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NFL lockout could mean lost tax dollars for Hillsborough County

TAMPA — For taxpayers in Hillsborough County, an NFL lockout would mean more than just lost Sundays in the fall. It would mean lost tax dollars, too.

If the upcoming NFL season is canceled, Hillsborough County could lose as much as $1.2 million; the city of Tampa, about $600,000. And about 3,500 people here would lose 10 days of work.

But a pledge Friday by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could limit the impact to up to $660,000 for the county and $330,000 for the city. The team said it intends to pay the Tampa Sports Authority for lost ticket fees if games are canceled.

The authority owns and runs Raymond James Stadium, where the Bucs play. The authority already operates at a loss — projected at $2.7 million this year. Its guarantors, Tampa and Hillsborough taxpayers, pay its debts.

If the season is completely lost, and the Bucs keep their promise, the county would be on the hook for up to $2.5 million; the city, $1.2 million.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said the county is not yet concerned. He and others are confident the season will be played. The NFL and the players union agreed Friday to extend negotiations for another week on a new collective bargaining agreement.

Eric Hart, the authority's executive director, said if the season is canceled, he would cut costs to decrease losses.

The Bucs pay $3.5 million annually to use the stadium. The authority also earns $800,000 to $1.2 million per year from fees on Buccaneer tickets. But the team rakes in all game revenue, while the authority pays to prepare the stadium, staff it and clean it up.

With the Bucs' promise to replace any loss on ticket fees, a canceled season would leave the authority without the $3.5 million rent. But it would also save the authority $2.5 million — the cost of hosting 10 games.

The impact a lost season would have on the local economy is unclear, but at least 3,500 people would lose 10 days of work. The authority hires just under 1,000 people per game, most part-time, Hart said. Though Raymond James will still be hosting other events, many of those jobs would be at risk.

To further cut costs, Hart said he would look into staffing changes, including hour reductions, furloughs and layoffs.

Hart said the authority is constantly pursuing other ways to fill the stadium. This month it hosts a concert by country superstar Kenny Chesney, and in June a Gold Cup game, the North and Central American championship soccer tournament. Those events should lessen the authority's projected losses, Hart said.

Still, because of its 1996 contract with the Bucs, whatever profits the authority turns are often negligible to its bottom line. The contract requires the authority to give the Bucs its first $2 million in profits from non-Buccaneer events, and half of any profits after $2 million.

Last year, the it earned about $2.4 million from extra events, but kept only $180,000.

The contract expires in 2028.

Jack Nicas can be reached at (813) 226-3401 or jnicas@sptimes.com.

NFL lockout could mean lost tax dollars for Hillsborough County 03/04/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 4, 2011 10:00pm]
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