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The Browns yesterday announced a two-year plan to deliver $120M in "upgrades to the 'fan experience' at the city-owned FirstEnergy Stadium -- including a new scoreboard, audio equipment and physical changes that would allow fans to move about more freely," according to a front-page piece by Leila Atassi of the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER. But the question of who will "foot the bill for the improvements is yet to be answered." Browns CEO Joe Banner "declined to discuss financing" yesterday, revealing "only that the organization has acquired what amounts to a loan from the NFL that could cover about half of the expense." Banner "implied that the cost of improvements would not directly affect ticket prices." He added that all financing questions "will be answered in due time, as the Browns continue talks" with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and meet with the City Council. The Browns "hope to begin work on the stadium as soon as the season concludes." Banner said that the upgrades "would take two off-seasons to complete." The Browns in the first year would "install two high-definition scoreboards that are nearly triple the size of those currently in the stadium." The proposal also "calls for LED video boards, which would show stats, scores and other information." A new audio system will "replace the original one, promising to deliver dramatically improved sound stadium-wide." Banner said that the stadium would "lose about 3,000 seats to make way for the giant scoreboard -- dropping capacity to about 68,000." Also, about 2,000 upper-bowl seats "will move to the lower deck," and fans "will see two new escalators installed by next season." The Browns in '15 plan on "improving general-admission concession areas, with locally-based offerings." So-called "premium areas" of the stadium would "see upgrades, as well, including refurbished club seats and suites and more top-level entertainment" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 11/14).
THE GREAT OUTDOORS: Banner said that the team "has ruled out the possibilities of putting a roof on the stadium -- which he said would've been a 'nine-figure investment' -- and replacing the grass field with artificial turf after exploring both options." In Akron, Nate Ulrich notes Banner also "revealed that the Browns privately discussed building a new stadium but ultimately decided to invest in the one they've been playing in since it opened in 1999." Banner said that the Browns "hope the project could attract other events such as concerts and soccer games to the stadium" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 11/14). Also in Akron, Marla Ridenour writes yesterday's announcement was the "first step toward giving fans what they have long deserved -- a state-of-the-art venue with some of the amenities taken for granted in other NFL cities." FirstEnergy Stadium will "never be a palace to compare" to AT&T Stadium. But the upgrades "will be a huge start." Browns President Alec Scheiner also said that Wi-Fi "would be considered" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 11/14).
WHO SHOULD PAY WHAT? In Cleveland, Terry Pluto writes the Browns "have several key people who have been involved in building stadiums in other cities." Pluto: "I'm all for whatever the Browns want to do to the stadium, assuming they pay for most of it." The Browns have a $62.5M loan from the NFL for stadium improvements, which "covers up to 50 percent of the project." What the Browns "can't do is go to the city and say, 'OK, let's go 50-50,' and expect the city to pay" about $60M. Banner said that the Browns "plan to make a 'significant investment' in the stadium." Pluto: "And they should do exactly that" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 11/14). ESPN.com's Pat McManamon wrote the Browns "never said they were asking the city for money," and it is "logical to think the mayor deserves to know first." But it also is "logical to think it would be a wise PR move to generate enthusiasm about the improvements before asking for money" (ESPN.com, 11/13).
Cobb County (Ga.) Commission Chair Tim Lee yesterday said that when financials are released today for the Braves' new ballpark, they will show the team is "paying for 55 percent" of the $672M cost, according to Jon Gillooly of the MARIETTA DAILY JOURNAL. Lee said, "The other 45 percent will be funded without a tax increase for over 95 percent of Cobb County residents." Cobb County Commissioner Helen Goreham said, "I'm very comfortable with it." Neither Goreham or Lee "would go into specifics," but Goreham "believes the finances will work to the county's advantage." The Board of Commissioners is "scheduled to vote on a memorandum of understanding with the Braves at its Nov. 26 meeting." Goreham said, "The speed and the confidentiality is necessary because of the competitive nature usually with businesses, but in this sense there's a lot of politics involved." She added, "You have one political jurisdiction obtaining a sports team and another losing it, so I imagine you have to be very careful on how this is handled" (MARIETTA DAILY JOURNAL, 11/14). Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal yesterday said that he "doesn't expect any state tax dollars to help foot the bill for the move." But in Atlanta, Greg Bluestein notes Deal "would not close the door on the possibility that state dollars could go toward infrastructure improvements" around the new ballpark. Deal said that he "wasn't asked to intervene in the deal" during a meeting yesterday with Braves officials and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. He added that Reed "didn't try to offer the team a last-ditch plan to stay" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 11/14). In Atlanta, Bill Torpy writes of the city's Summerhill neighborhood, "The Braves hurt the neighborhood when they moved in, and will hurt it when they move out" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 11/14).
BEHIND THE SCENES: Braves Exec VP/Sales & Marketing Derek Schiller said that PSLs "will not be part of the plan for financing the cost of the stadium." Schiller also said that the Braves "have started background work for selling naming rights to the stadium." He said the team received a report "just over the past couple of days that helps us understand what the valuation is," but would not disclose the projected value of the naming rights. Braves Exec VP/Business Operations Mike Plant added that the "statues and commemorative bricks at Turner Field will be relocated" to the new ballpark. In Atlanta, Tim Tucker notes Plant and Braves General Counsel Greg Heller "reaffirmed the team's commitment to moving to Cobb County" after yesterday's meeting with Deal and Reed. Schiller said the Braves have "by and large" gotten positive feedback from season-ticket holders about the move, but he acknowledged some negative responses too. Meanwhile, Plant said that team officials "'visited the Doraville site a couple of times,' ... referring to the site of the former General Motors plant, before focusing on Cobb County" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 11/14).
IT MAKES CENTS TO ME: In Atlanta, David O'Brien wrote, "I don't like the idea of reverting to the 1970s-era way of thinking, of moving a team from the city to the ‘burbs, when almost every major sports team that’s moved within a city since then has stayed in the same area or moved closer to its city center. ... I don't like it, but I understand it." For a team that is "tied up in a terrible TV contract that runs for about 13 more years, when other MLB teams are signing new TV deals worth exponentially more millions of dollars annually, the Braves feel the need to boost revenues wherever they can. This is where they can." But if the Braves are moving from "a nice place with a ginormous hi-def videoboard, a view (at least from the upper deck) of the skyline and the golden dome of the State Capitol, across the street from the commemorated site of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, well, by God, you better make the new place special" (AJC.com, 11/13). Braves GM Frank Wren said of the move's impact on the on personnel decisions, "I don't think that has anything to do with what we're doing this season. I think it will start to in the next couple of years. I don't think it will have big implications currently" (MLB.com, 11/13).
WORKIN' ON THE RAILROAD? Lee said that Reed, who "claims the Braves' move to Cobb County means Cobb would need to have light-rail in place, is wrong." Lee: "We're not going to use that, we're going to use bus rapid transit, if we do, it will be BRT." State Rep. Earl Ehrhart added that despite Atlanta officials' "desire to see a MARTA rail line extend into Cobb, it's not going to happen" (MARIETTA DAILY JOURNAL, 11/14).
David Beckham is "taking a serious look at Marlins Park as a temporary home" for his planned MLS expansion team, "until he can build a permanent soccer-specific stadium," according to sources cited by Kaufman & Mazzei of the MIAMI HERALD. Beckham was in Miami yesterday "touring potential locations" with his agent, XIX Entertainment Founder Simon Fuller, and Brightstar Communications CEO Marcelo Claure. Beckham also is "considering FIU Stadium as a temporary venue." Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez yesterday said of Beckham's group, "They do want an urban site. I do agree that an urban site would work better." Gimenez added that a facility such as Sun life Stadium "would be too big." He emphasized that the team would eventually "build its own stadium -- with its own money." Kaufman & Mazzei write Marlins Park "would likely please MLS, as it sits on the former Orange Bowl site, which is where the league intended to put the Miami Fusion when it awarded the city that franchise" back in '97. But Marlins Park is "not ideal as a permanent home because the MLS season overlaps with baseball season," and it would also require the "reconfiguration of the field." Beckham also met with FIU officials, "who believe their stadium is the perfect fit because of its size, West Miami location, and international student population." But MLS officials "are not sold on FIU or Sun Life as permanent homes." League officials have "told potential investors they prefer a privately-funded soccer-specific stadium of 20,000 to 30,000 seats, if possible in an urban area with restaurants and shopping nearby" (MIAMI HERALD, 11/14). In Ft. Lauderdale, Craig Davis cites a source as saying that Marlins Park "is not well suited to soccer,." and that Sun Life Stadium is the "most viable venue to place a MLS team, at least initially" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 11/14).
The Rays are making a "major renovation to Tropicana Field, creating 360-degree circulation by adding walkways behind the outfield seating areas and opening up what was the dark glass-fronted Batters Eye restaurant into an open-air meeting spot," according to Marc Topkin of the TAMPA BAY TIMES. The renovation "won't affect the stingray tank, and there will still be a standard size batters' eye, possibly mesh." Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg "would not confirm specifics but acknowledged a project was under way" (TAMPABAY.com, 11/13). NBCSPORTS.com's Craig Calcaterra wrote, "I am pleased with the fact that the Rays are doing the best they can to make it better, given what they have to work with and how few ways you can really improve the place" (NBCSPORTS.com, 11/13). Rays P David Price talked about the franchise's attempts to draw more fans and said, “I feel like they’ve tried quite a bit of stuff, whether it be with the parking or bringing stuff in and out of the park.” Price: “It’s tough whenever winning isn’t enough. But if they can find that one thing that’s going to get those fans to come out a couple more games a year, something like that, everything helps” (“Hot Stove,” MLB Network, 11/13).
NEW GUY, OLD ISSUE: St. Petersburg Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman yesterday met with current Mayor Bill Foster and said that he "came away with a new understanding" of the Rays ballpark issue, and it will be "the most pressing issue facing his new administration." Kriseman: "It's always interesting to get the other side of the story." He added that he has "reached out" to Sternberg, but the two "have not yet been able to connect" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 11/14). In Tampa, John Romano writes any "local insights to be gleaned from the Braves' surprising dash to a neighboring county most certainly depend on your point of view," but the news "could not have been better" for the Rays. It "reinforced the team's contention that a major-league franchise's worth is incalculable in the right location." For St. Petersburg, it was a "precedent to consider," but for Hillsborough County, it "had a high degree of sticker shock." Cobb County "may be somewhat of an anomaly in terms of a suburban location, but it's hard to deny that baseball teams usually get what they want when it comes to stadiums." The Rays "will eventually get a stadium," but the "hard part is figuring out when and where" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 11/14).