Rays owner throws in towel on Tampa stadium, now stuck at Tropicana Field through 2027

We finally have an answer to the question of what Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg’s plan is for finding someone other than him to pay for most of the cost of a new $900 million in Tampa before a December 31 lease opt-out deadline and it is: He doesn’t have one. Yesterday Rays baseball operations president Matt Silverman announced that the team was giving up on its Ybor City stadium plans for now, and would not seek an extension of its option to seek a stadium elsewhere in the region, meaning the Rays will be locked into Tropicana Field through 2027:

“As much as we want this to move efficiently, three years wasn’t enough time,” Rays President Matt Silverman said. “Now it’s time to regroup and all options are on the table in Tampa Bay.”

While the timeline as reported is a bit unclear, it looks like the Rays’ announcement was at least partly prompted by a letter sent yesterday from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to stadium negotiation Irwin Raij, in which Manfred pointed out that as Sternberg didn’t have any details on how either the public or private portion of the stadium tab would be paid for, he couldn’t take a position on it. Not that Sternberg wasn’t aware of this, but it would have been difficult to keep on plugging away for a last-minute stadium financing deal what with your own league commissioner saying, I’m not seeing this, guys.

That “all options are on the table” comment from Silverman presumably means that the team owners will now consider St. Petersburg sites as well; St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman issued a statement saying, “I stand ready, if asked, to continue the conversation related to the organization’s future in St. Pete,” which coyly didn’t specify whether this would mean a new stadium or an extension of the team’s lease at Tropicana Field. Either way, Sternberg has nine years to make a decision now — okay, more like six or seven years, since it’ll take a while to build a new stadium if that’s what he wants — so he has plenty of time to regroup and try to find someone to stick with the bill.

Resetting the clock for 2027 also changes one other thing, of course: While his current opt-out clause only allowed him to move elsewhere in the Tampa Bay region, in 2027 he’ll be free to move anywhere else in the world. There are plenty of reasons why a Rays relocation is unlikely — it’s still a larger market than most other alternatives, and other cities like Montreal and Portland aren’t promising to throw any more money at him than Tampa is — but you know he’ll be rattling that saber, anyway.

Finally, this announcement almost certainly slams the brakes on any thought of MLB expansion anytime soon, since Manfred has said he wants to get the Rays and Oakland A’s stadium situations resolved — which translated means “get them new stadiums without their owners paying more than they want to” — before considering adding new teams. You can stop holding your breath, Monterrey.


42 comments on “Rays owner throws in towel on Tampa stadium, now stuck at Tropicana Field through 2027

  1. Another important information that was released yesterday:

    “According to information obtained by 98.5 Sports (in Montreal), a few weeks ago, Major League Baseball told the Régie des installations olympiques to be ready for the presentation of games during the regular season.”

    https://www.985fm.ca/nouvelles/sports/174265/le-projet-du-nouveau-stade-des-rays-est-pratiquement-mort

    Once that said, just want to reminds everyone that Bronfman said publicly that the new Montreal Stadium will be funded 100% privately. The stadium will be a small to medium size park, nothing as big as what the Rays wanted to build. Bronfman called it a “Jarry Park 2.0” in reference to the Jarry Park where the Expos played initially. Probably a budget of $500M CAD, not USD. So ~$375 USD.

    The project in Montreal will be similar to what was done in San Francisco. A major real estate project (hotels, condos, retail stores, restaurants, …) over the years with a baseball stadium as a central element. Peel Basin/Goose Village is the most likely location for such project.

    Stay Tuned!

    • So Bronfman is going to build the stadium for Sternberg and then hope to make money off ancillary developments (while simultaneously hoping that Sternberg doesn’t demand control of all the commercial real estate associated as well in order to move his team there)?

      This only works if Sternberg is willing to sell the Rays to Bronfman and co. I’ve seen no evidence that Sternberg wants to sell. In fact, quite the opposite.

      So, are we talking about a $1.4Bn expansion fee for Montreal or a $1-1.5Bn sale price for the Rays?

      I appreciate your enthusiasm for a Montreal team, Pat. In fact, I share it. But the reality is that MLB back in Montreal is a lot further away now than it was when the C$ was at par or better. Like the concept of a new Nordiques in QC, the new Expos can only come into existence under a pretty specific set of circumstances. Even for a member of the super rich like Bronfman, there’s a huge gulf between a $400m stadium and a $700m expansion fee/sale price and a $600m stadium and a $1.4Bn expansion fee/price.

      Also, the concept of “Jarry Park 2.0” is typically advanced by people with no direct memory of the facilities at Jarry Park 1.0. I agree a small stadium (possibly even <30k if MLB will allow it) is a good plan, but it's still going to cost a ton(ne) of money to build a small stadium with modern amenities.

      Now, if the MLB market turns again and a 'portable' team is available for $5-600m while the C$ is strong, it becomes a viable/semi viable option. Even at that it's hard to see a new Expos doing better than breaking even on operations (after debt servicing is covered… and billionaires rarely use their own money for these things for obvious reasons). When the cost all in is $2bn rather than $1bn?

      The math becomes very difficult, sorry to say.

      • Just want to reminds you that Bronfman and Garber said multiple times that money is not an issue. And if the USD currency is an issue, then they say we should not even continue to discuss such project.

        Bronfman and Garber are the one that we refer too in Montreal but in reality, there are other investors like Rossi and Crétier from Garda World behind them. I we were told that there are more investors lined-up than what is required to fund such project. So I do believe them when they say money is not an issue.

        That’s the facts.

        Do you think Bronfman would be able to meet Manfred and several MLB owners without 100% proof that the money is there? The first question Manfred asked for sure is “Show me the money”!

        I also want to remind you that all pre-requisites (analysis, business plan, feasibility study, …) were delivered to Manfred as per his request. MLB also approved the market focus group initiative by Ey & Conventions, Sports and Leisures (CSL) last summer. Only 2 cities were approved by the MLB to conduct such detailled focus groups: Montreal and Portland. That is a mandatory step to get a MLB team.

        Finally, Manfred will not wait until 2027 to move forward with the expansion. Now that his contract is renewed, the next step is to have a clear plan for the Rays (a new stadium in St. Pete or a new city/stadium by 2027) and then kick-off the expansion.

        Bronfman and his group are open to:

        – Buy a minority share of the Rays and build the stadium in Montreal
        – Buy a majority share (or all shares) of the Rays and build the stadium in Montreal
        – Wait for an expansion team (yes, probably between $800M to $1.2B USD) and build the stadium in Montreal

        Bronfman talked publicly about these scenarios and he said that MLB will decide which scenario(s) will be on the table.

        Last things, Bronfman and Sternberg had conversations about the potential sites is Montreal for a new stadium so it’s not impossible to have the Rays moved in Montreal in 2028 in a brand new stadium.

        Time will tell.

        Stay Tuned!

        • Labatt Park was supposed to be 100% privately funded as well, until it didn’t happen because the money wasn’t there. I’ll believe the “100% private” statement when I actually see the money.

          More importantly, though, Montreal isn’t getting a team, whether Rays or expansion, until 2027 or thereabouts anyway after today’s announcement, so everyone can cool their heels for a while.

          • Neil, Labatt Park was not 100% privately funded. Quebec Tourism was paying the interest rates on a $100M CAD loan.

            https://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/expos-would-move-from-big-o-to-no-owe/article4160105/

            http://collections.banq.qc.ca/lapresse/src/cahiers/2000/08/24/S/82812_20000824S.pdf

            And the story behind the curtains is that Quebec Prime Minister Lucien Bouchard refused to sign the deal considering the investors group leaded by Loria was so unorganized and segmented in many coalitions, Bouchard did not believed they were able to make it work. Bernard Landry, Finance Minister was really upset about the situation.

            And this is the main reason why the Labatt Park project failed.

          • Okay, sorry: Labatt Park was supposed to be *mostly* privately funded as well, until it didn’t happen because the money wasn’t there.

            Not sure this makes your case any better. The point is still that stadium developers can and do promise anything — the test is what happens when it’s actually time to pay the bills, and the current Montreal group remains a long way from that.

        • “Facts”?

          We’ve been through this before, Pat.

          Yes, Bronfman and co are wealthy. So what?

          The stadium and development will be privately funded and all profit from the entire thing will go to keeping a money losing baseball team at break even point?

          No, it won’t. It wouldn’t matter if the Vatican was funding it… these people do not put their money down on something that isn’t going to earn a decent return. A $2Bn investment made to generate a $2m annual operating profit (maybe, in good years when more than 15,000 people show up to watch the team play)? Not going to happen. So if they are serious about buying a team, there’s going to have to be a path to it making money – real money. At a purchase price of $1.5bn all in, these guys are going to want to make at least $150m clear annually. Show me the math that gets them there based on a $100m us payroll, C$35m in ticket sales and maybe C$50m in domestic TV revenue, please.

          It isn’t about whether Bronfman and co “have” the money. It’s whether they can earn a decent return on it by investing in a combined commercial/sports facility.

          It doesn’t matter how many times they met with Manfred… Commissioners are always available to meet with prospective owners of $1.5bn expansion franchises, it would be appallingly bad business to not take those meetings.

          A meeting and a rich guy do not a viable MLB franchise make.

          At current exchange rates and tax regulations, any Canadian MLB team has about a $75-80m hit on revenues alone compared to an avg US based team (and we are talking about catching up to the Pirates, Rays, A’s and Royals here, not the Yankees or Red Sox). Add to this about another $20m in exchange rate losses on salaries (as noted in past threads, most revenue for a Canadian MLB team is in C$, whereas most expenses are in USD) – and that’s based on a $90-100m payroll, which today gets you nowhere in terms of competitiveness over the long term.

          Add it all up and there’s at least a $100m hole in the Jays/ Expos II budget compared to an avg US based team with all other things (stadium deal, payroll, fan interest) being equal.

          Just saying “it’s going to happen because rich guys have money” doesn’t cut it. Billionaires don’t get to be billionaires by deploying capital for a 0-1% ROI.

  2. … three years wasn’t enough time…

    Funny, I seem to remember they’ve been noodling with this and sabre rattling about the state of the trop more or less since moving in (was there even a decade of ‘grace’ there? I don’t remember it if there was…)

    So, anyone wanna place bets on the next 8 years being enough time?

    Pretty sure this discussion will sound much the same in TSP come 2025 or 2026….

    • St. Pete apparently has access to more tax money, plus an incentive to get the Rays offa their Tropicana Field land so the city can redevelop it. So this may come down to how badly Sternberg wants to keep fans from having to drive across a bridge to watch his team.

      • “Sternberg wants to keep fans from having to drive across a bridge”

        Which, as a former Pinellas County resident, was the most infuriating thing about his position to me because moving the team to Tampa just means the million or so people in Pinellas would have to be the ones to drive over a bridge instead, not to mention the fans in Manatee and Sarasota counties (who would now have to drive over TWO bridges). He’s been talking about Tampa like there is some kind of huge difference in population between the counties on either side of the bay. There isn’t.

        • The ‘bridge’ argument always seemed weak to me too. No matter where you put a team in any given metro area, some fans will be disadvantaged as far as access goes. Is there a case to be made that this particular bridge is isolating more fans from the stadium than would otherwise be the case?

          • Fans on the Tampa side of the bridge have more money, the argument goes. Not sure that’s worth moving a whole stadium just so you can charge more for fancy hot dogs.

    • Remember that Montreal is not an ordinary cow. Montreal is a Purple Cow!

      And with the Canadarm on the Space Shuttle, we can make things happened over the moon!

      ;)

  3. The reporting on Manfred’s letter has been all wrong. Manfred was complaining that **the Tampa Sports Authority** doesn’t have their proposal & funding locked down. Nothing in that letter questioned Sternberg or the Rays.

    To me the move to Montreal feels like fait accompli. Better MLB market, cooler city, and a great excuse for re-aligning the Brewers back to the AL, where they belong.

    • Ben, you might want to actually read the Manfred letter first:

      “For example, the proposal, as set forth in your letter, lacks, among other things, the following: … Actual commitments from private investors, including a specific mechanism for addressing any shortfalls.”

      • What you quoted is precisely what I’m talking about.

        “Private investments” means people other than Sternberg who were expected to take advantage of redevelopment tax loopholes and/or volunteer to “tax” themselves by contributing some of the economic fallout that the stadium would create. In the context of the full letter, it’s clear that “private investments” has nothing to do with Sternberg.

        • And here’s what I wrote:

          “Manfred pointed out that as Sternberg didn’t have any details on how either the public or private portion of the stadium tab would be paid for”

          Exactly which straw man are you arguing with, Ben?

          • Manfred pointed out that the Tampa Sports Authority didn’t have any details. The letter had nothing to do with Sternberg having or not having details on the Rays’ share of stadium funding.

            Manfred’s letter was in response to the letter from Raij. Raij sent a letter on behalf of the Tampa Sports Authority with vague outlines of how the sports authority would come up with $475 million.

            There is no straw man here. Manfred’s letter was targeting the Tampa Sports Authority for not having details on their share of stadium funding. Some of the reporting made it seem like Manfred’s letter was complaining that Sternberg didn’t have details on the Rays’ share of stadium funding.

          • “Some of the reporting made it seem like Manfred’s letter was complaining that Sternberg didn’t have details on the Rays’ share of stadium funding.”

            Not mine, though, or anything I linked to. So why are you complaining about it here?

    • Ben
      Most likely, a MTL team replacing TB will continue to play in AL East. Less trouble. All-Canada rivalry with TO, like HOU and TEX playing in same division.

      • They could also stick the nationals in the AL setting up a rivalry with the Orioles and move the rays/expos back to the NL.

        There are a lot of permutations to this.

        • Milwaukee Braves fans are happy they are back in the NL where they belong. Now if only we can get the Rams back to Cleveland….

  4. As a Portland observer I agree with John. This is bad news (for now) for Montreal, Portland, and the other wannabe MLB candidates, although it does creak the door open slightly for a move once the lease is up and all options have been exhausted in the TB area.

    Even if Sternberg does indicate a desire to sell a majority stake, it remains to be seen how the other groups would make it work if they pay for the stadium themselves (mostly) and perform a lateral move at best, market-wise.

    If Sternberg isn’t selling then the suggestion above (along with Canzano’s latest piece in The Oregonian) completely defy logic IMHO. Nobody in their right mind throws away $1b for a stadium, just so they have the opportunity to buy a minority stake in a team. And even if someone was that dumb, would the other owners want that precedent set for their upcoming stadium negotiations?

  5. I am pretty sure almost all of the assorted debt instruments have been retired on the Trop by now, who is to say that if Sternberg strikes a deal anywhere else in the world St Pete won’t accept a buyout. If he goes to the mayor and counsel says “hey I’ll give $75 million to let me walk” what would stop them from saying “ok see ya”?

    • That would be terrible optics, as the kids today say.

      By far the bigger problem, though, is money. Sternberg doesn’t have anyone offering to build him a stadium and let him keep all the revenues in any other cities any more than he does in Tampa Bay. Adding $75 million in lease-breaking costs would just be the anti-cherry on top of the shit sundae.

      • The optics are bad, but at the same time I think we all agree that no one really goes to Tampa to watch baseball. Or goes to games. So why not just pull it down and build a bunch of taxpaying franchise restaurants?

        I think the smart play at this point would be to charge Sternberg for letting him STAY.

        • Oh, from a good-governance perspective, taking money from Sternberg to let him leave is a no-brainer. I’m just saying it’s not likely to happen.

          • Fully agree. I’d love to see, in about five years, the St Pete’s folks saying “oh, you wanted to stick around? We kinda made other plans…how much is it worth to you to change them?”

            Sternberg has the usual emotional leverage, but a council that announces it wants to build a Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods can steal some momentum back.

      • I haven’t been to Tampa in many years. From a distance though it doesn’t seem like the Rays have enough of an emotional hold on the community that it would be a tremendous political hit to let them leave if it means redeveloping the land AND getting some sort of buyout on top of that. The Mayor of Oakland paid no price for the Raiders leaving and people there actually like them.

  6. MLB failed in Montreal. They won’t try that again. Lot’s of logistical issues as well.

  7. Just checked baseball almanac and found the Rays have been averaging about 15k announced over the last four seasons. If you ignore the “honeymoon” early years, their long term avg since 2000 hasn’t been much above that (maybe 16,500 announced or so).

    So how many actual paying fans in seats do we think that equates to? 12k? 13k?

    If, as expected, no-one arrives willing to pay for Sternberg’s new stadium while taking no revenues from the building or surrounding development, it seems likely that the situation will be exactly the same in 2027.

    At which point, why not offer to let Sternberg lease Legends field (cap 11k and change) at an attractive price and redevelop the Trop lands into something that actually makes money?

    Maybe you have to put up a few extra seating areas… then again, maybe not. Legends is a nice place to watch baseball, and it can pretty much handle all the actual paying fans the Rays have…

  8. What a coincidence!

    https://twitter.com/MTLbbproject/status/1073041830667796480

    Montréal Baseball Project
    ‏@MTLbbproject

    TOMORROW: An update on the public consultations from this spring and the progress of the overall project. Stay tuned!

  9. I think the Ybor plan was partly floated so Stu Sternberg could say, “Look, I tried Tampa/Hillsborough County but it didn’t work, so I need to do something in Pinellas County.” Pinellas has plenty of Tourist Tax dollars to fund at least part of the project.
    .
    My guess is that the Rays will end up at the Derby Lane dog track (look it up) which is close to the Gandy Bridge and will soon be even more accessible from downtown Tampa via an expressway extension. Greyhound racing will be gone by 2020 due to a recent statewide referendum. Plus the dog track is on the water (almost) and is a huge site where the Rays could build offices, hotels or anything they want, that could be annexed into St Pete with a new development district (tax increment financing, which as you’ve pointed out many times is public money that otherwise could be used for something else). It would allow them to do on a smaller scale what Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is doing in downtown Tampa…making the real money as a developer.

    Either that, or they’ll become the Charlotte Raes.

  10. Here are the latest new from Jeremy Filosa.

    https://www.facebook.com/985FMSports/videos/294898407821930/?epa=SEARCH_BOX

    1. Bronfman/Garber are talking regularly to Mayor Plante and the main topic is where will be located the REM train station in Goose Village/Griffintown. This is key to have the station close to the stadium. This station is part of a $6B+ project to have light electric train system and the first stations will be operational end of 2021. Construction is already underway.

    2. The Big O is available until the end of 2022. So if the MLB want to relocate the Rays, the new stadium in Montreal MUST be ready in 2023 because the Big O is under construction (installation of the new roof starting in 2023 and many other improvements). Big O can be used as a temporary stadium until the construction of the new stadium is done. It will take 2-3 years to build a new stadium in Montreal, so the beginning of the construction must start at the latest sometime in 2020. This is why MLB/Sternberg cannot wait another year before giving their approval to the Montreal investor group unless they wait until 2028 to move the team.

    3. Filosa got the information that the Blue Jays will probably play against the Rays for all Rays local games at the Big O in 2019. This is what Evenko is working on right now. So the 3 series (3 games, 3 games and 4 games) would be played in Montreal.

    Many more details in the video, in french only.

    Stay Tuned!

  11. We now have a confirmation of all the investors in Montreal. Rossi is no longer in the group bet we have the confirmation of Boyko and Bouchard. Pierre Boivin is the former Montreal Canadiens President that have extensive experience in managing a sport team.

    About the Montreal Group
    Stephen Bronfman and his partners comprise a group of Montreal-based business leaders who are dedicated to working together to carry out a plan that will result in the return of Major League Baseball to Montreal. This group is led by Stephen Bronfman, Executive Chairman, Claridge Inc. together with Pierre Boivin, President and CEO, Claridge Inc. The group also includes Alain Bouchard, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Board of Alimentation Couche-Tard, Mitch Garber, Chairman of the Board of Cirque du Soleil and Invest in Canada, Eric Boyko Co-Founder, President and CEO of Stingray Digital Group Inc. and Stéphane Crétier, Founder, Chairman, President and CEO of Garda World. The Montreal Group is supported by William Jegher, Partner, Transaction Advisory Services and Quebec Real Estate Leader at EY, and by Richard Epstein, Lawyer, Partner, Board Member, and co-leader of the Mergers and Acquisitions practice at BCF LLP.

    https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/consultations-show-strong-support-for-the-return-of-major-league-baseball-to-montreal-702691542.html

    • Serious question: Are you employed or compensated by this group or anyone associated with it in any way to promote their efforts (to bring MLB back to Montreal) through social media or sites such as FoS?

      The reason I ask is not to insult you or demean your beliefs or interests. It’s that what you post seems more like promotional copy (possibly supplied promotional copy) than user or fan info.

      • Nope, just a fan that post what I think is relevant.

        I understand that some of the stuff I post may not be relevant for you but I the same time, I feel the same about post of other people (not you).

        I try to keep my post as relevant as possible about the topics we are discussing or related to topics/comments that were published previously.