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 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.

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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