Here is a headline from the business section of the Tampa Bay Times, “winner of 12 Pulitzer Prizes”:
Hold on to your Bolts: Lightning in talks to stay in Tampa through 2037
And here is the fourth paragraph of said article:
In exchange, Hillsborough County will commit $61 million over the next two decades to maintenance and upgrades of Amalie Arena, home of the Lightning and Tampa Bay Storm and one of the area’s top entertainment and concert venues. The money will come from the fifth cent of the Tourist Development Tax, a fee assessed on each night’s stay at a hotel or motel.
In journalism circles, this is a trick known as “burying the lede,” spelled that way either in order to distinguish it from the actual word “lead” or because journalists are just nuts. It’s a very bad thing to do, because readers who only get as far as scanning the headline — which, having spent some time with web traffic numbers in the age of Facebook, I would say is likely most readers — come away thinking “yay, more years of hockey!” and miss the part where it’s going to cost them an extra $61 million over the next 20 years.
And it’s an extra $61 million, no doubt about that, because there’s even more lede buried even further down in graf (yes, “graf”) #7:
The county owns Amalie Arena, but under the existing contract Hillsborough is not under any obligation to pay for maintenance or upgrades. That onus falls on the team, which runs the day-to-day operations.
This is becoming a standard ploy for team owners getting to the end of their stadium and arenas leases who don’t actually want new buildings (or don’t think they can get away with demanding new buildings) but do want to extort some kind of cash handouts in exchange for their continued existence. So how does $3.8 million a year (that’s $61 million over 16 years, since the Lightning already committed to staying put through 2021 in exchange for a previous bundle of public kickbacks) compare to other recent lease extension shakedowns?
- The Atlanta Hawks are getting $142.5 million in arena renovations for an 18-year lease extension, which is $7.9 million a year.
- The Carolina Panthers got $87.5 million to extend their lease for just six years, which is $14.6 million a year.
- The San Jose Sharks got about $100 million to extend their lease for eight years, which is $12.5 million a year.
- The Lightning previously got $12.5 million for extending their lease six years, which is $2.1 million a year.
- The Colorado Rockies extended their lease for 30 years in exchange for a bunch of land rights for what looks like close to market price, which if so would come to a price of $0 per year.
So Hillsborough County taxpayers can at least say they’re getting a better deal than some other cities, though not all, and not even quite as good a deal as they got a few years ago. More to the point, though, did they have to give up this much? Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has not only expressed no interest in leaving Tampa, he has operating rights to a money-making arena, and is investing in a $3 billion downtown development project in the city. So the guy already has innumerable reasons not to flee town, even before handing him $61 million as a bonus. Far be it from me to tell Hillsborough County officials how to do their job, but are you guys sure you’re good at this whole lease negotiations part of it?