St. Pete mayor says Rays owner asked about Montreal move before 2028, is maybe not world’s best negotiator

Yesterday was a no good, very bad day, but we can’t let that distract us from all the other no-goodness going on in the world. And yesterday that was news that St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he’d received a “formal” request from Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to play half their home games in Montreal before the team’s use agreement allows it starting in 2028. Sort of, maybe?

On Wednesday, city policy chief Kevin King said the team has made a formal request to play home games in Montreal before 2027.

“Yes, long ago,” he said by phone, before deferring to the mayor.

Kriseman, shortly thereafter, initially would not confirm the team made a formal request, saying only that the Rays have “clearly expressed their desire to explore a split season with Montreal.”

Later in the conversation, the mayor confirmed the request met the “formal” threshold.

“I guess you could consider it to be…” the mayor said before trailing off. “It was much more specific so I guess you could consider it to be a formal request.”

Kriseman said the request was oral and that nothing has been put in writing. He said he couldn’t remember at what point the request went from “informal” to “formal.” Nor would he say what exactly the team asked for, or any concessions the team offered.

Many, many questions here! First off, since that use agreement explicitly forbids Sternberg from talking to anyone about playing home games outside St. Peterburg before 2028 (not, as previously thought, from talking to anyone before 2028 about playing home games outside St. Petersburg, thanks to a late amendment to the terms made way back in 1995), did Kriseman demand anything in return for Sternberg not shutting his trap about it immediately? Are the two sides in negotiation over this? And most important, where the hell would Sternberg be playing games, since his original Tampontreal Ex-Rays plan required building two new stadiums, one in Canada and one in Florida, and if they’re really going to be playing in them by 2024 as Sternberg says he wants, they really better get on that?

The obvious suspicion, of course, is — here, let’s let Shadow of the Stadium’s Noah Pransky say it, he’s earned the right to be the interpreter of Sternberg’s madness:

If it’s leverage, though, it’s leverage of a weird kind: Everyone knows that Sternberg can leave in 2028 for nothing, so making demands about leaving earlier when your lease says you can’t and you have nowhere to play then anyway is an oddly empty threat. I suppose getting the Montreal talk back in the headlines increases pressure on both Kriseman and Tampa stadium backers (and, for that matter, Montreal stadium backers) to take action on funding a stadium — since that’s something Kriseman has made clear he’s not interested in doing himself — but then why on earth is Kriseman the one leaking this news about the move request, and not indicating that he’d shot it down? Even if he secretly wants the Rays to leave his city so he can redevelop the Tropicana Field property, as some have suggested, isn’t making Sternberg’s arguments for him in the media pretty much the opposite of savvy negotiating?

Anyway, the Rays playing home games in two countries at once still makes no sense except as an idle threat, but given that we’ve seen sports team owners make incredibly dumb moves before just to show they’re willing to carry out idle threats, we can’t entirely rule it out as a possibility. This is the kind of story that calls for a robust sports media with a keen sense of how politics works to ferret out what’s really going on, and … like I said, it was a no good, very bad day.

12 comments on “St. Pete mayor says Rays owner asked about Montreal move before 2028, is maybe not world’s best negotiator

  1. Neil

    Here is my take

    1. Kriseman wants to develop the lucrative land the Rays are on. How do I know this? When Kriseman and Sternberg had that spat back in July, Sternberg shot back ” I’ll wait for the next mayor to get a deal”. The question was what deal? He repeatedly said he wanted the Rays to let him know what they wanted to do because St. Pete had some kind of earmarked funds that were going to expire
    2. Kriseman does not want a 8 year lame duck sports team on the property. He wants some big developer to come in. As a matter of fact, i think he was wanted to select a third party broker to source development by the end of the year.
    3. MLB does not want to give up on the TB market. The Rays as bad as they are, are better off where they are now than Charlotte and Nashville. They need more time but Portland and Montreal are not going to wait forever. Manfred wants to expand soon. Could a regional solution of the two city concept work with say Orlando?
    4. Montreal is developing Basin Peel. But the project is a mirror image of the A’s Laney College Ordeal. Yes they could do it privately but they are going to need a spark to expedite this. They have to overcome neighborhood opposition.
    5. Portland has similar issue with the POLs. Onerous Zoning laws. A hint expansion/relocation is in the near term could light a spark

    • That still doesn’t explain why it’s in Kriseman’s interest to generate headlines now about the Rays maybe moving to Montreal. Even if he wants the team gone, he should be keeping the pressure on Sternberg to maximize any buyout offer, no?

      • Do you think it was a little disrespectful of the TB media to release this story on game 7 of the world series. Between two cities that do NOT get enough love the way Boston, New York, Chicago, and St. Louis do? Washington and Houston. They are great baseball cities that deserve more love

        • Whoa. What?

          The media is not there to be your friend. Or in this case “to give you love.”

          The media is there to report facts.

          Looking for love? Try each cities Chamber of Commerce, Tourism or Visitors Bureau.

      • Neil I interpreted this interaction to be a reporter reaching out to the city on his own and not the city leaking information as some kind of strategy. Also, city policy chief Kevin king provided the initial “formal request” quote. Kriseman hesitates to confirm this and when he does confirm it he does so very sheepishly.

  2. Also to answer your question, right before the Rays playoff games started, Krisemen had some unclear, weird statement in the Times about the region becoming an expansion candidate. Maybe he doesn’t want to burn any bridges with MLB? I don’t think they want to just walk away from the region

  3. In summary, this whole Montreal/Tampa thing is a ploy to get the gears in motion in 4 markets. Oak/Mon/TB/PDX

  4. I don’t believe the hapless mayor saying “I guess you could consider it… formal” is really confirmation that a formal request has been made.

    Typically, formal requests involve letters from the interested party sent via a law firm to the second party. There’s often a phone call as a courtesy to say the letter(s) is coming, but the formal part of the formal request almost always involves a (probably binding) submission in writing.

    Before that happens, Sternberg (and his team of lawyers) may need permission from Kriseman to make such a request… or may not, depending on your interpretation of the revised agreement and the original agreement.

    These types of things always involve checkbooks/lawyers at dawn… or maybe sundown…

  5. Pransky is exactly right. Let’s hope it doesn’t work… but that’s what he’s doing. At some point, the buyout cost will drop to the level where Sternberg will just pay it and move (somewhere).

    Sad about Deadspin (particularly for the staff and writers), but look at the bright side… the idiots who just destroyed it paid quite a bit to get it. So, while we readers will miss it, it’s the owners who just devalued their own asset to near zero.

  6. Maybe there request is being framed as a request for permission to talk to Montreal about playing games there. I am sure they have already talked with Bronfman having invited him to the playoff game and all but he just needs permission to make it formal. I am sure there has to be a number that he is willing to pay to get out of Tampa, its probably best for both sides to figure out what that number is sooner rather than later.

  7. I recall there was once an owner in Cleveland that wanted to “share” their team with New Orleans then-new domed stadium. Not sure of the top of my head who it was, 1970-80s.