Florida bill to subsidize soccer stadiums clears first committee vote

That bill to give sales-tax kickbacks to pretty much any sports franchise in Florida that doesn’t already get them moved ahead yesterday, as a state senate committee unanimously approved giving $2 million a year to two MLS franchises for the next 30 years. For good measure, the senate commerce and tourism committee also approved giving added tax breaks to Lockheed Martin and Fidelity National, which have already gotten nearly $7 million in subsidies apiece, and could still consider requests for additional money from the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars.

For those keeping score, if the MLS bill is signed into law, it would leave the Orlando City Soccer Club just $45 million short of its $75 million subsidy demand for a new stadium. ($2 million a year for 30 years adds up to just $30 million in present-day expenses because some of it would have to pay for interest on bonds.) It would also potentially open up a road to subsidies for these guys, though they’d have to actually join a real league first.

Owners of Portuguese minor-league team propose $400m soccer stadium. In Tampa. Really.

Did I miss a memo where suddenly owning a U.S. soccer franchise is a license to print money? MLS talking about building a $300 million stadium in New York City is one thing; but now we have England’s VisionPro Sports Institute Holdings proposing to build a $400 million, 29,000-seat stadium in Tampa by 2016. With a retractable roof, presumably so this doesn’t happen in Florida. For a team, Tampa Bay F.C., that doesn’t exist yet, and which would start off in the third-tier United Soccer League (where the top attendance is about 6,000 fans per game). And which would compete with the established Tampa Bay Rowdies, one level higher, who average about 3,000 fans per game.

This is clearly pretty crazy stuff, but VSI insists that it’s serious, and presumably has its sights set on getting an MLS expansion team once the league hands another round of those out. (Though then they’d presumably be on the hook for an expansion fee of around $100 million as well.) VSI recently started a team in Rio Maior, Portugal, where it plays in an existing 8,000-seat stadium, but this … this is another level entirely.

VSI hasn’t set yet where it wants to build its stadium, so naturally, the Tampa Tribune expends lots of column inches wondering about where the site would be. Over at Shadow of the Stadium, meanwhile, Noah Pransky wonders about what should be a more pressing issue, which can best be summed up as “$400 MILLION?!?!?!?!?”

As for building the stadium without public funds, you can probably forget it.  If a privately-funded Rays stadium in the middle of the region doesn’t make sense to developers, you can bet a soccer stadium near the Brandon area will make even less.

VSI has a stadium website set up, but there’s zero information there about financing (and not much more about the stadium itself. VSI has announced an “unveiling” for December 11; hopefully somebody will be there to answer questions, and somebody from the Tampa Bay media will be there to ask some good ones. (I’m looking at you, Pransky.)