Foster says he’ll let Rays look in Tampa for stadium sites

Apparently those hints that St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster was ready to let  Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg explore building a stadium in other nearby cities were more than just hints, because Foster has now told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board that he’s throwing in the towel on holding Sternberg to his lease clause requiring that the team stay in St. Pete:

“If your goal is keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in Tampa Bay until 2050, you have to let them look in Tampa,” Foster said.

Attendance might not improve markedly at a Hillsborough site, Foster said. “I think there is a big question mark as to whether or not Tampa Bay is a major league region.”

But letting the Rays explore all options now will enhance chances that the team stays for the long haul, he said.

The timing is a little bit weird, given that the Rays just sold out Sunday’s home game against the Giants (and nearly sold out Saturday’s), but the Rays still are next-to-last in MLB in attendance, so. And while Foster is giving up the right to force the Rays to stay put — or at least opening the door to doing so, as we don’t know yet whether he’ll demand something in exchange — it’s not like that was worth all that much to begin with: Having the Rays in town doesn’t do all that much for the local economy, having them leave would free up the Tropicana Field space for redevelopment, and above all, this would make the Rays stadium saga Tampa’s headache now.

Anyway, assuming Foster is for real, the ball will now be in the court of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan, who have proposed dedicating $100 million in tax money that currently goes to pay off convention center debt to a new Rays stadium. That’s almost certainly not going to cut it, since if Sternberg had to pay for half a billion dollars or so worth of stadium costs, he’d likely be better off staying put at Tropicana Field. But it at least means that the haggling can commence, which if it’s not necessarily bad news for Foster, is very, very good news for Sternberg.

3 comments on “Foster says he’ll let Rays look in Tampa for stadium sites

  1. So let’s assume that St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster lets the Rays out of its Tropicana Field lease before 2027…

    The Rays are the entity that will profit (maybe) from a new stadium, so let them pay 100% for it, and build it anywhere in the Tampa Bay area that is deemed optimal. Stu Sternberg bought the Rays for $200 million in 2004, and the Rays are now worth $450 million according to Forbes – that’s a 9+ % annual rate of return. Since the number of MLB franchises is not going to grow, this scarce resource will continue to increase in value nicely in the coming years. So Stu can easily pick up the tab, if indeed a new stadium is a smart investment with his money. On the other hand, if Stu get’s to use other people’s money (e.g. we taxpayers) to pay for the stadium, then it can be a stupid investment, and what does he care?

    As evidenced by the $2 ticket night this past Thursday, and the backpack give-away this past Sunday (a sellout), the cost of going to the games is the big ‘needle mover’ for attendance, which works very dramatically when the team is doing well. If people can’t afford to go to the games, and if the team is not doing well, if makes ‘no never mind’ where the stadium is.

  2. “…the cost of going to the games is the big ‘needle mover’ for attendance, which works very dramatically when the team is doing well.”

    And tix at a new ballpark are only going to be more expensive.

    Kinda sad. The people of Hillsborough will end up paying the majority of the cost of a stadium that will cost thrice what it should and be twice as large as it needs to be. Given the market, any talk about “half a billion dollars” should be slapped down real quick. But it won’t, because MLB wouldn’t consider anything less to be “major league” regardless of the need.

    And Sternberg isn’t really going to be any better off than he is now, I’m sure he knows it isn’t worth spending much of his own money. If he’s lucky, he’ll get some additional revenue during a short honeymoon period. Soon enough local revenue will settle back to where it is today. Which is fine, cuz that $70M+ in national TV money will be rolling in until 2021.