Tampa Bay Times sportswriter Marc Topkin handed over his column yesterday to Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, for a long interview about how his team doesn’t have as much money as other teams and it’s just so unfair. (Sample quote: “It’s tough when the other guy is driving a tank and I’m sitting there on a three-speed bicycle.”) And while it may seem an odd time to whine about market disparities when the Kansas City Royals just won the World Series and the Arizona Diamondbacks just signed the best free-agent pitcher to a record contract, Sternberg has an answer to that, too: Those teams have been able to convert winning into increased TV revenues, which the Rays don’t have access to.
But wait! Isn’t 2016 the year when the Rays get to sign a new TV contract, possibly quintupling their annual media revenues?
Nuh-uh, says Sternberg, as relayed by Topkin:
A presumably rich new TV deal “a few years from now” — not after 2016 as has been reported — should also provide a welcome revenue boost.
Which left a whole lot of Rays watchers going “Um, what?”
Rays new TV deal being "a few years away" rather than happening after '16 is something I hadn't seen reported before https://t.co/NUpetCng3Q
— Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) December 9, 2015
— Shadow of Stadium (@StadiumShadow) December 9, 2015
Topkin, however, was insistent:
Per Sternberg, isn't up for a couple years, reports of '16 expiration were incorrect https://t.co/aAnkf6zSWU
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) December 10, 2015
Okay, a couple of things here. First off, jeez, Topkin, if you’re going to drop a bombshell like that into a column, you really owe it to your readers to explain what you’re talking about. Also, to ask Sternberg to go back and explain himself — what does “a couple of years” mean exactly? — even if it means interrupting his self-selected narrative for a minute.
As for what happened here, we can only speculate, but it looks like the 2016 figure goes back to a 2010 report from Sports Business Daily, which said (as cited in the Tampa Bay Times) that “after the Rays renewed their contract with Fox Sports Florida in 2008, they are now locked in until 2016.” So maybe there were some option years at the end of the deal? Or maybe SBD got it wrong? (Though stuff like TV deals is usually their bread-and-butter.) Or Sternberg decided at some point to extend the Fox deal for his own unscrutable reasons, and didn’t tell anyone until now? Who knows!
The bigger question, to my mind, is why Sternberg is crying poor in a public forum at this particular moment. It could be:
- To distract fans from the fact that his team hasn’t acquired any good new players in eons, and this winter doesn’t look to be any different.
- An early shot across the bow of MLB in advance of next winter’s collective bargaining agreement renegotiation, in hopes of getting increased revenue sharing money for teams in small markets with crappy TV deals and whiny owners.
- Attempted leverage with St. Petersburg officials to show that he neeeeeeds a new stadium (you knew I’d get around to stadiums eventually, right?), and so they should hurry up and approve that lease buyout deal already.
Or all of the above! In any case, all this talk about bicycles and tanks (which, as Craig Calcaterra notes, ignores the facts that 1) Sternberg knew what team he was getting when he bought it, 2) the Rays are still making money regardless, and 3) the franchise has more than quadrupled in value in the 11 years Sternberg has owned it) isn’t going to help the Rays sell any tickets. But then, selling tickets is what the Royals do. Those bastards.