Sternberg: Rays can’t “sustain” themselves without more fans

If it’s Wednesday, Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg must be whining about his team’s attendance again:

“It is what it is,” Sternberg said of the disappointing turnouts at Tropicana Field. “It could be better and should be better. I know we can’t sustain ourselves like this. It hasn’t gotten better. If anything, it’s worse. We had another successful year last season and the economy, while it’s not good, has not gotten worse, but our numbers I think will be down, coming off a postseason appearance. It’s unheard of.”

Sternberg knows there are plenty of fans out there.

“People are watching us on TV and listening on the radio. I walk around and I see all the hats. I want to have a team that’s going to be able to compete, but we can’t lose money year in and year out, hand over fist.

“To run a payroll like we do now, basically the second-lowest in baseball, and barely keep our nose above water, we can’t sustain that.”

While it’s got to be frustrating to have a team in the thick of the pennant race that’s not selling tickets, the Rays are hardly alone in that regard. (Hello, Cleveland!) More to the point, though, early-season attendance usually reflects how many tickets were sold the previous winter, and last winter was a time when Sternberg’s execs were dumping high-salaried players left and right, which isn’t exactly a great way to kick off a season-ticket drive. Add in that Sternberg has spent the last four years complaining that his home stadium is outmoded and decrepit, and really it’s a wonder that anyone comes to the games at all.

It’s certainly possible that St. Petersburg just isn’t a good location for a stadium — whether because the Florida economy can’t support a team there or because, as Sternberg suggested last week, Rays fans hate bridges. But until we see management actually promoting the team and its home park instead of giving fans excuses not to show up, we can’t know for sure.

(Finally, props to Sternberg to adding “can’t sustain ourselves” as a euphemism in the move-and/or-contraction-threat game. I doubt it will surpass “certitude” for word of the year, but it’s still a nice touch.)

17 comments on “Sternberg: Rays can’t “sustain” themselves without more fans

  1. I don’t really care one way or another, but the Trop is a piece of crap. Furthermore, its location in St. Pete is a big inconvenience because it’s not close to ANYTHING really and it’s surrounded by the ghetto. Oh yeah, and most people in the area live in Tampa. But then again people don’t really support the Bucs either, so like I said: don’t really care. The Rays can move or contract for all I care (and really it might be better for everyone involved anyway).

  2. Problem is they need a contraction partner, which they don’t have. Oakland would be the obvious choice if not for an owner looking to build a park in one city and another city trying desperately to keep him and his team in town.

  3. I am gratified to hear that Mr. Sternberg has admitted that his purchase of the Rays was a colossal mistake. It would be even better if he admitted that it was his mistake, not the city of Tampa/St. Pete’s, but small steps, obviously.

    If this business is truly non-sustainable as he claims, I will be looking forward to him placing the franchise up for sale. Since we now know that MLB franchises in “sub optimal” markets can actually turn a significant profit simply by farming the MLB subsidy (see Pirates, Marlins et al), I might even be willing to make an offer on the club myself. Always assuming that Bob Nutting or Jeff Loria doesn’t beat me to this business opportunity, of course.

  4. Dan;

    Don’t forget the biggest impediment to contraction: The MLBPA.

    Contraction is the last (maybe latest would be a more apt term) and weakest in a long line of stadium extortion moves. Unless these teams are actually losing money and have no potential buyers (which isn’t likely in MLB), contraction is nothing but an empty threat.

  5. Its good to see Lew Wolff isn’t the only owner driving his fan base away from the ball park. And the A’s have only lost 9 straight as of today.

  6. It’s not about attendance. Attendance is used as a ploy to get a new stadium. Think about the length of time the Marlins played in an NFL stadium. Attendance was horrible and they didn’t leave. Once a team gets a new stadium, owners no longer bring up attendance numbers because it’s not about attendance. Btw, I thought new stadiums helps teams “compete?” How have the Mariners, Twins, Pirates and Astros been doing lately?

  7. I don’t think contraction is the answer. Look at Minnesota and Washington. They were once candidates for contraction and now they are healthy organizations (depending on how you define healthy).

  8. Maybe, and I’m just spitballing here, but just maybe, if you didn’t run to the press every other day whining like a little (expletive) about how crappy your stadium is, then perhaps people would take the time to come out to the yard and see your team play.

  9. When he says this: “To run a payroll like we do now, basically the second-lowest in baseball, and barely keep our nose above water, we can’t sustain that.” is he suggesting he could do better to have the lowest payroll in baseball?
    As mentioned in this astute post, when you promise your fans a load of nothing by letting all your free agents to escape and then proceed to complain about the building you need people to enter to watch you play, how can you be surprised when they choose to stay at home?
    Maybe soon you can start a ‘Montreal wants a team, too’ post… he said wistfully.

  10. If I have ever seen a case that was worthy of contraction, this is it. What an absurd & ridiculous owner; not even remotely grateful that there actually fans of his team, but basically calls them idiots for not showing up to watch his inferior team in his so-claimed inferior stadium. And I’m pretty sure he’s pulling up a nice profit, tho not as large as he initially wanted.

    Sternberg badly needs a lesson in P.R. 101, and needs to realize it’s a lot easier to stay home than it is to the game. Being a corporate whiner doesn’t drive up public sympathy. He needs to get out of the business.

  11. If the Rays were contracted, Sternberg would get paid for his franchise, while the fans would lose their team. I think this is the opposite of what you’re hoping to accomplish.

  12. MLB is a total joke. Unless your a fan of New York, you are being exploited for being a mindless penguin.

  13. The Rays have fans? I honestly don’t see how this team can ever be profitable. People in the Tampa area simply don’t care about baseball…nor do they really understand the game.

    I think this is a case where this anti-stadium website is waaaay off. Do the Rays deserve a new ball park? Yes, but not in Tampa. The best thing for the Rays is contraction or relocation. Tampa is a second rate metro area with a slumping economy…we live in a pretty decrepit ghetto (with a few exceptions).

  14. Tampa Bay is undeniably one of the lousier MLB markets, but it’s still head and shoulders above the other options. San Antonio? Charlotte? Portland? All even smaller markets, with their own problems with local economies and population distribution. If you allowed a third team in NYC that’d be different, obviously, but that’s not going to happen as long as a Steinbrenner walks the earth.

    And sure, you could contract the Rays, but you could just as easily make a case for contracting the Pirates, or even the Reds. Somebody’s always got to be in the smallest MLB market, wherever you choose to draw the line. Buying out the Rays would just mean somebody else would be drawing their revenue-sharing checks, plus MLB would be $300 million poorer or whatever it cost to buy them out.

    I think one of the core purposes of this site is to question what it means for a team to “need” a new stadium. Could the Rays be more profitable in a new stadium (if they didn’t have to pay for it)? Sure. Could they be more profitable in Tampa than in St. Pete? Maybe. Is it worth it, though, to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money and disrupt lots of people’s lives and urban planning priorities just so Stuart Sternberg’s bank statement looks nicer at the end of the year? There I’m thinking, maybe, not so much.

  15. People in the Tampa Bay area DO care a lot about baseball. Just look at the T.V. ratings for the Rays (among the best in the league). The problem is the location. You increase the amount of people who have access to the stadium within 30 minutes by moving it to Tampa. Look at the Tampa Bay Lightning attendance. The draw very well because of the location. If they could put the stadium near the downtown area, it would really help attendance.

  16. The Rays are making Stu a ton of money. He just wants to make more. If the Rays were really losing money, I do not think they would be in business.
    Hey Stu, how about building ur fan base instead of alienating them.