Rays owner stages hour-long tirade about how Montreal-Tampa split team is not a threat, but a promise

When MLB commissioner Rob Manfred dropped his bombshell last week about Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg seeking permission to have his team build new stadiums in both Montreal and Tampa Bay and split time between them, the big question was: Is Sternberg serious? Not serious about going through with it, necessarily — there are many, many reasons why a two-nation team is a terrible idea — but serious about using it as a threat to shake loose some stadium money at a time when his lease prohibits him from threatening anything until after the 2027 season?

Well, Sternberg and other Rays execs held an hour-long press conference yesterday, and the answer is hoo baby yeah he is serious. Not only did he double down on insisting that the Tampontreal ExpoRays can be a real thing, but he said it would be great not only for the team but for Florida and — you know what, let’s hand the mic to longtime Rays stadium saga chronicler Noah Pransky:

Pransky then closed his Twitter window and hightailed it over to Florida Politics, where he reported that Sternberg’s discussions with would-be Montreal MLB owner Stephen Bronfman had triggered a legal inquiry by the city of St. Petersburg into whether this violated the team’s lease, which prohibits any stadium discussions anywhere other than that city until 2028:

According to mayoral spokesperson Ben Kirby: “The City Attorney’s office has been in contact with the general counsel for the Tampa Bay Rays and received assurances that the Rays will not commence exploration of the shared city concept, or conduct any other activities related to a pre-2028 future stadium site, without an agreement with the City of St. Petersburg. The Rays’ general counsel also confirmed that all conversations related to Montreal were limited to the time period after expiration of the use agreement.”

Pransky also noted:

  • Sternberg isn’t saying how much two stadiums in two cities would cost or how they’d be paid for, but a part-time stadium only in use in the spring could be build smaller and more cheaply.
  • That “economic impact” thing is completely bonkers: “Back-of-the-napkin math on this suggests St. Pete would need tens — or even hundreds — of thousands of new Canadian tourists to make this work, which seems somewhat ridiculous, given that no Montreal fan is going to want to watch their team in Florida’s June humidity when they could wait three weeks and watch them up north in July.”
  • Sternberg said that the site of St. Pete’s minor-league Al Lang Stadium, where his Tampa Bay Rowdies USL second-tier team now playes and which he once considered for a new domed stadium before abandoning the idea, was “absolutely a possibility.” Pransky had previously noted that Sternberg could be angling to move the Rays to the Al Lang site before 2028 by dangling the carrot of letting the city redevelop the Tropicana Field site sooner — which would also allow Sternberg to get a 50% share of any redevelopment money so long as the Rays still play in St. Pete. Pransky told Canadian sports radio that “I think Sternberg is trying to find a way to have his cake and eat it too — get the redevelopment money he’s entitled [to], but not have to play all these games in St. Petersburg. We’re talking tens, possibly hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Whatever exactly Sternberg has in mind, this is clearly a long, long con, or if nothing else a way to kill time and build momentum for something while waiting out the remaining eight years of his lease. It’s transparently a classic non-threat threat — even Twitter noticed — but the question now becomes what the Rays owner plans to do with any leverage that he’s savvily created, especially considering he faces an opponent in St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman who isn’t afraid to sue to enforce the lease’s gag rule on stadium talks.

Of course, it’s always possible this non-threat threat is all Sternberg plans to do, in hopes that it will shake loose more stadium talks in Tampa Bay, given that he’s tried that move (albeit without the Montreal gambit) roughly a billion times before:

This is all crazy, and it’s only likely to get crazier. It is not likely to get more Rays fans in Tampa Bay to go check out their pennant-contending team, but when you’re running a long con, you can’t sweat the small stuff like selling baseball tickets.

ADDENDUM: This Washington Post article doesn’t have much new information that Pransky didn’t already cover, but major props to whoever wrote its URL link.


41 comments on “Rays owner stages hour-long tirade about how Montreal-Tampa split team is not a threat, but a promise

  1. Why can’t the Rays and St Pete come to a divorce agreement here? It seems like it would be good for St Pete if the team left and they could redevelop the land. It would be good for the Rays to leave. There has to be a number that works for both parties.

    • I happen to agree with you on this. The question is this? When? Maybe in about 5 more years when it becomes apparent that the Rays are NOT getting a New Stadium in either St Pete or Tampa Bay, and the value of rhe lease decreases for St Pete.

      • Florida real estate is volatile (more so than most places). So if you can make a good deal you should take it before the next downturn. Now I get that more often than not a sports deal isn’t about economic return its about branding your city, quality of life, and/or providing your residents with an amenity they enjoy. None of those things happen here. Fans don’t go to games and it makes the region look ridiculous. So why are they hanging on?

        • It might make the region look ridiculous to hyper sports fans. Most people, and obviously most sports fans, don’t care a whit.

          • If such a small proportion of people care about the Rays then why waste the opportunity to redevelop the land in order to keep them there? If there were a lot of people going to games one could argue it enhances the quality of life and that’s worth something. However they are not so why not make a deal

          • You’re not wasting anything — the land’s not going anywhere. (Well, not until Florida is underwater, but at that point St. Pete has bigger worries than opportunity costs.) Presumably Kriseman is hoping to see if a stadium plan without too much public money somehow emerged somewhere in Tampa Bay, in which case he has a win-win — it’s almost better if it’s not in St. Pete, because then he doesn’t have to share Trop development proceeds. Given that Montreal isn’t a slam dunk as a relocation option, it’s hardly the dumbest roll of the dice, especially since the worst-case scenario is “wait for the Rays to leave, then redevelop the Trop site and blame Sternberg for being a carpetbagger.”

    • Aqib: That’s exactly what this ridiculous deal is an attempt to do… try to create leverage for Sternberg by ‘graciously offering’ an out for Tampa to build a smaller stadium for him (maybe). If they agree, he bags huge redevelopment rights fees and gets (at least one) new stadium. They aren’t that stupid, however, and can see clearly what he is trying to do… and that, by entering into detailed discussions with Bronfman, he very likely has violated the lease agreement (though perhaps doing so is part of his ‘strategy’, who knows).

      I agree with both you and David below that there is a divorce price that would work for both parties… but here’s my question:

      If Sternberg wants out as badly as it seems, why hasn’t he gone to the appropriate authorities and said “I’ll surrender all redevelopment rights effective Jan 1, 2021 if you allow me to leave for $0 on or after that date”?

      If the land the Trop sits on is really as valuable as everyone thinks, that should be an easy agreement to make.

      St. Pete might counter that as he is contractually bound to stay until 2027 and they built this stadium in good faith etc etc, they would let him leave for $100k per game “missed”, or $57m. And if Sternberg really wants out they meet in the middle at a price that covers the cost of Trop demolition and site prep for whatever the will build next.

      People like Sternberg make deals for a living… so when they go on tv to complain that they can’t get a fair deal, be very very suspicious of what they consider ‘fair’.

      • 1.). I will not support the rays again. Stu and his greed has killed my fandom.

        2.) the start g price for an early exit should be $2million each for the remaining 570 home games. The city has absolutely no reason to accept a dime less. But we are willing to negotiate.

        3.) the trop is adequate for it’s intended purpose. It is not our responsibility to build a new arena. We don’t need them.

        4.) our population and region is booming. Our population doubles every winter with snowbirds looking for sun. We have beaches here in st Pete within a 10 minute drive in any direction but north.

        5.), the rays net economic value to St. Pete is essentially the same as your average super Walmart. And we do not pay for those. Walmart pays us.

        6.) we have no income tax. So having 25 millionaires make money here doesn’t do us a bit of good.

        7.) tons of players will live here anyways.

        8.) we will still get our taste of baseball from spring training.

        9.) Stu will never win a fair vote for what he really wants anywhere because that ballot question has to be phrased as, “do you authorize the city of X to spend a total of $1.5 billion dollars to guarantee 20-30 baseball seasons and to subsidize and maintain the operation of both the team and stadium for the next 20 years, understanding that said stadium will only last for 20 years maximum and will need to be replaced to support said team over and over again?

  2. The league wants to expand with the 6-7 year. The league is out of patience with TB. This is a last ditch effort to say “well we tried” but first they need to access the montreal political landscape. They will be out before the use agreement

    • And they’ll get their pants sued off for violating the use agreement, which at the very least would result in the Rays getting nothing out of the Tropicana Field property redevelopment.

      • They will get their pants sued if they do this split deal and they can negotiate and end to it. Sternberg will continue with these antics to make St. Petersburg look bad

        • Antics is a good word for them… and he’s making himself look at least as bad as he makes St. Petersburg look.

          When considering entering into a contract for a new stadium (or, hey, why not two?) with this guy, the very first thing any potential partner is going to do is look at how he treated his current contractual partners.

          Not very well, as it turns out.

    • Listen carefully. Screw MLB. The Rays are not a tenant. The city of St. Petersburg actually controls where the Rays are allowed to play their home games. The Rays are specifically prohibited by the Use Agreement from even discussing playing elsewhere. It is likely that Stu has exposed himself to a lawsuit by even bringing this up.

      In all cases, the Rays are required to play all home games at A location the city designates until the end of the season in 2027 unless the city grants them specific permission.

      Our lawyers were very very good that day the use agreement was signed.

      Of course, everything has a price.

      Give us $2million for each remaining home game until 2027 (570+) and we will let them talk about maybe playing somewhere else.

      • MLB could contract the Rays and Re-establish them as the expos. Or rename the team the St. Petersburg Dummies

        • To get out of a contract? That would be an outstanding way to get hit with lots of lawsuits, not to mention an antitrust investigation by Florida’s congressional reps.

          • Why wouldn’t they be threatening lawsuits and anti trust violations now? Now that they have announced the future will not be St. Pete full time

        • Matthew, if MLB did that here is what would happen. Our lawyers would break the sound barrier filing state and federal lawsuits claiming damages and an injunction forcing MLB to honor the agreement. We would go after the Antitrust exemption. Each owner would get 30 matching lawsuits as well. MLB would be on the hook for hundreds of millions of damages.

          To get out of it, MLB would have to open the books and show specific harm in staying. Specific harm meaning chapter 7 bankruptcy for the team. The problem? The team is making money in its current stadium. Bankruptcy fraud is a real crime as well. So if they cook the books, then expect our prosecutors to eagerly prosecute any fraud or misdealings.

          • This proposal if it is to go forward is in violation of the use agreement. It has the same legal standing as out right relocation. The question I asked was why aren’t they threatening antitrust lawsuits now? Also the Use agreement is with “the club” when I skimmed through it I didn’t see that it was a direct contract with MLB. Schooled, hardly

          • Violating the use agreement and violating antitrust law are two different things. St. Pete is already exploring legal action over the former; if MLB tried contraction, they (and possibly Congress) would almost certainly attempt action over the latter.

            Normally I’m in sympathy with the argument that “rich guys with lawyers get to do what they want,” but St. Pete is actually in a pretty good legal position right now. Which is no doubt why Sternberg is resorting to some desperation tactics.

      • If the law is on the side of St. Peterburg, why would our good friend Mr. Sternberg be promoting a proposal that from a legal perspective is no different than outright leaving a decade before he is allowed to do so. Answer, whether the law is on his side or not, he has some Aces in the hole to get what he wants (whatever that is)

        • Or this simpler explanation:

          https://deadspin.com/the-madman-theory-of-the-montreal-tampa-bay-rays-1835887238

        • 1. “That man just climbed to the top of a cliff and jumped off”

          2. “He fell like a stone, all the way to the bottom. Now he’s not moving”.

          3. “I guess he must know something that the rest of us don’t”

          If that is the current logic, the human race is utterly doomed…

  3. The Rays are essentially “Dead Man Walking.” The lease (coupled with having to build a New Stadium in Montreal) are why they have not moved yet. I strongly suspect that once an agreement is made to build a Stadium in Montreal, they will start the moving process and leave when it is complete (see The Oakland Raiders as an example of this). I know St Pete has the Rays under an “Iron Clad Lease” and cannot talk to anyone, but the longer time passes, the less valuable the “Trop” land becomes. Why? Because the one thing the City cannot allow is for the Rays to leave and deal with Sternberg with him having the economic advantage over the City.

    • Wait — why does Trop land become less valuable with time? I can see where St. Pete might have an incentive to let Sternberg buy out his lease if it means they get cash for a team that would be leaving anyway, but the city seems to have all the leverage here.

      I’m also skeptical that Sternberg really wants to go to Montreal, which was the market everyone made fun of for terrible attendance before it was Tampa Bay’s turn. He may be playing a “maybe this will get me a new stadium on Montreal or maybe in Tampa Bay but either way it’s better than nothing” game, but it certainly seems like he’d just be trading one set of problems for another.

      (Which isn’t to say anything bad about Montreal, which I love as a city. But it’s a middling-to-poor MLB market, same as Tampa Bay.)

      • Neil,

        If you put the Expos in a new stadium centrally located they we be comparable to the Pittsburgh Pirates or Kansas City Royals in terms of attendance. Not great but adequate

        • The Pirates, in their new, centrally located, and universally praised ballpark, were third from last in attendance last year, beating only the Rays and Marlins. KC did a little better at eighth from last, at least; granted, they have a relatively ancient stadium, but it’s heavily renovated.

          Among the other teams between KC and Pittsburgh are Cincinnati (with a new stadium) and Baltimore (whose stadium is relatively old by current standards, but is still considered one of the best in the league).

        • Spend 1.5B+ on two stadiums and move a team from worst to fourth worst. Maybe “doing nothing” is a better economic option?

          Little evidence that Montreal would be much of a move up.

          The fact is major league baseball is not beloved right now. Such an absurd gambit is a sign of struggle and weakness, not vitality.

        • As others point out, Pittsburgh and Kansas City are not particularly highly ranked in attendance: they are ranked 25th and 26th in attendance this year, just behind Oakland.

          What that demonstrates is that a new stadium should not be equated with huge long-term attendance changes, as any regular reader of this blog would know. It sometimes happens (see San Francisco), but it isn’t the rule.

      • The Trop land doesn’t really become less valuable with time, but the city would like to start redeveloping that land now while demand is high, rather than after the next economic downturn, which is likely to come well before the end of the use agreement.

  4. Even if the Rays were averaging 25k fans a game they would still be offering up this ridiculous gambit. Team owners would rather develop 2 million square feet of commercial space and swanky condos than win 3 World Series in a row. Just 6 months ago Stu said baseball would thrive in Tampa Bay with a new stadium. Now he’s saying there is no way Tampa can support a full time team. What happened in those 6 months? Nobody wanted to buy him a new stadium (Stu only committed something like 150 million towards a stadium expected to cost 900 million).

    • Don’t forget that this is the same organization that claimed a new stadium at the Al Lang site in the heart of downtown St. Pete would be perfect (never mind that downtown St. Pete is further from the main highways and would extend the drive from Tampa by 5-10 minutes). Then when that plan fell apart, suddenly there was no way the team could survive in St. Pete because it’s so inaccessible, and the only way for them to survive was to move to Tampa. And now that their billion-dollar stadium in Ybor failed, the only way for them to survive in Tampa Bay is to not even play in Tampa Bay for most of the season. Nothing Stu says is trustworthy.

  5. Little secret for you Stuuge. Positive “economic impact” is happening all over the Tampa/St. Pete areas despite the Rays not because of them. I live 3 blocks from the Trop and I grew up in St. Pete. The hilarious thing is they want to leave the kind of area that they say the want to be in (tons of growth, new hi-rise, multi-family, new restaurants, significant comm growth). Think of the irony here. There are about 4 different comedic parallels here to use as fodder against The Rays.

    • Agreed. This is a clown move by Sternberg. Good thing he keeps his fingers (more or less) out of the baseball side and leaves it to the (mainly good) people he hires.

      If he didn’t, the Rays would be as awful on the field as they are off.

      It’s strange isn’t it? You tell people for 15 years that the place you play is a dump and no-one should go and then they don’t show up to watch.

  6. This is a familiar tactic for anyone who has seen Blazing Saddles (and if you haven’t seen it you really really should). Stu Sternberg as Cleavon Little.

    Stu wants to leave.
    Stu wants to cash in on 50% development rights deal he thinks he “owns”
    Stu has no leverage.
    Stu is contractually bound to stay at the Trop until 2027, where despite his protests he actually makes money.

    But he could make more money if he could come up with some plan to force his way out of the Trop before 2027, scoop up the redevelopment loot and either stay in St. Pete or move somewhere else. But he can’t…. hey! wait!

    Maybe there’s a way… he can use his total lack of leverage to leverage the city into building him a new stadium before 2027 AND redeveloping the Trop site AND letting him “kind of” leave town for those tremendously green pastures in Montreal… why that would be a win win win (for Stu)!

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

    (Pay particular attention to 1992-96, when the Expos were a very good and exciting team to watch. Not pretty, huh?)

    This has nothing to do with “saving” baseball in Tampa. Baseball in Tampa is absolutely the last thing anyone involved (apart from the fans) cares about. It’s about desperately trying to create leverage where none exists.

    It’s a classic ‘ham and eggs’ play, albeit one which requires two kitchens in cities thousands of miles apart and two willing payers rather than one.

    The only thing that confuses me a bit is why Bronfman is letting himself be used here. It could easily backfire with the remainder of the MLB owners. Having said that, since MLB approved this ridiculous plan to have two stadia built in different cities and ‘share’ one team, he may have agreed just to build “trust” among the deeply untrustworthy MLB ownership pool.

  7. Shared teams haven’t worked out well historically, anyway…

    The NBA’s Kansas City/Omaha Kings wound up in Sacramento. Several ABA teams (Virginia and Carolina come to mind) tried it, and the league went under.

    Even in MLB, history is not on St. Pete’s side of this idea. In 1956-57, the Brooklyn Dodgers played selected games in Jersey City. We know where they played in 1958. In 1969, the White Sox played a single game of each home series in Milwaukee, lured there by a used-car salesman who missed out on expansion teams that year — the used-car salesman who ended the experiment by moving the corpse of the Seattle Pilots to Wisconsin in 1970 (the Chicago Tribune has a story online today about this). And the team that moved 22 games a season to San Juan for the 2003-04 seasons… will be wearing throwback Expos uniforms next weekend in Washington after moving there from Montreal (!) in 2005.

    Point being, I think that St. Petersburg knows this history, too – the Tampa-Montreal Snowbirds would become a Montreal franchise sooner rather than later, and they’re going to hold the team to its lease agreement before that happens, unless they’re given enough rea$on$ to do otherwise.

    • Keep up the good work. Selig hates it when we refer to him a used car salesman

      Yes. There’s very little “Tampa” to this deal I would suggest. It may be that if Sternberg sells (all or majority interest in) the team to Bronfman they will become the Expos again… lease considerations notwithstanding. Longer term, any legacy Tampa games will be just that: A warm place to play for a couple or three weeks to start the season.

      I’ll say it once more… Legends field would work just fine for such a plan.

      The question is, would any Tampa fans go to see a team that is not “theirs” anymore?

  8. Gee, thirty plus comments on a Rays article. Too bad there isn’t that much interest in the actual team playing games…