I can hear it already from the usual baseball stadium opponents “See what happened in Miami! They Spent $2.4 Billion on a stadium, the owner sold off the stars and nobody is showing up” and frankly on the surface it appears to be a very convincing argument. But just like Obamacare, the devil is in the details. Sure everyone wants free healthcare…but guess what? It’s not free. It’s a lie. So is that argument.
The Marlins and owner Jeffry Loria are the complete antithesis to the Rays and Stu Sternberg. The organizations have completely opposite philosophies. The only things they share are the same state and the fact they are both top 15 TV markets and growing in the opposite direction of the water! The Marlins spent money like drunken sailors last off-season handing out gigantic contracts to Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell for over $191 million. The Rays spend prudently (OK, maybe too prudently some years) and build through player development. Today’s Marlins trade with the Blue Jays finalizes a fire sale that will save Loria $168 million in guaranteed money. His payroll for next year stands at about $34 million, which wouldn’t be the interest payment on his shiny new ballpark provided by the City of Miami’s crooked politicians. The fans and taxpayers are outraged and rightfully so. (I have proposed if we do build the Rays a new ballpark they should be compelled to keep payroll in the upper half of baseball. But that’s an argument for another time) Loria pulled the old bait and switch! What next, hire Fidel Castro as the play-by-play man? Could this happen here in Tampa Bay? Not if we do things the right way and avoid the tragic mistakes that have left the Marlins stadium saga smelling like month old fish.
First from a baseball perspective, the Rays and Sternberg will never do what the Marlins have done in terms of over spending and under delivering…because they will NEVER over spend. That’s a good thing. Sure there are seasons when a little more payroll could have pushed them into or further into the playoffs but their approach has kept them consistently winning and profitable. Remember, attendance does not equal revenue! With revenue sharing and Central fund dollars the rays are doing just fine. Sternberg is not dumb enough to bait the fans with inflated star contracts so there will be no Miami Meltdown.
The problem with Miami’s stadium plan is location, location, location…and yes a very poor financing model. Tampa Bay should not make the same mistakes and I fear the Carillon proposal or anything in Pinellas County would go the way of the Miami mess. The Little Havana location for the new Marlins Park was force fed to Miami-Dade taxpayers (no vote) by politicians who were terrified to lose the now Stinky Fish to another city or a more centralized South Florida location like Broward County. Broward (Fort Lauderdale) is much more centralized to the demographic population that typically goes to baseball games and would have been a much smarter choice. (Downtown Tampa?) Sound familiar Mayor Foster? Plus, a multi-county funding plan along with private sector dollars (there was significant interest in Broward County by private investors) would be a much easier sell to voters and certainly makes more sense, as a baseball team is a regional asset and the stadium should be partially financed regionally.
The St. Pete Carillon presentation looks slick on paper but offered no solutions in financing the $600 million project. The Tampa Bay Times poll conducted on November 12th showed almost 70% of St. Pete registered voters did not favor spending public money on a new Rays stadium. Developer Darryl LeClair certainly didn’t pledge any private money to make the Carillon deal work. Could a more centralized Tampa location with a multi-county/private/public sector funding option be possible? How the Hell will we ever know? St. Pete Mayor Foster (whom I respect and like very much) refuses to allow the Rays to even pursue other options outside of St. Pete! This approach will lead to the Rays either leaving town or St. Pete wasting possibly billions on a stadium that would not maximize the regional population that exists to the East of St. Pete and will only grow in that direction. I’m pretty certain there will be no population growth west of St. Pete unless we are counting Grouper and Oil platforms.
On the contrary there is considerable private business interest in building a stadium in downtown Tampa. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is close to purchasing the Channelside Entertainment complex and has invested in downtown real estate north of his Times Forum (Why is all that land still vacant??? Hmmmm?). His right hand man Tod Leiweke is the brother of Tim Leiweke who developed the hugely successful L.A. Live sports/entertainment complex in downtown L.A. Vinik recently hired Robert Canton whose resume includes;
“participating in a wide variety of projects including transactions, performance improvement, project feasibility and strategic planning. Canton has contributed to a number of books including “Handbook of Business Valuation and Intellectual Property Analysis,” “Sports, Convention and Entertainment Facilities,” and “Convention Centers, Stadiums and Arenas.”
Hello? Sounds like some big money private sector folks who can make things happen seeing an opportunity that makes regional dollars and cents. Vinik’s group has denied their interest in building a stadium but why would he want to expose himself to threatened legal action from Mayor Foster? Or.., drive up the price of the real estate he’s buying. Vinik has also endeared himself to locals by his amazing philanthropic campaign that gives away 50K every home game to Lightning Community Heroes! And he’s still doing it through the Lockout! He has moved his business and his family here. He is the greatest owner Tampa Bay has ever known! (OK competition is thin) Folks would be very smart to back Vinik in just about any venture he proposes. Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn has come on my radio show multiple times and voiced his enthusiastic support for a downtown Rays stadium. The public/private atmosphere has never looked better in Tampa. How about St. Pete?
This Miami Meltdown does not need to happen in Tampa Bay and stadium opponents who point to Miami as a similar situation are ignoring the details and obvious differences in organizations. The Miami mess should be a blueprint for how NOT to go about a stadium solution in Tampa Bay. Misguided provincialism and political fear mixed with a horrific baseball ownership/front office produced a dysfunctional stadium Paella that has made Marlins fans sick to their stomachs! Let’s be smarter Tampa Bay and use a much different recipe. That should be much more palatable for Rays fans and taxpayers to swallow.
Sports Radio Personality, Emmy winner, founder of Tampa Bay Sports Central.