Tampa Bay media report on Tampa Bay media’s reporting of Rays-to-Montréal rumors

What do you get when you combine a slow news day, a semi-famous guy in one city looking to promote his campaign to own an MLB team, and a sportswriter in another city looking for something to write about his city’s team’s stadium campaign in which nothing much is happening? That would be this:

Former Montreal Expos icon Warren Cromartie — so popular in Montreal he once had his own candy bar, the CroBar — is mounting a campaign to lure a team back to the francophone city on the St. Lawrence River. Cromartie told The Tampa Tribune on  Tuesday that he isn’t targeting any team specifically, including the Rays.

However, he acknowledges certain teams are struggling with attendance or their finances and he’s more than willing to let baseball writers and sports agents make the Rays-to-Montreal suggestion.

“You know, baseball writers. Those guys. Not like me, Tampa Tribune baseball writer Michael Sasso, who just wrote an article headlined, ‘Could Montreal make a play for Rays?’”

Look, I’ve long said that Montréal is almost certainly the best baseball market in North America without an MLB team, but that doesn’t make Cromartie’s campaign news just yet — as the Tampa Tribune’s Joe Henderson points out, what the Rays are unhappy about in Tampa Bay is that they don’t have anyone offering to build them a new stadium, and all Montréal has is “a sketchy, unfunded plan to build a ballpark.” Still, Henderson did end up writing a whole article about the Rays moving to Montréal, or at least about them threatening to move to Montréal in order to extort a new stadium in Tampa Bay. Stuart Sternberg has got to be really happy for slow news days.

Rays stadium upgrades not really all that after all

We now know how much Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is spending on renovations to Tropicana Field: just $1.3 milion, and it’s not exactly coming out of Sternberg’s pocket:

The bulk of the money for the overhaul is coming from a special stadium capital projects escrow account the city controls.

The account, which currently has a balance of $2.1 million, is funded with naming rights revenues and ticket fees as part of the city’s contract with the Rays. The team can’t spend money from the account without city approval.

The City Council will be asked to approve the $1.3 million project at its Nov. 25 meeting.

Naming rights revenues and ticket fees aren’t actually a bad way to pay for a stadium maintenance fund — it’s certainly better than having to raid the city’s general fund. But this is less Sternberg deciding to pony up to upgrade his current home while still angling to get out of it than Sternberg looking at a pot of money and figuring, hey, sure, 360-degree concourses, it’s either that or put it on a gift certificate. And hopefully this doesn’t mean there won’t be enough money left in the maintenance fund to do actual maintenance, a problem that Florida cities should be familiar with by now.

Rays plan upgrades to Tropicana Field; sun still tentatively set to rise in east

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg made a stadium announcement this week, and it was … that he’s making renovations to Tropicana Field:

The Rays are making a major renovation to Tropicana Field, creating 360-degree circulation by adding walkways behind the outfield seating areas and opening up what was the dark-walled Batters Eye restaurant into an open-air meeting spot for fans.

No word how much Sternberg is spending on spiffing up the building that he said in 2007 had a “shelf life of five years.” But it’s certainly an acknowledgment that he knows the team isn’t going anywhere else in the next few years. Not that that should really be a big secret.

New St. Pete mayor says a lot of stuff about Rays, none of it very specific

Newly anointed St. Petersburg Mayor-Elect Rick Kriseman has spoken out about the Tampa Bay Rays situation, and the highlights, via Noah Pransky’s Shadow of the Stadium, are:

  • He plans to “get familiar” with the Rays execs in the two months before he takes office.
  • “My no. 1 goal is protecting our taxpayers….(the) second thing is, let’s see what’s happened thus far to get us to where we’re at, and what can we do – if anything – to try and make this team successful here?”
  • If the team is adamant about leaving St. Pete, he’s open to letting them look for a stadium site in Tampa.
  • He hopes to have a resolution to the Rays stadium situation within the next four years.

Add it all up, and you still don’t have an awful lot: Kriseman is willing to talk about letting the Rays out of their lease, but not for free, and he hopes to resolve things during this mayoral term. That’s pretty much what his predecessor Bill Foster said this summer, so the real question remains how much Kriseman will demand in exchange for letting the Rays out of their lease early, and whether Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is willing to pay the tab. Plus, of course, that little matter of how to pay for a brand-new stadium in Tampa. But it’s nice to see that Kriseman at least understands that making the Rays Tampa’s problem could be a not at all bad thing for his city — especially if he can get Sternberg to pay him for doing so.

 

St. Pete mayor ousted, Astrodome rehab defeated, and other stadium-related election returns

Travis Waldron of ThinkProgress thoughtfully ran down five elections yesterday with stadium implications, from a vote on rehabbing the Astrodome to decisions on new mayors for cities facing sports venue battles. And the results are:

The big one to watch immediately is clearly the St. Pete mayoral situation, given that Sternberg is undoubtedly going to be one of the first to call on Kriseman wishing to start those promised “conversations.” There are still a heck of a lot of obstacles to the Rays getting a new building — how on earth to pay for it, mostly — but Foster, at least, is no longer one of them.

County looks to take back TIF money that Tampa earmarked for Rays stadium

If you’re the sort of person who obsessively follows the details of the funding plan for the Rays stadium in Tampa that isn’t anywhere near getting built — and jeez, who wouldn’t? — you may recall that the biggest piece is the $100 million in tax-increment financing (essentially kicked-back property taxes) that is supposed to be available for the project.

Slight problem with that, it turns out: As the Tampa Tribune reports this morning (and Noah Pransky’s Shadow of the Stadium re-reports, because the Trib story apparently isn’t online), Hillsborough County is looking to reclaim some of that property tax money rather than letting the city of Tampa hand it over to developers:

“Ideally, it’s not going to be a case going forward where we continue to put 100 percent into the tax increment area,” county manager Mike Merrill said to the Trib

And while the county may ultimately think a baseball stadium is a good use of those dollars too, it stresses a point made on this blog a few months back: potential stadium dollars could be better-used elsewhere.  The Sheriff’s office, school district, county transportation department, and parks & rec department are just a few of the hungry hands hoping for a few more dollars.

If the county succeeds in recouping part of the TIF fund, that would obviously be a blow to Tampa’s hopes of building a new stadium with tax money if the Rays can ever extricate themselves from their St. Petersburg lease. Though probably not as big a blow as the other maybe $300 million that nobody has much idea how to pay for.

Selig doesn’t say anything about Rays stadium situation, but newspapers gotta newspaper

It’s pretty common for newspapers to run non-stories about progress in stadium campaigns, just because somebody in a position of power said, “We’re working on it,” or something equally scintillating. But this piece from the Tampa Bay Times, headlined “Selig, Sternberg to discuss stalled Rays stadium talks,” deserves some kind of award for saying absolutely nothing in the most paragraphs. Check this out:

Commissioner Bud Selig said there have been no breakthroughs in the stalled talks on the Rays stadium situation, and he plans to talk soon with principal owner Stuart Sternberg to determine the next step.

“It’s a situation that needs correction; there’s no other way to put it,” Selig said Saturday before Game 3 of the World Series. “It’s a marvelous organization, competitive every year, and to be last in attendance, you have to be concerned.

“There’s nothing startlingly new about that. It’s a problem, and we need to solve that problem.”

So… Sternberg wants a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, and he isn’t any closer to getting one, and he and Selig are going to talk about it. What does Selig plan to do, exactly?

“I don’t know — Stu and I are going to talk some more,” he said. “Let me get through the World Series.”

Does he at least have a timetable for action, like his sort-of promise to resolve the Oakland A’s stadium situation by the end of next year?

Selig announced plans to leave office in January 2015. Asked Saturday if he expected the Rays situation to be resolved by then, he replied: “I don’t know. I don’t. If I did, I wouldn’t say tonight anyway. But I don’t know.”

So basically the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin cornered Selig, and asked him some questions about a Rays stadium, and Selig shrugged a lot and looked for the exit door, and how do you make a headline out of that? “Selig, Sternberg to discuss stalled Rays stadium talks,” that’s how. Nice work if you can get it.

Selig “satisfied” he’ll resolve A’s situation by end of 2014

MLB commissioner Bud Selig is retiring at the end of next season, in case you missed it — and as Deadspin hilariously points out, if you did miss it, he’ll probably announce it a few times more — but he’s not going to leave without waving a few more vague threats at the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays stadium situations, because that’s his job, after all.

Here’s Selig on Wednesday, talking to CBS Sports’ John Feinstein about the Rays’ last-in-the-league attendance despite a playoff-bound team:

“That’s just disgraceful,” Selig said. “I don’t know how much blunter I can be than that.”

Selig didn’t say whether it’s the Rays management who should be disgraced, or Tampa-area fans, or maybe himself. (He’s retiring in disgrace because he couldn’t figure out how to get a winning team in Tampa Bay make the Rays profitable make people go see baseball games even after the owner spends years telling everyone what a dump his stadium is!) Maybe we can just agree to blame Josh Lueke — I bet everyone could get behind that.

And on the subject of the Oakland Coliseum:

“It’s a pit,” Selig said. “It reminds me of old County Stadium and Shea Stadium. We need to deal with that. I’ve had a committee working on it for two or three years, and there’s no question we’re going to have to solve that problem.”

(Editor’s note: Milwaukee’s County Stadium was decidedly not a pit. With its exposed-steel superstructure and catwalks to get to the upper deck, if you squinted a bit it actually resembled Wrigley Field without the ivy. But we digress.)

But hasn’t the committee been working on it for a long time? What’s the hold-up?

“We have, John, but I’ll tell you it’s far more complex,” Selig said. “Look, you have one team that wants to move and the other team doesn’t want them to move, and it’s a very complicated situation. Before I leave, I’m satisfied we’ll work out something.”

Ooh, is that … a promise? A prediction? An idle statement that Selig hopes everyone will forget about by the end of next season, and if they don’t, he can just talk about how disgraceful it is that everyone couldn’t settle their differences?

I think I’ll go with Door #3, though it’s always possible that that pending San Jose antitrust lawsuit against MLB will shake something loose, even if it’s only getting the San Francisco Giants owners to set a price for territorial rights, which A’s owner Lew Wolff can then decide whether he’s going to match. Still, if you gave me even odds on whether the A’s situation will be resolved by the time Selig finally departs the commissioner’s office, I’d put my money on “leave it for the next guy to handle.”

Rays could win World Series with worst attendance in league

The Tampa Bay Rays are likely headed for the playoffs — again — and also headed for a dismal total attendance — again, though it’s especially impressive that they’re currently dead last in the league, behind even a team that traded away every recognizable player in a salary dump and one that recently drew a 0.00 TV rating. And Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has responded by threatening to cut player payroll next year, because surely that’s going to get people to buy tickets:

“We budget for certain numbers and we’re extraordinarily conservative when it comes to expectations and budgeting, but it was below our expectations,” Sternberg said. “It’s not helpful. We have to change our sights for next year now. “

This would arguably be Sternberg shooting himself in the foot, since any attendance bump he might have gotten from a long postseason run by the Rays (should they manage that) is now likely to be lost as fans fear that next year will see a new parade of no-names like the team across the state. Though it’s somewhat less arguably a way for Sternberg to give himself an excuse if he was planning on cutting payroll anyway. And even less arguably a way to use lousy attendance as a bludgeon in his campaign for a new stadium — something that Deadspin points out he’s been doing pretty much consistently ever since he bought the team:

  • 2009: After raising the payroll to $60 million, Sternberg says it’s “not sustainable” and couldn’t have been achieved without the gate receipts from a playoff run to Game 7 of the ALCS.
  • 2010: Sternberg says he has to drastically reduce payroll, in part because of bad season-ticket renewal rates and overall poor attendance. “For some reason, people are choosing not to come out as they do in other parts of the country for Major League Baseball.”
  • 2011: Sternberg says he can’t spend competitively because it doesn’t translate to attendance. “I could decide to mortgage the future and trade all the young guys,” he said, “But the truth is that we would only get $9.82 extra at the gate. So what’s the sense?”
  • 2012: Sternberg says MLB is losing patience with the team’s attendance figures. “The M.O. to this point in our sport and any other is that winning cures the ills. We’re in brave new ground: Winning hasn’t cured the ills, so to speak.”
  • Spring 2013: Sternberg says the team’s payroll of $60 million is “well higher than it ought to be…The attendance, everyone knows the number.” He predicted increased fan turnout for this season. It obviously didn’t happen.

Sternberg has long insisted that a new stadium would cure his team’s attendance ills, but it’s also worth wondering if maybe this is just the level of attendance that Tampa Bay can support. Which wouldn’t necessarily mean doom for the franchise — hey, some city has to be last in attendance, and the Rays at least draw decent TV ratings, providing a potential alternate revenue stream — but acknowledging it would mean that Sternberg, and MLB, would have to give up hope of Florida taxpayers bailing them out of figuring out how to keep the league’s lower-revenue teams competitive. Which is why you will never ever see Sternberg acknowledge it.

Tampa buying dying shopping mall, and, um, something about Rays stadium, yeah!

The Port of Tampa is looking at buying a moribund shopping mall in Tampa, and omigod Rays stadium Rays stadium Rays stadium:

Buckhorn also said that “a vibrant, active retail center would compliment a stadium not that far away,” so it sounds like there isn’t actually consideration being given to building on the mall site. And anyway, as Shadow of the Stadium’s Noah Pransky points out, “Finding a place for the Rays to play has never been a problem…it’s all about finding the money to build a new stadium.” But I guess it’s still better than starting rumors about moving the team to Oregon.