Twitter Fight!

So, the Winston-Salem ballpark has reemerged as a hot button issue because of this:

The Citizens Baseball Stadium Review Committee got its first look last night at financial information about the progress of BB&T Ballpark during a discussion that was not open to the public.

The committee voted unanimously to close the meeting because, it said, the financial information that the members would discuss — likely the stadium’s revenues, expenses and profit through June 30 — is confidential and protected by North Carolina law.

The Winston-Salem Journal objected to the closing of the meeting. Earlier yesterday, the city rejected a request by the Journal for the financial information supplied by the team to the city.

In a letter to the Journal, City Attorney Angela Carmon wrote that “disclosure of such confidential, competitively sensitive business information could cause substantial competitive harm or otherwise adversely impact the business interests of the Ballpark Entities.”

The Committee's decision to meet behind closed doors led to a scathing column from the Journal's Scott Sexton and then a little tete-a-tete broke out on Twitter between Mayor Joines and Sexton:

JoinesTweets

Sextontweet
A little later this appeared on the Journal website:

Mayor Allen Joines said today he will talk with the Winston-Salem Dash to see if the baseball team can release some financial information that might not otherwise be publicly available…

Joines said that the private information in the financial data includes vendor contracts, and that the team is in the process of negotiating those.

“The bottom line is, we need to determine what are the critical things the public would like to know,” Joinessaid. “I don’t think they want to see a vendor contract. I think they want to know what the attendance was and what the general total revenues are. Hopefully we can get something that is a compromise that we can share.”

 

4 thoughts on “Twitter Fight!

  1. yarddawg

    IMO financial information as it pertains to the ballpark should be made public. However, as far as releasing financial information on the Dash organization? I know there is a connection but I’m not so sure how much can be divulged. I guess it would depend solely on the actual agreement with the city and Dash. I’m also not certain if there are any credible reporters left at the Journal to really determine the accuracy of facts and present them correctly. A lot of Sexton’s article sounds a bit like a temper tantrum or, as we say in the south, a hissy fit.

    Reply
  2. Jon Lowder

    YD, I think youre right to point out the difference between
    information pertaining specifically to the ballpark and info that is
    essentially the books of a private business. However, I think the
    factors that made this a little more complicated are:
    – The committee is subject to open meeting laws. If nothing else the
    city should be obligated to tell the public specifically why the info
    cant be discussed in public, which is essentially what Mayor Joines
    did after this ruckus hit.
    – The way this developed its understandable the low level of trust
    for all the players involvedm. Basically the committee exists to help
    alleviate those fears by providing a form of citizen oversight. I
    think its understandable that the press would get their hackles up in
    this situation.
    Going forward I think the city needs to make sure they communicate
    more specifically and clearly with the press and public. When I saw
    the first piece on the original announcement for the city attorneys
    office I had the same thought as Sexton: what competitor could they be
    worried about since they have a monopoly on pro baseball in Camel
    City? (I dont think they really compete with the Hoppers in GSO). And
    I think its a tad disingenuous of them to lump basic financial info
    with things like contract specifics.
    One last thing: Im working on the assumption that what were reading
    in the paper is an accurate repreaentation of what the city said. Ive
    sat through enough meetings that were covered by the press that were
    then, uh, interpreted differently by the press in their stories that I
    would not be shocked to find out that the citys original comunication
    might have been more specific than reported. Of course given the
    adversarial relationship that often exists between the press and city
    attorneys office its not hard to see that the message may have been
    as terse as the paper said.

    Reply
  3. Jim Caserta

    The financials of the Dash are important because of the last-ditch nature of the financing. Remember that they just barely got the park open before opening day this season, one year late. If the Dash cleared $10M (speculating, as I have no knowledge of what their budget is) vs $1M, there would be pressure to renegotiate the repayment of the city funds.
    I think there is some thought that Prim could have gotten funding somewhere else without getting city money involved. Look back at some of the back-and-forth regarding the funding of Greensboro’s stadium, and they ended up without any public money. In hindsight, most should be able to see that Prim got stuck in the great credit crunch. He probably needed money most at the end of 2008, when money was the hardest to get.
    I’m not a huge supporter of public money for stadiums. As a former South Floridian, I think the Marlins have overstepped in getting their new stadium funded, especially considering the horrific budgets in those areas. However, I think W-S did the best with the situation they had. Would they have agreed to the financing arrangement from the beginning? Probably not and we’d still have the Warthogs at Ernie Shore. But that wasn’t the point where the largest financing came in.
    I think (at least some of) the potential competitive harm is to Prim’s suppliers. If I’m buying bulk beer from Natty Greene’s at some price and then read that Prim’s getting it for 25% off what I’m paying, someone will be calling them up wanting the same deal. Some level of information could easily be supplied – say $40k in wholesale beer expenses, and $640k in gross beer receipts. You could still back out the wholesale cost-per-beer which would be the competitive information. They are right to be careful what they report. It’s also important for someone to check those things because some contracts may be used as a way to shelter or hide income (MLB teams are notorious for that).

    Reply
  4. Jon Lowder

    Great points as always Jim.  My take on the mayors effort is that hes trying to get the team to publicly report the general info that youre describing, but obviously I could be wrong.  As partners in the stadium project I think the citizens of W-S are right to expect a little more access to the numbers than would normally be possible, but as you point out I think it can be done without revealing specific contractual details.

    Reply

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