I don’t usually like to respond here to things that were only raised on Twitter, but this seems like an important one: Boosters of baseball in Montreal have seized on this week’s announcement that Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has given up on a new stadium in Tampa for now as a sign that the team could be headed for relocation. And sure, their lease says that the Rays can’t move before 2027, but either Sternberg or a new owner can just get out of that by paying a lease penalty and then skedaddling.
Except that’s not what the Rays’ lease says at all. Here’s the MOU signed by the Rays and the city of St. Petersburg in 2016 to amend the team’s lease, and here’s the relevant sections:
And then a whole bunch of dollar figures, which comes down to $3 million a year if the team leaves before 2023, and $2 million a year if it leaves before 2027.
That wouldn’t be much of an obstacle if Sternberg wanted to move the team — but note that this only applies if the team wants to move to “another location in Pinellas or in Hillsborough” counties. There is no provision in the MOU that will allow Sternberg to move anywhere else in the world other than those two counties. Sure, he could try to negotiate one with St. Pete officials, and might even be able to do so once 2027 is getting closer and it’s a matter of “I’m gonna leave anyway, let me pay you some cash to let me do it a year or two early,” but there is no mechanism currently in place for him to demand to be allowed to do so.
St. Petersburg got a lot of things wrong when it built its dome back in the 1980s — building a stadium without first securing a team was the worst move, since it allowed the city to be used as a stalking horse by MLB owners seeking to extract stadium cash from their home cities for a decade before the Rays finally arrived in 1998 — but it did a hell of a job negotiating one of the most stringent stadium leases in the world. Let’s all remember that as we hold our fun debates over whether the best relocated team name would be the MonterRays or the Charlotte Raes.