St. Pete mayor on Rays’ Montreal timeshare plan: Nuh-uh, you won’t

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman hasn’t always been the hardest of hard-liners when it comes to stadium negotiations, coming to office in 2013 saying he was willing to talk about a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, and then handing Rays owner Stuart Sternberg a lease buyout option for a relatively modest price. (Though that worked out well when the buyout expired without Sternberg using it.) Handed a gimme yesterday, though, in the form of Sternberg’s offer/threat to build new stadiums in both Tampa Bay and Montreal and split time between them, Kriseman knocked it out of the park:

#micdrop.

There are many supremely dumb things about the Tampontreal ExpoRays gambit, but Kriseman has accurately identified the most important one: Sternberg can’t even talk about pursuing any kind of part-time move anywhere until after the 2027 season according to his lease with St. Pete, and St. Pete has zero incentive to let him. So while it doesn’t make much sense in reality, it makes even less sense as a threat. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred tried to explain it away as a plan for beyond 2027 — “They’re committed to being in Tampa Bay through 2027. This is a longer-term project for them” — but then why announce it now, unless you’re hoping Montreal will start gearing up to build a non-domed part-time stadium on spec, in the hopes that Sternberg will still want it (indeed, will still own the Rays at all) by the time 2028 rolls around and he can actually negotiate a move?

On the other hand, yesterday’s declaration got so very much press coverage that if the goal was to get people in Tampa Bay thinking about life without the Rays, at least during the summer months, then mission accomplished. If the goal was to get them to think about it without laughing and pointing, then not so much.


31 comments on “St. Pete mayor on Rays’ Montreal timeshare plan: Nuh-uh, you won’t

  1. Neil, there is one incentive that Kriseman will be receptive to. The Rays own 50% of the profits on the Tropicana Field re-development site until the end of the Use Agreement.

    Sternberg can use this card to have the permission to talk about any scenarios to play games outside Pinellas.

    With only 7 years left (after this season) with the Use Agreement, the value of the remaining seasons with overall attendances between $1.1M and 1.3M are decreasing every day. Especially if the compensation/penalties paid are higher than the revenues generated yearly.

    Stay Tuned for Sternberg and Bronfman press conference June 25th!

    • How is “If you wait until 2027 and we leave, then you don’t have to share development rights with us” a card of any kind that Sternberg can play for leverage?

      Also, Sternberg only gets 50% of development rights if part of the Trop land is developed while the Rays still play there, which ain’t happening:

      https://www.draysbay.com/2014/12/19/7423193/rays-redevelopment-tropicana-field

      • There is a line in the subsequent MOU about ten “Excused Games” per year, but that just appears to refer to the threshold where the Rays have to start paying damages to St. Petersburg for breaking the lease early. I don’t see anything saying it overrides the original lease clause that requires all games to be played at the dome (or the DOME).

        https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4329865-Memorandum-of-Understanding.html

        • Is that like an excused absence? Do they rays have to get a note from their doctor?

        • MOU is now obsolete, the Rays sent a letter in December 2019 to let Kriseman know that they won’t go further with the agreement. So the 10 games concept is no longer valid.

  2. Sternberg knows that Pinellas County and St Pete are sitting on pots of money to partially finance something on that side of Tampa Bay. Floating this incredibly stupid two city “solution” tells me he’s serious about only paying $150 Million toward anything, which won’t cut it in Tampa Bay.

    Also, I think the terms of the “look around” agreement that didn’t expire allow the Rays to play up to 10 games elsewhere already, so look for that to happen next year.

    • Nope — I’m looking at the use agreement right now, and it says the franchise must “play all of its Home Games in the DOME.” Only exception is a “force majeure event” (earthquake, flood, “civil commotion”) or if the dome is partially destroyed — and even then, if the field is playable and 70% of the seats are intact, the Rays still have to play there.

      • Thanks for your clarification above on the MOU and Excused Games. Wonder if they would interpret the 70% as 3,500 (70% of the 5,000 seats actually used on a normal day)? :)

      • As noted above (it got attached to the wrong thread), the 10 Excused Games thing was just in the opt-out clause and referred to when the Rays would start paying damages. Which is moot now anyway as the opt-out is defunct.

  3. Neil, Why would a rocket scientist smart Wall Street Banker like Stu Sternberg make a spectacle of himself by going public with this plan if there wasn’t a way out of the use agreement. That is what I’d like to know.

    • The list of things I’d like to know about this runs from Canada to Florida.

      • I think some the truth is this. The use agreement is not the word of God. There is some wiggle room to get out of it before 2027. Sternberg didn’t want to play that card but when you have a team almost in first and 5K show up, its time to say “OK TB Pols time to show me your cards”. What say you Neil

        • I say read the use agreement and see if you can find any wiggle room.

          Will post the document once today’s site migration has shaken out.

          • Neil, I will. You can even test me on it. Lawyers are smart cookies. Sternburg hires that best of the best. He wouldn’t have played this hand if he didn’t have an ace in the hole. There is more to this story than what is to be believed. I believe its a trial ballon to gauge public support in Montreal and get the TB pols on public record as to where they stand on public financing.

          • Knock yourself out:

            http://www.fieldofschemes.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Stadium-Agreement.pdf

            http://www.fieldofschemes.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Stadium-Agreement-Amendments.pdf

    • I read the use agreement, I didn’t see MLB specifically referred to just “the Club”. Couldn’t “the Club” be dissolved. How would specific performance be enforced.

      Anyway this back and forth is not important. I think if MLB wants to break its policy that expansion can’t happen until the TB ballpark is resolved (which looks like 2030 before talk even can begin). It needs to see if Quebec and TB pols cry bloody murder at the thought of relocation and the use of public funds. Politician don’t want to touch this issue because it makes them look bad either way. It wants to see what hand they have. Groups in Nashville, Portland and Montreal will not wait until 2030. Sorry they won’t

      • Then Nashville Portland and Montreal can start their own league. Like it or not, MLB controls who gets in, when and on what terms.

        As for the “lawyers are smart cookies” comment, you can bet your last dollar that lawyers wrote that agreement, not some random employee of the city or county.

      • Dissolving a team and starting a new one in order to get out of a lease, then not allowing a new team to be started in the old city, would be a great way to get hit with an antitrust suit. Florida has some exceptionally strong antitrust precedent – it’s one reason the Twins got targeted for contraction in the early 00s instead of the Rays. (Not that MLB was serious about that either, for the same reason of not wanting to have their antitrust exemption tested.)

        • MLB would not do that because it would poison the well of trust they have the cities they are in and may need a new stadium in the distant future(i.e. Toronto, Cleveland). But I want to go back to my original question, why would a brainiac Wall Street guy go to the international press with a scheme that is clearly in breach of contract with no legal leg to stand on. Answer,
          1. He has an argument that could be construed as a legal leg to stand
          2. He does not have a legal leg to stand on but intends to wage a 8 year mud slinging war with the TB pol that would make the up and coming St. Petersburg look bad in the eyes of businesses interested in doing business there.

  4. What is there to stop the Rays from using the David Letterman gambit in which the cities pitch the Rays their plans and what they are willing to finance?
    The Rays can say that they are not negotiating but just listening to other cities.

    • If there’s any wiggle room in anything in this agreement (and there isn’t much, as Neil has pointed out), it will be in the very area you are talking about.

      What is “discussing, planning, exploring” in a legal sense?

      Suppose somebody calls Sternberg from Boise or Honolulu and says “hey, how’d you like to move your team here?” Has Sternberg broken the lease simply by picking up the phone? Unlikely.

      It’s also not clear to me how enforceable any clause against “exploring or discussing or contemplating” is.

      How does MLB, the local regulatory bodies or government, or more importantly a court of law know what Sternberg is thinking, contemplating or considering?

  5. If Tampa/St. Pete was worried about life without the Rays, they would go to the games. They ain’t worried about them. They’ve got a lot of stuff to do during the summer.
    The idea that the Players Union would sign on to such a hairbrained scheme is silly. No way this would be allowed without significant changes to the bargaining agreement surrounding taxes. Canadian taxes are outrageous.

  6. Kudos to the WGN behind the camera technical team… who yesterday came up with “Tammont Ex-Rays”

    It works fine, so long as they don’t have to move some games back to San Juan as well.

  7. The trial balloon to Montreal is a real head scratcher. Even as poor as the ownership was at the end of the time in Canada, the Expos were a consistent below-average draw throughout their time in the NL.

    Just because kids like to wear throwback hats doesn’t mean there’s a market to draw 30k/game at current “normal” MLB prices.

    • It is.

      There was about a 7 season period when they were in the top half of MLB attendance (’77-83), but apart from that it was a disaster.

      www.baseball-reference.com/teams/WSN/attend.shtml

      Certainly a good part of that was a lousy stadium and the wholesale selling off of good players, followed by disgracefully undercapitalised ownership in the Brochu days (which would not be the case this time). But even as a long time Expo supporter, I find it hard to imagine the avg attendance for a mid pack team topping 20k/gm. Now that wouldn’t be terrible in the MLB of today, but it’s hardly a terrific money spinner.

      Given the differing tax regimes in Canada and the US and the vast gulf between Canadian and US local broadcasting rights fees, it’s hard to see how an Expos 2.0 could possibly float a payroll much above USD$85-90m… and they would probably be losing a little money every year even at that rate.

  8. Given their attendance, can’t the Rays just use one (or more) of the spring training stadia in the Tampa Bay area?

    • I’ve asked that many times. I get that they don’t want to… they want a new stadium like all the other kids have.

      But they draw as well or better at Legends field than they do at the trop a lot of the time. I’m not saying that they could move their permanently “as is”, but some upgrades could be effected for maybe $25m or so and it would suit them fine.

      As long as they scheduled around the 4pm rain storms every day…