Dueling press conferences and statements today indicate that Major League Baseball and the Tampa Bay Rays ownership are either violently agreeing or subtly playing chess against one another with regard to the franchise’s future on the gulf coast of Florida.
Quotes via Adam Berry (mlb.com):
Principal Rays owner Stuart Sternberg stated today that it is his full intent to keep Tampa in the metropolitan area (which includes St. Petersburg and Clearwater…good for Rays staying in Tampa). He has stated in the past that “I intend to. I expect to” when asked about the keeping the franchise there (good for Rays staying in Tampa) “But as time goes along, the decision slowly and surely gets taken out of my hands.” (bad for Rays staying in Tampa). He then added today that MLB “doesn’t believe anymore in the Tampa Bay area” (bad for Rays staying in Tampa).
The commissioners office of Major League Baseball (that’s code for Bud Selig) retorted that Selig “is disappointed with the current situation in the Tampa Bay market” and that “The status quo is simply not sustainable” (both bad for Rays staying in Tampa).
So here are the observables:
1) The Rays have been successful on the field in recent years.
2) The Rays have done extremely well at competing with bigger markets by developing internal talent (are well managed).
3) The Rays ownership is relatively strong and cares about the franchise.
1) The Rays stadium (Tropicana Field) is widely regarded as the worst in baseball.
2) The Rays attendance has been extraordinarily below expectation.
3) The local TV market is weak and funding from that market will not be significant.
People that buy baseball teams were usually successful in business before and should be able to see that this venture is not in a good place. I’m not sure who is threatening whom in terms of relocating, etc. I think the adjective “unsustainable” is appropriate here.
To stay in Tampa (and the surrounding area), it is clear that a new stadium is a must. That’s what Miami realized, but now, with an extremely unsuccessful product on the field, there are a lot of questions being raised about that franchise’s future (pretty much locked in now with new stadium). Tampa needs to be careful about making the same mistake. Tampa is unique in that the New York Yankees have spring training there (right across from Raymond James Stadium). The New York Yankees have a minor league team there. A lot of people that live in Tampa are retirees from New York and many of the Yankees players own large property there for living off season.
I personally don’t see the Tampa area as viable beyond the near term. So where might they move? I think the answer is Round Rock, Texas, where you would find no shortage of fans and potential owners. But Nolan Ryan might rally the owners against, and, other than that, I just don’t see any other viable markets. Contraction anyone?
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