MLB commissioner admits Rays “have some work to do” to pay for new stadium

Have I mentioned lately how much I love MLB commissioner Rob Manfred? While he, like his predecessors, understands that the reason he’s being paid the big bucks is to serve as the lackey to MLB owners’ desires for more filthy lucre, he somehow lacks either the rhetorical savvy or the cutthroat mentality to pull off any kinds of threats, so he ends up mumbling ineffectually about “viable alternativesagain and again while everyone else stands around wondering, Is he threatening something? What happens if we don’t meet his demands? Is that a B?

All of which leads us up to yesterday’s latest Manfredism, regarding the Tampa Bay Rays‘ stadium push:

“I think we have some work to do in terms of getting a financing plan together that will get that stadium built. But I remain confident if anybody can get it done in Tampa Bay, it’s Stu [Sternberg]. Nobody is working harder at it.”

“Some work to do” — gee, ya think? Just because there’s at minimum a $300 million funding gap, and right now the plans to fill it mostly involve leaning on local business leaders to throw more money in the Rays’ tip jar?

The Tampa Bay Times goes on to report that Sternberg has until the end of the year to inform St. Petersburg whether he will be opting out of his Tropicana Field lease early. That’s not entirely true — he can always try to negotiate an extension to his opt-out period, though it might take paying St. Pete some more money in exchange — but clearly it would be optimal for the Rays to have a new stadium deal in place by then.

That is almost certainly not going to happen, though, which is why we have Manfred expressing generic “confidence” without actually saying anything at all, as he does best. It looks like it’s going to come down to Sternberg (or, more likely, his friends at the Tampa Bay Times) to start making some threats as the end of the year approaches, though who he’d even threaten isn’t clear right now, since Hillsborough County is tapped out for available tax money and local business leaders are unlikely to come up with $300 million even if he does threaten to move the team to Montreal.

Honestly, staying put at the Trop and developing the land around it is looking better and better as a pure business move, though Sternberg would have to eat some serious crow to do so. Maybe he can get Manfred to do it for him; that seems like a task the commissioner could probably handle.


10 comments on “MLB commissioner admits Rays “have some work to do” to pay for new stadium

  1. Tampa (along with Miami) his the worst attendance in MLB, and ( along with the Oakland Coliseum,) the worst Stadium in the game. Maybe a move to Montreal or Las Vegas might be tbe best alternative for the team and MLB?

    • Las Vegas is about 40% of the size of Tampa Bay in TV households, and has even bigger issues with weather. Montreal is closer in size, but the exchange rate is a problem. And, of course, neither city has a stadium in place, so Sternberg would be in the exact same boat in terms of having to figure out how to pay for one.

  2. Is Manfred actually worse at the shakedown game than others?

    It seems like he has considerably less to work with than honest Bud the used car dealer did… So many teams already have new facilities (or heavily renovated ones) that the incremental gains appear much harder to get. As any small time crook should know, once you’ve shaken down the easy marks the three card monty winnings get tougher to make.

    I don’t want to sound like I’m on Manfred’s side, but he does have a considerably harder row to hoe in my view… where’s the leverage in this climate? Oakland and Tampa will move to where, exactly?

    Portland? San Antonio? Montreal? Las Vegas?

    None have workable stadium plans. None, in my view, would be a definitively better market than Tampa all things considered. We don’t know if a new stadium in a different location around Tampa-St. Pete would change attendance. It hasn’t worked for the Marlins or Braves, nor long term for many other franchises.

    The only market that really makes sense would be a third team in New York or New Jersey. My guess would be that Sternberg is as interested in paying off the Yankees and Mets as Wolff and Fisher were in paying off the Giants (possibly less so). And like the Giants, I doubt the Yankees or Mets (and maybe Phillies) would be willing to name a price even if the Rays were willing to pay.

    If Vegas didn’t already have an NHL and soon an NFL team in place, I think MLB could work there. I doubt that Vegas can be a three sport city (and perhaps it’s not even a two pro sport city, time will tell).

    The sad fact for Manfred is, MLB’s minimum threshold for support has expanded to the point where there really aren’t any viable markets left for them to go to. As much as I would like to see Expos 2.0 or another team out west… it just doesn’t seem very likely at present.

    • There really weren’t any viable markets for the Expos other than D.C., though, and Selig and company still managed to extract a stadium from that city. I agree that Manfred has it somewhat tougher than Selig, but he also seems to speak extortion like it’s a second language at best. That’s not a bad thing in most lines of work, but unfortunately for him he’s MLB commissioner.

      • DC is somewhat unique in that businesses have been moving there since 9/11, and it has politicians who will pay any price and throw away any leverage for sports. That used to be Tampa’s job.

      • Montréal is ready for the Expos comeback….We just wait after MLB to proceed…..the money is there,a new stadium downtown gonna be built….Let`s Go Expos….

  3. While I consider Rob Manfred the lighter version of Roger Goodell, in this case I think you’ve misread his attempts at stadium bluff poker. After the more than two decade rule of Bud (Henry Hill) Selig and his iron fist inside an iron glove policy of stadium negotiations, anyone coming after him was bound to come up short. Manfred has the misfortune of running MLB at the time when municipalities are in the baby steps stage of wising up to the machinations of baseball ownership and their desire for publicly funded playgrounds.

    • Oh, I’m hardly blaming Manfred for failing to get a Tampa Bay stadium deal done, or something. I’m just saying that Selig would have found a less mealy-mouthed way of addressing the lack of progress. (Probably with “I wouldn’t want to see Tampa Bay lose its team over this, know what I mean?”)

      • Fair enough. Maybe Manfred is just too young to have watched the Piranha brothers sketches….

  4. Regardless of all the naysayers out there, I still feel Sternberg will find a way to get this deal done. Don’t forget, an Ybor stadium will also help Vinik’s huge project! I don’t think he wants to see this deal fall through the cracks either.