Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Catching Up on Lost Reading: Rowdies/Rays, Stadium Subsidies, and More

So much good sports business reading...so little time.

Here are a few good links I've come across in recent weeks worth some attention:
  1. Tampa Bay Times: St. Pete may have to choose between Rays and Rowdies - I couldn't agree more, even if Bill Edwards decides to foot the entire $80 million stadium bill and $150 million MLS expansion fee himself.  As I've written before, there's just not enough disposable income and population to support another major pro team in Tampa Bay, let alone St. Pete.
  2. Fangraphs: Relocation less common in MLB than other leagues - Past performance isn't an indicator of future performance...except when it gives a glimpse into MLB's hesitance to move franchises around, despite its proclivity to threaten to do so.
  3. Bloomberg: Brooklyn is dumping the Islanders - Apparently, the Barclays Center is realizing it was losing money on hockey and despite an "ironclad lease," the Islanders could be homeless by 2018.
  4. Tampa Bay Times op-eds: the case for and the case against public spending on sports stadiums.
  5. Bloomberg also chimed in on the case for spending money on pro stadiums.
  6. Joe Henderson: Build your own damn stadium, ballpark, or arena - Good questions why struggling municipalities continue to be expected to pay for billionaires' businesses.

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Poor Braves Will Have to Buy Their Own Furniture...But Won't Release Documents That Would Prove It

So the Braves finally found a county (on their fifth try) to build them a spring training park...
The plan is to get the county, state, city of North Port, and a private developer to split the cost four-ways.  That's correct, only four ways:
The best part of the day was the Braves suggesting that taking the burden of furniture and equipment (you know, like baseballs) off the taxpayers' shoulders counts as "paying their fair share."

But the second-best part of the day came after I do what I do...and requested documents.

See, the Braves and Sarasota County are suggesting they're exempt from certain Florida public record laws because of trade secrets...one of the same exemptions used by rapper Pitbull and public agency Visit Florida to deny our 2015 public records request into the artist’s taxpayer-funded tourism contract. That story ultimately cost three of the agency’s top executives their jobs.

Officially, county spokesperson Jason Bartolone responded that the Braves “have asserted confidentiality rights” under Florida State Statute 288.075, which aims to protect proprietary business information and trade secrets in public-private economic development deals.

Of course, it doesn't do a great job always protecting the taxpayer....who could use a little help after we showed how Sarasota County failed to get all of the Baltimore Orioles' 2009 spring training promises in writing, ultimately resulting in the failure to ever get that promised economy-driving Cal Ripken youth academy built.

I have some questions if the Braves are really allowed to use this exemption...read more about it here on WTSP.com.

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

Friday, January 13, 2017

Hillsborough County Can't Stop Negotiating Against Itself Over Rays

Earlier this week, I reported how "Pinellas and Hillsborough leaders were doing everything possible to create a Rays bidding war." But there were a few interesting nuggets in that story worth even further discussion.

In addition to failing to communicate with his counterparts across the bay, Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan continued to play into the Rays' hand by throwing out an artificially-high estimates for the cost of a stadium ($550-$700 million), getting the sticker shock out of the way now so when the number comes down to, say, $500 million, later...officials may actually suggest it's a better deal than they had anticipated.

But there's no way the Rays are actually eyeing a $550-$700 million stadium in a region that's been subsidy-adverse. Hagan said the team may choose to go without an upper deck and retractable roof (they will), bringing the cost down.

Yet those high numbers - coupled with Hagan's prediction that the Rays would bring $200-$250 million to the team (even though they've refused to discuss it publicly since 2008) - leaves a $250-$500 million funding gap (plus any cost of land acquisition)!  And Hagan's tone and comments suggested he had that part of the equation under control.

See, at a time the team isn't saying anything publicly, Hagan is negotiating against himself - and Pinellas.  That only serves to drive the public contribution on a stadium up, possibly over $250-$300 million. Then, when the team reduces its $700 million stadium plan down to $500 million, they only have to contribute $200 million. See how this slippery slope can work?

ALSO READ: Three Things the Rays' Stadium Saga Needs in 2017

As for that tug-of-war, St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is doing his part to avoid it by not talking money until the team chooses its choice location.  But Hagan and Hillsborough aren't playing by the same rules, and the lack of communication does nothing to protect taxpayers.

But I warned you this was coming.

In fact, the Times' editorial board, which more recently opined that stadium spending is often a good use of tax dollars, even issued caution against this St. Pete/Tampa tug-of-war, urging collaboration nearly a year ago:
The independent stadium efforts taking place in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties "should be complementary rather than competitive efforts, and the common goal should be keeping a regional asset that benefits the entire area."
There are some legit questions that need to be asked of Hillsborough's stadium negotiator-in-chief...but Hagan refuses to acknowledge my interview requests and makes a point to show up to meetings 30 seconds late and leave 30 seconds early.  That way, the "public servant" is able to ensure reporters cannot approach him easily at public events.

Well, my invitation remains open, Commissioner.

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Pinellas, Hillsborough Doing Everything They Can to Create Rays Bidding War

Elected leaders in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties vowed to do anything possible to keep the Rays in the region long-term. But my latest report for WTSP-TV reveals there's been zero coordination between the two sides as they each compete to build the Rays a new ballpark, even disagreeing on informal ground rules to prevent a bidding war.

As the Rays' stadium saga enters its 10th year, officials in both Hillsborough County and St. Petersburg have been meeting privately with the team to discuss possible stadium locations.

Hillsborough's lead negotiator, County Commissioner Ken Hagan, told WDAE-AM on Monday {audio starts at 7:30 mark here} he has worked with the Rays to narrow a list of sites down to "one or two" that would connect Tampa's downtown, Channelside, and Ybor neighborhoods together.

Hagan, who has repeatedly refused WTSP's interview requests, also said the county's bankers in New York have been meeting with the Rays' banking team to discuss stadium financing, possibly a bigger challenge for the region than finding an appropriate site.

RELATED: Hagan, Rays avoid transparency

But that conflicts with what St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he was hoping for to avoid a potential bidding war between Hillsborough and Pinellas.

"When we start getting into detailed conversations about financing," Kriseman said, "what we set ourselves up for is a bidding war, and then the taxpayers are the losers when that happens.”

St. Petersburg has been meeting with the Rays privately as well, and seems to hold a distinct advantage over Hillsborough County when it comes to available funding streams for a new stadium, since Hillsborough is already paying for two other stadiums and a convention center.

Kriseman has also been bullish on the possibility of a new stadium next to the existing stadium, so redevelopment at the Tropicana Field site could help fund the project.

When asked why he hasn't sat down at the table with the Rays and Tampa/Hillsborough officials, Kriseman said he expected each side to pitch its best site and let the Rays choose their favorite. Kriseman said he hoped both counties would then rally around the chosen site and hope the financing fell into place.

"We’re not getting into a bidding war because that doesn’t do any of us any good," Kriseman said.

St. Pete has even enlisted Dick Vitale in its "Baseball Forever" campaign.

But strictly looking at location, Hillsborough may have an advantage. The possibility of a stadium within walking distance to both Channelside and Ybor City may be difficult to pass up. However, the financing would be a major challenge there.

“For this to work, the team’s going to have to be at the table with at least $200 million, maybe $250 million," Hagan said on WDAE.

He added the overall cost of a stadium might be in the “550 to 700 million-dollar range," depending on things like whether it would have a retractable roof and an upper deck.

But that leaves a funding gap of at least $300-400 million. Hillsborough County's tourist tax would likely fund only about $75-80 million of construction.

Hagan said in 2010 that he objected to any public funding going toward a new stadium, but has changed his tune in recent years, telling WDAE "there will have to be some public money involved, hopefully primarily tourist tax dollars.”

RELATED: How Ken Hagan flipped on Rays stadium subsidies

Hagan suggested tax dollars could contribute toward a project's "infrastructure" and "perhaps mass transit."

The Rays have also not responded to WTSP's requests for comment regarding possible funding and preferred locations.

But the team has two more years to explore both sides of the bay. And given the lack of political opportunity for substantial subsidies right now, it appears they may continue to take their time.

Following his interview with me, Kriseman tweeted the following:

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

Friday, January 6, 2017

Please Stop Acknowledging "Economic Impact Reports"

Don't ever believe anything you hear from economic impact reports - ESPECIALLY if the party that initiated it has a vested interest in the outcome.

But alas, our politicians fail to grasp this concept. So I brought my boss' 4-year-old son in to explain:

You can read the rest of the article here.

Or, any number of previous posts I've written on the topic.

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

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Lawmakers Consider Ending Florida Stadium Subsidies Once and For All

Following the revamp of Florida's "sports development program" in 2014, I had a number of not-so-supportive things to say about it:

But this week, with a powerful state senator's announcement that he wanted to repeal the incentive program, I had the following reactions:

Stay tuned on this one.

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

Monday, January 2, 2017

Three Things the Rays' Stadium Saga Needs in 2017

Two years ago, I wrote "Three Things the Rays Stadium Saga Needs in 2015."  Unfortunately, nobody listened to me and we're still in a confusing stalemate, because two of the three things never happened:
  1. True Regional Approach Toward the Rays (Pinellas & Hillsborough are still bidding against each other)
  2. Transparency From the Rays Regarding Money (We still have no idea how much public cash the team wants)
  3. Less Heavy-Handedness from Editorial Boards and Sports Talk Hosts (Hey, this actually happened!)
Maybe it's just that Tampa Bay now has fewer editorial boards and fewer sports talk hosts.  But the slight reprieve from regular criticisms and claims the Rays are about leave without "progress in the upcoming year" has been nice.  Especially since so many years went by without progress and the Rays haven't yet left.

How long can we enjoy this silence?  Who knows, but the Tampa Bay Times' annual editorial pleading for stadium progress was pretty mild this time around.

So my "three things the Stadium Saga needs" hasn't really changed since 2015.  Regional collaboration, transparency, and fewer political criticisms remain the path forward for anyone hoping to keep the Rays here long-term in a way that makes financial sense for the region.

2015 Times: Year of hope in Stadium Saga

2015 Times: St. Pete needs to let Rays look this year
2015 Trib: Stadium progress is hope for new year
2015 Shadow of the Stadium: Three things the debate needs this year

2014 Times: Kriseman should solve stalemate "within months"
2014 Trib/Times: Time for progress

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