Tuesday, August 8, 2017

USF Trots Out Pretty Pictures of Proposed Football Stadium to Distract From $200M Price Tag

For seven years, I've highlighted the financial struggles of the USF athletics program, but this morning, they announced a $200+ million football stadium on-campus they hope will fix all that.

Some key tweets:


Of course, I've been tracking USF's athletic budget challenges since 2011. And a stadium will certainly compound the problems: not enough football profit, booster contributions, or TV dollars to cover their Division-I-sized expenses.



School officials said this morning no state or educational funds would be used to fund the stadium. But.....






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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Kriseman's Comments About Rowdies-to-Trop Site

So, this happened:
But the news was actually first on WTSP:
The Twitterverse went nuts. And word trickled up to MLS:
Except did anyone realize Kriseman wasn't suggesting the Rowdies play in the Trop, but at a new, large stadium next to it, surrounded by new mixed development?
Bill Edwards says he's not interested:
So there's that. Good idea to put on the table, Mayor Kriseman, but it seems to be pipe dreamin'. Maybe just like the idea that two major-league teams could thrive at the same time in St. Pete.









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What the Kriseman/Baker Race Means for the Future of the Rays & Rowdies

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Downtown may be booming, but in an already-saturated professional sports market with few Fortune 500 companies, St. Petersburg may be hard-pressed to support another major league-level team.

In my latest for WTSP-TV, I explain how the stressed market likely means St. Pete's next mayor will help determine if the city will be the long-term home to a major league baseball team or a major league soccer team.

Tens of thousands of St. Petersburg residents have now received ballots in the mail for the city’s Aug. 29 mayoral primary, where incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman is trying to fend off a challenge from former mayor Rick Baker. There are four other fringe candidates in the non-partisan race, so if neither Baker nor Kriseman accumulates 50 percent of the vote, the two will head to a November run-off.

During recent sit-down interviews, both candidates told me they thought the city could support two pro teams; the Tampa Bay Rowdies are campaigning to expand Al Lang Stadium and climb to the Major League Soccer (MLS) ranks, while the Tampa Bay Rays are looking for a new long-term baseball home in either St. Petersburg or Tampa.

However, the Rays have complained about a lack of corporate support for years and disposable income levels around Tampa Bay remain among the lowest in the nation’s large metros. Adding a second major draw in St. Pete – in addition to the Buccaneers and Lightning in Tampa, plus numerous minor league teams around the region – would only stress the market further, according to Forbes’ sports business writer Maury Brown.

“People have a limited discretionary income,” Brown said. “Some people will be able to go to two or three (teams over the course of a year) but some will have to pick and choose.

“You’re always going to be looking (at) whether you are cannibalize your corporate base or your attendance base.”

Is St. Pete big enough for MLB and MLS?
Some of the main findings of the ABC Coalition, the group created by then-mayor Baker in 2008 to explore the long-term feasibility of keeping the Rays, was that the team suffered from a lack of both population and corporations located within a 30-minute drive of its stadium.

In 2010, team owner Stu Sternberg told the region the team needed a new home “in a place that makes us attractive to the region’s businesses and community. For this franchise to survive, it needs to have the support of the businesses of Tampa Bay.”

Since that press conference, the team’s attendance has continued to slide almost every year, now hovering at just more than 15,600 fans per game – by far, the worst mark in the majors.

FLASHBACK 2010 blogpost: Are Rays creating a self-fulfilling prophecy?

So even though both Kriseman and Baker said they were confident the city was big enough for both the Rays and Rowdies to grow and succeed long-term, the numbers suggest otherwise.

With a population of 261,000, St. Petersburg is major league baseball’s smallest home city. The Tampa Bay region is home to only four Fortune 500 companies. Recent market studies have suggested Tampa Bay is running a “substantial deficit” of total personal income, and there is “insufficient” capacity for any new teams.

Rowdies owner Bill Edwards and his top deputy, former mayor Baker, have steadfastly claimed the Rowdies could draw 18,000-20,000 in St. Pete as an MLS team.

“The Rays are in a bit of a bind right now,” Brown said. “If they have a new facility, I think there’s little doubting that there’d be would be increased attendance and that there’d be other corporate members that would want to jump onboard. But when you add another (major-league) franchise into the mix...it dilutes the market.”

The Rowdies joined the city of St. Pete to launch an “MLS2StPete” campaign, targeting the league’s expected winter expansion. Many cities vie for two spots, but Edwards is one of the only bidders who promised to pay for $80 million in stadium upgrades himself, as well as the $150 million MLS expansion fee. The team’s long-term lease with the city would likely be negotiated by whichever administration wins the mayoral election: incumbent Mayor Kriseman, or Edwards ally Baker.

Which candidate is favored by which team?
While neither candidate indicated he preferred one team over another, the willingness to offer the Rays public subsidies could determine if the team stays in St. Pete for another generation.

Kriseman has already made an initial public offer to the Rays, which included city redevelopment rights to the public land at Tropicana Field, city general revenue tax dollar funds, as well as an assumed contribution from county bed tax revenues. He said it’s a far-sweeter package than his counterparts in Tampa could offer.

But at a time when the city wants to raise fees on residents to fund sewer and infrastructure fixes, Baker suggested general revenue tax dollars should not yet be offered to the Rays. He said he preferred to save the money, if possible, and only give the team county dollars and the rights to redevelopment around a new stadium. Baker, however, would not discuss additional specifics, saying he didn’t want to “negotiate publicly in the media.”

Both Kriseman and Baker have pledged not to raise taxes in order to build a stadium.

But Kriseman’s willingness to spend general revenue money on a Rays stadium could force the city to raise other fees. It was reported this week the city now wants to raise utility fees to pay for the sewer project, while still preserving general revenue dollars in case the Rays need help building a new home downtown.

When WTSP reported in April that proposed stadium dollars could help the city pay for its sewer fixes, Kriseman’s communications director, Ben Kirby, pushed back, claiming the infrastructure work was “already paid for.” But this week’s proposed rate hike contradicts the claim.

Kriseman said his willingness to work with the Rays and allow them to explore stadium sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties – a deal Baker opposed – will keep the team in the area for future generations. He said it's also beneficial to St. Pete, even if the team leaves.

“(The deal) allowed us to start planning for what’s going to be on that Tropicana Field site with or without a team,” Kriseman said. “Very few communities around the country have 86 contiguous acres that are owned by the public that can be redeveloped.”

Kriseman has also met with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. He also said the Rowdies could one day wind up at the Trop site if the Rays leave.

Rays executives and owners have rewarded Kriseman with at least $31,500 in contributions to his political action committee. That includes $9,000 from principal owner Stu Sternberg.

Meanwhile, Baker has led the MLS-to-St. Pete charge and has received $50,000 in PAC contributions from his boss and team owner, Bill Edwards.

Baker says, however, he would negotiate just as hard for the city with Edwards as he would with the Rays.

“When I was mayor before, nobody ever doubted that I was going to fight for the city all the way,” Baker said.

The Rays declined to comment on this story, but are expected to be active participants in the stadium conversation this upcoming offseason, when Hillsborough County could publicizes its top site(s) for a possible new stadium.

In a recent Tampa Bay Times article, Sternberg was quoted, "We've worked with both the mayoral candidates in the past and we've had good experiences with both of them at times."

A spokesperson for Bill Edwards says the Rowdies’ owner has officially endorsed Baker’s candidacy.


Other sports-related issues
In recent years, professional teams have started making more money on ancillary development around their facilities, rather than just counting on revenues that come from ticket and concession sales inside a stadium. It has allowed St. Pete to make the case that the Rays should stay where they are and build a new home at the existing Tropicana Field site.

Kriseman offered the Rays significant redevelopment rights to the site if they stay. Baker indicated those future revenues would be his preferred method of financing a ballpark, although he deflected direct questions about how he would negotiate with the team.

Brown says more owners are looking for opportunities to profit off mixed-use development around a stadium. And that could help St. Pete put together a tempting package for the Rays.

“There’s nothing to say a brand-new shiny ballpark will be enough (for the Rays),” Brown said. “If they have another revenue source to offset some of (the construction costs), and it's in a downtown location, I think that really helps.”

Another area Kriseman and Baker differ with regards to sports teams is in their support for mass transit, seen as a possible game-changer for the Rays and other teams.

Kriseman has been a tireless advocate for rail, improved bus service, and the Cross-Bay Ferry. Baker has taken a more cautious approach toward transit, telling me he preferred the county take the lead on the issue.

WTSP also reached out to the four other candidates in the St. Pete mayor’s race, but none responded to emails, and none are expected to draw a significant number of votes.

The city’s primary election is Aug. 29; if no mayoral candidate garners 50 percent of the votes, a run-off will be held on Nov. 7.








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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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