Tampa extends Yankees Spring Training through 2046, continues divided market

On March 26, the Tampa Tribune posted what I called a “very puzzling editorial“. The editorial board of the Tribune praised the presence of the Yankees in Tampa and called Steinbrenner Field an “economic boon” for the area. The editorial used an uncited mysterious study that claimed,

the total direct expenses by attendees at Yankees’ spring training games in 2015 was $95.5 million, with most of that coming from out-of-state visitors who stayed overnight in the region.

The study estimated the overall economic impact at $162 million.

At the time, I wondered what the point of the editorial was. There was no one doubting Steinbrenner Field specifically, although Field of Schemes posted about an economic study that claimed Spring Training games don’t produce any economic benefit.

Now we know.

On Monday, the Tampa Sports Authority announced a $40 million renovation for Steinbrenner Field. Along with the renovation was an agreement extending Yankees Spring Training in Tampa 20 additional years to 2046. The Yankees present agreement with the TSA wasn’t due to expire until 2026.

Did the Tampa Tribune know about the negotiations? Maybe this mysterious study was used in the negotiations. Maybe the Tampa Tribune was attempting to soften public perception against spending more on the Yankees.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the TSA agreement with the Yankees will require approvals by several government bodies and the TSA Board of Directors. If approved, the state will pay $13 million, the Yankees will pay $13 million, and the Tourist Development tax will pay the final $13 million.

According to quotes from County Commission Ken Hagan – who Shadow of the Stadium has cited for flip-flopping on stadium funding, taxes, and generally not understanding economics – the Yankees routinely sell out and attract Yankees fans from around the country.

The team routinely sells out the 10,000-seat Steinbrenner Field and brings to the area Yankees fans from across the country, he said.

That is the nearly exact words used by the Tampa Tribune on March 26.

The spring games routinely sell out and attract Northern visitors who come specifically to see their favorite team.

And as I wrote two weeks ago, it is wrong.

What is routinely? This season, the Yankees have sold out four of 14 games. That’s 29%. While more than the Rays, it is far less than the Lightning. Additionally, the Yankees four sell-outs have been against the following teams:

  • Mets – attracting additional Tampa area NYers
  • Phillies – attracting tourists staying in Clearwater
  • Blue Jays – attracting tourists staying in Dunedin
  • Rays – attracting locals who root for the local Major League team

Steinbrenner Field does not routinely sell-out due to Yankees fans. While it routinely averages over 10,000 fans per game, sell-outs happen mostly because of the additional fanbases of other local teams.

Maybe Commissioner Hagan should read my blog instead of Tampa Tribune editorials.

Here are facts the TSA board of directors, Hillsborough County Commission, the Tampa City Council, and the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority need to consider:

According to Forbes, the Yankees are valued at over $3.5 billion. That is greater than five times more valuable than the Rays, who are valued at $650 billion. Since Steinbrenner Field opened, nearly $45 million in public funds has gone towards the Yankees Spring Training home, with another $26 million scheduled if approved. That’s nearly $70 million given to the Yankees, or as much as they will pay C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and Masahiro Tanaka in 2016.

The Yankees don’t need state or local money to renovate Steinbrenner Field.

The New York Yankees average 15 Spring Training games per year. According to a 2009 Spring Training Economic Impact study, (the same study cited by the Tampa Tribune, by the way) only 13% of Yankees spring attendance comes from out-of-state attendees, 41% are non-county attendees, and 46% are in-county attendees.

According to my 2014 post on Florida fan demographics, there are 1.2 million Yankees fans in Florida. A rough estimate says there are 261,000 Yankees fans in the Tampa Bay area.

2.9 million population x 50% baseball fans x 18% Yankees fans = 261,000

Since 2005, the Yankees average total Spring attendance is 158,000. With so many Yankees fans in the state and local, I highly doubt the Yankees are drawing a majority of tourists. The numbers just don’t add up.

Meanwhile, nothing in either the Tampa Tribune nor the Tampa Bay Times mentions the blatant hypocrisy of the Tampa Sports Authority. By negotiating with the Yankees, they are again being disingenuous to the Tampa Bay Rays, the region’s Major League team. Both Commissioner Hagan and TSA President Eric Hart are on the committee to help identify possible Hillsborough County areas for a new Rays stadium.

It is absolutely flabbergasting that Hagan and Hart can discuss a new Rays stadium one month and the next month extend the Yankees in the same city. It is dishonest, disingenuous, and sends a horrible mixed message to the Rays organization and their fanbase.

If Tampa is a “Major League city”, as it claims to be, let it be a Major League city. Provide the Rays the ability to succeed in the market. Extending the Yankees continues the obstacles the Rays have always faced in the Tampa Bay baseball market.

If I was the Rays, I would go on the offensive. I would question Hagan and Hart’s intent at their next meeting. I would ask them to defend their actions. I would ask what other city openly fosters a divided local fanbase and reduces incentive to attend the events of the local Major League team.

Then I would say Montreal wouldn’t do that, and watch their reaction.

There was one other interesting point in the Tampa Bay Times article:

If the Yankees back out of the agreement at any time, they would have to pay the TSA $500,000 annually until 2046 as well as any balance on the bond payments.

What if the Yankees opt to leave because the Rays move within the Yankees territory? There are many locations in Pinellas County where the Rays would be within 15 miles of Steinbrenner Field. If the Rays force out the Tampa Yankees, would the New York Yankees look for a new location? If the Yankees do move, as they did from Fort Lauderdale when the Marlins started in 1992, would the Rays have to pay the TSA as part of their compensation to the Yankees for moving costs? The Rays would already have to pay the Tampa Yankees for lost revenue.

One final point to consider: could Major League Baseball step in and prevent the TSA agreement with the Yankees? MLB nixed a discussion between Pinellas County and the Atlanta Braves over a new training location for the Braves at Toytown.

At that time, Major League Baseball stated:

“Major League Baseball is committed to working with the Rays to secure a new ballpark in cooperation with the Tampa Bay region,” the statement said. “This can only happen with the support of local political and business leaders.”

This situation is no different. Once again, local politicians and the Tampa Sports Authority aren’t doing what is best for the Rays in the region.

No wonder Stu Sternberg has lost confidence.

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