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:
This has all been one long charade to negotiate St Pete down on a buyout. If Sternberg wanted to cut a $200M check right now, @Kriseman would let him walk. But rich guys don’t get rich by giving away money. https://t.co/WcR1PtwNz5
— Shadow of Stadium (@StadiumShadow) October 31, 2019
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.