Editorial: Tampa Sports Authority eats on your dime

Published Feb. 3, 2017

There is no community value in allowing members of the Tampa Sports Authority board to gobble up free tickets, food and alcohol at football games and other events at Raymond James Stadium. This is nothing but an abuse of a undeserved perk of the office, and the authority should discontinue the practice and manage its operations in a more professional manner.

As the Tampa Bay Times' Steve Contorno reported, the public agency that operates the stadium spent $37,600 on food and drinks in 2016 during Tampa Bay Buccaneers games and other events at the stadium. And taxpayers picked up the tab. Because it costs more to run the stadium than the facility brings in, Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa chipped in nearly $3 million last year to make up the shortfall. That's a waste of taxpayer money for the benefit of a handpicked few.

This is, of course, not a new problem. In 2005, amid public outrage over game-day catering bills that exceeded $1,000, the authority voted to scale back the free food and alcohol, allowing only hot dogs and hamburgers, and requiring board members to pay for their own hard liquor and to contribute $100 a year toward beer and wine. But the austerity program didn't stick. During the Sept. 25 Bucs game against the Los Angeles Rams, the authority washed down roasted grouper with $50 bottles of wine, for a bill that totaled $2,226.

The authority defends the practice as it always has, saying that providing food and liquor is the cost of doing business when hosting VIPs and clients. But the suite typically attracts appointed board members, 11 politically connected local leaders chosen by the city, county and governor. Being a board member is light duty, and this appointment is the most coveted in town.

The city of St. Petersburg, which owns Tropicana Field, is guaranteed a suite for Tampa Bay Rays' home games and will pick up the tab on occasion to host a delegation or prospective client. Otherwise, city staff who receive free tickets to the game must pay for their own food and drinks. That's a reasonable approach that separates public business from private partying.