In a press conference last month, Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg announced that the team will not be playing at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg by the time the team’s lease expires in 2027.
“When I assumed control of the Rays almost five years ago, it was commonly assumed that winning would change everything at Tropicana Field,” Sternberg said. “Everyone believed that with a winning team on the field, fans would fill the stands. That has not been the case.”
This leaves the Tampa Bay area with limited time to finish the long and complex process of planning and constructing a new stadium if they wish to keep the Rays.
Engaging in endless debate and a rivalry between the two cities will only further diminish the team’s chances of staying and increase the possibility of a successful courtship by another baseball-hungry city that lacks a major league franchise.
Sternberg has also said that the team will not be willing to stay in St. Petersburg, either.
With this in mind, only those who wouldn’t mind the team’s departure from the Bay area would oppose the Rays relocating to Tampa.
In an act of regional self-destruction, the city of St. Petersburg has foolishly threatened to sue the Rays or anyone who talks to them about a new stadium until their lease with the Trop expires. The Rays and other cities will likely risk the financial penalties of a lawsuit, considering the potential benefits of relocating.
If the goal is to keep the Rays in the Tampa Bay area, then the obvious solution is to build a new stadium in Tampa.
Tampa is more centrally located for local fans who live outside of Pinellas County, and the anticipated downtown light rail stop in 2015 would enhance this benefit.
The rail would run from Tampa to Orlando and could act as an easy way for Rays’ fans in Orlando to commute to and from games, creating a larger fan base for the team.
Target Field, the Minnesota Twins’ new stadium, has a light rail line directly adjacent to the stadium that attracts more than 5,000 fans a game, according to the St. Petersburg Times.
A professional baseball team is a cultural treasure for any city. It promotes the region, excites its people and brings about collective happiness or sorrow with its play.
The area has no hope for keeping the Rays without moving them to Tampa, and continually denying this reality will only assure their departure.
After all, the team is called the Tampa Bay Rays, not the Tampa Rays or St. Petersburg Rays. The city of St. Petersburg should allow the team to do what’s in the best interests of the entire Bay area.