MLB commish, guy clinging to sportswriter job agree: Somebody build Rays a stadium already!

One of the problems with the sportswriting business is that too many sportswriters tend to approach everything as a game, and the only thing they’re interested in is who’s winning or losing. Okay, two of the problems with the sportswriting business are that, and also that they know their paycheck comes from people reading about the local teams, so they’ll do anything in their power to protect that. Okay, three of the problems are those, plus that whenever sports officials talk, they’re used to listening, because these are the guys who grant them credentials and — you get the picture, and if you don’t, I wrote about it in detail almost 20 years ago, and not a hell of a lot has changed since then.

Today’s problem sportswriter is Tom Jones, sports columnist for the Tampa Bay Times, who heard MLB commissioner Rob Manfred say he wants the Tampa-St. Pete region to “move [a decision on a new Rays stadium to the front burner,” and thought, hey, yeah, what’s taking so long anyway?

Just spitballing, but here’s a thought: How about we stop talking about a new stadium and start building one…

You don’t need a law degree to know the Rays need a new stadium in a new location. We all know that. We’ve all known that pretty much since the Trop opened for business in the 1990s.

What we don’t know is where it should be and who’s going to pay for it. Meantime, as we talk and argue and worry and plan, we keep flipping over pages in the calendar. One month becomes the next. One year bleeds into another. And here we are, still talking, and it feels as if we are nowhere closer to digging in the dirt…

Most baseball fans in Tampa Bay don’t really care where a new stadium ends up, just as long as it’s not Montreal, Charlotte, Las Vegas or anywhere outside the 727 or 813 area codes.

But most of all, don’t you just want this thing to be over already? Don’t you just want someone, anyone, to pick a spot and start building? And let’s face reality, we can all shake our heads and complain and tell [Rays owner Stuart] Sternberg that if he wants a new stadium, he can pull out his wallet and pay for it, but that’s not how this kind of thing works.

At some point, someone’s tax money is going to be used to help build it, whether it’s ours or our visitors’.

This, this is why commissioners like Rob Manfred make these statements, over and over — in hopes that someone friendly in the media will pick them up and make his talking points for him. Jones’s column hits most of the strategies in the new-stadium playbook — the team “needs” a new stadium (without specifying whether that’s fan-comfort need or insufficient-profit need or what), the team could move without one, everybody spends tax money on stadiums so let’s just do it already and get it over with.

Years ago, I engaged in a spirited, mostly friendly online debate with a New York historian about the legacy of Robert Moses, the power broker who pretty much single-handedly reshaped New York City from the 1930s through the 1960s, building parks and highways and public housing, evicting hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, and solidifying the city’s racial and class divides in millions of tons of concrete. (Possibly his most defining moment was his decision to build highway bridges on his Long Island highways too low for buses to fit under them, so as to defend his new public beaches from the people he liked to refer to as “that scum floating up from Puerto Rico.”) My frenemy always insisted, yeah, yeah, but at least he got things done, even if all of it wasn’t that great. My response was: Getting things done isn’t always a plus, if things were better beforehand — or if it forestalls doing things a better way.

Would it be nice if the Rays had a new stadium by now? Sure! (Though I haven’t been to Tropicana Field myself, so can’t actually vouch for how much fans would prefer a new and/or differently located facility.) Is it likely that Sternberg would have built one by now if somebody had thrown a whole lot of public money at him? Indubitably! But every time a city gives in and coughs up public money — whether in the form of straight cash or tax breaks or whatever — that just reinforces the “everybody does it” argument, and precludes the possibility that the public might be able to wait out a team owner until he agrees to stay put and pay for any of his own costs his own self. Which does happen!

You’re reading this website, so I probably don’t need to tell you most of this, but it’s worth restating every one in a while. As is the reminder that even as we can talk about the structural power-dynamics reasons why cities drop billions of dollars a year on subsidies to new sports facilities for the benefit of private team owners, it’s in this kind of everyday battle of public discourse that the power dynamics take shape. Tom Jones is just a guy who’s putting down in electrons his own thoughts and feelings about a new Rays stadium and whether it matters how it’s paid for — as am I, though I do like to think I’ve done a smidge more research on the topic. If Tampa Bay is going to end up with a denouement for the Rays that reflects even in the slightest the needs and desires of actual residents of the region, they’re going to have to shout really loud, because guys like Jones and Manfred are the ones with the bullhorns.


27 comments on “MLB commish, guy clinging to sportswriter job agree: Somebody build Rays a stadium already!

      • https://www.reviewjournal.com/news/education/las-vegas-ranked-among-least-educated-cities/

        Here’s why Las Vegas is a great place for a pro sports team owner who wants taxpayer subsidies.

  1. It’s always good when sportswriters pimp for you to get a new, private billionaire acres at public expense. Buying pols is a lot more expensive than getting inkstained wretches as we used to call them to work for free. Of course, you can’t really get it built without buying a few votes here and there but still, it’s nice to think that a column in a newspaper somehow makes the world of stadium gravy go ’round!

    • Technical point: If the ink stained wretches are the ones selling themselves for a fix to benefit the owners, aren’t the owners the pimps and the wretches the, um, interns?

  2. It’s not convenient to reach from the larger population base in Tampa, but it’s a good ballpark. The Trop is right off the freeway, has plenty of parking, is just outside of downtown and the beautiful waterfront, and all of the seats give a great view of the field. And as long as people keep staying away the tickets are cheap and plentiful.

    I agree it’s not pretty from the outside and doesn’t have all of the extras that the newer parks have, but all I ask is a comfortable place to watch the action on the field, and if I am stuck in FL, I want it to be air conditioned. The Trop gives me all of that. Can’t they just embrace their unique ballpark and turn it into an attraction instead of bad-mouthing it every chance they get?

    • They’ve made the stadium the boogeyman to avoid facing the reality that the problems go WAY beyond the stadium. For this season they’re dead last in attendance and over 3,000 per game behind the next-to-last team. They draw under 16,000 fans per game–their road average is over 30,000 for some comparison. Pick the most accessible place in the whole city and raze whatever is there for a new park and they’re still never going to be a great draw because if people cared AT ALL about the team they’d be drawing considerably better than they are now no matter where the current stadium was located.

      • True. The only “upside” to a move for the public might be the value of the land under the Trop… assuming it’s sold and not given to political friends after the team moves.

        Then again, if a new stadium is to be built, the only way this works for the taxpayers at all is if the value realized from the sale of the trop parcel covers both land and construction of a new facility (hopefully on less valuable land as that will no doubt be off the tax roll permanently just as the Trop land has been) as well as demolition and reclamation of the existing land.

        It will change nothing about the attendance long term. Though it might, depending on the deal agreed, make Sternberg much wealthier (see Loria, J)

      • You nailed it, Joey. They could build a Taj Mahal for the Rays in Tampa-St Pete and it wouldn’t matter because people there simply do not care about baseball. Same with Miami, where a grand new ballpark WAS built with accompanying bells and whistles, yet the Marlins are (as usual) last in attendance despite Giancarlo Stanton’s home run exploits and a team fighting for a wild car berth.

        If you build it in Florida, they won’t come because they never have. They grow baseball players like oranges down there, but there aren’t enough people who want to spend three hours watching a ballgame to make baseball work as a spectator sport. The interest just isn’t there.

      • Joey, I agree to a point. I agree that the Rays may never draw well no matter where they play in the bay area. However, a fair amount of blame for the poor attendance can be put upon the team itself, as all these years of telling the whole world that “our stadium sucks” has kept people away. Attendance may have been better in the past if they used their PR to support their current home instead of ripping it every chance they get, and more fans could have created more interest in the team and could have increased the momentum behind a new stadium push.

        • I’d have thought that since Cuba is a baseball hotbed, an area with a large Cuban population would find baseball attractive. Any ideas as to why?

          The “why” is a question but even with good and interesting teams they haven’t drawn well.

          By the way, I like the writer admitting that they knew from the get-go that the stadium wasn’t a good one…but they moved the team in, with a long lease, anyway.

  3. Tom Jones states:
    “And let’s face reality, we can all shake our heads and complain and tell Sternberg that if he wants a new stadium, he can pull out his wallet and pay for it, but that’s not how this kind of thing works.”

    Actually that is how this kind of thing works. Check out the Oakland A’s plans.

    Tom Jones states:
    “In the end, we are going to have to decide what we want to be known as: a community that stepped up to help build a stadium to keep baseball here or a community that refused to chip in and became the first American city to lose a baseball team since 1971.”

    And what happened to Washington D.C. after the Senators move to Texas to become the Rangers? It did not miss a heart beat.
    What happened to LA after the Rams and Raiders left?
    What happened to Seattle after the Sonics left?
    What happened to St. Louis after the Rams left?

    The value of professional sports franchises is way over rated. In any case, MLB is a highly profitable oligarchy that needs no charity form taxpayers.

    Please read the following to find out why not another dime of taxpayer money should ever go towards paying for MLB stadia.

    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/case-more-public-money-major-league-baseball-scott-myers

    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/price-delusion-mlb-continues-grow-scott-myers?published=t

    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/11-7-mlb-starting-pitcher-worth-155-million-over-65-years-scott-myers?published=t

  4. “But most of all, don’t you just want this thing to be over already? Don’t you just want someone, anyone, to pick a spot and start building?”
    ____________
    He writes this as if the Rays are a long-standing pillar of the city and not an expansion club only founded back in 1998 that has never drawn well. They’re dead last in attendance now by a wide margin. A new stadium moves them up to maybe third or fourth from the bottom? And that’d likely be a temporary gain since historically attendance drops back off after the shine on a new park wears off in a year or two.

  5. I live in St. Petersburg and go to 5-10 games a year. The Trop works perfectly well for me. The seats are comfortable, it is air conditioned and the sight lines are good. I am sure the suites and the owners box are not as nice, but I will worry about them when the fat cats start worrying about me.

    The land the trop is on is another matter. The midtown area is booming and reports are that the redevelopment rights will bring at least a billion dollars.

    I like sports. And I support the Rays. But if they want the public to pay for a stadium, then we would need a vote, and an ownership interest in the team.

    • This is a key point. With very few exceptions, every stadium location (whether generally represented as good or bad) works better for some people than others. No doubt some fans are reluctant to go to Rays games now because of access issues. However, some who go now might be disadvantaged by a new location and choose not to continue supporting the club after a move. Whether you are moving across the street or across the country, you are trading some fans for others, not just reaping a harvest of new and previously unexploited customers.

      Suburban stadia are out of fashion these days, but there are fine reasons to reconsider them. Primarily, if sited properly they tend to be quite close to existing fan bases (unlike downtowns these days). Second, the land is much cheaper to purchase/assemble. Third, using such land for stadia means that a similar sized plot “downtown” doesn’t get permanently taken off the property tax rolls.

      The downside? Well, people say “there’s no atmosphere around the stadium”.

      If it were true that stadia ‘create’ that atmosphere, they could do so in suburban locations as well… and at lower cost operating costs.

      Park and Ride systems work very well in many cities (whether this involves fans bussing in or riding commuter trains etc), unless people like Moses make sure they can’t of course.

      • ” However, some who go now might be disadvantaged by a new location and choose not to continue supporting the club after a move.”
        _________________
        We’ve been going over this exact issue in my city with our minor league baseball stadium. The mayor wanted to build a stadium for them downtown to anchor some redevelopment. But their current location on the edge of town is right in the middle of new growth suburbia with 10 times as many families nearby than downtown–virtually none of whom would relish going downtown to watch baseball. And with the way traffic is in our city their current location is easier access and parking for probably 75% of the city than downtown would be. It’s highly unlikely a downtown location would be a boost to long-term attendance. We were lucky there was no money available and the idea finally died–at least for now.

  6. I hope everyone will remember some of the other kinds of behaviours the statement ‘that’s how it works’ has been used to justify in this country over the past couple of centuries.

    It’s a shocking list.

    Secondly: You could replace the word “Rays” with the word “Marlins” in every instance in this pathetic excuse for a writer’s act of presstitution and it would read every bit as accuratelyl.

    Remind me how the new Marlins stadium has satisfied that “need”?

    You’d think Sternberg could afford better shills, wouldn’t you?

  7. He’s right about one thing, “You don’t need a law degree to know the Rays need a new stadium.” But an economics degree, or marketing degree might be useful.

  8. Tom Jones is not a smart man, I’m afraid. Why, just last week, he devoted a significant number of column inches to saying that people who think Tim Tebow is overrated or was given opportunities that were not merited by his performance on the field, only think that because they hate God.

    And no, it was not satire.

  9. I am a life long St Pete resident, have been to 100s of games, and would like to chime in about the current stadium..
    1) The same day Jones was a shill, the Times offered this in their op-ed section:
    Joe Henderson: New stadium talk is fun until it turns to who will pay http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/columns/joe-henderson-new-stadium-talk-is-fun-until-it-turns-to-who-will-pay/2334904
    2) The first owner went of his way to alienate the fans & businesses when he started the franchises with bone headed PR.
    3) MLB should have put the Rays in the NL since the Cardinals had their spring trading here for 50 yrs. Their farm club was here for 30. The area knew the NL & the expansion team would have made great rivals with the cards, Mets, Braves & Cubs. Throw in the HR craziness of MacGuire & Sosa and attendance would have soared.
    3) Seats are not cheap here. The Rays like to throw out how economical they are but that’s by factoring the upper deck seats. They have manipulated resale ticket prices on StubHub & SeatGeek. I guarantee that you can find better value pricing for comparable seats at Dodger Stadium. With its long season, baseball’s beauty used to be that you could catch a game for reasonable scratch. Not no more..
    4) The Rays aren’t interested in putting fans in the stadium. Their marketing dept is a joke. On any given night, there’s thousands of people walking around downtown going to dinner, etc. There are now 2 large grocery stores within walking distance of the stadium (meaning they have plenty of customers). The biggest complaint is they don’t draw from Tampa because of traffic. But they don’t try to offset that attendance loss by focusing on Manatee or Sarasota counties which has a large & high per capita pop. MLB’s real $$ is in the the TV rights – fans in the seats are just gravy.
    5) the Rays can move any time now. Their stadium buyout is less than what they will pay a free agent mediocre pitcher. Now with the Marlins situation back in play, their strategy has to be to just wait & watch what happens elsewhere. And don’t forget that, the Dodgers have been operating at a loss for the past 3 yrs+ & haven’t had a local TV deal with 80% of their market for the past 4 yrs. All I’m saying is that while MLB is a $10B entity, it is fully leveraged and showing some strain.
    6) Once cable TV implodes because of exploding costs and customers cutting the cord, all pro sports & college football programs will be in jeopardy. “Too big to fail” meet the “froth of an economy too poor to care & buy in anymore”…
    I may be wrong but I may be right…

    • Re #5
      The Dodgers contract with Time Warner Cable is a classic example of take the money and run. There was no incentive for the team to encourage TWC/Charter to work with other operators to carry their channel. And despite having an outstanding season, the fervor over AT&T and others not carrying the games has died down.

      • Which is one reason why I wonder if cable rights fees may have peaked. You can’t imagine that TWC would have paid that much for Dodgers rights if they’d realized fans wouldn’t pressure other carriers to air their channel.

      • You mean the #needmydodgers superimposed over the Prime Ticket/SportsnetLA broadcasts didn’t result in overwhelming demand for access to the programming?

        Hmmmn.

        We do see this in other areas I guess, and I wonder if this is not just part of the general move upmarket in all sports programming.

        At one time keeping the product on “FTA” tv was seen as necessary to keep broad local interest up. Long term history still shows it might be, but nevertheless FTA coverage was largely abandoned in favour of RSN rights fees.

        Some of us have experienced a shift from that change as well… RSN’s and pay channels sometimes split rights. For instance, you can’t watch 130-140 Cub games on WGN as you once could (the rest being preempted for national games on Saturdays, generally, even though the Cubs were rarely on national TV in the 1970s/80s). You would now have to have both WGN and CSN to get all non-national broadcast day games. How many other franchises have tried to double dip like this?

        Perhaps the Dodgers move is similar… designed solely to extract maximum dollars from the well heeled fan willing to pay for SNLA? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that professional sports has eschewed the mile wide inch deep fan base for wealthy fervent supporters.

        The problem comes generations down the line… after several decades of targetting this group has left clubs trying to woo fans who grew up not watching or caring about their product.

  10. More details of where the team may play if they move to Tampa..
    Editorial: An intriguing site for new Rays stadium http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-an-intriguing-site-for-new-rays-stadium/2335200

  11. The mid-week visit to the Trop must have set off this torrent of Sternburg propaganda…
    Romano: Everything you need to know about the Rays and Ybor City http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/romano-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-rays-and-ybor-city/2335274
    Keep in mind that there is only one newspaper now for the entire Bay Area. I’m guessing that these writers just want to keep their jobs here..

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