Friday, September 21, 2018
News Roundup

Buccaneers, sports authority agree on $100 million Raymond James Stadium upgrade

TAMPA — Raymond James Stadium could soon get an expensive facelift — and some of the biggest video screens in the NFL.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tampa Sports Authority reached a tentative agreement Wednesday on an $87 million renovation of the 17-year-old stadium that could eventually exceed $100 million.

When the work is completed, the stadium is expected to have the third-largest combined square footage of video scoreboards in the NFL. It will also have an improved sound system, concessions, concourses and team store, as well as upgraded luxury suites and lounges.

Under the agreement, the Tampa Sports Authority, an agency funded by Hillsborough County, would pay $28.8 million. The Buccaneers would be on the hook for twice that, $57.6 million. But the team said it expects to spend at least $13 million more.

The Sports Authority board, the Tampa City Council and the Hillsborough County Commission must approve the agreement before it is finalized. The county's contribution would come from its tourist tax.

"The proposed agreement will provide the type of much-needed enhancements that will improve the in-game experience for our loyal Buccaneer fans," Buccaneers CEO Brian Ford said in a statement, "and will play a key role in our ability to attract the type of large-scale events that we have grown accustomed to hosting over the years."

Those types of events include a potential Super Bowl. The NFL has named Tampa as one of four finalists to host its championship game in 2019 or 2020. On Wednesday, Hillsborough County commissioners joined the Tampa City Council in formally supporting Tampa's bid to host what would be its fifth Super Bowl.

Getting here has not been easy.

After months of painstaking negotiations, the two sides reached an impasse in September when the Buccaneers introduced new terms that would have allowed the team to play two regular season games a year outside Tampa.

The Bucs can already play once a year away from the stadium under the existing agreement. TSA officials and the county were concerned that the Bucs would play both games in the same city to build a fan base in another state or even another country. Tampa Bay has played several games in London over the years and its owners, the Glazer family, have a controlling stake in the English soccer club Manchester United.

During negotiations, Buccaneers officials repeatedly rejected the county's request to forgive Hillsborough's obligation to build the team an $11.6 million practice center near the stadium — a longstanding point of contention between the two.

In the end, the Buccaneers caved on both demands; the team will continue to play at least seven home games in Tampa and it agreed to consider the practice facility issue satisfied. The Bucs had already paid to build a 33-acre headquarters and practice facility, One Buc Place, which opened in 2006.

In return, the TSA will pay $3 million more toward the project than originally budgeted. The additional money will go toward building even larger scoreboard enhancements than previously agreed to.

The TSA also had asked for the team to reduce its guaranteed share of profit from other events held at Raymond James Stadium to $1 million. Under the existing agreement, the Bucs take the first $2 million in profits annually from events like concerts, with every dollar earned after that split 50-50.

Instead, the TSA will receive 67 percent of all profits between $2 million and $3.5 million, which would net taxpayers up to $250,000 more a year, or about half of what the agency had demanded previously. After $3.5 million is earned, profits will be divided evenly again.

The 2017 NCAA National Championship game pushed both sides to reach an agreement before the end of the year. Under a previous deal, the TSA must complete $26 million in capital repairs and other upgrades, including the new scoreboards, by the time Raymond James hosts the College Football National Championship game that year.

One issue off the table during discussions was the current lease agreement between the TSA and the Buccaneers, which runs until 2028.

However, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said he was encouraged by the team's sizable investment in Raymond James and hopes it means the Bucs are committed to Tampa. Hagan said the team is also planning to build an indoor practice facility near One Buc Place.

"It doesn't lock them into anything," Hagan said, "but it's certainly a good sign."

The Buccaneers will complete the renovations in two phases. The new scoreboards — a 9,600-square-foot video screen in each end zone and a tower display of 2,304 square feet in each corner — upgraded sound system, and concessions and renovated luxury suites will be completed by the start of the 2016 regular season.

The remainder of the improvements will be finished in time for the 2017 season.

During construction in 2016 and 2017, the Bucs can play both preseason games outside Tampa — anywhere in Florida, another NFL stadium or an international site. In subsequent years, the agreement allows the Bucs to play one preseason game away from Raymond James Stadium.

Hagan said under the terms of the lease agreement, taxpayers actually save money when the Bucs don't play homes games in Tampa, and losing those preseason games won't hurt advertising and other revenues. Season ticket holders, too, would not have to pay for those preseason games — wherever they're held — which are traditionally poorly attended.

Contact Steve Contorno at [email protected] Follow @scontorno.

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