Rays owner buys Rowdies, stirs speculation a dodge to get a new baseball stadium site (probably not, but maybe a dodge to spur speculation)

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is buying the Tampa Bay Rowdies USL club for … okay, nobody’s saying how much he’s spending on the team. But never mind that, because the Rowdies also have management rights to 7,500-seat Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, so cue the conspiracy theories that this is really all about finding a site for a new Rays stadium:

The Rays tried a decade ago to get a new baseball stadium built there and never fully let go of the idea — which is why there was immediate speculation there was more to the Rays-Rowdies deal than just control of a soccer team.

Most pointedly, were the Rays seeking an alternative St. Petersburg stadium site to their proposed new home in Ybor City, where talks have been ongoing to bridge the funding gap in completing that $892 million deal to build a Tampa ballpark?

Rays execs immediately pooh-poohed the idea, saying they just wanted to get into the soccer business. And there’s reason to believe them, as the reason why the Rays gave up on the Al Lang Stadium site in the first place is because it’s probably too small for even a smallish MLB stadium, so it’s not really a very good option — not to mention that the Rowdies don’t actually own the stadium, just management rights to it.

Ah, but if you’re looking less for a viable stadium site option than for a sorta-viable stadium site threat, now we’re talking. Rays execs have been talking up Hillsborough County, which is the Tampa side of the bay, as more accessible to fans; but Pinellas County, which is the St. Pete side, has more tax money available to help fund a stadium, partly because Hillsborough has already spent its hotel taxes on buildings for the Buccaneers and Lightning. So even if Pinellas officials may not be eager to spend this tax money on the Rays, it’s at least an option that Sternberg and company will likely want to keep open.

All of which is to say: Sternberg probably bought the Rowdies just to buy the Rowdies, but if it helps keep alive some semblance of a bidding war between the two counties, he’ll surely be happy enough to take that as a bonus. He hasn’t done a great job of shaking loose public subsidies for his team so far — he managed to get out of his lease clause that prevented him from looking for new stadium sites in Hillsborough, but that’s only given him a site with a giant funding hole that shows no signs of going away — but where there’s competition, there’s hope. And Rays fans had better hope it comes soon, because the team is … er, actually, coming off a surprisingly resurgent season with a host of exciting young players and turning a tidy profit to boot, so what was the big deal about the stadium again?

15 comments on “Rays owner buys Rowdies, stirs speculation a dodge to get a new baseball stadium site (probably not, but maybe a dodge to spur speculation)

  1. Not that common sense has much to do with the price of halibut, but it would make eminent sense for the Rays to build / redevelop one of the four possible sites (Trop, Al Lang, Ybor, other) so as to accommodate the Rowdies. (e.g. the Trop is already rectangular, and could easily have slide-out seating for fitba in left field, retracting under a blue monster for baseball). It would mean more gamedays, hedge against the Rays fanbase fossilizing completely, and crucially free up a facility for the (public) owners to use for actual social or commercial benefit (probably enabling the Rays ownership to demand in-kind moneys).

    (NB Al Lang would make one of the most storm-surge-proof waterfront ballparks too)

  2. Stu also briefly owned the UFL Florida Tuskers, which played in the Trop and in Orlando for a couple seasons.

  3. All good points re: the reasons this doesn’t mean Sternberg is looking to demolish a building he doesn’t own on land he doesn’t own to have someone else pay to build him a baseball stadium that he will use for free but not own or pay property taxes on.

    But aren’t we missing the (slightly less) big picture here?

    Sternberg can now demand subsidies for an MLS stadium at Al Lang because he owns the historic name (but little else…) of one of the NASL’s most historic franchises (which really means one that lasted through more than it’s first two seasons, but details people, details) and is surely a lock for the next round of MLS expansion, which as we all know will be the LAST MLS FRANCHISES ever issued.

    Besides, Tampa, are you going to just sit there and admit that you aren’t a real big league city with an MLS franchise and everything like Orlando and Miami (sort of, again)? I mean, if you folks are so cheap in city hall that you’d prefer to stay just like Pensacola or Mobile, I guess that’s up to you… but Sternberg (and I) have always thought of you as a real big league city deserving of an MLS franchise (and don’t forget there’s only a couple of those left, in case I haven’t mentioned that before…)

  4. The brand has some value however the market is not a lock for MLS expansion. A team was contracted , yes a league actually contracted a couple teams not as a threat for a new stadium. However I can see a revised bid being offered with a redevelopment plan at the Tropicana site. Between the pending lawsuit and health concerns the Rowdies we’re motivated to sell.

    • The “other” team that was contracted was Miami, so there’s no reason to believe the league will be reluctant to expand to Tampa again. The re-Rowdies have the one thing MLS loves above all… an owner willing to write a large check for an expansion team.

      Absolutely everything else is secondary.

      • They left a fat check on the table in multiple cities including Detroit with 3 billionaires at the table. Yes I know not typically Ponzi scheme actions ? Demo’s in Miami are day & night from 2001 when I believe the contractions took place. The Ray’s motivation isn’t getting into MLS, but the rights to redevelopment of the Tropicana site if they can get into Ibor where the action can help pad the baseball attendance. The Cubs are doing the same in Chicago with a USL franchise. It’s about sponsorships and access to youth demo’s.

        • There is absolutely no logic to the claims you have just made. The demographics in Miami have not changed dramatically since 2001. They have changed a great deal since 1970, but not since 2001.

          The small increase in non white Hispanic population since 2000 (less than 5%) holds true for Miami-Dade County as well. The Caucasian population has been holding around 12% in Miami since 1990 (15% in Miami Dade County).

          Even the Asian population in Miami has only moved from 0.5 to 1.0% since 1980.

          Did you get the facts you quoted from Kellyanne Conway, by chance?

          • No, just repeating what the commissioner of MLS always gives as reason why the league will have success in Miami this time around. He might have a point. World Cup ratings we’re one of the highest if not the highest in any US city this past summer. Most Cubans didn’t care for soccer in 2001, young Cubans love the sport today. Most new immigrants to Miami are from soccer playing nation’s. Garber is also bullish on San Diego for demo reasons he has on hand. However don’t see that happening.

          • Keep in mind that demo changes might take age and origin into account when figuring out potential fans. In 2001 most Hispanics in that part of country we’re from Cuba, Puerto Rico & Dominican republic. Today it includes large numbers of South Americans. Young people of all colors might not have been fans in 2001. Today they probably are.

  5. I am pretty sure the Trop is paid off by now, why not just let them leave Florida entirely if it means being able to redevelop the site?

    • The city plans on redevelopment of the site. However MLB teams are greedy and the Ray’s want to be the one to profit from the redevelopment. Perhaps they feel throwing a valuable piece of local history in the middle of condos & hotels will be enough to win them the bid.

    • The Rays have a lease, so the city can’t just evict them. I suppose they could offer them a “if you can go find another place to play, don’t let the door hit you on the way out” deal — it’s pretty much what they did a couple of years ago, albeit for other places limited to the greater Tampa Bay region.But that would only piss off Rays fans, so it makes sense to wait to see if the Rays up and leave of their own accord, and then St. Pete can redevelop the Trop site as a silver lining while it’s Sternberg who gets burned in effigy.

      • I am still waiting for any remotely logical potential reason why the Rays ownership would be ‘entitled’ to redevelop the site they don’t own and won’t even have a lease to use come 2027.

        “…We’ve played in the building you built for us for more than 25 years without paying you anything tangible in return. So you should give the site to us for redevelopment, along with some money to cover demolition. In exchange we will only demand $300m instead of $600m towards our new ballpark at another piece of land we hold the lease to use but don’t own and haven’t paid anything for either.”


        If Sternberg wants to redevelop the land under the Trop (and I don’t doubt he would like to, though I don’t know either way), he can bid on it in an open competition with other prospective developers.

        In fact, were I the city’s advisor, I would suggest to them that the best course of action given Sternberg’s demands to be free to negotiate elsewhere would be to issue an RFP for the redevelopment of the site effective November 2027 with a deadline for proposals of Nov 2020.

    • (Not that I think Sternberg is likely to move the Rays, mind you. Tampa Bay is still a better market than anything else available, especially when you consider that Montreal isn’t going to be throwing stadium money at him either.)