Manfred drops R-word regarding Rays, sports world fails to freak out

I’ve picked on MLB commissioner Rob Manfred before for being really bad at levying relocation threats in order to shake loose stadium subsidies, one of the two main jobs of a sports commissioner. (The other, of course, is levying lockout threats in order to shake loose union concessions.) But maybe, just maybe, Manfred is starting to get the hang of it. When asked about the Tampa Bay Rays‘ stadium situation:

Manfred, during a Q-and-A session at the George Washington University School of Business, did not set any deadlines or issue any ultimatums, but said that at some point if there is no progress the potential of relocation would have to be raised…

“Ultimately, there has to be an end game. If in fact, there’s not a site or there’s not a financial arrangement that’s viable and we become convinced of that, our rules allow for the possibility of relocation.
“At that point of desperation, it’s possible a team would be allowed to relocate.”

That’s a little passive-voice, but not too bad otherwise! The real test, though, is whether it led to a flurry of frantic headlines about how Manfred is threatening to move the Rays if they don’t get a new stadium, stat:

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-8-44-10-amWell, then. Maybe he should try speaking more from the diaphragm? I hear that helps.

Rays owner conducted study of moving to Montreal, says a guy

So on Sunday, this happened:


For those of you who ne parlent pas français:

Serious! Stewart Sternberg, owner of the Tampa Bay Rays RECENTLY funded a study of viability of a stadium in Griffintown. Sternberg is the main shareholder (48%) of the Rays he wishes to move and not sell and Mtl, is top of the list. Griffintown would be the ideal site. It’s two small steps from downtown.

According to Patrice Derome (hi, Patrice!), Trudel — whose Twitter bio describes him as a “journaliste et commentateur sportif sans attache,” which is exactly what it sounds like — subsequently went on the radio and said that the study was conducted a few months back. What the study consisted of, and what it found, I couldn’t tell you.

I’d be tempted to say this is just Sternberg trying to throw a scare into Tampa Bay area cities, except that if so, you’d think he’d have leaked it to a journalist avec attache, at least. Though since, as Noah Pransky notes at Shadow of the Stadium, this would potentially be a violation of the Rays lease clause that only allows Sternberg to look at alternate stadium sites within the bay area, maybe he had to go super-stealth mode on this? Or maybe he’s really considering moving the team to Montreal, or doing due diligence to see how expensive a Tampa Bay stadium would have to be before it would be worth his while to move, or just wanted an excuse to try some of those funny bagels. We’re deep, deep into speculation here, so please no freaking out and/or getting to excited just yet, especially since the Rays can’t leave Tampa Bay until 2027 regardless, at which point the onrushing death of cable will likely have made the sports business market unrecognizable anyway.

The Rays, for their part, promptly said nothing at all:

Hillsborough candidates agree: Tax somebody to pay for Rays stadium, just not sure who

The invaluable Noah Pransky of WTSP-TV (and the Shadow of the Stadium blog) has polled candidates for the Hillsborough County commission (that’s the county with Tampa in it) on where they stand on public funding for a new Rays stadium, and the survey says:

Sandy Murman (District 1 incumbent): Opposed to “a sales tax increase or use of general revenue” for a stadium, but not necessarily opposed to other forms of public funding.

Jeff Zampitella (District 1 challenger): Opposed to using general revenues, fine with hotel taxes, sales taxes, property tax breaks, or pretty much anything else.

Les Miller (District 3 incumbent, not being challenged): “We have to figure out a way to pay for it and not ask taxpayers to pay for a new stadium.”

Jim Norman (District 6 incumbent): Wouldn’t answer, but “has a long record of supporting stadium subsidies for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”

Tim Schock (District 6 challenger): Would likely support hotel taxes only for a stadium, wants the state to be on the hook for anything else.

John Dicks (District 6 challenger): Supports using both hotel taxes and a Community Redevelopment Area, which is essentially a TIF-style property tax kickback. Plus state money.

Pat Kemp (District 6 challenger): Would “likely oppose” general fund spending, but “might support” TIF money or parking revenues.

Tom Scott (District 6 challenger): Yes to using hotel taxes, no to anything else.

Brian Willis (District 6 challenger): Yes to hotel taxes, rental car fees, and state money, so long as it’s no more than half the total stadium cost.

Add it all up and hotel tax money sounds like a consensus pick — which would better news for Rays owner Stuart Sternberg if not for the fact that best estimates are that these would only be enough to pay off maybe $75 million in construction costs, which isn’t going to get very far toward building a whole new stadium. This sounds like it’s going to be one of those “collect pails of money from wherever you can find them” negotiations, which usually end up resorting to something totally crazy because it’s the only option that nobody outright hates.

It’s still very early, but all the “we have to get something done, we just need to figure out how to pay for it” talk is not a good starting point at all if you’re concerned about public subsidies. Add in that this is inevitably shaping up to be a Tampa-vs.-St. Petersburg bidding war — or at least a Hillsborough-vs.-Pinellas County bidding war — and it’s probably time to be very worried indeed. Winning the right to pit different localities against each other for the right to throw money at his team may have been the best deal that Sternberg ever made; St. Peterburg really should have asked for a bigger buyout, but they didn’t ask me, now did they?

Rays start crowdsourcing stadium ideas, so long as they’re ideas they already want

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is clearly in the “building momentum” part of his new-stadium campaign: After making a nearly endless list of possible stadium sites (without discussing yet how any of them would be paid for, because that gets people thinking about price, and you always want to avoid that as long as possible), Rays execs have now launched a website called where fans can chime in on what they want to see in a new stadium.

The site offers two places to enter your comments, the first being the prompt “I imagine…” and room to write anything you want. Among the featured comments are “I Imagine An Intimate, Waterfront Ballpark That Will Be Here For Years To Come” and “I Imagine A Retractable Dome Because Of The Unpredictable Summer Weather,” which leads me to believe that the comments are being edited heavily, both to ensure that everyone uses proper initial-caps style and to edit out “I Imagine DEEZ NUTS.”

The second poll is a multiple-choice one: “What words describe the ballpark you imagine?” The options are:

  • Year-round
  • Intimate
  • Organic
  • Breathtaking
  • Welcoming
  • Cutting-edge
  • Icon
  • Seamless

Leaving aside that this sounds like a list of rejected Divergent factions, you’ll note that they’re all characteristics that a team owner would stress in their marketing materials — there’s no “Privately funded” or “Easy to get to” or “Affordable tickets” on the list. (Yeah, I know “Affordable tickets” isn’t an adjective, but neither is “Icon.”) And sorry, no write-in adjectives allowed.

Ultimately, this is a website-as-push-poll, where in the guise of soliciting fan opinion, the Rays ownership is selling how totally awesome it would be to have a new breathtaking, cutting-edge stadium. They might even eventually incorporate a couple of fan-submitted ideas — judging from the video on the site, something including a place to play catch on the beach, and a barbershop where you can get a Rays-colored mohawk — but the real point of this is what they’re selling you, not what you’re telling them.

Rays stadium site could come down to which county will throw more public money at it

Another possible Tampa Bay Rays stadium site has been added to the long list being explored by Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, which I suppose is news if you’re keeping score at home. This one is in St. Petersburg on the bay near the Gandy Bridge to Tampa, and it’s in a flood zone and would need lots of water and sewer lines run and road improvements, but here, let the Tampa Bay Times explain why they think it’s promising:

At 39 acres, it’s large enough for a stadium and all the extras the Rays envision. It’s owned by a local couple who wants to sell, which could simplify negotiations. The nearby roads are already slated for substantial improvements, easing access to the somewhat isolated property. It’s a natural stop for the proposed Tampa to St. Petersburg ferry, if that initiative ever materializes. It’s also in a county that has already reserved bed tax money for a new ballpark.

Wait, say that last part again? Pinellas County has set aside hotel tax money for a new Rays stadium? When did that happen? (Scrolls through list of Rays posts, Googles.) Okay, there’s this from one year ago:

Pinellas County commissioners agreed Tuesday to add a sixth cent to the so-called tourist bed tax but now have to decide what to do with the money.

The increased tax on nightly hotel stays takes effect Jan. 1 and will add about $7 million a year to the county’s tourist tax collections. In addition, another $7 million will be available after the bonds used to build Tropicana Field are paid off in September.

That’s not exactly “reserved,” especially since there are other projects that would like to use the same tax money, but it is “available,” I suppose. The Times appears to be moving the goalposts a little, though, to where the $14 million is considered set aside for the Rays. That would be enough to pay off maybe $200 million or so in construction costs, which while it would still leave a long way to go towards full funding, would be an awfully nice start for Rays owner Stuart Sternberg — and a rather large chunk of change for Pinellas residents to dedicate to a private baseball stadium, especially when the team is almost certainly going to stay in the metro area regardless.

Either way, it seems like Sternberg is playing this exactly right in terms of maximizing his leverage: By considering every site under the sun, he can get Tampa, St. Pete, and the two counties bidding against each other, and right now Pinellas’ advantage is that it has more available hotel tax money to burn than Hillsborough. Whether you consider getting a stadium on your side of the bay by throwing more public money at it “winning” is another story entirely.

Rays still have no idea where they want to build stadium, how to pay for it

Tampa Bay Rays execs met with Hillsborough County and city of Tampa officials yesterday to discuss possible stadium sites, and boy, did they discuss a lot of them:

They spent nearly two hours going over nine sites both inside and outside the Tampa city limits — seven presented by the Hillsborough group, two more by the Rays…

Afterward, the Rays would not discuss any of the sites. Elected officials confirmed only a partial list: the Tampa Park Apartments site near downtown, the Jefferson High School site in West Shore, docks near Ybor City now used by International Ship Repair, the Florida State Fairgrounds east of the city and the Heights property just north of Interstate 275.

Not all these sites are necessarily available — the developer of the Heights site, for example, told the Tampa Bay Times, “we’re excited about [our] project; it doesn’t include a baseball stadium” — but they’re throwing them all into the hopper regardless. Rays president Brian Auld said the team will sit down with Pinellas County officials at a later date to identify possible sites on the other side of the bay.

All this is fine enough due diligence, and a necessary first step if the Rays want to determine where a stadium could go, and more important, how much it might cost. Buried way, way down at the bottom of the TB Times piece is this snippet on funding of any new stadium, wherever it might end up:

Based on where a stadium was built, officials have said there could be up to 10 different sources of funding. Along with money from the team, those could include property taxes earmarked for community redevelopment in areas like downtown Tampa, rental car surcharges, some hotel bed taxes, money authorized by the Legislature, ticket user fees and foreign investment available through the federal government’s EB-5 visa program.

In other words, “We don’t know yet where a stadium might go, or how to pay for it.” For all the kerfuffle over St. Petersburg not letting the Rays out of their lease until recently, these are still the main issues keeping the team from building a new stadium, and they’re not going to resolved easily or, it looks like, soon. Stay tuned.

Tampa Bay Times really can’t stop cheerleading for a new Rays stadium, can it?

Monday morning, and time for Bad Journalism Theater! Let’s get right to it with our first contestant, the Tampa Bay Times, “winner of 10 Pulitzer prizes”:

As the Tampa Bay Rays broaden their search for stadium sites, the 23 acres under the Tampa Park Apartments have emerged as a promising possibility. … But behind the scenes, the complex’s nonprofit owner is embroiled in a 2-year-old lawsuit it filed against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And HUD officials wonder whether the case has its roots in the property’s potential value to the Rays.

There’s nothing wrong with the reporting here — all of the above is accurate. But the framing is incredibly skewed: The Tampa Park Apartments site, which is controversial because it would require relocating 372 low-income families who currently live there and probably a historic school and a church as well, is suddenly portrayed as “promising,” with the one little snag being the fact that the site’s owner doesn’t want to pay her bills, or maybe she already paid them and HUD lost the money, depending on who you believe. (There’s a bunch of stuff about the eviction issues in the Times article, but they don’t start until the 23rd paragraph, and who has time to scroll that far down these days when there are new tweets to check out?)

Okay, that’s not all that terrible journalism, though it’s always worrisome when stadium plans enter the “how can we clear the remaining obstacles?” stage while skipping over the “is this a good idea?” stage. Let’s move on to contestant number two, which is — hey, look, it’s the Tampa Bay Times again! This time with a profile of the Rays vice president in charge of planning a new stadium, who has this to say about it:

Pressed for details, Lenz, the Rays senior vice president for strategy and development, mentions infusing Tampa Bay’s water and abundant sunshine into the bones of a new stadium, but she’s mum on specifics: capacity, upper decks or retractable roofs.

And … that’s it. Lenz apparently wouldn’t say anything about her stadium plans, and instead of the Times killing the story for having no actual news, we get 38 paragraphs about her “salt-of-the-earth genuineness and small-town Pennsylvania charm,” her “mix of toughness and likability,” and the time she got hit by a pitch while playing Little League and told her concerned mom to “get off the field.” Plus a photo of her standing on a baseball field while holding an adorable child.

This is the kind of puff piece that should be taught in journalism school as how not to waste valuable column inches, and would be a winner in today’s faceoff just on those grounds, but it has an ace in the hole as well: That phrase “infusing Tampa Bay’s water and abundant sunshine into the bones of a new stadium” should also be taught in journalism school as a way never ever to mix a metaphor. Unless Lenz secretly works for Weapon X, in which case never mind, it’s great.

Rays owner demands more corporate spending before he’ll build stadium that he’s the one asking for

Now that Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has his get-out-of-St.-Petersburg-cheap card, he’s focusing on the more important things: arm-twisting local businesses into buying more tickets.

“We can canvas everything over a period of time with the assistance of Hillsborough and Pinellas. It’s going to be up to them in a lot of ways to bring out the business and show us that there’s some support,” he said.

Sternberg said it won’t take millions of dollars from area businesses, but he would like to see support in the form of season-ticket sales and luxury suites.

“We’re going to have to first, most importantly, say, ‘What’s it going to take for you to support us?’ ” Sternberg said. “Does it matter where we are? My sense is the answer is yes, it does matter. And OK, why does it matter? And if so, where should we be? And we’ll triangulate it in, and some will say here, and some will say Bradenton, and somebody will say Clearwater and somebody will say Derby Lane, and eventually it’s sort of like we’re going to have a caucus.”

This isn’t a terrible idea — if you’re going to build a new stadium, it does make sense to first figure out whether where you build it is going to affect how many tickets you can sell. (Though this is really something Sternberg might have wanted to look into before spending years insisting that his current stadium location was the reason he wasn’t selling enough tickets, but whatever.) Still, there’s an element here of “show us the money, and then we’ll consider building a new stadium,” which doesn’t make much sense as an ultimatum given that it’s Sternberg who wants the new stadium so he can make more money — if businesses don’t want to support the team regardless, then maybe the stadium isn’t the problem? Just a thought.

Some Canadian suggests Montréal and Tampa sharing Rays, people take it seriously because February

How can you tell it’s a slow time for sports news? When you get a Montréal newspaper (La Presse, in this case) writing that hey, what if the Tampa Bay Rays didn’t totally move to Montréal, but just played half their home games there? Via Google Translate:

According to information obtained by La Presse, the idea of “joint ownership” of Rays with the current owners circulates behind the scenes, not to completely relocate the team to Montreal, but to have “shared custody” in some so.

The Rays would play half their games of the season “regular” in Montreal and the other half in Tampa. One way to help the club in Florida and reduce the bill for potential buyers, here.

“The bite would be less fat, says a source involved in the reflection. You do not have to sign a check for 600 million US, but 300 million. That would dampen spending, but also the risk, given that the team would be attached to both markets simultaneously.”

Hey, that actually makes … no real sense at all. Both cities are fine enough smallish MLB markets, but if what Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is after is a new stadium, he’d then be faced with figuring out how to get two built instead of one — the only place to play baseball in Montréal right now is Olympic Stadium, which is even older and more unpleasantly domed than Tropicana Field. La Presse seems to think that the Rays could make more TV money this way somehow — “‘There would be no 50% discount for the sponsor because the TV rights are sold to two different broadcasters. It’s win-win!’ said an anonymous source” — but this assumes that both Tampa Bay and Montréal fans would be just as interested in half a team as in a whole team, which seems dubious from here.

The last team I can recall trying something like this on more than an interim basis was the Virginia Squires of the ABA, who split their time among Norfolk, Hampton, Richmond, and Roanoke, which are at least within driving distance of each other, not to mention in the same country. The Montreal Bay Rayspos, on the other hand … sorry, there’s no reason to take this seriously based on “reflection” “behind the scenes.”

Unless you’re Tampa Bay Times sportswriter Marc Topkin, who’s never met an opportunity to stump for a new Rays stadium he didn’t like, of course:

A creative, if not desperate, idea to bring baseball back to Montreal was floated today in the the French language newspaper La Presse — buying the Rays and having them play half their home games in Canada and half in the Tampa Bay area.

The idea of “joint ownership” and “shared custody” is said to be circulating “behind the scenes” among Montreal baseball interests, François Cardinal writes.

How many more days till pitchers and catchers, already?

Rays deliver stadium wish list: lots of space, ballpark village, oodles of public cash

In advance of their first stadium talks with Tampa officials on Friday — which were held, no joke, in a Rays team store — Tampa Bay Rays execs released their one-page wish list for a new stadium. The highlights:

  • “The site should be approximately 20 acres in size and support the geometry necessary to accommodate a professional baseball playing surface.” Duh, though not wanting to be wedged into a confined space could spell difficulties for Tampa’s plan to build a stadium on the site of a low-income housing project.
  • “Create an authentic sense of place around the facility and develop a come early-stay late culture around home games.” This is way easier said than done, especially since most baseball games take place immediately after work; it probably best translates as “We want one of them ballpark districts like all the other cool teams have.”
  • The stadium “should honor the rich history of baseball in Tampa Bay.” Presumably this means a statue of Evan Longoria, or maybe even Longoria himself, bronzed and placed out in front of the main gate.
  • “The ability to structure a public-private partnership that would support the construction of the Rays next generation ballpark is critical.” This is the big one (hence that “critical”), and translates as “gimme some money.” While Rays owner Stuart Sternberg would probably love lots of acreage and something allowing him to pretend that Tampa Bay has a rich baseball history, this is going to come down to a building where he can make the biggest profit, and the best way to do that is to spend the least out of his own pocket to begin with. And come on, right now the guy can’t even afford apostrophes, so take pity on him, okay?

As for the meeting itself, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said afterwards that “I’m cautiously optimistic that at the end of the day we’ll be able to find a long-term solution that’s  mutually beneficial for the entire Tampa Bay region,” which means exactly nothing. (Can you envision a scenario, including one where the two sides started grabbing Raymond bobbleheads off the shelves and flinging them at each other, where Hagan would not have said this afterwards?) While it may seem like the Rays stadium war has been going on forever, it’s only just begun in earnest.