I usually don’t like to write about sports because, by and large, athletics no longer interest me. Still, there is an issue involving pro sports which continues to capture my attention, as well as the attention of the entire country in some form.
Will the Tampa Bay Rays get a new stadium, or will they end up leaving?
Outgoing baseball commissioner Bud Selig said, in a June interview, that he finds the Rays stadium talks with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman promising. He also considers Montreal, which lost its franchise over a decade ago to Washington, a promising market as well. There has been years of talk about a new stadium for the Rays, but even more talk about their attendance and the market. Still, all this focus on the Rays, and not on other teams with poor attendance (Braves, Royals, Indians, etc.) raises a far more interesting question.
Who has a vested interest in seeing the Rays actually move?
That question asked, several players come to mind:
Hal and Hank Steinbrenner – Owners, New York Yankees
Why it makes sense: The Boss’ heirs have a huge interest in seeing the Rays move out of town. Tampa Bay is considered “Yankees Country,” despite the fact the team has only been holding Spring Training there since 1994. Also, many New York transplants settle in the Tampa Bay area as of late, and the Yankees don’t really like the idea of an upstart, budget-minded team with a penchant for making something out of nothing upsetting baseball’s economic apple cart. Who can forget Hal Steinbrenner reminding the Rays of who really “pays” their salaries (via baseball’s luxury tax and revenue sharing).
Why it doesn’t: A winning Rays team actually fosters a quasi-civil war within the Tampa Bay baseball community, which actually benefits the Yankees with regards to merchandise sales and television revenue.
David Montgomery – Owner, Philadelphia Phillies
Why it makes sense: The Phils have been a Clearwater stalwart for decades, and an American League team in town doesn’t help them with any sort of revenue streams. An area in which the Rays moving would benefit the Phillies would be the opening of broadcast rights for the Tampa Bay market.
Why it doesn’t: When the Rays played the Phillies in the ’08 World Series, fans of the New Whiz Kids came out of the worldwork, bumping up revenue sales. Strangely, attendance for Spring Training and their minor league affiliate hasn’t been hurt, either.
Jeffrey Loria – Owner, Miami Marlins
Why it makes sense: The Marlins are desperate for a bump in attendance and revenue. A shiny new downtown ballpark has not only failed to deliver the fans, it has also been a disappointment at the bank. Miami-Dade County residents are still seething over a $2 billion final bill that Loria will likely not pay a dime of out of his own pocket.
Why it doesn’t: Tampa Bay fans still remember how original owner Wayne Huizenga swooped in at the last minute and waved a $95 million check under baseball’s nose in 1992, and swiped the team out from under the collective noses of Tampa Bay fans. Marlins merchandise sales, in the Tampa Bay area, reportedly come in dead last.
Cities of Montreal/Charlotte/Nashville/Buffalo
Why it makes sense: These are cities which still wish to see a baseball franchise grace their civic doorsteps. The Rays stadium issue gives them hope of being the “girl who really breaks up the marriage.” Montreal and Buffalo both have team-ready stadiums and the will to build a shiny new park. Nashville and Charlotte have corporate backing to build one in a hurry.
Why it doesn’t: St. Petersburg can sue any one of these cities as a co-conspirator, which would leave taxpayers in those cities on the hook for big damages. In this area of fiscal austerity, few cities have the civil stones to pull a stunt like that on voters. Also, Cleveland and Boston (both American League markets) could argue territory rights and put a nix on any move or demand huge relocation damages.
Why it makes sense: The Land of Mickey has been rather quiet about the Rays issue, mainly because they are trying avoid the aforementioned legal action. Central Florida, however, is an attractive option to the Rays in that they would likely get an easy approval to relocate because the team stays close to its home market, can draw on the Tampa Bay area (likely renaming themselves the “Florida Rays”), and land some big money sponsors such as Disney. Don’t think for a second Orlando, Orange County, and the surrounding areas aren’t monitoring this situation very closely.
Why it doesn’t: Orlando doesn’t have a stadium, and any sort of tax in this area which already has an assortment of “sneaker” taxes (toll roads, bed taxes, gas taxes, rental car taxes), will likely be met with voter rage. Also, Orlando’s television market remains a laggard behind Tampa Bay.
Why it makes sense: The “Worldwide Leader in Sports” has a blatantly New York/Boston-centric slant, and Tampa Bay has long been derided as a joke by its commentators (oddly enough, they rarely rail against other markets with similar attendance woes). The network cares for neither “Moneyball” approach the Rays take, nor do its commentators approve of the blue-collar feel of the Tampa Bay area vis-a-vis other Florida markets (Miami). Also, completely unacceptable is the fact that fans watching the Rays on Sunsports, Fox Sports and non-ESPN network cuts into the bottom line.
Why it doesn’t: Rays fans are a remarkably vindictive bunch, and have been known to boycott outlets which crack on the Rays. ESPN is owned by Disney, and Rays fans have no problem telling the Mouse where he can shove his network.
And of course, we can’t go without an oddball possibility:
Why it makes sense: This city still hasn’t completely shaken the “God’s Waiting Room” image of seniors playing shuffleboard. Despite the fact the Rays bring in big money, Stuart Sternberg is still an outsider to the old boy networks which still hold massive sway in the community. Many of the power players in the city have the “if we can’t have it, nobody can,” mentality.
Why it doesn’t: Wanting to lose a major league team entirely sounds like a patient wanting to cure a blister by cutting off the affected finger. No politician is willing to be calling the “guy/gal who lost the team.”
That said, here’s MY prediction: The Rays will stay in the Tampa Bay area, but not in St. Petersburg. The Toytown area near I-275 and Roosevelt Blvd., the Florida State Fairgrounds, Raymond James Stadium area, and even central Pasco County are attractive options to the Rays. Don’t count on a downtown Tampa stadium (though a site near the University of Tampa is not entirely out of the question if land can be acquired cheap enough). By 2020, the Tampa Bay Rays will be in a new stadium; intimate, cozy, high-tech to the hilt, a makes-the-Atlanta-Braves-green-with-envy stadium that is not, repeat, not in the city limits of St. Petersburg.