Stu Sternberg keeps stumping for Tampontreal Ex-Rays plan, but is he serious or what?

Those two lobbyists that Montreal billionaire family scion and private equity goon Stephen Bronfman hired to push for a stadium for a revived Expos are already paying off, whether they’ve even begun work or not: Quebec premier François Legault responded by offering forgivable loans for the project if it could “generate more in revenue than the aid we give the company” (“revenue” carefully not defined here), and  the buzz is still buzzing: Check out this column by Montreal Gazette sportswriter Jack Todd decrying “anti-taxers” and “naysayers” who want to gripe about giving public tax money to a private sports stadium before they even know how much it would be.

Amidst his stadium boosterism, though, Todd questions whether Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg’s plan to have his team split time between Montreal and Tampa Bay — Todd actually writes that the resulting ballclub would be “likely called the ‘Ex-Rays’,” though he doesn’t go as far as including “Tampontreal” — is something that could really happen, given that building two stadiums in two cities would be even more expensive than building one stadium in one city, and each city would only get half a team. Not only is this not a terrific way to get local legislators on board for handing over stadium cash, it’s gotten the attention of the MLB players union, whose president Tony Clark told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday that “there are issues, logistical and otherwise, fundamentally related to the Tampa players, as well as how it would affect any and all the teams that would otherwise be playing Tampa.” Players could be forced to maintain two homes, relocate their kids in school twice a year (depending on when exactly the Ex-Rays switched home cities), navigate two very different health care systems, etc., noted Clark; he didn’t mention, but could have, that they would also have to pay taxes in two different countries, which is the basis for Legault’s entire “revenue generation” plan.

There’s another problem with the shared-cities plan, though, and it has to do with Sternberg’s leverage, and as Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf made clear, for a savvy negotiator, stadium negotiations are all about leverage. Sternberg is trying to get a bidding war going here, which is his right as a mediocre rich white man, but the nature of a bidding war is that you need more bidders than winning slots, and right now the Rays owner has two of each. (At least until Tampa shows an interest in bidding against St. Petersburg for the Florida half of the timeshare, which isn’t going great for Sternberg so far.) So instead he’s trying to get Montreal and St. Pete into a race to first approve their half of a deal that can’t happen without both cities, which has resulted in some bizarre rhetorical contortions:

Sternberg said he feels “much more confident about the Montreal side sort of putting this thing together.”

He said he thinks that will jump-start progress on the Tampa Bay side, where there seems to be little momentum as fans and some leaders have not embraced the split-season concept.

“I think as (the Montreal effort) progresses, I feel pretty confident of us being able to get it done here, too,” he said. “I just happen to feel more so because they’re much further down the road.

“In fairness, whether it’s right or wrong, a.) they don’t have a baseball team, and b.) they lost a baseball team. So they’d like one back.

“Here you have one, and it’s sort of like, ‘It’s here, and, well, why only part of a season? Why not the full season? We have the team already.’ (Montreal is) going at this in a different fashion. They know what the hole of baseball has been. They want another crack at it.”

Yes, if Montreal has “momentum,” then soon Tampa Bay will too, because if they don’t … the team will just play its Florida games at its current stadium? The whole twin-city thing will fall apart and the Rays will stay put? Sternberg keeps insisting that he won’t move the team full-time, so as threats go, it’s a fairly empty one, unless he’s hoping St. Pete officials will be shamed by the accusation that they don’t love baseball enough because they haven’t lost it yet.

All in all, the Madman Theory still makes the most sense here: Sternberg doesn’t particularly care if the two-city solution comes to pass, so long as it enables him to pester two reluctant cities into building him a stadium at once. So far, it seems to be working: We’re here talking about his stadium possibilities, after all, instead of just talking about how SOL he is now that his Tampa stadium plans crashed and burned. Savvy negotiators also know never to pass up a threat, no matter how inane it may sound: Reinsdorf, after all, got his stadium cash from the state of Illinois by pretending he was going to move from Chicago to a little town called St. Petersburg. If there’s one thing sports history tells us, it’s that dumber things have always happened.

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15 comments on “Stu Sternberg keeps stumping for Tampontreal Ex-Rays plan, but is he serious or what?

  1. I thought pro athletes had to pay taxes in every state/province they played in, including away games. They have complicated tax situations no matter what. Am I wrong about that?

    1. That’s right, however some states have no state income tax (Florida is one) so there could be significant benefits to the players and other high earning employees being technically able to call Florida their state of residence for tax purposes.

      I doubt they would get away with paying no income tax in Canada/Quebec, but even if they avoid pay taxes for a month or six weeks out of the year by being notionally Florida based, it still saves them money.

  2. One thing that people don’t remember when talking about the Trop is that is was in fact build specifically to house a baseball team. The Suncoast Dome (at the time) was constructed to lure some team (possibly the White Sox) to Florida in the early 1990s. The plan failed and the Dome had no primary tenant- although it surreally hosted hockey for awhile. Then when they finally do get a team, they act like they have to play in a stop gap location while a baseball park is built, hoping the public will forget that the Trop was designed as a baseball park.

    So to summarize, the city spends money to build a baseball stadium on spec, waits many years to get a team, then the team complains that the stadium is not adequate because it was not built to their notions of what a baseball park is. Owners can always claim that a park is behind the times if there are any newer parks. In fact, the more owners that get new parks, the more the other owners can complain they are outdated no matter how new they are. We have a problem if infinite regression.

  3. Sternberg can’t think this is an actual solution. I think the play here is similar to what Loria did (playing footsie with San Antonio for a few years) but he’s trying to avoid the openly hostile blowback that would cause so he’s couching it with “We wanna stay here too! Split our time!” so that fans in TB aren’t totally alienated (and are mostly just confused) over the next however many years the team is stuck there.

    1. I agree, I don’t think Sternberg actually believes this can happen (at least happen as he has specified it might).

      It IS possible that a relocated Rays franchise could still play a couple of homestands in Florida in April (when the weather in Montreal is usually not great). This would also make a dome/retractable roof stadium in Montreal unnecessary, saving hundreds of millions on construction.

      I doubt they’ll get any kind of new stadium in Tampa/St. Petersburg, but as has been discussed here before they don’t really need one. An upgraded Legends would do just fine for what the Rays actually need in Florida – particularly if it’s only going to be used for 4-6 weeks each year.

      Maybe his thinking there is he’ll agree to give up redevelopment rights to the Trop site early in exchange for upgrades at a new location and free rent etc. Who knows?

      How the revenues fall with respect to “local” TV contracts I don’t know, but it’s unlikely Montreal will be a significant improvement over Tampa for local market revenues.

      The part I struggle with is how he thinks he will still be owner of the club if it plays most of it’s games in Montreal and is part owned by a much richer guy who also built some/all of the new stadium?

      Bronfman isn’t some rube that can easily be swindled. If he is going to spend a huge chunk on part ownership and a stadium when his partner isn’t doing so, well, it’s not hard to see how this plays out long term is it?

  4. In other words, Mr. Sternberg is saying:

    “If we had some ham, we could have ham and eggs. If we had some eggs”.

    BTW, Todd wrote a great deal about the Brochu/Loria stadium plans in the late 1990s early 2000s for the Gazette. I would not say he should be discounted as everyone is entitled to their view, but he clearly (then as now) wants a stadium regardless of cost.

    And if I were sports writer in any major city, I probably would be trying to do whatever I could to increase the number of sports teams there are for me to write about too. It’s good for business (mine), after all.

  5. Neil,

    Sternberg must be doing something right. I can think of 15 reasons why TB government entities have leverage over the Rays and not including the User Agreement. The biggest being MLB needs the TB (Central Florida) TV market more than Central Florida needs the Rays. It too big to fail.

    This notion of asking the taxpayers to pay for a $700 million stadium for a half season where there is no guarantee the region won’t be referred to in the name should be saleable politically as mandatory asbestos cookies. But where is the hard “NO” from the St. Pete Council, Jane Castor or Tampa POLs. No where.

  6. Hmmm….San Antonio is probably a good city to squeeze (again) as they are I think still the fastest growing city/market in the nation.

    Nice short porch in right field at 285 feet down the line. Could generate a lot of excitement with home runs and extra base hits off the slightly taller wall there. No rain outs due to the dome.

  7. Is Sternberg the most lame MLB owner or what? No wonder he’s not a billionaire.

    Someone grab this human,

    * Duck tape his mouth shut
    * In the words of my grandparents, tell him “to get some kishkas,” (do you ever think there was a lawsuit Al Davis was afraid of? Hell no!) and
    * Retain a moving company to fill the vans up with all the Rays gear at midnight, drive over the Howard Frankland Bridge to Tampa and unload them at GMS Field.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_M._Steinbrenner_Field

    GMS Field was recently renovated in 2016-2017. Sure the NY Yankees won’t mind another $100 in further renovations, so long as it retains the look of Yankee Stadium.

    With a 25,000 seat stadium, maybe the Rays can fill it for a change, as opposed to bringing in fans off the streets for free (Seriously, look at these numbers below).

    1998 63-99 .389 2,506,293 (14th) 30,942
    1999 69-93 .426 1,562,827 (24th) 19,294
    2000 69-92 .429 1,449,673 (27th) 18,121
    2001 62-100 .383 1,298,365 (28th) 16,029
    2002 55-106 .342 1,065,742 (28th) 13,157
    2003 63-99 .389 1,058,695 (29th) 13,070
    2004 70-91 .435 1,274,911 (29th) 15,936
    2005 67-95 .414 1,141,669 (30th) 14,095
    2006 61-101 .377 1,368,950 (29th) 16,901
    2007 66-96 .407 1,387,603 (29th) 17,131
    2008 97-65 .599 1,811,986 (26th) 22,370
    2009 84-78 .519 1,874,962 (24th) 23,148
    2010 96-66 .593 1,864,999 (22nd) 23,025
    2011 91-71 .562 1,529,188 (28th) 18,879
    2012 90-72 .556 1,559,681 (30th) 19,255
    2013 92-71 .564 1,510,300 (30th) 18,646
    2014 77-85 .475 1,446,464 (29th) 17,858
    2015 80-82 .494 1,287,054 (30th) 15,322
    2016 68-94 .420 1,286,163 (30th) 15,879
    2017 80-82 .494 1,253,619 (30th) 15,477
    2018 90-72 .556 1,154,973 (29th) 14,259
    2019 96-66 .593 1,178,735 (29th) 14,552

    A new stadium doesn’t fix the above (it didn’t fix Miami). You either move to a smaller stadium or move to another city (and moving to and playing part-time in Montreal, doesn’t fix the problem either. MLB already tried that ruse with Montreal in 2003 and 2004 and it failed miserably).

    As for the Tarpons, I’m sure they’ll love playing at the Tropicana.

    In the words of (John, hope you don’t mind if I borrow them), Sternberg is a rube. And if he attempts to carry through with this sting, Bronfman will play him and end up with the Ex-Rays.

    1. Not at all… I hold no rights to the word/insult.

      My guess would be that Bronfman will end up paying a healthy price for the Rays if this cockamamie plan does ever come to fruition, but from his POV it would still be less than the cost of an expansion team.

      I do sometimes wonder if this might not play out similar to the Loria franchise transfers… where MLB buys the Rays from Sternberg for an inflated amount and then sells them to Bronfman for relocation at an even more inflated amount.

      Hard to say what might happen.

    2. John: What’s scaring me? Every thought you have so eloquently put to words, has crossed my mind as well.

      I certainly do not possess the superior intellect Mr. deMause and you have. Think I will stick to what I do best. Numbers, being too blunt and very subtle (okay not) attempt at sarcasm.

      However, one last point on this issue. If MLB, the Rays and Sternberg are concerned about attendance (they’re not. They use attendance as a guise to get a new publicly funded baseball-specific stadium), then why are 3 Single A baseball teams (Clearwater Threshers, Dunedin Blue Jays and Tampa Tarpons) allowed to operate in the metropolitan area (2,975,225, 20th in Canada and US). Wouldn’t you want to create a professional “baseball desert” whereby the Rays are the only option.

      Clearwater Threshers:

      1996 75,118 1,192
      1997 97,687 1,526
      1998 73,300 1,094
      1999 70,147 1,047
      2000 83,895 1,252
      2001 76,406 1,213
      2002 78,459 1,154
      2003 63,655 1,061
      2004 135,082 2,078
      2005 130,446 1,976
      2006 159,067 2,339
      2007 166,359 2,483
      2008 168,637 2,480
      2009 169,559 2,494
      2010 172,716 2,540
      2011 177,117 2,567
      2012 177,297 2,570
      2013 172,151 2,608
      2014 195,063 2,787
      2015 174,283 2,723
      2016 181,594 2,710
      2017 200,201 2,988
      2018 181,686 2,672
      2019 180,069 2,688

      Dunedin Blue Jays:

      1996 66,567 979
      1997 54,544 839
      1998 60,485 877
      1999 51,819 797
      2000 35,184 525
      2001 47,514 731
      2002 47,717 734
      2003 42,752 713
      2004 36,844 594
      2005 40,479 587
      2006 27,529 430
      2007 48,326 721
      2008 48,321 711
      2009 35,683 585
      2010 36,892 576
      2011 43,148 654
      2012 53,091 830
      2013 50,695 768
      2014 60,044 896
      2015 52,659 798
      2016 50,593 767
      2017 38,956 573
      2018 30,569 450
      2019 11,757 203

      Tampa Tarpons:

      1996 115,532 1,894
      1997 149,191 2,331
      1998 110,341 1,623
      1999 91,603 1,454
      2000 97,839 1,482
      2001 102,998 1,635
      2002 75,061 1,294
      2003 67,565 1,145
      2004 71,648 1,235
      2005 78,200 1,325
      2006 105,647 1,601
      2007 123,829 1,848
      2008 86,870 1,472
      2009 92,671 1,519
      2010 99,736 1,534
      2011 117,162 1,775
      2012 112,668 1,817
      2013 118,770 1,827
      2014 111,521 1,640
      2015 92,786 1,497
      2016 73,278 1,145
      2017 93,823 1,422
      2018 71,835 1,105
      2019 61,290 973

      https://www.sportsgossip.com/the-tampa-bay-rays-set-an-attendance-low-for-tropicana-field/

    1. Aqib: My guess would be because they have a bit of a chip on their shoulder about the team/owners spending 20 years telling them that the facility is substandard and blathering on about moving.

      But mainly because in six years or so they won’t have to pay the Rays ownership anything (including any share of the redevelopment proceeds, something that would be subject to negotiation if they made the team an offer to leave now).

      This is really the one case I can think of where the team does not have any leverage and loses potential benefits each year that they don’t make some sort of deal. One could argue that Oakland is similar, but there only because MLB has made it pretty clear the A’s are not going to be portable in any meaningful way.

  8. If they split between Tampa and Montreal, (IMO it will never happen). Why would I support a team in Tampa if the goal is half way through the season, they move to Montreal. I know it is based on weather, but alternating home stands would be fairer though will not happen because of the back and forth of the players and no place to call home for the season.

    Which city holds the playoffs? Which ever city has the higher capacity percentage would host the playoffs? If tied, coin flip, again this will never happen.

    The most realistic idea is to move the Rays to Orlando. The growth is exploding in the area and you would have many fans interested in seeing the teams they supported before moving to Florida. Why would the Rays care? They would fill the place which is tickets, food, parking, and TV. Let’s not fool ourselves. As long as they make money and fill the place, does it matter who the fans root for?

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