There may not be much going on in the Tampa Bay Rays stadium standoff beyond owner Stuart Sternberg’s periodic griping to the media, but ESPN is on the case to ensure that no one forgets that the Rays are drawing lousy despite being in … well, third place, actually.
In any event, for ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume this is a clear sign that, as he says in the first line of yesterday’s column, “the Tampa Bay Rays must be moved”:
The franchise has done the best it can with a suffocating stadium lease. The past three seasons have been the most successful in Rays’ history, but those seasons have produced no attendance momentum. In fact, Rays attendance figures and local television ratings this season are in decline. Baseball needs to lower its rope and let the Rays climb out of their sinkhole.
By “suffocating stadium lease,” presumably, Berthiaume means that the Rays can’t break it and move to … well, it’s not clear where he wants them to move. He at first suggests that the team would be better off across the bridge in Tampa (“‘Murder’ is how one area baseball fan described the commute to me”), then says that might not be a solution either, given the region’s “erratic economy, a unique geography that can make for challenging commutes, a population that’s in large part either elderly or transient and limited corporate sponsorship possibilities.” Of course, most of the other cities one might consider moving the Rays have similar problems, not to mention no stadiums or thoughts of building one.
Berthiaume calls the current Rays situation “a painful stall that can’t last much longer” (citing Sternberg’s “enough is enough” threat from February), but if baseball history tells us anything, it’s that painful stalls can last a decade if not longer — and given that the Rays look to be turning a profit regardless, it’s hard to see the urgency here.
Elsewhere on ESPN, meanwhile, a convoluted column by Howard Bryant blames baseball’s “greed” for sticking the Rays with Tropicana Field:
The 1992 failure to bring the Giants to town was the seventh time in seven chances that Tampa Bay lost on attracting a team. Baseball knew the problems, and chose the short-term windfall ($155 million in expansion fees) over long-term health.
The upshot here, presumably, is that Tampa Bay was a lousy baseball market (or at least St. Petersburg is a lousy place for a stadium), but that MLB took the money and ran, leaving the Rays doomed to an existence of … two division titles in three years and slow but steady profits helped (as is half the league) by revenue-sharing checks? Again, it’s not owning the Boston Red Sox and raking in money with a shovel, but then if it were Sternberg wouldn’t have gotten the franchise for a bargain price of $200 million.
Bryant goes on to suggest that the Rays should follow the San Francisco Giants‘ lead and build a new stadium in Tampa with their own money, taking a gamble that Tampa Bay actually is a good market, it’s just the stadium that sucks. (It’s an interesting argument, though I suspect that the lack of a Silicon Valley next door would prevent the kind of creative private financing that the Giants used to build Pac Bell Park.) Bryant also says lots of stuff about the Oakland A’s as well, concluding, as best as I can understand, that MLB should get Frank McCourt to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers to A’s owner Lew Wolff so that a new A’s owner can work out a stadium deal with Oakland, a city that Wolff, in Bryant’s estimation, hates. I’m not exactly sure how that makes sense either — the A’s problem is that there may not be enough money in the Bay Area to build a stadium and increase team revenues without either cannibalizing the Giants’ income or demanding huge public subsidies that aren’t likely to be forthcoming — but I’ve done enough gratis ESPN fact-checking for one day, so I’ll leave that to other folks to kibitz.