Sunday, April 29, 2018


As I prepare for the ninth anniversary of Shadow of the Stadium, I've reflected on how much time and effort (1500 posts!) have gone into providing context and perspective on sports business issues.

But if you haven't noticed from some periods of light activity on the blog, it is sometimes difficult for me to keep up with the all the news coming out of our region. For that reason, I've secretly been hoping for that light at the end of the tunnel: a conclusion to the saga that would allow me to put a neat little final bow on this endeavor.

The truth is, though, there will never be an "end" to the saga.  Nor will there be an end to the demands of my real life and my real job watchdogging a variety of issues across fact, they only seem to grow.

So for those reasons, I've decided to suspend activity on the Shadow of the Stadium blog.

No, I won't stop reporting, and I won't stop holding people accountable.

In fact, this will allow me to focus more of my time and effort on turning impactful investigations in my real job.

And by continuing to follow along on my Twitter and Facebook accounts, and by subscribing to my (occasional) newsletter, I'll still promise to feed you any consequential stories I cover so you won't miss a beat.

In conclusion, I thank all of you who have been loyal readers for all these years - including my critics - and I hope you continue to follow these important storylines via my other outlets.

Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Local Business Owners Will Support Rays if They Become Cool Again

Tampa Bay Rays 2020, the Rays-backed nonprofit cheerleading for a new baseball stadium in Tampa, held an invitation-only event to unveil the "Rays 100" yesterday, a list of business & community leaders who will act as ambassadors on the mission.

Shockingly, I was not invited to the invitation-only event.  (although, it seems "nice" TV reporters, despite their station's webscript full of typos & errors - were invited)

But from the Tampa Bay Times' reporting, we learn there's a real solid core of prominent, influential, and wealthy Tampa leaders behind the effort.  It was described as a "transformational" group.

I still wonder if an astute businessman like Stu Sternberg is going to all of a sudden commit hundreds of millions of additional dollars to a 30-year project just because Tampa business leaders give non-binding "commitments" to buying tickets and sponsorship deals for a few years.  But what do I know?

I also have to point out the Times' lead anecdote in today's story: how CEOs like Vincent Cassidy (Majesty Title Services) used to regularly buy and distribute Rays tickets until they started going unused by the handful "about three years ago."

On one hand, Cassidy says he'd re-invest in the Rays if there was a new product his clients and associates were excited to go to.

But on the other hand, he apparently didn't have huge trouble giving away tickets to Tropicana Field, all the way on the other side of that enormous bridge, just a few years back.

So did Tropicana Field all of a sudden become unbearable?

Did the Howard Frankland Bridge all of a sudden get longer?

Or did the Rays tarnish their product so much with their self-fulfilling gloom-and-doom prophecy that Tampa Bay residents no longer think its worth their time to visit the stadium?  And if that's the case, are we really just spending $800 million to make the Rays cool again for some unknown period of time?

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Breaking News: Rays Will Spend More Money on Stadium if Someone Gives Them More Money

This isn't breaking news. In fact, it isn't even news. And even the facts behind the headlines you're seeing this week don't even seem to be all that accurate.

But after everyone in town was reporting that Stu Sternberg was now offering up to $400 million toward a new Tampa stadium (he wasn't), it's worth posting the link to John Romano's Monday column on that non-offer offer.

Romano pretty much echoed what this blog wrote last week: the Rays definitely aren't getting a $25 million/year naming rights deal in Tampa, so they definitely aren't offering "halfsies" on an $800 million stadium:
It would sort of be like wondering if injured pitcher Nathan Eovaldi is going to win 25 games this year.

"You get me 25 wins from Eovaldi, and we’ll win the World Series.’’

If Sternberg had said that, everyone would laugh.

And you should probably laugh at the $400 million, too.

I’m not suggesting Sternberg was being untruthful or playing word games. In fact, I think his overall position has been remarkably consistent from the beginning.

As far as the Rays are concerned, the funding of the stadium has always been a sliding scale proposition.

If, for instance, team officials are convinced they can make $50 million a year more in Ybor than they are making in St. Petersburg, then a $400 million investment is not outlandish.

If it looks like their revenues in Ybor will only go up $15 million a year, then even a $150 million investment is less attractive.

Philosophically, that is the message Sternberg made in November, and it’s the same message he delivered at Tropicana Field on Thursday.
I guess the big question is, how executives who have been so astute to statistics, prognosticating, and getting every little edge possible can claim they don't have legit estimates to share on what kind of new revenues a new stadium will bring them.  Sternberg and Brian Auld have both told me that over the years.

I also find it hard to believe an astute businessman is going to all of a sudden commit tens of millions of dollars more to a project if a nonprofit group secures non-binding "commitments" from local businesses to buy tickets and luxury boxes.

Most importantly, if projected new revenues from a stadium right now only warrant a $150 million contribution from the team ($12 million per year, or so), why should the public spend $50 million a year when it will only increase Rays payroll by say, $15 million a year?  It'd be better to just cut the team a check each season to cover operational expenses.

That's why my 2012 post on how many fans the Rays really need to make a difference has aged so well.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Articles That Aged Well: How Many Fans Do the Rays Need? (Oct '12)

Reposted from October 2012 (links may not all work):

It's been a busy three weeks in the Stadium Saga, especially for columnists and editorial boards. Sunday, Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano wrote that the Rays are as good as gone from St. Pete and Mayor Bill Foster should use his leverage now to negotiate financial compensation....before it's too late. 
That column drew the ire of Rays blogger "Schmitty," who wrote "An Open Letter to John Romano and the Tampa Bay Times About the Rays Stadium Situation."

(For what it's worth, Romano wrote in April about how the Rays' contract with St. Pete is "very close" to ironclad)
And today, the Tampa Tribune editorial board authored a blunt recommendation to move the Rays to somewhere more centralized in Tampa Bay.  Where, you ask?  They did not specify.
But the editorial brought up several good points:
  • "The region must get it right because it's highly unlikely we'll get a third chance."
  • "Wherever the Rays play, some fans are going to have to drive across the bay bridges," implying fans should get over it.
  • "Cut 15 minutes off the time it takes most fans to get to the stadium and the Rays still will have empty seats."
The Trib contends the goal is getting out of the league's attendance cellar, but that strikes me as setting their sights extremely low.  A $500-600 million stadium to lift the Rays from 30th place to 26th place doesn't seem to me like a good investment.

So how many more fans are needed to warrant the investment? 

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.

Back to the Trib, the editorial board implies a Rays departure from St. Pete is imminent: "Because its attendance is the poorest in Major League Baseball, the Rays will not remain in Tropicana Field much longer, regardless of the lease with St. Petersburg."

That's a bold assumption given no track record of MLB teams breaking seemingly ironclad contracts.  But the Trib probably was right when it conceded, "Whatever compensation (St. Petersburg) negotiates, or is awarded, it likely will be much less than the value of keeping the Rays as a regional asset."

Which begs the question, "Do the City of St. Pete and Pinellas County owe it to Tampa Bay to give up the equity they've built in the Rays?"  And should the rest of Tampa Bay (i.e. Hillsborough Co.) pay them for it if they hop across the bay?

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Monday, April 2, 2018

All the Opening Weekend News You May Have Missed

Following a Thursday post about Stu Sternberg's latest stadium financing comments, and a Friday post about how the Rays were money behind the "grassroots" campaign for a new Tampa stadium...there was still plenty of opening weekend news to here ya go!
  1. HECK OF AN OPENER: The Rays opened up with an impressive 6-4 comeback win in front of what may be their only sellout crowd this season...only to lose the next three to Boston in nail-biting one-run fashion each.  If you like smallball and strategy, it was a great baseball series.
  2. WHO DAT? WTSP's Eric Glasser reports Rays fans started the season excited...but they don't have any clue who's in that bargain-basement lineup.
  3. TAMPA BAY TIMES FRUSTRATITORIAL:  As predicted, the Times' editorial board reminded us that hope springs eternal on opening day, but the stadium issue needs dealing with.  Its at least the ninth straight year they've written a similar editorial, but weirdly, this one seemed less urgent and doomsday-ish than the others.
  4. TOM JONES: "WHO IS PAYING FOR THE DARN THING?" It's a question this blog has been asking since 2010, so its nice everyone else in town is starting to catch on.
  5. PROPS TO THE TROP: To some, its lipstick on a pig; but to Frank Pastor, there are at least 20 unique reasons to love a trip to the Trop.
  6. PUBLIC SUBSIDY-BASHING: A conservative columnist, writing for the Washington Examiner, uses the Rays as the lead case for why cities should start saying "no" to more teams.
  7. TAMPA BAY 2020: Aside from the Rays money funding a chunk of their effort, I thought the businessmen behind the non-profit trying to lure the team to Tampa came across as sincere and putting their community first.  They make a convincing case for spending public resources on pro sports. But there's no shortage of coverage on that angle :)
  8. STORY THAT AGED WELL: Finally, I'm going to repost a 2017 Joe Henderson opening-weekend column about why the Rays are stuck between a rock and a hard place 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.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook