It happens every spring. And summer, for the All-Star break, and winter, for the World Series. MLB commissioner Bud Selig talks to the press, and he invariably takes the opportunity to explain why one team or another really really neeeeeeeeeeds a new stadium.
This week, it was the Tampa Bay Rays‘ turn, and Selig pulled out all the adjectival stops in declaring the team a disaster and a new stadium the solution:
“It is beyond disappointing,” Selig said Tuesday. “You cannot ask a franchise to continue, when they have been so competitive and really, really done a marvelous job, in a situation that is economically not tolerable.”…
He called the Rays’ attendance “very disappointing and very worrisome,” citing their average 17,791, which ranks 29th in the majors (ahead of only Miami) and well below the overall average of 30,268.
“Look at their club in the major leagues and it’s competitive, and is averaging 18,000 people a game,” he said. “That may have been okay in 1956, but it’s not okay today.”…
“There’s no question there’s a stadium problem,” Selig said. “There’s no debate about it. The question is what to do about it and when to do it and where, and those are conversations Mr. Sternberg and I will have.”…
“I have a very high level of frustration,” Selig said. “I think my patience is running as thin as his, if not more so. I don’t know what will happen with that; he and I need to have a lot more conversations.”
The Rays’ attendance numbers are dismal by modern MLB standards, there’s no doubt. And yet, the team is currently in the lead for the American League wild card, and is turning a profit of between $6 million and $26 million a year. (Yes, part of that is thanks to revenue sharing, but the whole point of revenue sharing is supposed to be to help smaller-market teams get a cut of the New York Yankees‘ riches, because everybody can’t play in New York.) And somebody has to be in last place in attendance, right?
In fact, that team is not the Rays, but as ThinkProgress’ Travis Waldron notes, another team that Selig not so long ago declared needed a new stadium to cure its attendance woes:
The bad news for both the Rays and St. Petersburg, though, is that blaming attendance woes on a “stadium problem” is exactly what Selig did in Miami just six years ago, when the Florida Marlins were looking to a new stadium to fix their sluggish attendance.
“I really believe that when you look at the demographics of South Florida, with a new stadium, that gives them a chance to be competitive, [the market works],” Selig said after stadium meetings in Miami in 2007, according to MLB.com. “After all, they are in a division where it’s not a secret, the Mets are building a new ballpark. Washington is moving into a new ballpark. Philadelphia is in a new ballpark, and Atlanta has a new ballpark. If I didn’t feel that South Florida was a market you can compete in, with the right stadium, I wouldn’t be here today.”
It’s certainly possible that the Rays would fare better in a new stadium than the Marlins: Stuart Sternberg certainly seems like he’d be more patient than to trade all of his decent players just a few months after opening a new building. But there are plenty of other examples of cities where new stadiums haven’t been a panacea either in the standings or at the gate: the Pittsburgh Pirates, say, where attendance at PNC Park has been about the same as it was at Three Rivers Stadium; or the Cincinnati Reds, with similar figures for their old and new ballparks. There’s inevitably a temporary bump in attendance from a new stadium, since people turn out just to gawk, but history has shown that that can last anywhere from a few weeks (the Marlins) to maybe eight years or so (the Cleveland Indians) before attendance returns to background levels.
But anyway, Selig says he “cannot ask a franchise to continue” in the pennant race and making money year after year, so clearly he’s gonna do something. Or at least he’s hoping to spark headlines about how Tampa Bay will lose the Rays, their long-term lease and the near impossibility of folding the franchise notwithstanding. Oh, look, mission accomplished.