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February 19, 2010
Rays owner: This old stadium just doesn't go with our sofa
Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has given a longish interview to the Tampa Tribune on why he feels his team needs a new stadium. The whole thing is worth reading, but here are some highlights, and comments:
I stated since the very first day I came in to anybody who would ask, and I was asked quite often, we're not going to be there through 2027. It just can't happen. Baseball won't allow it. Our partners in baseball won't allow it. The other teams won't allow it.
Well, not quite — he actually said it's going to get "really get expensive to maintain this place as years go by" and that Tropicana Field wouldn't "last" until "2020 to pick a year." But the bigger question is: What does "Baseball won't allow it" mean? That the league would contract the franchise without a new stadium? Force it to move? Send in the Marines? It's the nature of these sorts of threats to be vague, but this one's even vaguer than most.
[Tropicana Field is] a great place to watch a game, but for whatever reason people are not as attracted to it as they would be to another venue.
Not Perhaps the fact that the team's owner has publicly said that it's on the verge of obsolescence might have something to do with it? (Yes, the Trop is generally regarded as a pretty bad baseball stadium design, but it's worth noting that most of the actual fan complaints seem to involve it needing a paint job.)
We can sit down and look at a long list of every stadium that's opened up. They've all been very successful.
Of the seven teams that finished behind the Rays in attendance last year, four (Washington, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati) play in stadiums built since 1994.
[Asked if he would build a stadium himself:] I don't have that money. I don't.
This is the kind of answer that screams for a followup: What does Sternberg mean by that? True, he may not have half a billion dollars sitting around, but neither do any of the cities around Tampa Bay — they'd borrow the money, then pay it back over time. Does he mean that he can't front the construction costs, but would pay off the bond costs down the road? Or that he couldn't afford to make the bond payments, because new stadium revenues wouldn't be enough to pay off the construction costs? If the latter, wouldn't it be cheaper for Tampa and/or St. Pete just to give him some cash, rather than investing in a money-losing facility?
But now we're back to asking what it means for a baseball stadium to "last." And as we've seen before, that's a question that sports team owners really hate for anyone to think too much about.
It's the Montreal Expos all over again.
Just another spoiled, ungrateful owner with A.D.D. thinking a newish MLB team will make a quick megabuck. Funny how this team with a vastly superior division money-making schedule to the Marlins has one of the biggest complaints the Marlins don't have: a roof. Too much shit going on. How much more money would the Marlins be making if they had a roof? Will baseball "last" in Tampa or South Florida? Does anybody really care? It takes decades to build a fan base. I wouldn't do it in Florida.
Actually, most complaints are focused on the small seats, lack of arm rests, limited isle space and lack of drink holders. Attend a game at Tropicana Field and you'd better pray that the person sitting next to you doesn't have wide shoulders or have to sits with their legs spread apart.
In 1999 I traveled to see the Devil Rays play the Braves at Atlanta's Turner Field and immediately recognized the differences between that facility and the Trop. I sat in a seat that was comfortable and had wide arm rests. Each seat had a drink holder and there was enough leg room to allow fans to pass me without me ever having to leave my seat.
The Trop is nice only because it's covered and is air conditioned. The ownership has also done a commendable job to make the place as enjoyable as possible, but I'd prefer to suffer through a humid Florida night in a comfortable seat than feeling like a canned sardine every time I have people sitting on each side of me.
I haven't been to the Trop myself, but speaking generally: Lack of arm rests and drink holders can be addressed by buying new seats, which is a lot less expensive than building a new stadium. Leg room is a tougher issue, but as Red Sox fans know well, this is a tradeoff: A bit more sardining enables you to get a lot more people closer to the field. My personal preference is for being able to see the game from my seat, even if I have to get up from it every once in a while to let someone pass.
The Trap smells like piss, and it looks like a sucer that crashed, please sell the team and rename it.
The Trap should be a senior center
"Older" facilities (and I use the term loosely, as we are in an environment where a 20yr old building is considered past it only if it is used for sporting entertainment) often have somewhat lesser accoutrements. Seating room is one, smaller concourses is another, fewer bathrooms, narrower stairwells etc.
Yes, all these things can be inconveniences. But that's what they are, just inconveniences. Go to South Bend, go to Wrigley field... you'll find the same thing. And fans don't mind.
I agree w Neil. If the seating was replaced and reconfigured, the trop capacity would drop by maybe 5 or 6k (to a level roughly equal to what they propose the new facility would have) and everyone would have more room. The lines for concessions and restrooms, on those rare cases where the facility is full, would also be reduced.
A $20m refurbishment (which won't even cover the annual debt service on a new facility) could address pretty much all of the Trop's perceived deficiencies (except location) - and all for less than the cost of a truly great starting pitcher. What could be easier?
The reality is rather more complex. It's just blackmail, of course. Sternberg would like to relocate to the only market capable of absorbing another team... yes, New York. He will only stay if the good citizens of Florida agree to ensure he makes as much money there as he could in NY.
He can't move the team to NY. The Mets and Yankees have legal control of their market according to their contracts with MLB. If they didn't then you would have a situation similar to Melbourne in the AFL where a large portion of the league is centered in one city. I doubt it would be the same extreme (Melbourne has 9 of the 16 teams) but you would definitely have a team for every borough.
I've been to Fenway and Wrigley and believe the seating situation is even worse than Tropicana Field. The difference is the old stadiums are institutions; cathedrals of baseball you could say. The Trop is a giant teflon coated can with overhead obstructions and fake grass. The setup was enough to draw Major League Baseball to St. Petersburg but it won't be enough to keep it there, no matter how much money is poured into it. With the opening of a new outdoor stadium in Minnesota the Trop will be the last completely enclosed stadium left in baseball. It's just a matter of time before it no longer hosts the game. The only questions are when the move is made and what city will the team eventually play in?
The market he's talking about is the New Jersey market (East Rutherford/Harrison/Newark) that can support another baseball team, the New Jersey Rays. It's possible but honestly I think they'll get the stadium they want in Tampa Bay, FL the rumored location that has the freeway access for the whole area of Tampa, St. Petersburg and the suburbs.
I don't expect MLB to leave the area and if they did it would be probably in 2017, to get a good buy-out. New Jersey has expressed interest in a team and the NY metro market can handle one more team. Does anyone remembers the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants & New York Yankees of MLB? Hmm...
I don't think the Yankees, Mets or Phillies would be too thrilled if the Rays moved to NJ. I can't recall my source, but I read southern half of NJ are Phillies fans and the northern half is Yankees fans.
No, the Yankees wouldn't be thrilled with another team in NYMA. They weren't thrilled with the Mets entering either, but money talks.
If you gave any owner in baseball the choice between playing in Tampa for free or paying extortion to the Yankees, Mets and/or Phillies, I believe they'd ask how much and then call up the NYNJ moving vans.
Riddle me this: Why do the Yankees "own" the NY market? Under a free market system, why should baseball fans not be permitted choice? This shouldn't be up to the Yankees, it should be up to the league.
Yes, all franchise operations do have rules on location and saturation in market - but these rules are related to the size of the market. There is not just one giant McDonalds on Manhattan island... there are exactly as many as the company thinks can be viable. There are restrictions on who can own them and how much they pay to play, but no veto.
As Veeck and others have said, the big clubs need opponents to play. No-one pays to watch a one team league. Ultimately, there will be at least one more team in the NYMA. Diluting that market (especially if it includes eliminating a low revenue club) raises revenues across the board and is the single best way to make the playing field a bit more level.
Of course the New York metro area can support more than two teams. There is no free market in baseball however which is why teams need permission from the other owners to move their franchises. Putting a team in New Jersey is a near last-ditch effort for MLB. Fans in NJ already spend money on baseball and watch it on tv. What MLB wants to do is create new fans in a populated area, like Florida. The NHL has the same desires as exemplified by not wanting the Coyotes to leave Phoenix for Toronto. People in Toronto already watch NHL on tv. Dividing tv viewers in half doesn't get you a bigger tv contract.
Moving the Coyotes to Toronto (let alone Hamilton, where they would actually be going) would not divide TV viewers by half, unless you think that the same amount of people watch Coyotes games as watch Maple Leafs games.
Good point, Brian.
I would add that a second team in a metro area often creates significant rivalry related support that would not exist otherwise, not to mention the fact that some fans will support/watch both teams.
But still, NYNJ is a moot point so long as Florida taxpayers are prepared/convinced to gift $350M or so to Mr. Sternberg - Well, as a start anyway...
Actually, I'm pretty sure the Yankees were supportive of the Mets coming to town - especially since their attendance actually went down when the Dodgers and Giants left.
These days, though, when it's as much about cable contracts as ticket sales, it's a different story, and I can't see the Mets or Yankees letting another team horn in on their turf without an epic legal battle. Though I do wonder if a few years from now, once "cable contracts" are an anachronism and everyone is watching baseball games streaming to their iPads, the dynamics might be different.
Oh I'm not saying the NHL or MLB is right. I'm just explaining their reasoning. Would a second hockey team in Toronto create more hockey excitement and more hockey fans in Toronto, or would you simply be selling two teams to the same hockey fans without creating more. Adding a second team to some markets can create buzz but it doesn't work for all markets. A second hockey team in Toronto will simply not create more hockey fans in that area any more than a second football team would create more football fans in Dallas.
It's not so much about 'creating' more fans in large markets... it's about the league (and clubs) better exploiting the fan base that already exists.
At present many corporations (and fans) are "shut out" of the ACC because there are 'higher' bidders for sponsorships (or tickets). In that market, at least, there are a large number of both fans and companies that want to support the NHL but cannot get in. Because of that, a second team in Toronto (or area) would generate significant additional revenue.
The same is true for Baseball in NY/NJ. There are "excess" fans in these markets, whereas in some other markets there is significant excess capacity (even with just one franchise, in some cases) - or put another way, far more supply of product than there is demand.
Mm, I don't think so, John. Those "excess" fans do serve a purpose for the existing teams, which is that they bid up prices for scarce tickets. Spread the market thinner, and the Mets and Yankees can't charge nearly so much.
To put it another way: If right now I go to three Mets games a year at $40 a ticket, and in a Jersey Rays world I went to three Rays and three Mets games each for $20 a pop, is that benefiting anyone? Other than me, obviously.
Well Neil, we all know that the last thing ANY of the sports leagues want to do is benefit the fans. Btw, would a congressman spouting about removing baseball antitrust exemption possibly make any difference in getting another team in the NY area? j/w
Nah, spouting Congressmen are a dime a dozen. If the New Jersey attorney general were threatening a lawsuit, maybe.
I did not suggest that "all" excess fans must be used up via expansion. While every market has it's saturation point, some in baseball (or hockey) are nowhere near that level. There exists enough corporate and fan support in Toronto (in my example) to add two more NHL clubs before the market is "fully tapped".
To use your example, if the Rays moved to NJ, you wouldn't have the option to buy tickets for $20 each because there is (if you believe the Forbes study, of course!) enough excess demand to keep ticket prices at or near present level.
While there certainly does come a point at which demand (and thus prices - except in situations where municipalities must buy unused tickets...) is flattened, my point is that neither we (nor leagues) can ignore the fact that they are actually leaving money on the table by underserving certain markets. There's no doubt that the incumbent clubs won't like it, but if their markets are "too big" for them to properly exploit, those markets must be split.
Okay, sure, it might be a net benefit for MLB as a whole - though keep in mind that the marginal gain in the NYC area would have to offset the loss of the entire Tampa market, since none of those people would go to baseball games then. (Cue joke about how none of them do now either.) But the Mets and Yanks would scream bloody murder, and Bud Selig is not about internecine warfare among owners.
All this could change, of course, once the San Jose issue is settled and MLB establishes a precedent for what's needed to buy out territorial rights. But until that happens, a team's territory might as well be inscribed in gold letters by the hand of God.