St. Pete mayor declares talks of new Rays stadium before 2028 “concluded,” but not talks before 2028 of new Rays stadium (read it again, you’ll get it)

Back six weeks ago when St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman was saying it was no big deal if Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg wanted to look at moving his team before his lease expires at the end of 2027 — despite a lease clause explicitly prohibiting that — it looked like Kriseman was all set on playing good cop in the team’s stadium squabble, possibly with an eye toward getting hold of the land under the team’s current home of Tropicana Field. Now not so much, as Kriseman has declared that the Rays leaving before 2027 is something up with which he will not put:

Kriseman told city council members in a letter that negotiations over the Rays’ pitch to split the season between St. Petersburg and Montreal have concluded. The mayor added that team officials declined a new offer to renew the memo of understanding that would’ve allowed the team to explore a future full-time stadium in the Tampa Bay area — not just in St. Pete or Pinellas County.

Here’s the full letter from Kriseman, of which the key paragraphs are:

Negotiations between the City of St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays Organization related to the ‘shared season’ concept have concluded. Both parties have agreed that the best path forward is to abide by the existing use agreement with the understanding that the agreement allows for the Rays Organization to explore post-2027 split or full season opportunities, both in St. Petersburg and elsewhere.
In accordance with the existing use agreement, should the Rays Organization wish to continue exploration of the shared season concept with Montreal, that exploration must be limited to the 2028 season and beyond.

Okay, so what does this all mean? The Rays’ lease prohibits the team’s owner from so much as talking to other cities about moving any home games out of St. Pete before 2028 — which would rule out the team moving to Tampa across the bay, or moving half its games to Montreal, or anything else that didn’t keep 100% of Rays home games in their current city. But it’s only the move that can’t happen before 2028, not the talks: Thanks to a late amendment to the Rays’ 1996 lease, Sternberg can talk all he want about new stadiums elsewhere, he just can’t do so with a goal of moving there before 2028.

Which, honestly, at this point is pretty unlikely anyway: Neither Tampa nor Montreal nor any other prospective Rays relocation city has anything close to a stadium plan in place, so when you add the time it would take to put financing together to the time it would take to build a whole new ballpark, you’re already about halfway to 2028. All Kriseman has done here is to say to Sternberg, “If you want a new stadium sooner than eight years from now, you’ll have to do so in St. Pete,” which honestly isn’t a terrible use of what leverage he has. (Assuming that keeping the Rays in St. Pete is really what’s best for St. Pete, which given the tremendous public subsidies Sternberg is looking for may not be the case at all.)

It also means that fears that this will immediately drive the Rays out of town — hey there, Tampa Bay Times sports columnist John Romano — are almost certainly overblown, because not allowing the team to leave town until 2028 doesn’t actually make it harder for the team to leave town. Sternberg will now almost certainly continue talks with Montreal and Tampa and anywhere else with an eye toward 2028, but will presumably continue them with St. Petersburg as well — unless he chooses to cut off Kriseman out of spite, which would be a dangerous thing to do in a game with only so many bidders. Sternberg’s calculus remains the same: Stay put in a metro area with a decent-sized media market but a crappy attendance record or relocate to a smaller market (or in Montreal’s case, another decent-sized market with its own historic attendance woes) and roll the dice that this will make you more money.

I expect that Sternberg’s decision, much like the MLB decision that stripped Montreal of the Expos in the first place in 2004, will ultimately have a lot to do with who offers the most lucrative stadium deal, which right now is “nobody.” This Kriseman gambit definitely makes things interesting, but I imagine it’s going to be years before we know how, or if, it affects the Rays’ ultimate fate.

16 comments on “St. Pete mayor declares talks of new Rays stadium before 2028 “concluded,” but not talks before 2028 of new Rays stadium (read it again, you’ll get it)

  1. One fact about Montreal is that Bronfman told publicly that a new stadium would be ready for the season 2024 as soon as MLB give him a formal commitment that a team will play in Montreal within the next 6-9 months.

    The REM station next to the stadium land is already planned and it would take ~12 months to finalized the stadium plans & the funding and around ~24 months for the construction. Several stadium plans were developed so far by the Montreal Group. So a lot of work was performed to speed-up the process.

    There are no reasons not to believe such information. So saying that it will take 8 years (at least) from now to have a stadium in Montreal is true only if MLB confirm a team in Montreal after 2024.

    • The only way the Expos are returning would be as an expansion team ( maybe with Portland as part of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement). As for the Rays, they know quite well they are not getting a new stadium in Tampa Bay and I bet that when the lease ends they will relocate.

  2. A bolt cannot be overtightened

    Raiders’ exec: Broken bolts at stadium were overtightened, not faulty

    • Yes it can. And when it is, the steel is weakened and can break. Simple metallurgy and physics.

      None of this means the Raiduhs aren’t lying about what actually happened, but bolts can absolutely be overtightened.

  3. A non news news event. Kriesman needed to give the council updated. Right now it’s a wait and see game to see if Bronfman can get peel basin off the ground. If he can then there will be negotiations. Mlb could help bring a resolution to this if they would send out an expansion RFp. Otherwise this will be in limbo for 10 years and what city will have an appetite for mlb by then

  4. This simply formalizes what we already knew though. The Rays are free to make a deal elsewhere so long as that deal does not involve them playing anywhere else before the end of the 2027 season.

    I’m sure Sternberg will now field/openly solicit offers from elsewhere… and his “split season” fool’s errand can be portrayed as a desperate effort to ‘give’ Tampa St. Pete one last chance to “save” the team from it’s owner relocating it somewhere else.

    I suspect there are other dominoes to fall here (IE: other prospective homes that will come into play), but assuming none of them are as lucrative as Sternberg wants… what do we think MLB would do if the options come down to a modest new stadium in Montreal and a modest new stadium in a smaller US market?

    I would like to see the Expos come back, but I’m not sure MLB shares that enthusiasm (despite all the platitudes being thrown around and the no-longer-selling-out exhibition games every March at the Big Owe).

    If it came down to swapping Tampa St. Pete for Montreal, MLB would be trading one good sized market with limited fan support for another.

    • It seems like the sister city concept is designed to increase the valuation of the team (now with double the market size) so Sternberg can flip the team and whoever gets to own the team gets to place it where they want. I think that if Bronfman can get Basin Peel done that is when negotiation on breaking the use agreement might happen. But if it is down to no city coming up with a stadium plan in either market or in another market, Sternberg is left with the Trop and the “O” in 2028. What I would like to know what does St. Pete do in 2028. Do they sign a lease with the Rays for a part time team at the Trop? Maybe its just me but the sister city concept is interesting if all we are left with is the Trop and big O and new ballparks will be built anywhere

  5. The concept of regional sports teams has been disproven. The idea that if one market is too small to support a professional franchise, that multiple small markets may support a professional franchise, was tried twice in professional basketball “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

    Some of us FoS readers are “positively ancient” and incredibly enough, can still remember. See ABA’s, no not ABBA, Carolina Cougars 1969 – 1974 and Virginia Squires 1970 – 1976.

    Virginia Squires. Their “home” games were played at Hampton Roads (Coliseum), Norfolk (ODU Fieldhouse), Richmond (Coliseum) and Roanoke (Civic Center). In the 1970-1971 season, the Squires average attendance was 4,300 per game. In the 1971-1972 season, the Squires moved from ODU Fieldhouse to the Scope, the Scope the franchise home base. Average attendance was 6,100 per game. In the 1972-1973 season, the Squires dropped Roanoke from their list of “home” cities. Average attendance was 6,300 per game, the Scope almost 8,000 per game. This despite a season record decline of 55 wins / 29 losses to 45 wins / 39 losses to 42 wins / 42 losses. Prior to the 1973-1974 season, the Squires traded Julius Irving. In November 1973, the Squires trade Swen Nater. In January 1974, the Squires traded George Gervin. The season ended with 28 wins and 56 losses, a 14 game drop from the previous season. As a result, Squires attendance declined significantly. Average attendance was 3,300, a 46% drop from the previous season. The final 2 seasons the Squires won an all-time league-low 15 games, average attendance never recovered.

    Carolina Cougars. The Greensboro Coliseum, 15,500, was their home base. However, “home” games were played at Charlotte (original Coliseum) and at Raleigh (Dorton Arena or NC State Fairgrounds). As a result, the Cougars had a very strong following in Greensboro, with the Coliseum filling up by more than half for games. There was a somewhat strong following in Charlotte. Whereas Raleigh attendance was not so strong.

    In their initial season, 1969-1970, the Cougars drew over 254,000 or an average of 6,000 per game. The next 2 seasons, enduring losing records, attendance slipped badly, 5,700 and 5,000 per game. Finishing the 1972-1973 season with an ABA best record of 57 wins and 27 losses, the Cougars drew 340,000 or over 6,800 per game, a 40% increase over the previous season. In anticipation (still love you Carly Simon) of an ABA championship, 1973-1974 attendance declined slightly. However, due to injuries to key players, it was not to be. The following season the franchise became “Spirits” of St. Louis. Damn you, Tedd Munchak!

    This begs a question. In the playoffs, which city gets to host?

    In 1972-1973 season, of the Cougars 43 “home” games, 28 were at Greensboro, 13 at Charlotte and 2 at Raleigh. Greensboro considered the Cougars to be “their” team, average attendance consistently greater than 10,000 per game. However, Charlotte was chosen to host Game 7 of the Eastern Division Final versus the Kentucky Colonels (April 24, 1973). Greensboro had set a franchise attendance record of 14,126 against the very same (December 30, 1972), was very disappointed game 7 was held in Charlotte and even more so after the loss (had Game 7 been played in Greensboro, given the psychological home court advantage as proven last December, we would have won the Eastern Division Title).

    Fast forward 40 years to today’s hyper competitive, market driven, globalized economy. As pointed out earlier in a comment posted on November 20, 2019, Tampa / St. Petersburg shares little in common with Orlando / Central Florida other than the same state. It would be like making the Giants a San Francisco Bay Area regional team. Oakland is blue collar, working class. San Francisco is white collar, tech. Neither has anything in common with the other. East Bay = A’s. NorCal = Giants. Again per the posted comment (revised), A’s fans don’t go to San Francisco for ball games and vice versa, and they “only” have cross the bay bridge to get there.

    In his book “Loose Balls,” Terry Pluto states “the added travel by the regional team concept ultimately proved insurmountable.” This in an era when a sports arena or stadium was a venue whereby one went to watch a sporting event, thus allowing for the experimentation in the regional team concept. Unlike today’s arenas or stadiums that are nothing more than glorified shopping malls that derive multiple revenue streams, outside just general admission, to further pad the pockets of billionaire owners.

    Tampando Dre Rays and Tampontreal X Rays are non starters. Construction of dual shopping malls on the backs of taxpayers makes no sense. And now back to my Los Anlondon Chargers game. What’s that sitting atop the west end of the stadium. I thought the Chargers logo was a lightning bolt. Never mind. I’ll figure it out.

    Baby boomers, the generation born between 1946 and 1964, is my g-g-generation. We’re now the “walking dead.” Unfortunately Neil, you don’t make the cut!

  6. Damn, I miss the ABA. Sitting in the Scope that winter of 73, what a treat it was to see a young Dr. J and Iceman playing together (on the Squires). The NBA back then. Boring, stodgy and old. The ABA was fresh and new. The Wild Wild West. Everything that is the NBA today is the toned down corporate version of the ABA back then.

  7. I still think it is amazing that there is an MLB team up for grabs, and not really very much interest at all. I suppose in 5 years that could change, but the apathy over the Rays is somewhat stunning. When your best play is spending half the year in Montreal, you don’t have game.

    • I’m sure there would be lots of interest from potential owners in other cities in buying the Rays, and interest from cities in having them move there. But the team isn’t up for sale, and isn’t really looking for a new home – Sternberg is still trying to leverage a new stadium in Tampa Bay, so he’s resorting to craziness like the Montreal gambit. It’s possible he’ll start looking elsewhere as 2028 gets closer, but as noted over and over again, the alternatives aren’t much more promising than Tampa Bay.

      Besides, the elephant in the room is still that no other cities have a workable stadium (unless you count the Big O), so he doesn’t just need “interest,” he needs a stadium that he wouldn’t have to pay for. Recall that the last time we went through this, with the Expos, there was lots of interest in getting the team, but crickets on the stadium-funding front until DC Mayor Anthony Williams stepped up to say, “Sure, how many zeroes do you want on the check?”

      • Neil my thoughts is that sternberg gets an el cheapo stadium built in ybor city as a boutique tourist attraction. It should cost what a MLS stadium cost or a minor. Montreal would do the same. But once montreal meets some certain threshold from the Quebec, the expos 2.0 would be reborn. The split franchise would detach from Montreal and go to another city.
        That other city. You heard it first here, Raleigh nc. Raleigh is not part of a mlb territory (that what it says on mlb raleigh site) and is chomping at the bit for a public funding for some kind. A multipurpose mls and mlb stadium. Stu gets another cable contract and a free 2 ballpark

        • “El cheapo” and “boutique” seem to be contradictory, no?

          And I’m confused about the second part You’re suggesting that Tampa and Montreal will both build stadiums, then the Rays would leave for Raleigh (which would also build a new stadium) and split time between there and Tampa?

          • Stephan bronfman (who supposedly is the master mind behind the sister city scheme) said when he announced the basin peel project last year or so that the split season concept was a gateway towards getting the expos. … and he uses the word the word expos. I read in a Canadian article in an online expos. forum that bronfman had studied this for 3 years. So once the site and interest proves itself they’ll get a team full time.
            It suppose to be private except for you know “infrastructure improvements”

            I’m like you. I thought this sister city concept was a silly way to get publicity for a stadium in tb. Until I read the tb times this weekend and saw the big heavy hitter pols expressing sympathy for the plan. It leads me to believe sternberg is serious about it. His lieutenants did an interview with the tb times and made somewhat of a convincing argument.

            The only way this is possible is if the permanently play at the trop or get some mls or minor league like ballpark built in tb that is relatively cheap. Montreal would like wise have to build on the cheap. Or play at the big o.

            The reason I say Raleigh is because I imagine them saying ok we ll build a park for 41 games on the cheap or a multipurpose stadium with mls.

            I don’t like it but that’s the only way I see this scenario work. As you probably know. Sternberg wants to get as much as he can for nothing

          • There’s an important distinction between “talks seriously about this subject with reporters” and “actually has any idea how this would work.”