ESPN beats drum for Rays relocation

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.

21 comments on “ESPN beats drum for Rays relocation

  1. And now in Chicago we are hearing the periodic drum beat for POSSIBLY a new stadium for the Cubs.

    After National MLB reporter Peter Gammons referred to Wrigley Field as a “dump” the dialogue among local media really ramped up with regard to “what to do with Wrigley Field?”

    Owner Tom Ricketts had already floated the idea of the state/city subsidizing the cost for massive renovations (well over $250 Million)through retaining sales tax revenues in the area, or TIF financing (a favorite for all sorts of things in Chicago).

    With the refrain of “we need modern amenities to contribute to a winning team” being the latest excuse for either a radical reconstruction of Wrigley Field, if not a new stadium somewhere else…perhaps the suburbs, with their ample parking.

  2. ESPN seriously needs to get out of the sports industry.

    The Cubs and no Wrigley Field? Haha – that would be an absolute disaster. If anything, the Cubs totem pole goes: Wrigley Field, actual team, Wrigley Field again.

    If years of past ballpark renderings of designs suggest, I imagine if an unthinkable move to the suburbs, the whole concept will be a combination of: Yankee Stadium retail, faux Wrigleyville & Wrigley Field II with surrounding restaurants, shops, museums, parking, luxury suites and offices galore with Miller Park combined (I’m almost positive I’ve read reports that the Cubs desire a retractable roof on a new stadium).

    Ricketts is already doing his best to kill the Golden Goose with his rhetoric plans and those fans have already figured out he’s a clueless owner.

    State or city funding not coming anytime soon; not with them both so deep in the red.

    It’s long been my personal prediction that when they renovate Wrigley, they will tear everything down except the lower deck & bleachers, buy as much surrounding land as possible, and build upwards including double-decker luxury suites. The stadium itself is nothing special especially the ugly exterior & its offices.

  3. I’d put it as: Wrigley Field, ivy, the bars on Clark Street, Harry Caray’s moldering corpse, Wrigley Field again, the Cubs.

    There’s a problem with your “buy up surrounding land” idea, though, which is that on three sides the surrounding land is streets. The fourth side is where they’ve proposed the “triangle building,” which would enable them to move offices and kitchens and such out of the stadium proper, as was done at Fenway. But if you tear down the Wrigley upper deck, you’d just need to put it right back up again, because there’s nowhere to build out horizontally, and if you go any higher without a setback you’ll need crampons to get to your seats.

  4. Tampa Bay will not succeed in the current MLB business model because the current MLB model favors and protects their division rival the Yankees (and to a lesser degree the Red Sox). If your a MLB fan of a team other than the Yankees, then you are a total sucker and MLB will continue to exploit you for every dollar you have without giving you a level playing field.

  5. Maybe, just perhaps, there are too many teams.

    Nah, I didn’t just say that out loud. Move on. Nothing to see here.

    One hundred and twenty-two teams ranked on the ESPN list. How many metro areas with a population over 1.5 million are there in the US and Canada?

  6. Does no-one remember the “Cubs to Schaumburg” plan of the 1980s?

    It was all about getting permission for night games (lights) from the locals… the Cubs were never going to move to Schaumburg or anywhere else. About as much chance of that as them ground sharing with the White Sox…

    If Ricketts feels he can create a better environment elsewhere, he is entitled as the owner of the team to do so. But he would be an absolute fool to try it. It isn’t “lack of revenue” that is hurting the Cubs, it’s abusive ticket pricing schemes (the Cubs being an industry “leader” in scalping their own tickets), and unbelievably poor club management (the reason the Cubs have so many overpriced underachievers is that Jim Hendry was given a well padded checkbook to go out and overpay for anyone they could get in the Trib’s “presale” run up. He did. And most of the assets thus acquired are dogs. As is often the case in baseball, winning an auction for a free agent’s services is often second best to being the highest bidder not to get that player’s services… you don’t spend the money on a player who will likely never again post the numbers he just has, but force your main opponents to spend even more than you were willing to pay.) The Cubs have one of the highest payrolls in the game, yet have only a couple of players who understand fundamental baseball.

    The Cubs are one of the richest franchises in baseball. They must be, because some dimwit just paid about $900M for them and their century old stadium. As with Sternberg, if Ricketts has buyer’s remorse (fear not, as a Cub fan, I can attest he does not) he really should put the team up for sale. It’s about trying to bully various levels of gov’t to pay for a reconstruction of Wrigley that will look just like the present facility but be able to earn even more revenue. Nothing more.

  7. Nothing to say about Long Island yet, Neil?

    I will definitely be paying attention to the outcome of the Aug 1 election.

  8. not the first time an owner uses a “news” outlet to get their line out, wolff is a master at this.

    maybe the a’s (as in a daze) can move to long island? lol

  9. Haven’t had a chance to delve into the Nassau lease details yet, and have to run out for the afternoon. Will report back in the morning – until then, feel free to kibitz here, as this seems to have turned into the open thread item.

  10. I think the Islanders deal will go through (Unlike Minnesotota, Oakland, etc). If so it may be the last one for 5-10 years.

  11. David, the Islanders deal contains one major item I approve of: An election.

    If enough people vote for it and there are adequate protections for their general fund, I think it’s okay. It’s when pols try to do everything they can to avoid an election and when they try to downplay threats to the general fund that I get pretty upset.

    I haven’t seen any polls on this one, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s rejected, only because of all the other problems in that county. They actually make California look relatively sane.

  12. Move them to Montreal if they can build a outdoor stadium. Great rivalries with Toronto, Boston and New York plus the Canadian economy is going up while the American one is going down. Enough Said.

  13. Greater Montreal is the most populous metropolitan area in the Canadian province of Quebec. As of 2009, Statistics Canada identifies Montreal’s Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) (land area 4,259 square kilometres (1,644 sq mi)) as Canada’s second most populous with a population of 3,859,318.

  14. Josh from NJ nails it. I’ve always said (recently, at least) that MLB operates under the “Harlem Globetrotters” business model. Teams like the Rays are supposed to make things interesting but eventually bow out in the big moments (playoffs) to the chosen ones. When that doesn’t happen (Rays), the powers at be (ESPN) don’t like it.

  15. Interesting article but I take issue with one point, that there isn’t enough money in the Bay Area to support the A’s and a new stadium.

    There is an insane amount of wealth in the Bay Area. The issue is whether or not the city of Oakland and the Oakland A’s, under new ownership, can be attractive enough to draw the interest of that wealth – AKA are “they” a good bet/investment. Oakland is surrounded by 5 million people. It is easy to get into and out of. And it would not require cannibalizing the Giants (SF propaganda at it’s best).

  16. Yes, there is an insane amount of wealth in the Bay Area, but the Giants are using it right now to bid up the price of their tickets to insane levels. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find so many rich baseball fans in the Bay Area who are currently not watching baseball at all that the A’s could lure them in without affecting the Giants.

    Again, it’s not whether the Bay Area can support two teams — that’s a separate issue. It’s whether you can somehow generate enough money to increase the A’s revenues *and* build a new stadium (in Oakland or San Jose or wherever) without taking any of it out of the Giants’ current pot of revenues. Maybe there’s some untapped wellspring of wealthy would-be baseball fans in Contra Costa County who are just waiting for the next great team in Oakland, but I’m not holding my breath.

  17. Neil, you make some excellent points. Much like the Raiders and Niners, I believe the A’s and Giants have completely separate fans bases and, by extension, revenue bases. A’s fans and Giant fans are as different as Raiders (blue collar) and Niner fans (white collar). The Giants had meager attendance at Candlestick but now almost sell out every game with a “new” fan base. I believe the same would be true for the A’s and a new stadium in Jack London Square. And I feel these new fans will come from outside of Contra Costa County, including Sacramento where the RiverCats (A’s Triple A team) is a huge draw.

  18. The Bay Area can support 2 very profitable teams but the problem is they are misplaced.

    The SF-Oakland-Fremont Metro area has 2 teams while the the extremely wealthy San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara Metro area has none.

    Right now it is the Giants who are cannabalizing the A’s fan base in super rich Contra Costa County because both teams are too close to one another.

    People in the East Bay or the “so called A’s territory” can pick which team they want to watch as their is public transportation to SF and Oakland. Why go to Oakland when you can watch in SF at a beautiful ballpark like ATT Park?

    For that reason alone it makes zero sense for the A’s to build in Oakland and for them to build in San Jose.

    The Giants overestimate their San Jose influence as they get far more season ticket holders from the East Bay than they do in the South Bay because of sheer distance.

    It would actually hurt the Giants more for the A’s to build in Oakland as those rich East Bay fans would have a choice that is closer now and comparable.

    In the South Bay, it is too far to go to SF or Oakland consistently therefore those fans are out of reach.

    The Giants know this and want the A’s to leave the Bay Area….The political well has been poisoined between Oakland and the A’s for years. (MT. Davis)

    San Jose is the only place where it makes sense to build and they can do it privately as it is “shovel ready”…