Rays sell out home game and get permission for Tampa stadium talks, it’s bizarro week

The Tampa Bay Rays won their first home postseason game in six years yesterday, but the headlines were that they also sold out their stadium for the first time in recent memory. They’ll try to make it two straight at tonight’s ALDS Game 4, with just a few hundred tickets remaining as of this writing.

All of which is good news for the potential viability of the team in its current home — despite the long drive across the bridge from Tampa, the talking down of the stadium by owner Stuart Sternberg, the general weakness of the Florida sports market, and all the other reasons why the Rays haven’t drawn well of late. So, naturally, team execs are celebrating by again trying to get a new stadium built in Tampa:

On Friday, Kevin King, St. Petersburg’s chief of policy and public engagement, confirmed that the city has no objection if Hillsborough and Tampa want to try again to persuade the Rays to move across the bay after 2027, according to Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill.

This is more than a little odd and unexpected, given all the hullabaloo last December when Sternberg’s option to pursue a stadium in Hillsborough County expired, leaving him stuck with his lease through 2027 that prohibits even speaking to other locations than St. Petersburg about a new stadium. And sure, Sternberg has been decidedly uninterested in pursuing a St. Pete stadium, but from St. Pete’s perspective, why give up your leverage when you don’t have to?

What changed, apparently, is that St. Peterburg Mayor Rick Kriseman was sick of being asked if he was standing in the way of a new stadium in Tampa:

Merrill called King on Friday for an explanation after Times reporters informed him that St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is disputing the notion that he is blocking Hillsborough from negotiating with the Rays…

On Wednesday, Kriseman was asked by a Times reporter why Tampa couldn’t talk to the Rays if Montreal could. The mayor declined to address the question.

“I’m here for the game,” he said repeatedly, while guest-bartending at a downtown St. Petersburg tavern as the Rays played the Oakland Athletics in the American League Wild Card game.

Now, there are reasons why Kriseman might actually want to see the Rays move to Tampa: St. Petersburg would get to redevelop its current stadium site, the Rays would stay in the area, and Tampa taxpayers would be on the hook for any public stadium costs. (On the downside, St. Pete residents would now have to drive across the bridge to get to games, and there would be some loss in tax revenue from Rays spending taking place across the bay, but probably not enough to offset the gains from getting the land back.) Still, this was a surprising concession from Kriseman without asking for anything in return.

What seems to have happened here is that Sternberg’s Tampontreal Ex-Rays gambit worked — not in that anybody is particularly taking seriously the possibility of a team playing home games in two countries at once, but in that by going and negotiating with Montreal officials and saying “Go ahead, try to stop me,” he established a precedent that he can carry out stadium talks regardless of what his lease says, so why shouldn’t he get to talk to Tampa, too? Or at least enough to get Kriseman to say, Fine, if he really wants to move to Tampa, I’m not going to be the one standing in his way, now please go away and let me watch the game.

All of which may not immediately help Sternberg all that much: He’s still facing a massive budget shortfall for any Hillsborough County stadium, so getting to resume talks about how neither side is ready to spend more isn’t likely to get anything done immediately. Still, he’s successfully escaped the corner he had painted himself into, without even the mild concessions he agreed to the last time he got an opt-out clause, just by hanging out a bunch with his new Montreal pal Stephen Bronfman. The squeaky wheel gets the grease!

17 comments on “Rays sell out home game and get permission for Tampa stadium talks, it’s bizarro week

  1. There is no question that the worst Stadiums that are used by professional sports teams in this Country are in St Pete and Oakland. There is also a 50/50 chance that Elizabeth Warren will be our next President, and with it, the sports Stadium building frenzy will come to a screeching halt. Why? Start with this: 1: A $15:00 Minimum Wage (which will add a lot of labor costs to any new Stadium (both in construction and operations)). 2:The end Right To Work Laws (in the case of Florida). 3: Increased environmental regulations which will make the process longer and more expensive) so it makes sense for MLB, the Rays, A’s and the municipalities involved to try and get something agreed to before January 2020.

    • Construction workers are almost certainly already making $15/hour, and in any case, construction is a very materials-intensive industry, so an increased minimum wage won’t affect costs much. (Not nearly as much as a change in the price of steel, which happens all the time and hasn’t been much of a speed bump in stadium construction.)

      • I agree with you that Construction Workers make more then $15:00, but when the minimum wage goes up, other wages do as well. I will also note that materials costs will go up as well due to increased health, safety and environmental regulations (see the cost of home construction costs in California), and probable increased tariffs on goods (like steel) from places like China (a position that BOTH President Trump & Senator Warren support), throw in the end of Right To Work Laws (something she will do with an Executive Action), and you will see the cost of any new Stadium in Florida and to a lesser extent (Oakland since they do not have Right To Work Laws) go up quite a bit. Did I overlook the increased taxes to pay for “Medicare For All” (especially on the wealthy who can afford to pay for the stadium)?

        • If that is her Agenda, It will take at least 2 terms and enough political capital to get both houses. Does she have the political skills, well….. there is room for improvement

          • I disagree. Sen. Warren has already said she will eliminate “Right To Work” laws by Executive Order. I also suspect that if she is elected she will hold the house ( maybe even have Ocasio-Cortez as Speaker), and pick up the Senate and even gain a few weak Republicans like Romney, and get about 95% of what she wants ( especially on banking). People on Wall Street and in the banking industry are very nervous about the prospect of her as President. I am someone who does not support her ( except on trade issues), but I acknowledge she has a brilliant mind who is not afraid to say where she is coming from. If I was the owners of the Rays, A’s, Redskins, Clippers, NYCFC and every team that wants a new building ( taxpayer subsidized or not), I would not feel comfortable.

    • There’s a ton of presupposition in this take, some of which is at odds with factual reality.

      • Amen to that.

        When gold plated pro sports facilities now cost $600m-$1Bn to build, how can anyone possibly argue about the impacts of minimum wage or the costs of steel or other building materials?

        Here’s an idea… if steel prices increase by 10%, just reduce the number of 4k TVs installed in hallways that fans don’t have access to anyway (c: Pittsburgh Penguins) by 15% to compensate.

        You could build ten public schools, twenty police stations AND ten public libraries for the cost of one (modest) sports stadium today.

        And yet, here we are, blaming the cost for a “welfare for billionaires” stadium on those evil money grubbing minimum wage earners.

        It’s unbelievable what the western world has devolved into in 2019…

    • You mean, as a society we might stop spending tens and tens of billions on gold-plated sports palaces for the benefit of the richest among us? Might sports regress to a time when it meant a decent wage for the athletes, and a pleasant (and affordable) outing for a family?

      Are we on the verge of thinking doing something about living wages, affordable health care for everyone, and serious environmental protections? Are we actually going to try and re-grow the working middle class?

      I can’t wait. Sign me up. American society is diseased and getting worse all the time. The “sports-media complex,” as Neil phrases it, is one of the most obvious symptoms. Rip it out, root and branch.

      • Ah Ralph.

        You’re missing the perfect model for what this nation could become.


        Look at all “those shiny happy people” in the advertisements promoting Qatar.

        And those amazing, spectacular stadiums. All 100% government financed. Franchise owners in this nation will love that!

        Luxury boxes that are bedrooms!


        And you thought TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida with its swimming pool, swim up bar and cabanas was special. So not.

        Attendance. That can be a bit problematic. But hey, bus in 1,000’s of foreign workers (foreign workers outnumber Qataris 4 to 1), and problem solved. With the day off work (paid or unpaid it’s really irrelevant since “IT IS A DAY OFF WORK”) watching sports in a fancy new stadium (did I forget to mention the stadium is AIR COOLED) and you’ll have a stadium filled with the most joyous fans ever.

        Just pay “no attention to that man behind me he curtain.”

        Doha’s modern skyline is merely a wealthy investors mirage. Mostly devoid of people, as few can afford to live or work there. The vast majority of Qatar’s 2,6 million people, or 88%, are foreign workers. And this nation thinks it has an immigration problem! They live in migrant or worker camps. But not to worry. They’re out of sight, so as not to cause any unpleasantries or discomfort when living in Doha. After all, Doha is home to the well to do, whether Qatari or ex-pat. It’s to their comfort that is of utmost importance and must be seen to.

        Similar to this nation during the “Gilded Age,” when life was grand for one and all.

    • I know everyplace these days is full of politics, but since this site is political it is probably fair to point out that she’s never claimed that an executive order can set private sector wages. Executive Orders can affect the practice of the Executive Branch and what the EB pays for hourly wages.

      Her comments on Right to Work laws are a bit harder to get in actual quotes, but her ability to forbid admittedly seems to come down to legislative action–like most of her program.

      Kind of how a democracy has to work, except when the Executive has an amazing level of wisdom, I guess.

  2. It makes more sense for the Rays to stay in St. Pete at the Trop than move to Charlotte or Nashville

    • The “sell” from team owners has always been “We need to move to a more urban, vibrant area.” St. Pete is an urban, and very vibrant (thriving area). The growth here is exponential. The amount of large scale, multi-family, hi rise buildings going up within blocks of the stadium is very significant. Couple that with the influx of pubs, restaurants, shops, ax throwing (Ferg’s now has ax throwing, lol), etc…Maybe they want to move to Marietta and be near the Braves.

      • Works like clockwork gives Montreal and Tampa more time to get there ballpark deals done. Montreal has some of the same issues as Oakland. Portland has zoning issues. Enough take for all 4 cities to get things worked out

      • The growth is no exponential in any way, shape, or form. St Pete has grown has grown a little over 8% (or ~23k people) over the past 9 years.

        • It’s quite exponential. So exponential and cerebral that it will blow your mind. Don’t ever forget, Danger is my middle name.

  3. “… he established a precedent that he can carry out stadium talks regardless of what his lease says…”

    Not sure about that one. Let’s say I own a condo building (or just a rental condo for that matter)… If I lease the property to someone with a “no pets” proviso and they bring in a parrot (hopefully in a cage…), I can choose not to enforce that lease provision if I so wish.

    If the tenant then decides that s/he wishes to buy a tiger or a St. Bernard, I am still well within my rights to evict them for bringing in “pets”. Even if they stand pat with one parrot… should that parrot become a problem (IE: not be kept in a cage etc), I am still able to enforce the pets proviso as and when I wish. I don’t even need to prove that the pet in question is a problem. It is a pet in residence at the named property. Ergo, the lease provision have been violated and I may evict the tenant at my discretion (subject to the usual assortment of notification and other laws pursuant).

    Precedent only attaches if I have multiple apartments and am actively ignoring the pets in 19 of them while singling out one renter for having a budgie and violating his/her lease.

    In this case, had the Rays requested permission to discuss this with Montreal, been refused and then had the discussion anyway… one might argue that some sort of precedent against enforcement may have been set. All that has happened here is that the Rays have technically violated a term of their lease. Violating the terms of a lease and not being punished for or called on it does not modify the lease in any way. The landlord is not required to act on any or all instances of violation, nor do they lose their rights to do so if they choose to remain silent (or not be aware of the violation).

    The only thing it does do is give Kriseman and co grounds to pull the lease because of the violation. As far as I know, there is no time limit on when they could do that (beyond the normal end of the lease term, obviously).