On Tuesday, the Hillsborough County Commissioners approved a deal between the county and the New York Yankees to improve Steinbrenner Field and extend the Yankees Spring Training for another 20 years in Tampa.
According to the Tampa Bay Times,
The deal commits more than $13 million in Hillsborough County tourism tax dollars to the project and is also contingent on Florida matching those dollars through a spring training retention fund. The Yankees will pay the remaining $13 million.
The Times also writes that the vote was “swift and unanimous”.
That not one county commissioner questioned the deal is a incredibly odd and an example of what is wrong with our region.
This absolutely should have been questioned. Unfortunately, now it seems the commission blindly followed the lead of Commissioner Ken Hagan’s faulty claims and an economic study published by the Yankees themselves.
In my opinion, Hillsborough County is giving millions of taxplayer dollars to a team worth billions to upgrade a stadium the richest team in baseball was in no danger of leaving.
The Yankees contract was due to end in 2026. They were guaranteed tenants for 10 more years. There was no need to extend them.
Improvements include new seats throughout the 10,000-capacity ballpark, roof replacements, a better entry plaza and an upgraded outfield concourse.
How will these improvements increase revenue? Maybe the upgraded outfield concourse will enable a new concession stand. Maybe the Yankees will charge more because of the better seats. These are both maybes and not guaranteed return on investments.
While I already proved the Yankees Spring Training doesn’t “routinely sell out”, like Commissioner Hagan and the Tampa Tribune claim, they do average crowds of 10,000 per their annual 15 to 17 spring games. If half of those attendees are tourists and all of those tourists only attend one game, we are looking at 85,000 tourists in the Tampa area per year here to see baseball.
That seems small when compared to Busch Gardens or other area attractions.
Another point to consider is that Hillsborough County made a deal with the Yankees knowing they also would like to make a deal with the Rays. How can Commissioner Hagan and the other members can look the Rays in the eye and offer community loyalty when the commission approves funding a rival team didn’t even need?
Especially if spring training attendance is linked to record and the better the Yankees do the year before (in other words, if they finish ahead of the Rays), the better their Spring Training attendance.
As I said before, if I was the Rays, I would be furious.
Under the existing contract, the county was not obligated to pay for any of the upgrades, but it agreed to in exchange for the Yankee’s long-term commitment to Tampa.
If this is true, the Yankees would have made the upgrades this season without the County paying a dime. Then, in a few years, the County and the Yankees could have made their extension deal at another cost. Did the Yankees make unrevealed threats that lack of public dollars would be a deciding factor ten years from now?
While this is a completely unnecessary move by the county, it is a brilliant move by the Yankees. They wrote an economic study that was not challenged, proposed a business plan that was not challenged, then received money to repair a stadium they could have paid for themselves, and received a deal that locked them into a highly contested market.
The Yankees know the Rays would love to be like almost every other Major League team and not share their market with Spring Training and Minor League Baseball. The Yankees also know the Rays are looking for a new home, possibly in Hillsborough County. Lastly, the Yankees know they have 18% of the baseball fan market in the Tampa Bay region.
In order to maintain that 18% and continue to leverage it for Spring Training and other income, the Yankees proposed a decent deal to county and the county fell for it hook, line, and hanging sinker.
If the Yankees left, local and regional baseball fans would have to go to Tropicana Field or Stadium X to get their fix of Yankees baseball. Which means the revenue would go in the pocket of the Rays. However with the current system, the Yankees receive revenue from Tampa Bay area residents.
Hillsborough County ensured (without challenge) this awkward arrangement will continue for another 20 years.