Sunday, April 29, 2018

Farewell

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 Florida...in 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.






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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?





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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.





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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?






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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 recap...so 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.





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Friday, March 30, 2018

Rays Spending on PR Campaign, But Not on Curb Appeal

ST PETERSBURG, Fla. - Following questions from WTSP, code enforcement officials have notified the Tampa Bay Rays they are violating their contract with the city by failing to maintain their large billboard outside Tropicana Field.

The prominent board above the intersection of I-275 and I-175 serves as a welcome to both Tropicana Field and Downtown St. Petersburg. It displays a team logo, a pair of sponsors' logos, and a "St. Petersburg Welcomes You!" message.

But at night, the lack of maintenance is clear. Numerous lights on the sign appear to have been out for years and the video board is failing. Some of the fabric is torn, and some of the panels are detaching. The issues would appear to violate city code on upkeep of signage.

A spokesman for Mayor Rick Kriseman said the city has asked the Rays "numerous times" in recent years to fix the sign, but little had been done.

Prior to Thursday's season-opener, team president Brian Auld told 10News about $7 million in renovations that include new turf and concessions improvements. The team also spent more than $1 million on a 2014 renovation that made it easier for fans to get around the perimeter of the ballpark and visit concessions.

The Rays have said they spent more than $20 million on Trop improvements after Stu Sternberg took control of the team in 2005. Some of those funds have come from a joint maintenance account shared with the city.

But the outside appearance of Tropicana Field and its signage have gone largely unaddressed in recent years, bolstering the team's argument that the stadium is in need of replacement.

Critics of the team, including former St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster, have suggested the Rays have failed to properly invest in the area for the better part of the last decade since they started campaigning for a new home.

The Rays did not provide comment Friday, but a city official told WTSP the team had been contacted about the issue and promised to make the repairs.

A spokesman for Mayor Kriseman said the Rays have done an "exceptional job" of maintaining Tropicana Field otherwise.

"Grassroots" campaign in Tampa

Meanwhile, the grassroots group that’s trying to build business and community support for a new stadium across the bay, Tampa Bay Rays 2020, may not be so grassroots after all.

One of the group's founders told WTSP on Friday that the Rays have provided the main funding to the non-profit.

A pair of Tampa business leaders, Ron Christaldi and Chuck Sykes, are heading up the effort to secure pledges from local businesses to purchase tickets at the new stadium. Christaldi said the Rays have provided an undisclosed amount for - what appears to be - a healthy roster of public relations and marketing consultants who have been hired on behalf of the campaign

Christaldi said he was not receiving any compensation from the team but that his firm, Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, had done some legal work for Tampa Bay Rays 2020. He did not say if any other attorneys at the firm had been contracted by the Rays.

Christaldi and Sykes spoke Friday morning at Cafe Con Tampa, a forum that addresses different local issues each week. Sykes said the two men got involved because they believe pro teams help bring together a community, and the opportunity to be proactive about bridging the Ybor City/Channelside corridors with development is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

“Yes...investing in a new stadium will be risky," Christaldi said.  "But I’m betting on that risk myself."





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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Stu Sternberg is Willing to Spend Magic Fairy Dust Money on a New Stadium

I want to dive deeper into comments Stu Sternberg made at Thursday's opener, suggesting he'd open up his wallet a little wider if the Rays got a $25M/yr naming rights deal, similar to the Mets.

So generous! 

Except:
  1. The Mets' deal was worth $20M a year, not $25M;
  2. The Mets play in the No. 1 media market in the country;
  3. The Rays' current deal with Tropicana deal is reportedly worth just $1M a year, and its hard to imagine a new deal in the same market would be worth any more than $3-5M per year.
    1. CORRECTION: According to TampaBayRays2020 co-founder Chuck Sykes, the Rays are earning $3.5 million per year currently. 
  4. A number of teams reportedly seeking naming rights deals, such as the Marlins and Nats, haven't found anyone willing to meet their prices.
And on top of it all, Sternberg offered "to go halfsies" on a hypothetical $800M ballpark if a magical fairy dust CEO gave him that unprecedented naming rights deal.

Except Sternberg knows the ballpark will never cost $800 million.  NOTE: I have received quite a number of criticisms on this number - it is something I plan to continue to dive into. 





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1500 Posts!

It only took the better part of nine years, but this post will be No. 1500 for Shadow of the Stadium.

In many ways, we're in the same place we were a decade ago: the Rays say Tropicana Field is an unsuitable home, they need the public to come up with the cash to buy a new one, and it'll totally succeed at the perfect site they've identified!

That plan turned out to be a bad one in 2008; time will tell how successful their 2018 plan is.

Here are a few of the 1500 posts that stand out over the years:





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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

It's Time for Opening Day (Stadium Stories)!

It's Groundhog Day all over again for Rays fans, who should once again expect a series of articles about a new stadium, Rays attendance, and some variation of "hope springs eternal" editorial prose.

Once again, we shouldn't expect many questions about the Rays' presumed huge profits, their questionable cost-cutting in the off-season, or how much the team should be contributing to its new home.

Here are the drums the Times' editorial board has been beating since 2010 - mostly about how the slow pace of the Stadium Saga is going to cost the region the team if they don't do something urgently:
  • 2014 - 2017: Please just hurry up and do something!
  • 2012 - 2013: The Marlins have a new stadium!!
  • 2010 - 2011: St. Pete losing leverage in negotiations
Turns out, not doing anything urgently hasn't cost the region the team, and arguably, its given Tampa Bay a lot more information about MLB revenues (they're huge) and how not to get ripped off when negotiating a new stadium (don't do what Miami did).

The only question is whether any of our elected leaders here learned from those free lessons?

Oh yeah, there's still the giant question of how the heck Tampa might pay for a stadium, but that's been a LOL issue for years.

Also of note: the Rays-to-Montreal talk has cooled down with a new, more fiscally-conservative mayor at the helm there and disappointing crowds (51k for two games) for the Blue Jays' annual exhibition games at Olympic Stadium. 

So, expect to hear from the commissioner soon about all the great cities that could be future MLB homes if Tampa and Oakland don't soon build new stadiums soon.






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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Good News (Except for Rays): Hillsborough Bed Tax Can Now Be Used for Even More Things

It's no secret Hillsborough County is going to raise its bed tax from 5 to 6 cents on the dollar, but County Commissioner Ken Hagan has tried to keep a secret all the other things the revenues could pay for, basically already carving out the revenues for a new Rays stadium.

"It can't be used for law enforcement or fire-rescue or libraries," Hagan has said in his repeated efforts to stress bed tax revenues are limited in their uses.

But that's terribly misleading, since those revenues CAN be used for tons of things besides a stadium: from marketing to aquariums to performance centers to arts to beaches to tourist-driving festivals.

In fact, since nobody else bothered to look, I found at least $550,000 a year earmarked in the county’s general revenue budget to help promote major Tampa Bay Sports Commission (TBSC) events, such as NCAA championships. While the TBSC doesn’t use all of the funds every year, those expenditures could be funded by the bed tax, which would allow the county to spend that half-million-or-so dollars on general revenue items such as schools, sewers, or roads. A $25,000 annual general revenue subsidy for the Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival would also appear to be eligible for bed tax funding.
Annnnnnnd, the state legislature just allowed cities to spend that money on even more things!

The Tampa Bay Times reports on HB 7087, on its way to the governor's desk, which allows counties such as Hillsborough and Pinellas to now use bed tax money on "transportation and sewer projects that benefit tourists and the tourism industry."

So the next question is whether Hillsborough leaders will continue to just assume the Rays deserve the $6 million per year the county's bed tax will soon raise...or if they should examine if there are better possible uses for that money?





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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

New Documents Reveal Rays Stadium & Hillsborough Financing Ideas

Newly-released public records from Hillsborough County’s secret discussions with the Tampa Bay Rays reveal how the county is going about trying to raise public funds for construction on what could require more than $300 million in taxpayer funds.

10Investigates obtained the documents from the county’s two outside legal firms on the dealings, Foley & Lardner LLP and O’Melveny & Myers LLP, who previously responded to the same public records request with zero documents. But after further questions from 10Investigates, the county’s legal department provided 51 pages of documents from behind-the-scenes stadium discussions.

Click here to read excerpted documents

While county leaders have been mum on how they expect to pay for a new Rays stadium, one of the newly-obtained documents shows an agenda item from a previously-undisclosed February 2017 meeting: “general discussion of sources – trying not to focus on amounts, but sources.”

Several Hillsborough County commissioners publicly expressed concern throughout 2017 at the lack of transparency from fellow commissioner Ken Hagan regarding public financing sources and amounts.

As first reported by 10Investgates, Hillsborough County is now eligible to increase its bed tax from 5% to 6%, and Hagan is reportedly leading the charge to make the change as soon as possible to create new revenues to help fund a Rays stadium.

The county also used that Feb. 2017 meeting to discuss a Citigroup debt capacity report, which analyzed the different ways the county could come up with public money to help fund stadium construction.

The report examined how the county could raise $15 million per year by raising rental car taxes by $2 per day. However, the airport recently raised that fee to help fund its own construction, and at $5.95 per day, it’s the highest rate in the state.

With rideshare popularity surpassing rental cars, the airport also had to create new revenue from local passengers, creating a new $3-per-pickup rideshare fee, which will escalate to $5-per-pickup in 2019 to help raise additional funds.

The Citigroup stadium bond capacity report also considered extended the Community Investment Tax past 2026, when Raymond James Stadium will be paid off. The sales tax could generate $10 million per year for a new Rays stadium, but the extension would be a tough political sell and the county may need the funds to appease the Buccaneers when their lease expires the same year as the Rays’.

A new Rays stadium could cost upwards of $600 million, and Rays owner Stu Sternberg’s initial offer in public negotiations has only been $150 million. That could leave taxpayers on the hook for more than $450 million, although most sports business observers expect Sternberg to ultimately offer more.


Ballpark Reimagined
10Investigates also obtained what appeared to be a November 2017 update to the Rays’ “Ballpark Reimagined” research, compiling fan and expert recommendations for a new ballpark. Many of the recommendations echo public statements Rays’ executives have made in recent months about stadium intimacy, the need for a stadium roof, and maintaining “local authenticity.”

The Rays’ report also detailed development ideas, such as “knitting local businesses into the ballpark,” and providing “a defined gateway into the district from adjacent activity centers," such as Ybor City and Channelside.

Several times, the report mentions making the ballpark a “community asset,” which could help satisfy both stadium subsidy critics who complain about ballparks sitting empty 200+ nights a year, as well as subsidy advocates who may be looking for opportunities to use various government funds to help fund stadium construction.

“Regional connectivity” (highways & road improvements) and “site accessibility” are also prominently mentioned in the Ballpark Reimagined report.

Other documents turned over to 10Investigates from the county’s outside counsel, include maps and real estate information from various Tampa neighborhoods that helped elected and business leaders assemble parcels of land together for what ultimately became the proposed Ybor City stadium site.

Through late January, O'Melveny and Foley had billed Hillsborough County nearly $400,000 in legal bills. Firm attorneys and county leaders have quietly met regularly for years about their campaign to lure the Rays from St. Petersburg.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Rays to Finally Cash in on TV Ratings

For all their attendance struggles, the Rays have had great TV ratings over the years.  And finally, it appears they'll cash in on that long-anticipated value, reportedly inking a 15-year TV deal with Fox Sports worth an average $82 million per year, starting in 2019, according to Sports Business Daily.

This deal was not unexpected:

In 2010, I wrote how the Rays' budget problems would be remedied by their impending windfall of TV bucks.

In 2012, I wrote how MLB TV revenues were on-pace to soon dwarf ticket revenues.

In 2015, I wrote how the Rays quietly extended their TV deal, delaying their mega-windfall by what we now know is a couple years.

In 2016, I wrote how the Rays (and every other team) hauled in some $50 million each from selling off a piece of equity in MLB Advanced Media.

So yes, the Rays have a ton of new revenue about to pour in...but its likely not "new" revenue that the team is all of a sudden going to commit to payroll or a new stadium;  they are revenues the team was already budgeting.

That deal, according to Sports Business Daily, by the way, will reportedly increase the Rays' TV deal from $35 million in 2018 to $50 million in 2019, climbing all the way through 2033.





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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Hillsborough Co, Lightning Agree to Extension and Funding Plan Through 2037

The Tampa Bay Lightning are staying put longer at Amalie Arena.

Not that team owner Jeff Vinik had threatened to relocate, but on Wednesday, Hillsborough County Commissioners approved a $61 million subsidy from county bed tax collections to improve Amalie Arena, home of the Lightning. In exchange, the Lightning will committ more of their own funds to improving the venue, as well as agreeing to what equates to a 10-year extension in Tampa, locking down the team’s future through at least 2037.

Some of the renovations will address structural and maintance items in the 20-year-old arena, such as boilers, chillers, ice plant, escalators, and elevators. Under the current contract, the county owns Amalie Arena, but the Lightning are responsible for the cost of maintaining it through 2027.

“We just appreciate the county for understanding the arena’s critical structures and its end of life needs,” Bill Wickett, Lightning Executive Vice President of Communications, told me, adding the team will have chipped in nearly half of the $200 million in arena upgrades between 2010, when Vinik bought the team, and 2030.

“(This will) keep our building modern and viable for the long-term, presetving it in its current location at the center of the Water Street development district,” Wickett said.

The approved amendment would still allow the Lightning to leave Tampa prior to 2037, but would increase the multi-million-dollar penalties for doing so.

“We are fortunate to have a true community partner in Jeff Vinik,” said Commissioner Ken Hagan, who has championed sports investment in the county.

Not every commissioner supported the motion; conservative commissioner Stacy White was the lone “nay” vote, voicing his objection to spending tax dollars on a pro sports team worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The deal will be finalized with an agreement between the Lightning and the Tampa Sports Authority to extend a pair of five-year options running through 2032 and 2037, respectively.





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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ken Hagan: How Did We Get Here?

As reporters, we never want to be part of the story.  But let's face it: Ken Hagan's feud with me reached mainstream comedic proportions last Friday, when he stood in front of two dozen cameras and said he wouldn't answer my question regarding what kind of financing county officials were discussing behind-closed-doors.

Then, in a well-choreographed exit at the conclusion of the press conference, Hagan scurried to the back door and had a consultant restrain me while he sprinted to a county car (with chauffeur) awaiting outside.

Many of you have asked me in recent days how we got here.  Well, it all started early on in the stadium saga.

Since Hagan self-appointed himself lead negotiator for Hillsborough County on the Rays-to-Tampa effort in 2010, I've been asking watchdog questions about how the cash-strapped county will pay for it. 

If you don't think those are important questions, talk to taxpayers in Miami.  Or in Cincinnati.  Or in Cobb County.  After all, Hillsborough County already is failing to fund necessary roadwork and won't spend money on much-needed transit.

Which is why, several years ago, I identified how Hagan was shifting from the conservative tax hawk that got him elected in 2010.  He started talking more about offering the Rays incentives to dump their partners in St. Pete and come across the bay.

Hagan pushed back, claiming he never said "no public dollars" for a stadium...except the proof exists...in several different places.  Then he did it again in 2013.

There were other key moments in our professional relationship:

2015 - Connections to political consultant & public records problems: I aired the product of a year-long investigation into how a closely-tied political consultant and lobbyist, Beth Leytham, appeared to use her relationship with Hagan and other politicians to exert influence on big government deals behind-the-scenes.  Hagan didn't like the story, and also failed to comply with public records requests, ultimately getting rid of his cell phone before sheriff's deputies could investigate what happened to his text messages.

2016 - Secret stadium negotiations: I took to Facebook to call out Hagan and others for their broken promises on transparency. 

2017 - Hillsborough Man of Mystery: It was a chance to catch up with the commissioner about all the issues he wouldn't return my calls on: secret stadium funding, public record problems, free tickets he didn't disclose, and handouts for Hollywood productions.

2017 - The pop-up video: We tried to get real answers to real questions...but instead, the commissioner resorted to a well-rehearsed line about "irresponsible and misleading reporting"...16 times.  So naturally, we posted the entire video.

2018 - Ybor City announcement: After Hagan admitted leaking news of the Ybor deal to a friendly news outlet back in October so I didn't get it first, I've broadcast a series of Hagan-related investigations based on public records, including all the campaign money he's received from the individuals who stand to gain from the secret stadium dealings.

I still can't figure out who is giving Hagan his advice, but I'd contend its not very good advice.  It's not just my stories, but his fellow commissioners are distrustful and his "partner" in this dance, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, called him "bush league" and a "minor league politician."

Anyway, if you really want more, here's a few other links you can kill your work day with:





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Sunday, February 11, 2018

What the Hell Just Happened? Rays' Ybor Press Conference News Pt. 2

Even though Friday's Rays-to-Ybor pep rally press conference produced few surprises, there was still too much to unpack in one blogpost.  So, after "What the Hell Just Happened - Pt. 1," here are a few other nuggets worth recapping this weekend :


Sternberg on opening team's books
In the wake of the Miami Marlins boondoggle, there's good reason to want team owners to come clean, be transparent, and open their books to show actual need for public subsidies.  So I asked Stu Sternberg Friday if he would be open to the idea, as teams such as the Cardinals have done in the past.  He politely said, "no thank you":

His reasoning was that the team's books had been "opened" in 2008-09, via leak.  Of course, MLB has grown by the billions since then, especially with the growth of its monstrous digital empire.  And revenue sharing has increased as well.  But it's easy to pretend like those revenues don't exist when you've got a shiny new vision of a ballpark to promote!


Sternberg on new stadium's effects on payroll
I mean, that's why the Rays want a new stadium anyway, right?



Hagan's response to my questions
Then, there's Ken Hagan, who surprised (most of) the room full of journalists Friday with this response to the question of what kind of tax revenues are being discussed behind-closed-doors:

But that isn't an acceptable answer when the commissioner still hasn't talked about what kind of public dollars he's eyeing in his now eight-year-old stadium campaign.  Transparency is key when hundreds of millions of tax dollars are on the table.

So, as is typical in a press conference, we went to Hagan afterward for follow-up questions.  He raced out the back door, and had a consultant restrain me from leaving the building:

I don't see it as the "feud" that Mitch Perry described it as in this weekend story, but at the end of an interview with 620 WDAE-AM Friday, Hagan took an unprovoked shot at the "arrows and haters, one (of whom) was at the press conference today, as a matter of fact."

The hosts of the show, longtime radioman Ron Diaz and former sports journalist JP Peterson, had just finished applauding Hagan, specifically, for disrupting St. Pete's contract with the Rays, when they confirmed that I was the "hater" he was referring to.  Hagan then added it was "TMZ-like misleading and irresponsible reporting."   Still waiting to hear what exactly he found so misleading and irresponsible.


Hagan on Buckhorn's "bush league" comments
In that same WDAE interview, Hagan laughed off Mayor Buckhorn's Thursday comments, where he referred to Hagan as a "minor-league politician" and "bush-league" for leaking the Ybor City news (again) without consulting his long-time partners in the effort.

But the relationship didn't seem warm Friday.  Hagan also said there hadn't yet been "any real discussions on the financing elements," seemingly a contradiction with Buckhorn's Friday comments that "7 or 8" different financing mechanisms are being eyed.  Hagan's comments, after eight years of courting the team, seem either disingenuous or financially reckless.

Finally, Hagan said in the interview that "I’ve said for 8 years repeatedly that we’re not going to raise taxes."  He actually campaigned 7.5 years ago on the promise of "no public dollars" at all for the stadium, but his views have shifted quite a bit since 2010

He seems to be pushing a stadium subsidy package that would cost more public dollars than Raymond James Stadium:



Buckhorn on Rays' "extortions"
Three years ago, Mayor Buckhorn said the Rays will "use every opportunity...to extract - some would say extort - the most money from the public."  I asked him if he still believed that:

Buckhorn has been more forthcoming than Hagan in talking financials...probably because he started pulling back from his once-cheerleader-in-chief role back in 2013.  He said Friday fees and taxes that hit tourists and ticket-holders will be prioritized over those that affect residents.  But the Rays will not be a fan of using things like naming rights and ticket taxes for construction.


That $800 million stadium figure and transparency
I also asked Sternberg if he felt he was living up to the franchise's promise to be transparent through the stadium process.  He said he did.

But, it also feels he has been throwing around $800 million (along with his $150 million suggested team contribution) as nothing more than sticker shock numbers to set an opening bar for public subsidy expectations.  But he knows a stadium isn't happening if the cost doesn't come down and his contributions don't come up.

So let's reset this conversation at $600-650 million, since the team doesn't need a retractable roof. The Tampa Bay Times' Marc Topkin just reported the Marlins had their roof open for only six games last year, and 50 games in their six years at Marlins Park.

With roof technology advancing (see Falcons and Vikings' stadiums), the Rays will be looking at a fixed, translucent roof to save on the mechanics of expensive retractable technology.


Field of Schemes on the big picture
Neil deMause writes, "This is right out of the standard stadium playbook: Make a big deal of announcing a site, get everyone debating whether it’s the right site and what it would mean for fans...and hope no one notices that you still have at minimum a $400 million funding gap."
In any case, feel free to debate the pros and cons of the Ybor City site, but try not to get distracted from the real issue here: Stuart Sternberg wants a new stadium, and wants somebody to pay for it who isn’t him. Because forgetting about that while staring at a shiny stadium site is exactly what he wants you to do.
It may be working. Every headline this week has been, "who will pay for it," rather than "should we pay for it?"





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