Yesterday I noted that St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman had unexpectedly granted Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg the right to negotiate with Tampa about a new stadium, several months after declining to declare Sternberg in violation of his use agreement with St. Pete when he openly discussed the possibility of playing home games in Montreal. Since it’s been widely reported that the Rays’ agreement forbids even mentioning the idea of a move until 2027, I noted that this seemed like a big concession for Kriseman to grant in exchange for nothing, but Rays stadium reporter extraordinaire Noah Pransky set me straight:
It wasn't a Kriseman concession – the Rays have always been able to talk to Tampa about 2028 – Hillsborough just wasn't smart enough to realize it, apparently: https://t.co/DggFcv8Rl7
— Noah Pransky (@noahpransky) October 8, 2019
This seemed wrong to me, so after some back and forth with Pransky on Twitter, I checked out the use agreement itself, which says:
That’s pretty cut and dried: During the term of the agreement (i.e., through 2027), the club can’t engage in any negotiations to play home games anywhere other than the Trop. It says nothing about allowing negotiations now to move the team in 2028 or later. (Section 2.04 doesn’t either, before you ask.)
Except! There have been a series of amendments to the use agreement, some before the Rays even moved in in 1998. And one of those, the Second Amendment signed on May 18, 1995, says this:
You’ll notice that this just inserts the clause “to be played during Term.” Which effectively created a loophole: Rays execs can talk to other cities about moving there, but they must limit their talks to being about a move after 2027.
What did St. Pete get in exchange for this 24-year-old concession? The only obvious item in the Second Amendment that was a concession to the city is an increase in the city’s fee for tickets sold over 3.3 million per year, from 25 cents per ticket to 50 cents per ticket. Which amounts to a value of, let’s see, absolutely nothing because the Rays have never come close to drawing 3.3 million fans, and in fact since the seating at the Trop was reduced in 2007, couldn’t draw 3.3 million fans now even if they sold out the entire season.
In other words, unless there was something else going on around that 1995 negotiating table other than the changes we can see in the resulting amendment, St. Petersburg is now stuck with eight years of Sternberg being able to talk all he wants about hightailing it out of town in 2028, all because somebody back then thought it would be nice to collect some extra cash from tickets that will never, ever be sold. (Or, more likely, then-Rays owner Vince Naimoli noticed that he’d signed an extra-restrictive no-relocation-talks clause, and asked the city nicely to revise it, and the city said, Sure, give us some worthless trinket in exchange.) That’s probably not the worst example of someone getting fleeced by the Rays, but it’s still not great.