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Relocating Rays to Tampa will provide competitive edge

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012

Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2012 03:03

As the Major League Baseball (MLB) season prepares to kick off, our cash-poor hometown Rays received good news Tuesday that a permanent move may soon get another at-bat.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan told the Tampa Bay Times Tuesday that it is time to address the potential move of the team from its Tropicana Field home in St. Petersburg. He said he plans to ask county attorneys if Hillsborough can start negotiating with the Tampa Bay Rays on a future stadium location in, you know, Tampa. According to the Times, Hagan said he told Rays President Matt Silverman in January that he is “willing to be the boyfriend that causes the divorce.”

If hairball team mascot Raymond could speak, it might ask, “What took you so long?” Rays ownership, players and fans have all been vocal in their support for such a move since at least 2009, when a $450 million waterfront stadium bid for a new home in St. Petersburg fell through after failing to rally sufficient community support.

Unfortunately, St. Petersburg isn’t going to simply let the Rays walk. With a contract with the team that runs through 2027, they have reason to pause. However, it’s a cliché for a reason: Baseball is a business. Revenue pools created through ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, merchandising and player endorsements would likely rise given the move. Size alone seems to indicate this and apathy seals the deal. As a city with a population of 335,709 and growth of 10.6 percent, according to the 2010 census, Tampa Bay will have a much better chance to win a world series against teams such as the New York Yankees, with nearly 8.2 million inhabitants, and the Boston Red Sox, with more than 600,000 inhabitants. St. Petersburg, by contrast, only has a population of 244,769.

But even the financial disadvantages presented by a lower population density than competing teams could be overcome if fans cared enough to fill the stadium. The Rays averaged 18,878 fans last year per home game, compared to 45,440 by the first-place Philadelphia Phillies or 45,107 by the No. 2 Yankees. The Rays totals is good enough for second-to-last place in MLB, as they averaged nearly 25,000 empty seats last season. 

It’s a shame that the Rays, who first play April 6 against the Yankees, aren’t allowed to make the one move that could firmly supplant the true beasts of their American League East Division. The playoffs are nice, but if St. Petersburg fans aren’t interested in their annual playoff contender, a city to the north should be. Last year, Forbes ranked the Rays as MLB’s 28th most valuable franchise with $166 million earned. The Yankees, valued No. 1 at $1.7 billion made $25.7 million last year. In fact, 25 of 30 clubs made more money than the Rays last season. 

The Rays cannot attract big-time free agent talent with that sort of disadvantage. Star players such as third baseman Evan Longoria and outfielder Ben Zobrist will be difficult to re-sign following their entry into free agency following the 2016 and 2017 seasons, respectively. If the state of Florida wants to stop the bleeding, they need to start building a new stadium in superiorly able Tampa,  and soon. 

Jessica Velez is a senior majoring in mass communications.

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