Rays stadium wars, day two: Threats and counter-threats

If Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg’s goal yesterday with his vote of no confidence for St. Petersburg was to kick-start public discussion of a new stadium, he got it in spades: Both the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune are crammed with articles today on the future of the Rays. Among the highlights:

  • Sternberg’s declaration that he will only participate in a region-wide stadium search “gave a jolt to the community of developers in the region,” according to the Tribune, though the only developer actually cited is former Tampa mayor Dick Greco, who has a plan to build something at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Hillsborough County that might or might not include a stadium. “Everyone needs to come together and work on what sites could suit their needs, with the right location and amenities,” said Greco. “This is going to start a race of people trying to do just that.”
  • As for what he’ll do if a stadium plan doesn’t materialize, Sternberg told the Tribune editorial board on Monday: “If I don’t get a sense that there’s real cooperation and movement here, I’d sell the team. And there’d be no reason for anyone else to keep it here.” Trib columnist Joe Henderson rightly called this a page from “Strongarm Tactics 101” — though, somewhat oddly, Henderson said he was less worried about the team moving than about Sternberg selling it to an owner who would run it into the ground.
  • While Sternberg carefully avoided actually threatening to move the team, he showed that he’s mastered the non-threat threat, declaring: “If I were just coming into this, and you dropped me in the middle of the United States, this isn’t going to be one of the top five markets that doesn’t have baseball.” Asked for clarification, he said there are “at least five” markets without baseball teams that are more attractive than Tampa Bay. Immediate speculation focused on Charlotte and Las Vegas, though those are both actually smaller markets than Tampa Bay and, of course, neither has a major-league-ready stadium or any plans for one; after that… San Antonio? Hartford? Stu, can you tell us what letter it starts with?
  • St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, knowing that the Rays have a Tropicana Field lease that could allow the city to sue for damages if the Rays even talk to another city about moving there before 2027, threatened to do just that, saying, “Like it or not, we are married and joined at the hip until 2027. The city of St. Petersburg, quite frankly, won’t be brushed aside.” Foster did, though, say he’d be willing to negotiate “if the price is right” — though it wasn’t clear whether he meant the price of a new stadium or the price of a buyout from the lease.
  • Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan fired back, saying St. Petersburg leaders need to admit that “if we do not have a regional dialogue, we may well be looking at the Charlotte Rays or the Las Vegas Rays.” The Times editorial board, meanwhile, called on Foster to “stop threatening lawsuits and start thinking more creatively,” while praising Sternberg for speaking “responsibly and clearly about the Rays’ need for a new stadium,” saying, “He did not make threats, and he did not make demands.” Not directly, anyhow.

At this point, Foster’s position seems a reasonable one: The lease is the only piece of leverage he has, and it’s a pretty good one, since there’s no way Sternberg wants to go through a protracted legal battle before he can even begin stadium talks in earnest. St. Petersburg’s best option might actually be to negotiate a buyout in which Sternberg pays the city to be allowed to talk to other cities — or, more likely, to promise St. Pete a large wad of cash in the event that the team moves out of the Trop before the lease is up. That way St. Pete would get some value for its lease, plus would get the Trop site to redevelop — while letting Tampa and Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties fight for the right to sink money into a new stadium, if they so choose.

Yes, it would mean “losing” the Rays. But if you ask St. Pete residents if they think it’s worth $250 million — the minimum public investment needed to build a new stadium, according to Rays exec Michael Kalt — to avoid driving across the bay to see Rays games, my guess is most of them would take the cash.


14 comments on “Rays stadium wars, day two: Threats and counter-threats

  1. The mystery city begins with an M, has an accent over one of the vowels and is french.

    How awesome would that be? Rays (and their pitching) move to Montreal, then they and the Nats switch leagues, creating a huge rivalry with Baltimore.

    More importantly, Montreal gets its team back and we all get to recite the old vaudeville trope:

    Washington: First in War. First in Peace! Last in the American League.

  2. The Times editorial board, meanwhile, called on Foster to “stop threatening lawsuits and start thinking more creatively,” while praising Sternberg for speaking “responsibly and clearly about the Rays’ need for a new stadium,” saying, “He did not make threats, and he did not make demands.”

    This always makes me mental. The editorial board wants the Mayor to forfeit his only leverage and disregard his recourse via the lease while they praise the greedy owner who knowingly bought into the market and that lease.

    I know the newspapers always are nothing but PR schills for the teams so I shouldn’t be surprised or upset. Especially in Tampa after what Neil has posted regarding the “editorial direction” provided to the writers.

    The downfall of biased mainstream newspapers isn’t happening fast enough. I hope the St Pete Times and TBO are the next to shutter the windows.

  3. The Rays should be in Tampa.It would be more than shame to lose the Rays.A new stadium would be great.Keep this a major league city.Eventually you will have alot of Rays fans.It will take a generation with all of the transplants living here and still rooting for mommy and daddy’s team back up north

  4. The Rays should be in Tampa.It would be more than shame to lose the Rays.A new stadium would be great.Keep this a major league city.Eventually you will have alot of Rays fans.It will take a generation with all of the transplants living here and still rooting for mommy and daddy’s team back up north

  5. The Tampa Tribune in particular has a long and sordid history of being shills for sports teams, with non-stop cheerleading for whatever stadium frill an owner states he needs.

    They did a fantastic job of building up the Glazer family into true philanthropists who just wanted to help “the schools and police” by getting the public to build a football stadium. End result was the theft of Hillsborough County for the Bucs Stadium and maybe the worst stadium lease ever negotiated, in which the Glazers refused to pay an owed dime to the city.

    Now said Glazers have brought one of the greatest teams in sport, Manchester United, almost to its knees. But hey–Tampa won the Super Bowl once, so it must be a great city, right?

    The dopes of Tampa deserve an owner like this, and papers like they have.

  6. GDub-sounds like what the 49ers and the media just did to Santa Clara. Their campaign barely mentioned a stadium. They campaigned for schools and jobs. Do you have any links to the Tampa Tribune that documents the Bucs campaign for a new stadium?

  7. Thomas,

    Didn’t the SPT used to be publicly owned? I thought it was the most “reader supported” paper in the US? Sounds like that’s gone out the window…

    DTrain: I hope you are right, but can’t imagine Nous Amour returning…

    Kudos to Mayor Foster for taking the correct (if politically unpopular) path here. Ask the City of Glendale how “cooperating” with sports owners is working for them. The city spent huge money on this facility, and now the owner (who, as correctly pointed out above, purchased the team with it’s present stadium, location and lease in place) would like to walk… Well, he can’t.

    As for Sternberg selling, well, if things are as bad as he says they are, who would buy?

    With $30+ million in shared revenue coming to each team, I struggle to believe he is losing significant money. But perhaps I’m wrong, and he has truly purchased a ‘money pit’. In that case, he ought to sell right now for whatever he can get… and welcome to the club, Stuart…

  8. The Rays will get a stadium in Tampa, FL… Just like the A’s getting a stadium in San Jose, CA will eventually happen. The only place that’s be open to an MLB team and make an investment would be the State of New Jersey and Portland, OR.

  9. To D-train if the rays do come to Montreal they will stay in the A.L. East because tons of fans from Boston, New York and Toronto would come visit unlike being in the N.L. East. Plus that would avoid the horror of having two canadian teams in the world series which would make Americans puke. Montreal metropolitain area has 3.5 million people, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Portland are jokes compared to the size of Montreal. Just search wikipedia for Montreal Royals and Montreal Expos.

  10. I cannot figure out who the fool is in this scenario: the Rays owners, the pro-stadium crowd, the Tampa Tribune, Tampa city leaders, or Hillsborough County leaders.

    I will go with all of them being idiots.

  11. So, it’s settled then… the new Expos will be an AL East team.

    Now, about that designated hitter rubbish…

  12. Well, Portland has a $150 million subsidy waiting in the wings. Now just add a half million people and a half dozen Fortune 500 headquarters, and… presto! We have a stalking horse.

  13. I would rather see Vancouver, BC get a Major League Baseball franchise than going back to Montreal.

  14. Send them to Montreal immediately. The Rays boast one of the most exciting teams in ball and are in a tight division race with the Yanks.

    Yet over their recent home stand, they’ve only drew around 12 000 at the gate.

    If Monteal had this team, this number would be tripled at least.