Rays owner: If no new stadium, I’ll find a guy to take the team and go home with it, in 2027, yeah!

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg celebrated his new agreement with the city of St. Petersburg to allow him to pursue a new stadium across the bay in Hillsborough County yesterday in the way that only sports team owners can: By threatening that if he doesn’t get his way, he’ll find an imaginary person to move the team out of town.

“I’m not moving this team. I’m not taking this team out of the area. But that’s me,” Sternberg said at baseball’s winter meetings in San Diego.

“The chances of me owning this team in 2023 if we don’t have a new stadium are probably nil. Somebody else will take it and move it. It’s not a threat, just the reality.”…

Sternberg said he didn’t know exactly what they would do if the agreement is not approved by the council, but he certainly sounded discouraged by the prospects, adding that it could lead to the team leaving the market.

“If it doesn’t pass, we’re doomed to leave …” he said.

Sternberg has made threats like this before, mind you, but he at least then usually painted MLB officials as the bad guys wanting the team out of Tampa Bay. Blaming a hypothetical future Rays owner who doesn’t even exist yet isn’t quite a second-ever sighting of the ghost threat, but it’s still kind of impressive, given that he single-handedly managed to turn a day when people actually felt good about the Rays stadium situation (largely because nobody had yet thought much about the price tag, but hey, allow people their moments) into a hostage crisis in the course of a few hours.

Before anyone gets too excited about the Rays moving to Montréal on Friday if the council doesn’t approve this deal (whoops, too late!), keep in mind that the Rays are bound by their lease to stay at Tropicana Field through 2027, something Sternberg himself has acknowledged. Plus, if the new agreement isn’t approved by the council tomorrow, Sternberg (or whoever he sells the team to) can’t even talk to anyone outside of St. Pete about a new stadium — and even if it is approved, the Rays owner still can’t talk to anyone outside Tampa Bay before the lease is up.

So it’s a pretty idle non-threat threat, but when it’s the only arrow in your quiver, I guess you’ve got to run with it. Why the sports media is running with it too is a different question, but they have a long history of this stuff, too.

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12 comments on “Rays owner: If no new stadium, I’ll find a guy to take the team and go home with it, in 2027, yeah!

  1. There’s something to be said for literally trotting out the bogeyman when discussing these stadium talks.

    This ought to go down really well with a comparatively tiny fanbase, most of whom are already feeling discontent after a disappointing year, in a region which (justifiably) doesn’t want to spend some $500m (or more) on an edifice for a team owner who’s made countless threats to hang them out to dry before.

  2. FWIW the council is expected to approve this deal. The new deal makes it much easier to move the team in 2015/16 if Tampa doesn’t come up with a stadium solution.

  3. Okay, I just read through the MOU, and it spells out in multiple places that the Rays can only terminate the lease early in order to move into a new stadium in Pinellas or Hillsborough. So if nothing is doing in the Tampa area, they can’t go elsewhere until 2027.

  4. Looks like the city council isn’t gonna be intimidated by $tuie’s púca. Vote is now scheduled for next Thursday.

  5. I have a feeling that if the big shots(google Mitch Garber) in Montreal build a new stadium, they will find a way to compensate Tampa. The TV contract they could get in Montreal would be a big win for MLB and would be a perfect fit being in the same division with Toronto.

  6. Assuming the deal gets approved next week to allow the Rays to look in Pinellas and Hillsborugh Counties, then as long as Stu foots 100% of the bill for the new stadium, I’m on board. A $600 million stadium can be paid for with yearly payments of $38.6 million per year for 30 years at 5% interest. With Stu’s reducing of payroll (including manager position) and impending increase of TV revenues, he can easily pay for the whole enchalada.

    Stu paid about $180 million for the team in 2005. He can sell it today for about $500 million. And, if there is more than one prospective jock sniffing billionaire buyer, then he can sell it for even more. But Stu won’t sell now, because he knows that year after year the value of the franchise will continue to rise. So he is in a can’t lose position. If he is successful in extorting public money from the cowardly politicians, he simply becomes richer than rich. If not, he has his capital gains problem to deal with.

    It’s curious that Stu cited the year 2023 when he will be 64 years old – old enough to collect social security but not old enough to get medicare nor full social security retirement benefits. Oh, you say Stu does not need to worry about such considerations. MY BAD.

  7. He could, sure. But would a new stadium really bring in an extra $38.6 million a year in revenues? After revenue sharing, keep in mind, plus the cost of bringing in actual players that fans will want to pay to see, to go along with Evan Longoria.

    Most sports team owners are rich enough that they could easily pay for stadium out of their own pockets — but they would lose money doing so, and the ostensible point of building new stadiums is to bring in more money. So the only want to make these money-raising new buildings raise money is to have somebody else pay for them. (Yes, that’s sarcasm. Or irony? One of those.)

  8. Neil,
    If it is a losing proposition for Stu Sternberg to build a new stadium, then it is a losing proposition for the taxpayer, in which case building a new stadium is not a good economic decision. Regarding ‘they [owners] would lose money’, I think a more accurate characterization is that they would make less money.

  9. Agreed — no one has shown that a new Rays stadium would be an economic positive. *Subsidies* for a new Rays stadium would be an economic positive *for the Rays*, but you know, duh.

  10. As Scott suggest above, another way to look at Sternberg’s nonthreat is this: “I’ve made more money on this team than I ever thought possible in the decade (give or take) that I’ve owned it. And thanks to revenue sharing, I’ve also pocketed $20-30m a year in profit. So, really, even though I will continue to make more money than you can possibly imagine just by keeping the club, I can also cash out in the next couple of years and have done fantastically well. The next owner, because he must overpay the current owner, will not do as well, so he might want to move the club”.

    I imagine choosing which colour Porsche or Ferrari you take out of the garage on a given morning can be a dilemma for the ultrarich just as real as ‘how do I get money for food today’ is for the less fortunate.

  11. Tom:

    It’s true that a tv deal in Montreal would be more than the Rays currently get. However, it’s not going to be comparable with the kinds of deals in place in major US cities (Toronto’s tv deal, although an internal transfer from Rogers, is in the neighbourhood of $40-45m per season… quite some way from the Dodgers, Angles, Giants or Rangers… much less the Yankees). We also don’t know what the Rays ‘next’ deal might be worth, given the ridiculous increase in RSN rights of late.

    The question I have is would Montreal (or any other potential destination) be a more valuable market to MLB than Tampa if you have to pay to get out of the Trop lease? I don’t know the answer to that… but given that the Rays still draw flies and are still there, I’d have to think the answer is no.

    And if you are building a new stadium and paying to leave Tampa, why wouldn’t you look at all options (like paying to get into the NY market – something Sternberg is rumoured to have been pursuing when he bought the club originally) instead of just Montreal?

    I’d love to see the Expos back (as I’ve said before), and you are right it would help both clubs if they were in the same division as Toronto. But now consider it from the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles perspective… they would be facing almost a quarter of their season played against teams from another country… Not ideal from a fan or player taxation POV.

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