Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Times Editorial Passive-Aggressively Suggests Taxpayers Should Cough Up Hundreds of Millions for Rays Stadium

I really can't believe how easy some are making it for Stu Sternberg and the Rays to leverage taxpayers.

Days after I warned how the Rays' initial low-ball $150 million offer and inflated $800 million estimate on a stadium was designed to reduce the expectation of how much the team should ultimately contribute...the Tampa Bay Times dedicated its lead editorial to explaining how Tampa Bay should only expect Sternberg to contribute "in the $160-$280 million range," since "recent history shows the typical team paying 20 to 35 percent of the cost of a Major League Baseball stadium."

Except that figure includes incredibly unpopular and lopsided deals where teams screwed taxpayers, like the potentially-illegal, "worst sports stadium deal ever" in Atlanta where the Braves suggested taking on approximately half of their new stadium's cost, only to pile a hundred million dollars on taxpayers later, reducing their load significantly.

Or the Marlins' deal, which the Times' called "one of the most ridiculed deals in recent memory," before suggesting the team's 24% contribution to the stadium was a model to be copied.

In a contrasting opinion piece in the same paper, former sports columnist Joe Henderson writes Stu Sternberg should go find a few more pennies in his sofa cushions:
By the way, how did the price jump to $800 million? The Oakland Athletics, the Rays' roommate at the bottom of baseball's attendance list, recently announced plans for a $500 million stadium that, get this, THEY WILL PAY FOR!

That's right. A team struggling nearly as much at the ticket counter as the Rays said its new home will be privately financed. That's how it should be.
Unfortunately, that won't be how it goes down in Tampa Bay.

For, as I've written since 2009, the whole Rays Stadium Saga (and almost every other pro team's stadium campaign) has been designed as a showdown between competing communities to see who will offer the team more money.

Except, Tampa doesn't have much to offer.  So, expect a few more years of hardball negotiations, leveraging, and posturing - there's no happy ending to the Stadium Saga on the immediate horizon.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why 20 is the new 40 (RIP, Georgia Dome)

Tomorrow morning, Atlanta will blow up a perfectly-good stadium because, mostly, it has a roof that doesn't retract.

The stadium, fit to host Super Bowls and decades worth of SEC championships will be imploded after just 25 short years...once again proving that stadiums have pretty much zero equity (or in the case of Atlanta or Montreal's domes, negative equity) once a team decides its done playing there.

Let's flashback to my "20 is the new 40" post:
For a long time, stadiums were considered investments that would pay dividends for 40 or more years. That includes buildings such as Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, and Dodger Stadium. Like a skyscraper, the facilities were simply built to last.

But the pressure on cities to "keep up with the Joneses" has slashed the perceived lifespan of a stadium in half, often eliminating the net benefits to the communities that spend huge amounts of money to build them.
Few pro teams stay in one place for more than a dozen years now without demanding more taxpayer-subsidized upgrades.  And by the time a stadium turns 20, it's already time to plan its replacement.
New stadiums are more state-of-the-art than ever...which makes it all-the-more ironic that society feels the need to replace the half-billion-dollar buildings every 20 years.
Before you dismiss this as just crazy Georgians being Georgians...check out this 2010 Shadow of the Stadium post that suggests no city in America is safe from the 20-year-old itch:  "Replace the Georgia Dome" Talk Troublesome

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Stu Sternberg Hits Tampa Bay with Sticker Shock So He Can Deal a Numbed-Down Blow Later

I first thought this Tampa Bay Times article was from 2008:
But then I realized the news of Stu Sternberg estimating the Rays would put only $150 million toward a new stadium in Tampa Bay was published Wednesday night.

That means the team seems to want to fund a smaller portion of a new stadium than they were in 2008, when they offered up the same $150 million for a less-expensive stadium in St. Pete.  Adjusted for inflation, their 2017 opening bid is actually 13% less money than they were willing to spend ten years ago.

Longtime columnist Joe Henderson asked if Sternberg was joking.   And one Pinellas County Commissioner reacted this way:
No matter what you thought, money has always been - and remains - the biggest problem in the Rays' Stadium Saga.  But we can draw a few conclusions from Sternberg's comments:

1) The funding gap is ENORMOUS; and maybe bigger than even this blog thought
Commissioner Ken Hagan has repeatedly said there would "never again be a sweatheart deal" like the one the Glazers got at Raymond James Stadium.  Except, as this video shows, the Rays' stadium is likely to be WAY more expensive, even when adjusting the Buccaneers' 1998 haul for inflation:

There is no way Hillsborough (or even the deeper-pocketed Pinellas) is coming up with $650 million in public cash for a new stadium, so they two sides had better start hawking peanuts to private donors who may have a sweet spot for baseball.

2) Sternberg knows $650 million isn't happening
So why did he hit everyone with the sticker shock of $650 million this week?

Either because it's the next step in Sternberg's exit plan, finally coming clean that not even a new ballpark means significant new revenue unless someone else pays for it (as this blog has written dozens of times)...

And/or he's setting public expectations high - and his initial offering low - so that coughing up $350-400 million in public money later may seem like a deal.  It's a topic this blog covered in 2016:
This way, the Rays are now perfectly set up to "settle" sometime down the road for a fixed-roof stadium at a much lower overall cost...once the public has committed its chunk of the cash.

We should end the conversation about a retractable roof right now.  The Marlins' don't use theirs, the region can't afford one, and the technology has come a long way since the Rays' last stadium foray in 2008.
But Sternberg knows there is no appetite to fund major subsidies for a new stadium in Tampa: not on Hillsborough's county commission, where four of seven commissioners have already spoken out against any tax funding for a stadium;  not in Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's office, where he just had to fight for a controversial tax increase to pay for basic city services and wastewater upgrades; and not in the statehouse, where several bills aim at banning all sorts of stadium subsidies and the biggest proponent of stadium investment, State Sen. Jack Latvala, is sitting on the sidelines as allegations of sexual misconduct play out.

So what does Sternberg do with that?  Well, a savvy negotiator creates leverage.  And he's doing his best.

Sternberg is well-aware there are at least 14 different types of public subsidies the Rays could target to subsidize a new home.

3) Transparency from Rays??
Sternberg said the $150 million figure was based on the team's estimated revenues from a new stadium - something he told me five years ago the Rays don't do.

So, I guess now in 2017, the team all of a sudden knows what kind of ballpark they want to build and generally what kind of revenues it can expect from it?  Does that mean the Rays will finally be a little more forthcoming about financial issues?

Because three years ago...
If Sternberg was serious about only contributing $150 million, at least he's being honest (although I'm not convinced).  Because so far, the only real money talk we've heard from the Rays and MLB is how taxpayers had better start coughing up money.

Transparency has not been a priority here, and little has changed since I said this 12 months ago:

We know from the Marlins' new stadium that a new park, even in the wrong place, will increase a franchise's value by hundreds of millions.  So c'mon Stu, show us the money.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Ken Hagan Screwed His Fellow Commissioners - and Almost Rick Kriseman - to Screw Me

Ken Hagan basically confirmed my theory Wednesday that he gave the news of the Ybor City proposed stadium site to a few friendly reporters - before his fellow commissioners, who said they were "embarrassed" by his secretive move - in order to screw "a reporter" who he believed had uncovered the news.
So that was "properly," commissioner?
Actually, he admitted it wasn't Wednesday, promising he "will try to do a better job communicating," and essentially apologizing to Mayor Bob Buckhorn & Hillsborough commissioners for going all lone wolf on announcing his pet project...but he said it had nothing to do with influencing the St. Pete mayor's race, as some had suggested.

I actually believe him.  Hagan wanted to screw me for this story, and make sure I didn't unveil his beautiful baby. 

In fact, here's the exact moment when I told him I had public records he was willfully neglecting to turn over to me, in accordance with state law:
Now granted, Hagan tried to keep his cool and didn't take time examining what exactly I was holding in my hand (it wasn't the land use agreements he feared it was)...but just a week later, he took his victory lap as the architect of the masterful Ybor deal.

Hahahahahaha. Transparency.

Except the masterful deal forgot one thing: financing.  And Hillsborough doesn't have any money for roads, let alone a new stadium.  Oh, and Stu Sternberg said later on Wednesday the team would only be looking at a $150 million contribution to a stadium.

Good luck with that, commissioner. You now own that problem.

Oh, and a potentially bigger problem he also owns? Proof public documents existed that he seemingly refused to turn over - a possible criminal violation of state statutes.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

This Week in MLB: Anticipating More Manfred Non-News on the Rays Stadium Saga

The MLB owner/GM meetings are this week in Orlando, and for the first time since Ken Hagan announced the preferred Tampa site for a tug-of-war with St. Petersburg possible new Rays stadium, we will hear from Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Which of the following talking points should we expect Manfred to hit?
  • "We are encouraged by the progress..."
  • "Time is of the essence..."
  • "This issue is on our 'front-burner'..."
  • "Blah blah blah blah Montreal..."
  • "We look forward to hearing more about the offers on the table ($$$)..."
  • "We can't do this without the support of the community ($$$$$)..."
UPDATE: Manfred said Thursday,"There needs to be support from the community in order to be successful in completing it."

One thing's for sure - the next step in this process is MLB and the Rays seeing how much money they can extricate from public coffers. So unless Manfred is willing to shed some new light on how much is expected...or how much the league/team will put up...don't expect any real news to come out of this week's press conference.

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What Kriseman's Win in St. Pete's Run-Off Election Means for the Rays

Ten weeks after a razor-tight primary, two St. Pete mayors duked it out in a run-off for control over city hall for the next four years.  And it appears Mayor Rick Kriseman will hold off former mayor, Rick Baker, by a two-to-three-point margin.

Of course, a mayor will leave many footprints on a city's legacy, but one significant influence that Kriseman will continue to have pertains to the future of the Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Rowdies, both of whom currently play in old St. Pete stadiums.

As I wrote this summer, St. Pete seems to be too small for two top-level teams, and Baker had been a natural ally of the Rowdies after quarterbacking their MLS 2 St. Pete campaign. Meanwhile, Kriseman has been a reliable partner to the Rays and already offered the team significant public dollars that would, at the very least, help them leverage more out of Hillsborough County if they aren't serious about sharing in the redevelopment opportunities at Tropicana Field (also explains why the Rays contributed more than $80,000 to Kriseman's campaign.

Now, with the election in the books, it would seem the next domino to fall in the Stadium Saga would belong to the Rays, who could call a press conference to discuss their next move (seeking money) as soon as this week. But that may not prove to be a pleasant - or brief - chapter in this saga.

What won't help the Rays is Montreal's biggest MLB cheerleader, Mayor Denis Coderre, getting upset by challenger Valérie Plante earlier this week. Plante criticized Coderre on the campaign trail for a willingness to spend large amounts of tax dollars on projects like a new stadium. So that may be one weaker chip for the Rays/MLB to play as leverage.

Also newsworthy on Election Day in St. Pete - Gina Driscoll, who campaigned on an open approach to supporting and funding a new Rays stadium, beat out Justin Bean, who was a consultant on the Tropicana Field redevelopment project and said "no public funds" should be used for the stadium other than infrastructure and surrounding development.

In D2, Brandi Gabbard, who liked the idea of a Derby Lane stadium in North St. Pete, beat Barclay Harless, who promised "not one dime" for the Rays until the city gets its sewer problems under control. And in D4, incumbent Darden Rice, who has supported Kriseman's path on the Stadium Saga, knocked off 21-year-old challenger Jerick Johnson.

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Transparency.

Ken Hagan, Hillsborough County's self-appointed stadium negotiator, has been working behind-the-scenes to get a deal done for the Rays. He even promised to brief everyone on his dealings 18 months ago:
But that didn't happen and his fellow commissioners tell me and other media outlets they're pissed.

Hagan helped create a private non-profit entity so he could negotiate a land deal without having to deal with public records.  He praised the secretly-negotiated, more-expensive-than-anticipated, possibly-illegal Braves deal. He never got buy-in from the City of Tampa.

Hell, Hagan didn't even tell Tampa's mayor or the Rays that he was announcing his deal last week.  And he went out of his way to withhold the news from media outlets that have previously challenged him on transparency issues and his lack of compliance on public record laws.

Now, Hagan wants you to know that he has the PERFECT location for the Rays!...but somehow has not yet discussed financing specifics yet with the team.

How's that for transparency?

Actually, it matches the Rays' record on the subject.

This blog has spent years calling for the Rays to be more transparent regarding its stadium "need," and what kind of tax money it is looking forThe Tampa Tribune once joined the chorus.  The Tampa Bay Times has also joined recently, writing "secrecy will erode public confidence, especially in this era of public skepticism of government."  It penned a similar editorial in 2016

But the same thing is happening in Tampa that happens in cities all over the country. Even though sunshine protects taxpayers, politicians go out of their way to keep their discussions private.

By foolishly thinking they can out-negotiate leagues that squeezes taxpayers for a living, many politicians only succeed in ensuring their legacy as pro sports' "sweethearts."

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Hillsborough Pitches Rays Stadium Proposal - Now What?

Hillsborough County's Ken Hagan surprised his fellow commissioners, county staffers, and probably even the Rays today, when he announced he had cobbled together 14 acres of land near Ybor City for a possible Rays stadium in Tampa.

It seemed most media outlets in town were called to his office, except mine, WTSP-TV. Shocker, really.

Maybe its because I've always said land isn't the biggest problem in the Stadium Saga; funding is.  And guess what?  It still is.

Here was other immediate reaction and perspective:

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Handy-Dandy Guide to How "Not Your Tax Dollars" are Really Your Tax Dollars (The Extreme Public Cost of a New Rays Stadium)

If the Rays are going to get a new stadium somewhere in Tampa Bay, it's clear from what local politicians and columnists are saying, it will cost taxpayers a pretty penny. But we've now seen several of them suggest local residents won't have to pay for the public subsidies. 


So here's a handy-dandy guide to how "not your tax dollars" really are your tax dollars, with some educated guesses as to how much each potential funding mechanism might contribute toward a new Rays stadium:
  1. Hotel/bed taxes - $60-75 million: Your first hint that these are taxes? The word "tax" in the title. Yes, tourists tend to pay more of these than locals.  And yes, state law restricts how you can use the dollars.  But...
    1. Despite what Hillsborough Co. leaders have tried to convince you, bed taxes CAN be used for more than just stadiums. They can be used for pretty much any event or capital expenditure that helps bring tourists to your county - often, more successfully than pro teams.
    2. Earlier this year, I found at least $550,000 a year in items earmarked in the county’s general revenue budget that could be covered by the bed tax, freeing up general revenue tax money for roads, law enforcement, etc.
    3. The money can also be used for marketing your county, which apparently, Tampa is in need of, since a dozen downtown/Ybor-area hotels just added a marketing fee on top of the bed tax to make up for the lack of marketing spending.
  2. Land - $15-30+ million: Any public giveaway of land for a stadium is a taxpayer subsidy. Consider the opportunity cost taxpayers could be missing out on through other uses of that land:
    1. If the city/county were to simply sell a developer 15-20 acres of prime real estate near Tampa's downtown, the project should conceivably net the county well north of $1M per acre.
    2. If the right development is chosen, as Commissioner Ken Hagan and so many others like to remind those around Tropicana Field, the land could net much more revenue and opportunity as something other than baseball.
    3. Of course, any fee the county pays to acquire land will cost taxpayers too.
    4. Then, there's the cost of relocating the facilities and/or residents that are currently there.  For instance, the Tampa Park Apartments would require relocating hundreds of families. Or Hagan's idea of relocating the sheriff's office would mean tens of millions more for a new HCSO facility.
  3. Future property tax growth/community redevelopment area (CRA) - $?? million: Also known as tax-increment financing (TIF), this method earmarks city and county general revenue property tax dollars within a defined district, to be used on special projects within that same area. The districts are specifically designed to cure blighted areas, and it is also somewhat limited in bonding capacity:
    1. The biggest variable would be how the CRA is drawn. Some of Tampa's existing CRA's produce zero revenue, while others produce more than a million per year.  This is why most CRA/TIF districts are pretty limited when it comes to future bonding capacities.
    2. The only CRA currently producing significant revenue is the Downtown district, but the city and county have already committed $100 million from that CRA to Vinikville "Water Street Tampa" and surrounding development near Amalie Arena. So don't count on a new ballpark complex leaning on Vinik's money.
    3. Again, these are REAL PROPERTY TAX DOLLARS that could go to pay for anything else the city or county needed: roads, cops, sewers, etc.  And when the TIF district fails to produce the revenue projected, as they sometimes do, general revenue tax dollars typically have to make up the difference.
    4. As Neil deMause recently wrote, incremental tax revenues "are generally pooh-poohed by economists as a subsidy by other means, since all evidence shows that entertainment spending in one part of a metropolitan area just ends up being cannibalized from somewhere else."
    5. Politically speaking, Hillsborough Co. commissioners recently fought over a CRA designed specifically for transportation improvement - they couldn't agree, and the county still desperately needs transportation money. Oh, and the House Speaker is also trying to end CRAs, which could limit how much the county is able to actually bond out. So its far from a guaranteed source of revenue.
  4. Entertainment district tax - $?? million: An additional sales tax could be added to bars, restaurants, and hotels within a special district, giving the Rays a way to capture revenue from private businesses adjacent to their park.  But the city and county don't need a new ballpark to institute a new tax if they want new revenue; those funds could pay for important infrastructure or existing commitments like Water Street Tampa.  Or any of the city's other pressing needs that require raising taxes. So directing new revenues toward construction bonds does, in fact, comes at the expense of other taxpayer needs.  Oh, and ask Cincinnati what happens when you bank on sales taxes funding your stadium and the economy slows down
  5. Infrastructure considerations - $20-80 million: Hillsborough County has a problem in that it cannot afford the roads and transit it desperately needs. But committing to fund new roads and infrastructure around a Downtown/Ybor stadium would most certainly take away from the infrastructure needs elsewhere in the county.
  6. Future development rights - $?? million: If Hillsborough County is to partner with the Rays, as St. Pete has proposed to do, any concession on future developments rights or revenues on public property is a taxpayer expense, even if it is deemed one with positive ROI.
  7. Naming rights - $40-50 million: Forget about any benefit from naming rights to that public stadium - the teams are quick to insist these are their revenues, contributing to their bottom line; not the public's portion of stadium bills.
  8. Rental car taxes - $?? million:  It's been a while since it was suggested rental car taxes could be raised in Tampa to help pay for a new stadium, and the Hillsborough Aviation Authority has since raised the rental taxes twice to pay for airport expansion.  So even if this is no longer a likely source of revenue, it's worth repeating that it could most definitely pay for other things around the community.
  9. Terms of a lease - $?? million: Will the Rays pay the county fair market rent, like most private businesses do that work out of a public space? Because anything short of market value  is a concession taxpayers are making at the expense of general revenue dollars.  Also worth keeping an eye out what kind of concessions taxpayers may have to make when it comes to stadium maintenance - a secret subsidy that adds up if public officials aren't careful  in negotiations.
  10. Property tax breaks or "Payments in Lieu of Taxes" (PILOTs) - $50+ million: Most businesses in Florida pay property taxes. When they don't, it comes at taxpayers' expense. And while there are various forms of the PILOT mechanism, they basically allow a team to skip out on paying property taxes, because of silly reasons like, "they're paying their construction bills instead" or "because they're good community stewards."  If only we were all that lucky!
  11. Sales tax concessions on construction - $20-30 million: When a developer constructs a building, he or she pays sale tax on the materials. But when pro teams build a stadium, they will often try to skirt paying those taxes by getting the municipality to purchase materials for them as a straw-buyer, tax-free. It's like a 16-year-old giving you money to buy him beer. It's just shouldn't be accepted.
  12. Tax-exempt bonds (federal) - $50-150 million: Just like giving private businesses a free pass on paying sales taxes, governments will often take out tax-free bonds on stadium construction so they can secured at lower rates than private businesses have access to. They're a better deal for pro teams because the taxpayers aren't getting their due revenues on the transaction.
  13. New Markets Tax Credits (federal) - $?? million: These federal subsidies, designed to incentivize private businesses to move to and invest in low-income "distressed" communities, can be tapped into in a creative way to benefit stadium development...without actually benefitting the communities the taxpayer is spending money to support. 
  14. Existing general tax revenues - $?? million: Do I even need to spell this one out? I shouldn't, but St. Pete has suggested spending several million dollars a year - on top of bed tax revenues and development rights - to keep the Rays in the 'Burg.  Obviously, this money could be spent on police, roads, or sewers.
You may also hear about foreign investment EB-5 funding as a possible mechanism on a new stadium, but the program's capacity is somewhat limited...and it is short-term bonding only, not the 30-year kind of bonding that the county would prefer for such a large project.

All-in-all, there's a good chance taxpayers would have to help pay for much of a new Rays stadium one way or another.  So don't believe elected leaders who promise there "won't be another sweetheart deal" like the Bucs got with Raymond James Stadium:
  If you know a politician who could use some education on these things, I'd recommend Judith Grant Long's Public-Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilities.

In the meantime, remember the important lesson Neil deMause has written about a million times: this conversation shouldn't be about “How can we get a new sports venue built?” - it should be about “What would make it worth our while to get a new sports venue built?”  

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Ken Hagan Does Not Like Tough Questions

Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan is privately negotiating with the Tampa Bay Rays for a potential new stadium near Ybor City.  And even it seems the proposed stadium would include hundreds of millions of public tax dollars, Hagan has yet to reveal how many and how it would be funded.  He also is taking campaign contributions from one of the men reportedly involved in selling the county land.

He also refuses to talk about it:

For the full investigation and background, visit

RELATED: March 2017 - Ken Hagan Does Not Like This Blog

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Rays Stadium Saga: Cash for Kriseman, Latvala...But Not Tampa

Lots of interesting nuggets to share on the Rays' Stadium Saga...
  1. Batting leadoff: you saw me tweet about the latest donations to State Senator/gubernatorial hopeful Jack Latvala, including the Tampa Bay Rays & Miami Dolphins.
  2. Why do pro teams love Latvala?  In addition to his attempts to provide them stadium subsidies, he's also the biggest thing standing in the way of a House push to ban public land giveaways for new stadiums in Florida.  A bill attempting to ban the practice raced through the House committee stage already and will likely get approved by the chamber in January. But approval by the Senate or governor is much less likely.
  3. Meanwhile, locally, despite all the talk that St. Pete and Tampa are working together on things like landing Amazon's HQ2, they continue to play tug-of-war against each other on a new home for the Rays.
  4. In fact, here's another good article about how the two sides of the Bay are competing over another sports team. It's from 2010. And nothing's really changed since then.
  5. Remember, the more subsidy-friendly officials that compete over the Rays, the more the team stands to benefit from a tug-of-war.  Which may explain why Rick Kriseman's PAC just got another $50k from the Rays, bringing his 2017 campaign haul to over $80k.
  6. Speaking of mayors, the Tampa Bay Business Journal (subscription required) spoke to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn about his Rays' stadium conversations, with the mayor seemingly distant from his once-aggressive push to bring the team downtownTBBJ reports six years into his term, the mayor still doesn't know how to pay for a new Rays stadium, other than possibly the county's CIT tax, which could be renewed (via referendum)...but the funds are spoken for through 2026, and an extension may also be needed for Bucs & Lightning stadiums by the time those leases expire in 2027.
  7. And finally, Forbes' Maury Brown reports TV ratings remain strong across MLB, including here in Tampa Bay, where the Rays remained the No. 1 cable program in the market, even though they slipped 5% from last year's viewership numbers.  They were only 18th in the league, by ratings points, but they averaged 52,000 viewers per night, according to Neilson.  There should still be good money in a new cable deal for the Rays, but it seems they chose to gamble with a short extension with Fox Sports several years ago.  If they missed the cable rights bubble, and get screwed because of their timing, it will be because of a failed business risk and not the failure of their fans to tune in.

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Friday, September 29, 2017

2017 Rays Attendance Post-Mortem

With the 2017 season now in the books, my annual Tropicana Field attendance debrief may as well be regurgitated from last year...

Once again, the Rays finish in the MLB cellar, drawing an average of 15,637 fans per game - a drop of 1.5% from last year, but a little better than the 2015 mark of 15,403. That makes six straight years the team finished 30th out of 30 teams.

For once, the Rays had an exciting offense on top of their typical pitching standouts, but even without NHL playoffs to compete with, just couldn't draw.

This blog has long covered the issues affecting Rays' attendance, from the front office's self-fulfilling prophecy, the team's failure to be "cool," and of course, location location location.

Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Marc Topkin, "given the performance of the team, I would have anticipated (attendance) to be better. Where we were and how we were playing, it could have only been better. We've heard it before, and I've talked to the players, it clearly affects the performance on the field."

That's kind of a stretch. In fact, I love this response from blogger @TBBaseballMkt:
But have no fear! The end of the baseball season simply means the start of the baseball stadium speculation season!  Topkin asked Sternberg about that too:
With the season ending, how soon could there be an announcement of a stadium site selection, given the reported Ybor City option?
We're ready. Whenever Hillsborough or Tampa make their pitch, we're ready. We've worked with them a bunch, and we're waiting to hear the pitch. There's nothing more for me to do at this point.
Maybe we'll finally get to hear all the taxpayer subsidies our elected leaders have been offering up behind closed doors the last few years.

Here are a few more more question/answers for your enjoyment:
What is the status of a new TV contract?
If it'll even be a contract - we might end up starting a network at some point. When the time comes and we can negotiate a TV contract there will be a lot of parties to talk to. .. Unfortunately it's not the environment for that given what's gone on with cord-cutting and the value of cable, so I don't expect it or anticipate it to be nirvana. Ideally when and if something gets done it could move the needle. By the same token it might end up being less than where we are now. It's way down the road (and he won't say when).

How much did the hurricane rescheduling and fallout impact the team financially as you had to move three Yankees game to New York and then had lesser than expected crows for the Red Sox and Cubs games?
Those eight games, while they were 10 percent of our schedule, probably made up 20-25 percent of our revenue.
Did you get revenue from the three games moved to Citi Field?
We'll get revenue but the games are very expensive to put on, and they were attended, but not like 40,000, 50,000 people showing up, it was a $25 set price. And we had to house and transport people for four extra days on the road in New York. And a lot of other expense like overtime (for staff at the Trop) and buttoning the place up and some damage to the stadium. All in all, it was a minus-minus-minus. However, having said that, we're incredibly fortunate for what could have been.

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Few Items Worth Reading...

It's always easy for guys who aren't going to pay for a stadium to suggest someone should buy the Rays a new stadium...which Joe Maddon did this past week, as Chris Archer expressed his displeasure with the home crowd.

It wasn't the first time...but a couple columns the reactions prompted are among the Sunday Night reading list links worth a few minutes of your time:
  1. Tom Jones: Tampa Bay Just Doesn't Have Enough Tampa Bay Sports Fans (he's right)
  2. Joe Henderson: Tampa is a Better Location for a New Rays Stadium (obviously...except the financing)
  3. Martin Fennelly: USF thrashes Temple to stay unbeaten; too bad not many saw it in person (true - far fewer than 20,000 butts in seats)
  4. Twitter: "USF Crowd Shots" account (USF will say a new stadium will fix this, but tough to commit to new stadium without crowds)
  5. Robert Trigaux: Tampa Bay household income tops $50,000 (that's 25th out of 25 major US cities, and it shows how the market gets stretched thin for entertainment dollars)

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Buccaneers Now Worth $2 Billion

The latest Forbes NFL valuations have the Bucs worth an estimated $1.98 billion, up 10% from the same time last year. However, that's only good for 28th out of 32 teams.

The Cowboys are once again the league's most-valuable team and the world's most valuable sports franchise, worth an estimated $4.8 billion.

Forbes reports "new and renovated stadiums are adding to team coffers," with the Vikings enjoying $60 million in new revenue annually at their new stadium, and the Falcons' value jumping 19% to $2.48 billion, thanks to over $900 million in sponsorship commitments at their new stadium.

And, "NFL teams are also set for a windfall from the relocations of the Rams and Chargers to Los Angeles, plus the Raiders expected move to Las Vegas in 2019 or 2020. The 29 non-moving teams will divvy up $1.65 billion with the Chargers and Rams on the hook for a $650 million fee and the Raiders at $350 million. The moving teams will make the payments over 10 years starting in 2019."

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UPDATED: In Darkness of Irma Disaster, Sarasota Approved Braves Spring Training Stadium

While the majority of their residents were in the dark two days after Hurricane Irma blew through, Sarasota County Commissioners braved the elements and rushed to approve a new Braves spring training stadium, predominately funded by public tax dollars. Why do I say "rushed?" Well, according to my public records request from about a week before the storm, no agreement existed yet - "the lawyers are still talking about it."

I've previously written how the dealings had been plagued by county staffers' battles with transparency, bogus economic impact claims, and other red flags during negotiations.  Fortunately, some of my warnings were heeded, but there are still items of concern that were glossed over in the rush to get a deal done, including long-term stadium maintenance, which has cost the county unexpected dollars in their dealings with the Orioles' spring training complex (you'd think they'd have learned a lesson).

The unanimous vote from county commissioners last Wednesday sets up a final vote in North Port today.

UPDATE: North Port city commissioners approved the deal, 3-2, only after a pair of commissioners voiced loud displeasure over the negotiating process ("Every single document we’ve received has been, ‘Your back’s against the wall, you better sign this or else.’ It’s a disservice to this community") and concern over the multi-purpose fields that were promised for public use. But the city attorney told commissioners they must agree to the deal without amendment.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports the project will now surpass $100 million, although the direct taxpayer contribution will remain in the $50 million range.  The Braves will receive additional subsidies in the form of free rent and certain tax breaks; the team will instead contribute an annual payment toward $37.5 million in construction bonds.

The Braves will also reportedly keep proceeds from the naming rights of the public facility, which they can use to further offset construction costs.

A groundbreaking will reportedly take place next month, with the Braves looking to relocate to the new West Villages/North Port complex in Spring 2019.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Adding to the Ybor City Stadium Rumor Mill: Developer Gives Big to Ken Hagan

The guy who has emerged as one of the single-biggest property owners/developers in Ybor City just gave a bunch of big campaign checks to the guy who is single-handedly negotiating a possible Rays move to a yet-to-be-announced site in Tampa.

Companies controlled by Darryl Shaw, who has been dubbed "Ybor's big new (development) player," gave $5,000 to Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan last month, according to campaign finance reports. Shaw's wife and a company she controls also each chipped in $1,000, the maximum-allowable donation for the 2018 election.

RELATED: Rays, Hagan Continue to Sweep Funding Conversations Under Rug, Make Mockery of Transparency Promises

Shaw is far from Hagan's only high-profile donor, but it only adds speculation that Hagan may be cooking up some sort of county-subsidized plan with Shaw and the Rays - potentially involving land giveaways or a land swap?

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Friday, September 1, 2017

FSU Professor at Center of Academics Scandal is Same Hospitality Professor Busted for Inflated Economic Impact Reports

The man at the center of a 2013 academics scandal at Florida State University, just exposed Friday by the New York Times, is the same hospitality professor exposed by WTSP in April as passing himself off an economist while he conducted dozens of economic impact studies for parties seeking tax dollars for sports-related projects, including Major League Baseball teams.

The Times reports Dr. Mark Bonn allegedly pressured a doctoral student to give football players, including Tampa native James Wilder Jr., preferential treatment in online hospitality courses on coffee, tea and wine. Other student-athletes allegedly "handed in plagiarized work and disregarded assignments and quizzes."

FSU issued a statement Friday explaining it did not report the allegations previously because an independent investigation found no NCAA violations. But Bonn's course "was subsequently modified for other reasons."

In April, WTSP exposed how Prof. Bonn appears to have made hundreds of thousands of dollars on the side crafting inflated economic impact studies to help pro teams and leagues justify public tax subsidies for new stadium projects.

When the story made national headlines, Bonn told The Toronto Star, "(The reporter) can go jump in a lake, as far as I’m concerned.”

The Times also reported Wilder emailed Professor Bonn at the end of one summer semester to suggest he needed a "B" to "keep myself in good academic place with the school.” Bonn reportedly instructed the doctoral student, Christina Suggs, to work with the “starting star running back" and provide him a chance to make up missing work, even though it had already been graded.

But Suggs objected to special treatment, reportedly telling a colleague, “I am not offering this opportunity to other students.” The Times writes that "the colleague agreed, summing up their mutual concern about Professor Bonn: 'Trying to put a stop to his favoritism for athletes once and for all.'"

Bonn stopped responding to WTSP's questions in April; he did not respond to the newest allegations on Friday, either.


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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

What St. Pete's Election Means for the Rays

Crazy results in today's St. Pete mayoral primary, where Mayor Rick Baker finished in a virtual tie with incumbent Rick Kriseman.  With just about all of the votes counted, Kriseman's unofficial total was 69 votes more than Baker. That's 48.36% to 48.23%.  Of course, since neither Rick reached 50%, it does not matter and the two will head to a run-off in November.

That's fantastic news for both Kriseman, who was on the verge of an outright loss according to polls, and also good for Rays fans hoping to keep the team in St. Pete, for they now have two more months to try and keep Kriseman in city hall, their best bet for keeping the Rays in St. Pete.

It may also delay conversations about Tampa's stadium pitch, as the team has quietly told folks in Hillsborough they don't want to influence the mayor's race.

Earlier this month, I interviewed both candidates about the city's pro sports future, and reported on some of the big differences in their loyalties & visions.  St. Pete seems to be too small for two top-level teams, and Baker is a natural ally of the Rowdies after quarterbacking their MLS 2 St. Pete campaign (sorry to mix metaphors) while Kriseman has been a reliable partner to the Rays.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Times' instant editorial on the election quickly dismissed St. Pete's chances for a new Rays stadium, writing "it is apparent that a new baseball stadium is not likely to be built on this land for the Tampa Bay Rays, who are more likely to prefer a new stadium in Tampa."

Except the assumption seems to be based on nothing more than Ken Hagan's promise of a possible stadium location near Ybor City. County commissioners haven't heard the plan, which is likely to compete with other budget priorities; city councilmembers haven't heard the plan, which is likely to be unpopular with some; taxpayers haven't heard the plan, which is likely going to cost them money; and most importantly - nobody in Hillsborough has any idea how to pay for the darn thing. Don't count Pinellas and its deep pockets out.

Hey Times, what happened to the days of calling on St. Pete and Tampa to work together on this for "complementary rather than competitive efforts?" And warning about Commissioner Ken Hagan's "poor track record when it comes to limiting public subsidies?" The secretive negotiations and tug-of-war only hurts taxpayers.

City Council showdowns

In an eight-way primary for the District 6 seat, Justin Bean will advance to the runoff after besting the field with approximately 21% of the votes in the small district. He will face either Robert Blackmon or Gina Driscoll, who appear to be separated by just EIGHT votes with the overwhelming majority of ballots now counted. They will have to wait for a recount to know their official fates, however. In the general election runoff, any voter in the city can vote.

Bean, who was a consultant on the Tropicana Field redevelopment project, said "no public funds" for the stadium during his campaign, but said he would be open to using tax money for infrastructure and surrounding development. It was reported Blackmon wanted to use city resources to market the Rays better, as well as offering the team redevelopment money and possibly a CRA/TIF district to help pay for construction.  Driscoll campaigned on a methodical approach to the Rays, reportedly supported a new stadium, but only after additional input from locals and financial commitment from the Rays.

Two other city council races will also be decided in fall: District 2 and District 4.  Neither race had a primary because each had just two candidates qualify.

In D2, Barclay Harless, who promised "not one dime" for the Rays until the city gets its sewer problems under control, faces off against fellow Democrat Brandi Gabbard.  10News previously showed how some St. Pete stadium dollars were coming from the same revenue pot as sewer dollars.  Gabbard has supported relocating the Rays into her North St. Pete district, possibly to the Derby Lane site.

In D4, incumbent Darden Rice, a Democrat who has been methodical but supportive of Kriseman's path on the Stadium Saga, seems to have an insurmountable advantage over 21-year-old challenger Jerick Johnson, who has only raised $4,331 compared to more than $100,000 raised by Rice.

A fourth council seat up for grabs went uncontested this year, with incumbent Amy Foster winning re-election unopposed.

St. Pete's general election is set for Nov. 7.

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Rays, Hagan Continue to Sweep Funding Conversations Under Rug, Make Mockery of Transparency Promises

For seven years, the Rays been able to distract from the Stadium Saga's biggest challenge (funding) by focusing the conversation about their future on location.  This weekend's latest Times' editorial, "An intriguing site for new Rays stadium" - and to a somewhat lesser degree, John Romano's in-depth examination of an Ybor City site - were the latest pieces to gloss over the extreme public price tag that seems to come along with Hillsborough's super-secret plan.

But a stark contrast to that editorial was Joe Henderson's excellent Times column, focusing on Commissioner Ken Hagan's love of Cobb County's super-secret, not-so-great, potentially-illegal deal with the Braves, a deal called "the worst sports stadium deal ever," which includes county subsidies to the tune of $82 per passenger to get fans and employees to the stadium.

Henderson examined how much "infrastructure" Hagan might be willing to commit Hillsborough County to.  And he wrote about how little the Braves contributed to all of their privately-controlled development, while property taxes (in a county that can't afford its public parks) largely help fund that stadium:
They did this without a voter referendum.

Hillsborough County is studying this?

Study away guys, and then do just the opposite.
Henderson is a former sports columnist, by the way.  He continues to ask rhetoricals about stadium financing:
You'll probably hear a lot of talk about creating a special-taxing district in and around a new stadium, to help with financing. That's fine, even though it won't generate nearly enough money. Tourist taxes? The fight for that money will be bloody if backers try to divert millions more to a stadium.

Every time I pull at these threads, it keeps coming back to fact Major League Baseball generated about $10 billion in 2016 and the cash keeps coming in.

What that means is we can dream about an Ybor stadium all we want, but until we see what the Rays are willing to pay, a dream is all it will be.
The lack of transparency is a common theme in stadium talks across the country, and the Rays' Stadium Saga is no exception.  The team promised to be different than the Marlins and be open about funding years ago...but executives have done nothing but deflect questions about how much they're willing to pay for their new home for nine years.

And, as the Times' editorial board wrote in 2014, "transparency isn't Hagan's strong suit," either.  The links below and this 2016 commentary should help make that abundantly clear.   He improperly deleted text messages during a 2015 investigation into his back-room dealings and his office routinely struggles to comply with the state's law on producing public records in a timely fashion.
Hagan also promised to provide more details on funding last fall but has yet to utter a single peep on what it will cost the public in nearly 12 months since then.

In fact, the growing expectation for public subsidies for the Rays is something I examined a week ago, as is Ken Hagan's shift from "no public dollars" on a Rays stadium to a plan that will likely include more public money than Raymond James Stadium.

Hagan has repeatedly said, "There will never be another Raymond James/sweetheart deal in this county," but its looking more and more like the public cost of a Rays stadium will be hundreds of millions of dollars, compared to the "just" $168 million it took to build Raymond James Stadium ($253 million in 2017 dollars).

A Hagan history on Shadow of the Stadium:
I'll be writing more on the extreme public price tag of a new Rays stadium in the upcoming when the county tries to sneak this plan through claiming, "your tax dollars won't be used," you have all the real information at your fingertips.

Meanwhile, in other news, the Rays' TV ratings have basically held steady from a year ago, pulling in a 2.9 avg nightly rating, good enough for first among all Tampa Bay cable programming.  And even though the same numbers that ranked the Rays 13th in MLB last year has them at 20th this year, they still stand to make more money the next time their TV contract comes around for negotiations.

Of course, they won't disclose when that is.

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