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Financial support for new Rays stadium in better shape than previously announced

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There’s more money committed than the media is reporting

Last Friday, the corporate non-profit, Tampa Bay Rays 2020, which is supporting the Rays push for a new stadium, held a press conference that only muddied the waters in Tampa Bay.

With only one of the group’s two key business leaders in attendance at a late Friday afternoon press conference, the Tampa Bay Rays 2020 group announced five planning committees that did not include any significant political figure from the Tampa community, nor many baseball players from Tampa’s past (former catcher Toby Hall was perhaps the most notable name involved).

During the event, the group only casually noted the financial commitments received to date — a significant piece of news that was not made clear to the reporters in attendance — resulting in a variety of figures being reported, but with a consistent, paltry figure arising.

How much financial support has been gathered?

An initial report from this briefing in the Tampa Bay Times, the local paper of record, stated that Tampa Bay Rays 2020 had garnered $16 million in commitments from local businesses.

Sixteen million dollars is a lot of money to most people, but when you need to raise $892 million it’s not a lot.

Evidently, further elaboration at the press event from Ron Christaldi, who heads the 2020 group, made clear that they have commitments of $16 million annually, a detail not picked up by all in attendance. Christaldi also noted that this annual contribution would be in addition to any naming rights sponsorship, which could net $8-10 million a year, and that negotiations were ongoing.

DRaysBay confirmed with Tampa Bay Rays 2020 Wednesday morning that the financial pledge received to date involves an annual commitment, and that the commitment spans over ten years; therefore, the total figure should have been announced and reported as a $160 million commitment from pledged corporate sales last week, not including the projected naming rights.

That’s a significant difference in what’s been reported.

Why did no one corrected this error in reporting?

The Tampa Bay Times report of the $16 million figure was published on November 16th, and was not corrected until after we started asking around. The Times updated their information at approximately 3:00 on November 23rd after we reached out to them.

DRaysBay confirmed that the Tampa Bay Rays 2020 group had yet to reach out to the Times for a correction on Wednesday, and it is not clear any other corrections have been issued to any other news outlets. The Times beat us to the punch on announcing the updated figure while we were waiting for an on the record statement from the 2020 group.

At least one news outlet, the Florida based Business Observer, appears to have made contact with Lisa Brock of Brock Communications, the group’s Public Relations firm, to confirm the 10-year commitment, but even still no press releases or retractions of previous statements in the press have been issued, and no one from the 2020 group or Brock Communications was able to return our requests for comment in a timely manner.

Interestingly, on the 2020 group’s Facebook page, a recent comment ridiculed the group for only being able to come up with $16 million in contributions, as was the figure reported by the Tampa Bay Times and shared on the Tampa Bay Rays 2020 social media accounts.

The page responded to the comment but did not correct the mistake. Instead, the response called the $16 million figure, again, “just the tip of the iceberg”:

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, Sammy. Corporate commitment on a deal this size doesn’t happen over night. Stay tuned!

A pledge of $160 million in support covers almost 20 percent of the cost of building a new Rays stadium, and is an important financial outlay. The widely reported figure of $16 million addresses less than 2 percent.

It is not clear why the 2020 group’s public relations firm has not been on top of this discrepancy in reporting.

Where will the rest of the funding come from?

Ok, now what?

Even with these new commitments, efforts to create financial support to build a new stadium have been challenging, even as local businesses increase their commitment or a stadium naming deal is negotiated.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg has remained coy about his willingness to invest, only repeating that his contribution will be “well north” of their $150 million initial pledge for the so-called “sail stadium” planned for the St. Petersburg waterfront a decade ago.

Hillsborough County nor the City of Tampa’s leaders like won’t have much appetite to use general revenue for this effort. Any public funds would need to come from sources that could not be used for other public services.

This could include the proceeds from an increased Tourist Development Tax, which could generate about $6–7 million a year through a 1% increase in current tax revenues, should the county choose to dedicate that increase solely on the stadium.

Tax Incremental Financing and the creation of a special entertainment district tax to take advantage of stadium-induced economic activity have also been discussed as potential financing sources. So there are avenues for public funding, but they’re complicated.

What’s next?

The Rays are facing a December 31st deadline to decide whether they will leave Tropicana Field in pursuit of the stadium in Ybor City.

Financial pledges and public perception will be key factors in the Rays final decision next month, and reporting on these elements should be clear to the general public, who are likely to contribute public funds no matter where the new stadium is built.

We will update this story with any further developments, should they arise, if the Tampa Bay Rays 2020 group or Brock Communications reply to our requests for comment.

You can find our previous reporting on the Rays Stadium Saga here.