Friday roundup: Rattling sabers for Panthers stadium, leagues large and small seek bailouts, and a very large yacht

So how’s everyone out there, you know, doing? As the pandemic slowly feels less like a momentary crisis to be weathered and more like a new way of living to be learned (I refuse to say “new normal,” as nothing about this will ever feel normal), it’s tempting to occasionally look up and think about what habits and activities from the before times still make sense; I hope that FoS continues to educate and entertain you in ways that feel useful (or at least usefully distracting) — from all accounts the entire world being turned upside down hasn’t been enough to interrupt sports team owners’ important work of stadium shakedowns, so it’s good if we can keep at least half an eye on it, amid our stress-eating and TV bingewatching.

So get your half an eye ready, because a whole bunch of stuff happened again this week:

Rays declare January 2022 deadline for Tampontreal deal, or else they’ll do “something”

This one snuck in while I was writing Friday’s news roundup: Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld declared Thursday that while team execs remain focused on the bonkers plan of playing home games in new stadiums in both Tampa Bay and Montreal, if they can’t work that out by January of 2022, then “we need to figure something [else] out.”

What’s so magic about January of 2022, when the team can’t relocate for even part of a season until 2028, unless given special permission by the city of St. Petersburg? Time for a trip to Chapter 4 of Field of Schemes, “The Art of the Steal”:

Step 5: The Two-Minute Warning

No matter how well you’ve played your cards to this point, there’s always the danger that the proceedings may threaten to drag on indefinitely as pesky voters demand referenda or legislative leaders hit gridlock on deciding on a funding plan. At this point you may want to declare a crisis: Proclaim that the window of opportunity on a new stadium will remain open only for so long, leaving unstated what disaster will befall the city if the window should be allowed to slam shut. [Frank] Rashid [of the Tiger Stadium Fan Club] calls it the “used car salesman” approach: Buy now because this offer won’t be good for long.

The two-minute warning is especially risible in the case of the Rays, because Tampa Bay and Montreal appear to be their only two good options for playing in. I suppose Rays owner Stuart Sternberg could announce in early 2022 that he’s now conducting a nationwide search for a new home for 2028, in the hopes that Portland or Charlotte or someplace can get interested in starting a bidding war if Tampa Bay and Montreal aren’t interested. Or, if only one of Tampa/St. Pete and Montreal seems likely to cough up stadium funds, he can use his preannounced deadline as an excuse to say, Sorry, we thought the two-city thing would work out, but we’ll take the stadium in the hand over two in the bush, thanks — which makes more sense as a strategy anyway than the two-city thing.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s not to believe anything that sports team owners say when talking about moving teams, or setting deadlines, or really anything when money is on the line, because as we should all remember by now, a savvy negotiator creates leverage. The Field of Schemes section on the two-minute warning (and the followup section in Chapter 13, “The Art of the Steal Revisited”) includes stories of Houston Astros execs setting deadlines in 1995 for a move to Virginia, then continually extending them through 1996 until Houston agreed to provide stadium funding; the Florida Marlins owners setting final deadlines year after year after which they would move the team out of state, each year returning hat in hand until they finally got what they wanted out of Miami; and a Dallas Cowboys spokesperson admitting that the team had set a deadline for stadium funding partly “to create a sense of urgency.” If there’s ever an “Art of the Steal Re-Revisited,” I’ll be holding space open for the story of the Rays.

Friday roundup: D-Backs, Angels hedge on new stadium plans, NJ demands 76ers repay 0.5% of tax breaks, and other foolishness

Another busy Friday where I need to squeeze in the news roundup when and where I can! (Also, yeah, New Yorkers already knew this about Mike Bloomberg, who also was responsible for this.)

Tampontreal Ex-Rays partnership already blowing up real good

Big news out of Montreal this weekend, where would-be Tampa Bay Rays co-owner Stephen Bronfman — Seagram heir, son of former Expos owner Charles Bronfman, and prospective Rays co-owner if they split time between two countries as current owner Stuart Sternberg insists against all sense and reason is what he’s seriously considering —  announced that a purchase deal could be imminent! Via Google Translate:

“In a few months, probably three or four, our group from Montreal will become co-owner of the Tampa team with Stuart Sternberg, the current owner of the Rays. The negotiations are very advanced. We are going to become minority shareholders, but that doesn’t bother us at all. Stuart Sternberg is a straight man who is nothing like Jeffrey Loria [former owner of the Expos],” says Bronfman.

Whoa, the Tampontreal Ex-Rays plans are so advanced that they could have a Canadian co-owner by as soon as May? That would be something! Except that Sternberg immediately chimed in with a big nuh-uh:

Sternberg said Montreal group leader Stephen Bronfman was incorrect in saying those negotiations were underway and a sale could be completed in the next three-four months.

“It isn’t true,’’ Sternberg said Saturday at Rays camp. “Eventually, at a point, I would expect and believe they could and would become minority partners. … I need some representation up there. But there’s nothing happening in months. No way.’’

Now, on the one hand, this isn’t a huge stumbling block or anything: Sternberg doesn’t have to be in any hurry to sell a share of his team, even if he does fully intend to go through with this two-state solution. (If doesn’t fully intend to do so, of course, he’s in even less of a hurry.) But Bronfman announcing one thing and then Sternberg immediately shutting it down is certainly a sign that the two aren’t completely on the same page, which is not a sign of a deal where all the t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted. It would make way more sense if Sternberg is just stringing Bronfman along as a way to see what cities, if any, he can finally get to go along with his plan to get a new stadium (or two!) with somebody else footing the bill — which, again, isn’t proof that that’s what Sternberg is up to, but it certainly all fits.

And anyway, mostly what this does in our 280-character age is get “Rays and Montreal” trending, and that can only benefit Sternberg as he haggles for whatever he can get. This is going to be a long, long ride — I mean, it’s already been going on for over a decade, but it has a long, long way yet to go — so try not to get too distracted by any one week’s headlines, though by all means go ahead and get a schadenfreude-y chuckle out of them.

 

Sternberg meets with Tampa officials about shared-city Rays plan, it’s working, it’s wooooorking, mwuahaha!

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg, taking advantage of his newly confirmed right to talk before 2028 about moving the Rays out of St. Petersburg (but not to talk about moving the Rays out of St. Petersburg before 2028), met for 2.5 hours yesterday with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan about splitting the team between new stadiums in Tampa and Montreal, and also not splitting the team between new stadiums in Tampa and Montreal:

“The goal is to try and have an agreement with all three entities [the Rays, Tampa, and Hillsborough County] by the end of the year. It’s extremely aggressive. However, having gone through the last several-year exercise, I appreciate the sense of urgency and the goal of trying to reach an agreement as quickly as possible,” said Hagan, who led the talks with the team for the proposed $892 million stadium in Ybor City before they broke down in December 2018….

Castor agreed, but said she hadn’t given up hope for keeping the Rays for the entire 162-game season.

“The focus was on the split season, but I don’t think the full season is off the table yet,” Castor said.

And Hagan added:

“I am still hopeful that we can go back to the original model and framework of an entire season in Ybor City,” said Hagan. “I take the Rays at their word. Right now we are only considering a split season concept.”

Whether this whole Tampontreal Ex-Rays plan is serious or a lavishly orchestrated bluff, you’ll note that it’s working out pretty well for Sternberg: He’s gone in just one year from even his own commissioner saying he was stuck playing in St. Petersburg to suddenly getting to hold stadium talks with cities in two nations. If it lands him a new stadium in Tampa, great; if it lands him a new stadium in Montreal but not one in Tampa, he can go to the public and MLB and say, “Hey, I tried with Tampa, they didn’t hold up their end of the deal, Quebec ho!”; if it lands him new stadium offers in both, he can either pick one or go ahead with his cockamamie scheme. And if lands him nothing, well, at least he’s no worse off than where he started.

Castor and Hagan said the goal is for a deal for a Tampa stadium to be in place by the end of the year, which is a meaningless deadline since it can be extended at any time, but does provide the three parties a nice way to turn up their crisis inducers. Castor noted that “the citizens’ appetite of paying for a stadium is about zero at this point,” which is a sticking point, but there are enough creative ways to fund a stadium without making it look like citizens are paying for it when they really are — tax breaks, tax increment financing districts, free land deals, “infrastructure” spending, hey-look-over-there-what’s-that — that you know they’ll come up with something to try.

Noah Pransky, you have anything to add?

Ayep. Throw another data point on the fire for “Stuart Sternberg, not so much crazy as crazy like a fox.”

Saturday roundup: Manfred endorses Tampontreal Ex-Rays, NYCFC readies Bronx stadium plan (maybe), everybody in Nashville sues everybody else

Man, I sure picked the wrong week to get so sick that I couldn’t post for a couple of days! But even if it’s now the weekend and I’m only at about 80%, the news is at 110%, so let’s get to it:

  • First up is Thursday’s declaration by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred that he and baseball owners are “100% convinced” that having the Tampa Bay Rays play half their games in Montreal “is best way to keep Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay.” That’s not entirely surprising — I mean, it’s surprising that we have a major sports executive saying that the best way to keep a team from moving is to let it move half its games, but no more surprising than when Rays owner Stuart Sternberg first said it last June — since it’s very rare for sports commissioners and fellow owners to stand in the way of their fellow owners’ stadium or relocation plans, especially if it doesn’t infringe on their territories. (Speaking of territories, Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said, “We are supportive of them exploring it,” if you were wondering.) The plan itself remains, in the words of the great unemployed sports editor Barry Petchesky, “completely batshit,” not least because it would require getting not one but two cities to build not one but two new stadiums just to land half a team, but also for a billion other reasons. It still makes the most sense as a Madman Theory strategy by Sternberg to scare Tampa Bay or Montreal into competing to build him at least one stadium — can you imagine the headlines to come about “Montreal is moving ahead with its stadium while Tampa lags behind?” or vice versa? — but sports owners are just rich, not necessarily smart, so who the hell knows what Sternberg really intends to do? Whatever it is, though, he’ll have Manfred’s support, because Manfred knows who signs his checks.
  • NYC F.C.‘s plan for a new stadium just south of Yankee Stadium has been reportedly almost ready for more than a year and a half now, but now it’s supposedly really almost ready, according to a different New York Times reporter than the one who reported the initial rumor. The outline of the plan remains roughly the same: The Yankees owners, who are minority owners of the MLS club, would allow the city to demolish a parking garage that their lease otherwise requires remain in place, a private developer would take the garage and a parcel across the street and the street itself (plus a highway off-ramp) and build housing and a hotel and other stuff on part of it while leasing the rest to NYC F.C. to build a stadium on, which would — again, supposedly — allow the whole thing to move forward without public money being used for construction. Being used for other things is another story: The Times doesn’t mention whether the team or developers would pay the city anything for the section of East 153rd Street that would need to be demapped and buried beneath a soccer pitch, or how much the developers would pay to lease the garage site, or if either parcel would pay property taxes. (The Times reports that “Maddd and N.Y.C.F.C. [would] convey the [street] property to the city” then lease it back, which certainly sounds like an attempt to evade property taxes.) City officials said that “a deal has not been reached, and more conversations are needed,” so maybe none of these things have even been decided; tune back in soon, or maybe in another year and a half!
  • The lawsuit filed by Save Our Fairgrounds claiming that Nashville S.C. stadium project would take up too much public land needed for other uses is moving to trial, and Nashville S.C. has sued to intervene in their lawsuit, and everybody’s trying to figure out if NASCAR and soccer can coexist on adjacent parcels, and soccer fans are mad that that stadium isn’t getting built yet, and the community coalition that negotiated a community benefits agreement to go along with the stadium plan is mad that nobody’s consulting them about any of this. It’s only a matter of time before Jimmy Carter is called in to resolve this.
  • Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont has put $55 million into his state budget proposal over the next two years to renovate Hartford’s arena, with the rest of the cost — estimated at between $100 million and $250 million, depending on how extensive it is — to be paid off by private investors who would get … something. The state is studying it now! Get off their back!
  • A bunch of the Carolina Panthers fans who bought “permanent seat licenses” to help finance the team’s stadium back in 1993 have found that the “permanent” part isn’t actually so much true: About 900 seats in the front of one end zone are being ripped out to make way for luxury suites for soccer (or a standing-room “supporters’ section — the latter makes more sense, but the Charlotte Observer article on this is frustratingly unclear), so fans with PSLs there are being offered either to move to other nearby locations or to sell their licenses back to the team for 25% over what they initially paid for them. No wonder everyone else started calling them “personal” seat licenses!
  • Also, the Panthers are having their stadium property tax bill reduced by $3.5 million a year, because they asked nicely. Or just asked, and are a major sports franchise and therefore an 800-pound gorilla, with all the privileges that go with that. One of those two.
  • The Jacksonville Jaguars are going to play two home games in London next year, which the team’s website says is “strategically aligned” with development in their Jacksonville stadium’s parking lot, somehow, though is one extra week of construction time really going to help them all that much? Or maybe this is some weird kind of brinkmanship, as in “approve our Lot J development, stat, or we’ll keep moving games to London?” Anyway, cue people freaking out about the Jaguars moving to London again now, which team owner Shad Khan can’t be unhappy about because savvy negotiators and leverage and all that.
  • A poll by the Oakland Athletics on where the team should build a new stadium found that Oakland residents backed the team’s preferred Howard Terminal site by 63-29%, but a poll by a group that opposes the Howard Terminal plan found that residents prefer the current Oakland Coliseum site by a 62-29% margin. Reminder: Polls are garbage!
  • This video of an entire Russian hockey arena collapsing during reconstruction work, with a worker clearly visible on the roof as it gives way, doesn’t actually have much to with stadium subsidies, but it sure is impressive-looking, in a horrific way.

Rays exec threatens St. Pete that if team can’t leave before 2028, it will stay

The extremely confusing Tampa Bay Rays stadiums talks with the city of St. Petersburg took a lurch — backwards? sideways? — yesterday when team president Brian Auld told city council members that team owner Stuart Sternberg won’t allow the city to start working on redeveloping their existing stadium site before 2028 unless the city allows Sternberg to start exploring moving at least some fames out of Tampa Bay before then:

Council members Amy Foster and Darden Rice both said Auld, in his meetings with them this week, referenced a quote from former St. Petersburg city attorney John Wolfe that appeared in a July 15, 2019 Tampa Bay Times article about the redevelopment of Tropicana Field.

The Trop’s use agreement binds the team to the city. But Wolfe, who wrote the contract, said it could also be used by the team to bind the city.

“They could certainly delay it for years if they wanted to,” Wolfe told the Times, regarding any attempt to develop the land without the Rays’ permission.

Rice said the message was clear: If the Rays are forced to abide by the Trop’s use agreement and stay in St. Petersburg through 2027, then the team is prepared to exercise its rights against the city.

This honestly doesn’t seem to be all that much of a threat, given that: 1) the city already has rights to develop the Tropicana Field parking lots, and it would be tough to build anything on top of the stadium itself without tearing it down first, which would require the team being elsewhere, 2) it would take a few years to get a development plan in place regardless, and the Rays’ lease only extends another 7+ years at this point, 3) Sternberg right now can talk to other cities about moving there, he just can’t talk about moving there before 2028, and 4) St. Pete has to share redevelopment proceeds with Sternberg if any new construction happens before 2028, but gets all the revenues to itself after that. So really this comes down to Let us consider leaving before 2028, or else we’ll stay until then. Which is really just a restatement of St. Peterburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s underlying dilemma, such as it is: He wants the Rays to stay, but he also wants the Tropicana Field land, and he can’t have both at once.

All of which remains a distraction from the fact that Sternberg doesn’t have another stadium to move to, let alone two stadiums if he’s really intent on going ahead with his Tampontreal Ex-Rays gambit. But in the meantime, if he wants to try to leverage Kriseman’s hunger to get his hands on the Trop land to get to get permission to consider leaving town in, say, 2025 instead of 2028, it’s the only leverage play he has at the moment.

This calls for a check in to see what Noah Pransky’s Shadow of the Stadium says about the latest twist:

But hey, at least Sternberg got a news story out of it that says he’s playing “hardball”! That’s got to be worth a few congratulatory slaps on the back at the next owners’ meeting.

St. Pete mayor declares talks of new Rays stadium before 2028 “concluded,” but not talks before 2028 of new Rays stadium (read it again, you’ll get it)

Back six weeks ago when St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman was saying it was no big deal if Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg wanted to look at moving his team before his lease expires at the end of 2027 — despite a lease clause explicitly prohibiting that — it looked like Kriseman was all set on playing good cop in the team’s stadium squabble, possibly with an eye toward getting hold of the land under the team’s current home of Tropicana Field. Now not so much, as Kriseman has declared that the Rays leaving before 2027 is something up with which he will not put:

Kriseman told city council members in a letter that negotiations over the Rays’ pitch to split the season between St. Petersburg and Montreal have concluded. The mayor added that team officials declined a new offer to renew the memo of understanding that would’ve allowed the team to explore a future full-time stadium in the Tampa Bay area — not just in St. Pete or Pinellas County.

Here’s the full letter from Kriseman, of which the key paragraphs are:

Negotiations between the City of St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays Organization related to the ‘shared season’ concept have concluded. Both parties have agreed that the best path forward is to abide by the existing use agreement with the understanding that the agreement allows for the Rays Organization to explore post-2027 split or full season opportunities, both in St. Petersburg and elsewhere.
In accordance with the existing use agreement, should the Rays Organization wish to continue exploration of the shared season concept with Montreal, that exploration must be limited to the 2028 season and beyond.

Okay, so what does this all mean? The Rays’ lease prohibits the team’s owner from so much as talking to other cities about moving any home games out of St. Pete before 2028 — which would rule out the team moving to Tampa across the bay, or moving half its games to Montreal, or anything else that didn’t keep 100% of Rays home games in their current city. But it’s only the move that can’t happen before 2028, not the talks: Thanks to a late amendment to the Rays’ 1996 lease, Sternberg can talk all he want about new stadiums elsewhere, he just can’t do so with a goal of moving there before 2028.

Which, honestly, at this point is pretty unlikely anyway: Neither Tampa nor Montreal nor any other prospective Rays relocation city has anything close to a stadium plan in place, so when you add the time it would take to put financing together to the time it would take to build a whole new ballpark, you’re already about halfway to 2028. All Kriseman has done here is to say to Sternberg, “If you want a new stadium sooner than eight years from now, you’ll have to do so in St. Pete,” which honestly isn’t a terrible use of what leverage he has. (Assuming that keeping the Rays in St. Pete is really what’s best for St. Pete, which given the tremendous public subsidies Sternberg is looking for may not be the case at all.)

It also means that fears that this will immediately drive the Rays out of town — hey there, Tampa Bay Times sports columnist John Romano — are almost certainly overblown, because not allowing the team to leave town until 2028 doesn’t actually make it harder for the team to leave town. Sternberg will now almost certainly continue talks with Montreal and Tampa and anywhere else with an eye toward 2028, but will presumably continue them with St. Petersburg as well — unless he chooses to cut off Kriseman out of spite, which would be a dangerous thing to do in a game with only so many bidders. Sternberg’s calculus remains the same: Stay put in a metro area with a decent-sized media market but a crappy attendance record or relocate to a smaller market (or in Montreal’s case, another decent-sized market with its own historic attendance woes) and roll the dice that this will make you more money.

I expect that Sternberg’s decision, much like the MLB decision that stripped Montreal of the Expos in the first place in 2004, will ultimately have a lot to do with who offers the most lucrative stadium deal, which right now is “nobody.” This Kriseman gambit definitely makes things interesting, but I imagine it’s going to be years before we know how, or if, it affects the Rays’ ultimate fate.

St. Pete mayor says Rays owner asked about Montreal move before 2028, is maybe not world’s best negotiator

Yesterday was a no good, very bad day, but we can’t let that distract us from all the other no-goodness going on in the world. And yesterday that was news that St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he’d received a “formal” request from Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to play half their home games in Montreal before the team’s use agreement allows it starting in 2028. Sort of, maybe?

On Wednesday, city policy chief Kevin King said the team has made a formal request to play home games in Montreal before 2027.

“Yes, long ago,” he said by phone, before deferring to the mayor.

Kriseman, shortly thereafter, initially would not confirm the team made a formal request, saying only that the Rays have “clearly expressed their desire to explore a split season with Montreal.”

Later in the conversation, the mayor confirmed the request met the “formal” threshold.

“I guess you could consider it to be…” the mayor said before trailing off. “It was much more specific so I guess you could consider it to be a formal request.”

Kriseman said the request was oral and that nothing has been put in writing. He said he couldn’t remember at what point the request went from “informal” to “formal.” Nor would he say what exactly the team asked for, or any concessions the team offered.

Many, many questions here! First off, since that use agreement explicitly forbids Sternberg from talking to anyone about playing home games outside St. Peterburg before 2028 (not, as previously thought, from talking to anyone before 2028 about playing home games outside St. Petersburg, thanks to a late amendment to the terms made way back in 1995), did Kriseman demand anything in return for Sternberg not shutting his trap about it immediately? Are the two sides in negotiation over this? And most important, where the hell would Sternberg be playing games, since his original Tampontreal Ex-Rays plan required building two new stadiums, one in Canada and one in Florida, and if they’re really going to be playing in them by 2024 as Sternberg says he wants, they really better get on that?

The obvious suspicion, of course, is — here, let’s let Shadow of the Stadium’s Noah Pransky say it, he’s earned the right to be the interpreter of Sternberg’s madness:

If it’s leverage, though, it’s leverage of a weird kind: Everyone knows that Sternberg can leave in 2028 for nothing, so making demands about leaving earlier when your lease says you can’t and you have nowhere to play then anyway is an oddly empty threat. I suppose getting the Montreal talk back in the headlines increases pressure on both Kriseman and Tampa stadium backers (and, for that matter, Montreal stadium backers) to take action on funding a stadium — since that’s something Kriseman has made clear he’s not interested in doing himself — but then why on earth is Kriseman the one leaking this news about the move request, and not indicating that he’d shot it down? Even if he secretly wants the Rays to leave his city so he can redevelop the Tropicana Field property, as some have suggested, isn’t making Sternberg’s arguments for him in the media pretty much the opposite of savvy negotiating?

Anyway, the Rays playing home games in two countries at once still makes no sense except as an idle threat, but given that we’ve seen sports team owners make incredibly dumb moves before just to show they’re willing to carry out idle threats, we can’t entirely rule it out as a possibility. This is the kind of story that calls for a robust sports media with a keen sense of how politics works to ferret out what’s really going on, and … like I said, it was a no good, very bad day.

Friday roundup: How Kansas City evicted a team for rent non-payment and ended up costing itself $1m, and other stories

This week’s recommended reading: Girl to City, Amy Rigby’s just-published memoir of the two decades that took her from newly arrived art student in 1970s New York to divorced single mom and creator of the acclaimed debut album Diary of a Mod Housewife. (Disclosure, I guess: I edited an early version of one chapter for the Village Voice last year.) I picked up my copy last week at the launch of Rigby’s fall book tour, and whether you love her music or her long-running blog (guilty as charged on both counts) or enjoy tales of CBGB-era proto-gentrifying New York or coming-of-age-stories about women balancing self-doubt and determination or just a perfectly turned punchline, I highly recommend it: Like her best songs, it made me laugh and cry and think, often at the same time, and that’s all I can ask for in great art.

But first, read this news roundup post, because man, is there a lot of news to be rounded up: