Hot-Stove: Of economists, downtown Tampa, and Luke Scott (Updated)

Update: Apparently the Tampa Bay region is unfit for baseball. Technically speaking, football should be added to that list as well, but hey…that’s me. In yet another Stephen Nohlgren article (linked) Stu Sternberg was quoted as saying,

If the team can begin exploring new stadium sites soon, he said, he thought that could generate enough new corporate support and fan excitement to convince other owners that baseball “can be here for another 50 or 100 years.’

Hmm. I fail to see how the lack a of effort in recruiting corporate sponsorship from Raymond James, Progress Energy, Home Shopping Network, or any of the other St. Petersburg/Pinellas County based companies would be any different in a new location. By that line of reasoning, y’all with daughters that are Girl Scouts, should expect people to come to you for cookies. Don’t sit outside of Publix and sell them, and certainly don’t allow them to walk door to door. It’s much easier to complain about a lack of business that way. I reckon that perhaps all of the forces surrounding the Rays should make a valiant effort in righting the ship instead of sinking it. But what do I know? I just write for a blog.

Monday’s Tampa Bay Times featured a Q&A piece on Smith College professor Andrew Zimbalist, someone who has been called America’s pre-eminent sports economist. Zimbalist was asked a few questions by Tampa Bay Times staff writer Stephen Nohlgren, regarding the stadium conundrum. Zimbalist’s conclusion? A new facility should be built in Tampa.

Now before I pick apart the argument presented by Zimbalist, I will say that I agree with him on a few key points. Yes, the Rays do need (and deserve) a new stadium, and yes members of the business community should be attracted to a stadium. After all, in this day and age of bloated payrolls, corporate sponsorship of professional franchises offers another revenue stream as a means to afford the Longo’s and Price’s of the world, without having to pass along any excessive ticket costs to the average fan. This is where our opinions diverge.

Zimbalist asserts that a new facility should be built in downtown Tampa. In his opinion, downtown Tampa is the business mecca of the Tampa bay region, and:

It’s very important in today’s economics that stadiums be located as close to a business district as possible — particularly baseball, that can play six or 7 games a week. It enables the team to attract members of the business community to the stadium at the end of the work day and sell season tickets and premium seating.

Though I agree that a stadium should, ideally, be built in a business district, I believe that Zimbalist may be discounting a couple of things:

A) St. Petersburg has a fair number of Fortune 200 companies located within city limits.
B) St. Petersburg, especially areas in and around downtown, has gone through an economic revitalization of sorts.

St. Pete plays host to America II Electronics, Certegy, Danka, DTI Data, Freedom Scientific, Home Shopping Network, Humana, Payless Car Rental, Progress Energy, Raymond James Financial, Revolution Money, Schell Leather Company, Tech Data, the Times Publishing Company, and ValPac, among many others. In my opinion Zimbalist, by way of Stephen Nohlgren, gives readers the impression that Pinellas County (and St. Petersburg specifically) is a barren wasteland, devoid of any major corporations that could keep the Rays afloat on this side of the bay.

To that end, St. Petersburg has quietly gone through an economic revitalization, especially in the downtown area. Conversely, downtown Tampa has struggled, very publicly I might add, to attract businesses that would make that area a destination worth visiting. This isn’t to say that Tampa resembles the set of the Walking Dead. Rather the trajectory of revitalization between the two downtown areas are on the up and up. However St. Pete seems to be trending upward much more quickly, and organically, than Tampa.

I would also like to point out the pivot in answering the question, will the public have to pay for this? Zimbalist responds with,

In St. Petersburg, they would recover 85 acres that they could sell or lease, and they can extract things from the Rays in a negotiated solution. It would save the city in operating expenses. The citizens of Tampa might have to contribute, if that location is the solution. The citizens of St. Petersburg would be beneficiaries.

We know damn well that the public, regardless of the location, the public will be on the hook for anywhere from 60%-80% of the cost of a new stadium. Lest we forget what happened in Miami.

In the end, I am still not convinced that downtown Tampa is somehow better suited to play host to the Rays…regardless of what America’s pre-eminent sports economist has to say. I will say that a finger of criticism could, and should, be pointed at the Rays for not doing as good of a job at seeking out corporate sponsorship. Perhaps that’s something that should be done before St. Petersburg is pin-pointed as the land unfit to be the home of a major league franchise.

Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors reported that the Rays and Luke Scott have mutual interest in one another. A’int that grand?

The Rays and Luke Scott continue to express mutual interest in signing a new contract, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. Scott has been a free agent since the end of October, when the Rays declined his $6MM option for 2013.

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  1. says

    This comment was in response to a discussion re: 98.7 the Fans calling out of “Rays fans” on the Booger and Rich show this afternoon. I think it’s applicable to the piece above, and I’d really like to see it spark a relevant and coherent discussion. So, here’s to that. Please leave any comments below.

    They made a lot of great points, but I appreciated most that they called people on their, ahem, stuff. If you’re a Rays fan, stop making excuses and go to a few more games per season. Someone is always going to have to drive somewhere, regardless which side of the bay the stadium is located. If you can’t make it during the week because of traffic, cool. Come to a game on Saturday or Sunday. People need to stop making excuses, and get their asses to the Trop. The only point not going to games makes, is that you don’t care enough about the team to support them.

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