ready to do much of anything in the next few months, most likely because of the lack of political opportunity. A strong season or shift in Tallahassee priorities could change that.

But in the meantime, Pinellas remains light years ahead of where Hillsborough is in terms of courting the team.  Readers of this blog understand they've always been, simply because of funding.

Mayor Kriseman responded to Sternberg's comments with a short statement:
But one thing is for sure: Tampa and St. Pete are fully engaged in the tug-of-war the team has been seeking for nearly seven years.  St. Pete is already suggesting general revenue dollars could go to the Rays, on top of the increasingly-valuable development rights they're dangling in front of the team.

And at the end of the day, the Rays will end up not where they can pack the biggest crowd through the turnstiles...but where they can make the most money on land development and real estate, for that's what pro teams have learned can lift your franchise values over a billion dollars.





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