After what seems like a lifetime of false starts and saber-rattling and playing footsie with every locality in the Tampa Bay region, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg finally unveiled actual plans for a new stadium in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa yesterday, complete with renderings. And oh, what renderings: Yep, Sternberg is proposing to build a giant glass trilobite, with the best seats right behind the plate removed to make way for some kind of triumphal entryway, and Tropicana Field’s much-hated fixed roof replaced by a different fixed roof, only this time translucent, because we know how well that worked at the Astrodome. (For those who don’t want to click through: Outfielders couldn’t see flyballs, the dome’s skylights were all painted over, the grass all died, and Monsanto had to invent Astroturf.) Also some gratuitous lens flare even though the shadows indicate the sun should be way off to the left, because nothing says “ooh, shiny” like lens flare. It may not be a Brancusi sculpture, but it’s certainly something.
And from there, the stadium details just get more … audacious? unexpected? wackadoodle? … let’s go with one of those:
- The stadium would be by far the smallest in MLB, holding only 28,216 seats, while another 2,600 people could stand or sit in folding chairs or something. That sort of makes sense when you consider Rays attendance, which hasn’t topped 23,148 per game since their inaugural season, though less so when you consider that the whole point of this new-stadium exercise is to attract more fans in a better location.
- In place of a retractable roof — or no roof at all — the stadium would expose fans to the elements with a retractable wall, which I guess would remind them that the outside world still exists by letting the occasional breeze in, without actually making them vulnerable to rain or sun or the sky or any nuisances like that. It’s still likely to sound like you’re inside an airport hangar, which in my experience is the worst part of domes, but maybe that next-generation translucent roof material will be permeable to sound, too, who knows?
- A smaller capacity and a non-retracting roof could both be ways to keep costs down, but if so, they weren’t kept down very far: The price tag on this arthropod of dreams is an estimated $892 million.
And, all renderings that will invariably change later aside, here’s the part we’ve really all been waiting for: How does Sternberg expect to pay for this thing? Let’s listen in:
#Rays Prez Brian Auld says team has no answers on how to pay for $892 million ballpark tab. Says its a "very compelling investment opportunity" for everyone in the room and is open to creative funding.
— Noah Pransky – WTSP (@noahpransky) July 10, 2018
I mean … I mean … I mean … seriously? Rays execs had, depending on how you count, somewhere between five months and ten years to come up with some ideas, any ideas at all for how to pay for a stadium, Sternberg and friends came up with, well, this:
Really gotta love the chutzpah of saying "Our business model requires somebody building us a $900m stadium. Any takers?"
— Field of Schemes (@fieldofschemes) July 10, 2018
Reactions from the rest of the world were similarly nonplussed, as a trip down Noah Pransky’s Twitter feed shows:
If you propose something that's going to cost $892MM, maybe have an idea on how to pay for it. Just spitballing here. https://t.co/D6dfnzheIi
— Austin Atkinson (@AustinBAtkinson) July 10, 2018
Eighteen-year-old me: Build the Bucs the stadium! Sports bring money to the area. How can we have not have the Bucs?!
Me now: Billionaire asshat wants $900 million and the county can't afford teacher raises. Go f$)( yourself, Stuey.
— Matthews (@spentsaint) July 10, 2018
— Noah Pransky – WTSP (@noahpransky) July 10, 2018
Florida Man Needs Funds for New Stadium https://t.co/o6f9bdE59p
— Eric Sanford (@sanford_and_son) July 10, 2018
Okay, so the Tampa Bay Times was enthralled, at least.
If you want tough questions from the Tampa press corps, here’s Pransky himself asking Sternberg himself about how on earth he actually plans to build this thing that he’s been dreaming and talking about for years upon years:
Pransky: 892 million. Can you afford it?
Sternberg: Well, potentially.
Pransky: What do you need from the public sector?
Sternberg: I haven’t even looked at it at this point really.
Pransky: You guys haven’t looked at it all?!?
Sternberg: Not to the point that’s necessary. We’ve been focused on what you saw today, which is in itself a huge, huge undertaking.
So we are supposed to believe that the owner of a pro sports team, who for years has been demanding a new stadium as a way of improving his bottom line, went into designing and pricing out a new stadium with no thoughts at all of how it would be paid for or whether it would make money. Or the other possibility is that he thought, Hey, asking for hundreds of millions of dollars is a bad look — let’s just give the public lots of pretty pictures and hope they’ll be distracted enough not to worry about where the money will come from. I bet it’ll work on those stenographers at the Tampa Bay Times, anyway!
This, needless to say, is only the beginning of what is sure to be a long, painful battle. I’ll be on The Beat of Sports with Marc Daniels at 10 am ET today to talk about the Rays’ announcement, and more if we have time — tune in here. I’ll try to have more to say than just leaving my jaw hanging open in flabbergastment for the entire segment.