Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg spoke at a regular Pinellas County commissioners meeting Tuesday to discuss the Rays future in the Bay Area a week after a Major League Basement commissioner released a statement that the MLB was disappointed with the organization’s attendance at Tropicana Field.
Though the team has been a model and winning organization for four years, fans are not showing up to games because of Tropicana Field’s distance from major Bay Area markets and its outdated domed-roof design.
Tropicana Field is clearly not the best venue for the Rays.
The organization and local governments need to come to an agreement that can put a stadium in a more central location that can attract more fans and more commercial sponsorships.
The problem is that Rays’ management can not legally commit to conversation with other counties about moving the team due to the contract with Pinellas County that does not expire until 2027 – a commitment that St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster said he will protect with legal action filed against any one who tries to persuade the team to break. Though the Rays and Hillsborough County have offered to buy out the rest of the contract, Foster proceeds to deny any leverage to the deteriorating ball club.
At the commissioners meeting, Sternberg said the stadium needs to average 30,000 fans to remain competitive in the long run. But the team has had the worst attendance in the league of a little more than 20,000 – even during the team’s World Series year in 2008 – mostly because only one-fourth of the Bay Area population lives in St. Petersburg.
In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, sports economist Andrew Zimbalist said it was in the franchise’s best interest, as well as any baseball franchise, to be as close to a business district as possible.
Moving the team to downtown Tampa would open up the possibility
for more corporate sponsors allowing for pricier executive suite seating, synergies with local businesses and an opportunity for more restaurants and vendors to succeed in the metropolitan area – a promise St. Petersburg has not been able to deliver on.
If the Rays aren’t able to find some sort of agreement on the team’s future, Zimbalist said the team and Major League Baseball may only have two options – they could contract from the league and filter off the players and jobs to other teams or have the team trickle into bankruptcy.
While neither of these are beneficial outcomes, the league is beginning to show concern that the attendance problem and the deadlock between the Rays and St. Pete could force their hand to go over both parties and contract the team.
Moving the team to Tampa would definitely not be an easy task. A study by a caucus from both county commissions showed that a stadium could be built in Tampa without hurting taxpayers
from both counties. Though there are some risks involved in
building a new stadium, they are worth taking when the alternative is losing the team to another state or contraction.