Big news in Tampa Bay, where the St. Petersburg Times headline reads: “Tampa and St. Petersburg join forces to explore new stadium for Tampa Bay Rays.” The story goes on to say:
Now business leaders from both sides of the bay have joined forces to try to get a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.
They plan to study the economic impact of baseball, team income and expenses, and possible sources of stadium financing — both public and private.
Oh, business leaders — that’s not quite the same thing as city officials working together on a stadium plan. And as the Times story makes clear, that standoff is still in place: “Mayor Bill Foster has said he will discuss new stadium possibilities before the Tropicana Field contract expires in 2027 — but only for locations in or near St. Petersburg. Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg has said he will not discuss Pinellas locations unless the team also can explore possibilities in Hillsborough County.”
For now, it looks like all that will happen is that the two chambers of commerce will issue a “white paper” on stadium ideas by the end of the year, or maybe next year. Which could nudge the discussion in one direction or another, but isn’t going to change the underlying standoff, let alone figure out who would pay for a new building.
And speaking of paying, Shadow of the Stadium’s Noah Pransky has a peek inside the mind of Rays owner Stuart Sternberg that includes one of the pithiest summaries of the Tampa Bay stadium dilemma I’ve yet seen:
A new stadium could represent $200 million in value to the Rays, including tens of millions in revenue in each of the first few years. And while Sternberg would put a portion of that money into his own pocket, the rest would undoubtedly go back into the team, creating a better product for fans. He sees it as a win-win.
But the problem is that a new stadium would cost substantially more than $200 million. So Sternberg needs help.
There you have it: A new stadium would cost more than it would bring in — but would help the Rays so long as someone else is paying for it. Of course, this also implies that whoever would be building the stadium could save time and money by just handing over $200 million in cash directly to Sternberg, but that would presumably be considered unseemly.
Pransky sums up: “It’s not that Sternberg and the Rays have bad intentions; it’s actually the opposite: they really want baseball to survive in Tampa Bay. But business is business and profits must come first.” That seems a bit rose-colored, given that if Sternberg’s main goal were baseball’s survival in Tampa Bay, he would be spending more time on trying to get fans to show up at Tropicana Field instead of complaining about the traffic. A more accurate assessment might be: Sternberg is happy enough to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay, so long as he can rake in the dough at the same rate as other MLB owners who paid way more than the $200 million it cost him to get into the owners’ club.
At this point, it seems like the best possible route might be for St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster to offer Sternberg a reasonable buyout of his Tropicana Field lease, so long as Sternberg can find another place locally to build a stadium — and can do it without public subsidies. That way St. Pete gets some cash (and is free from the headache of wrangling with an unwilling tenant every year), the taxpayers get protected, and Sternberg can put his money where his mouth is to prove that location is his problem, not the desire for public subsidies. Maybe we’ll hear more on possibilities like this from Pransky today, when he’s promised the next post in his series will be “What Mayor Bill Foster is Thinking.”