Making his first appearance in front of Hillsborough County commissioners, Stu Sternberg suggested Major League Baseball could force relocation or contraction if the team's attendance problems weren't addressed soon.
"Major League Baseball at this point doesn't believe any more in the Tampa
Bay area," Sternberg said toward the end of the team's hour-long presentation.
While he wouldn't specify who made comments to him,
he implied it was coming from other owners as well as commissioner Bud Selig.
"There was threat of con-... consolidation a number of years
ago," Sternberg said of Major League Baseball, seemingly stopping himself from
using the word "contraction."
Many industry experts believe television contracts and the
players' association would prohibit the league from ever contracting teams, but
the threat often presents itself when teams search for new stadiums.
When asked if consolidation was a legitamate concern again,
Sternberg acknowledged, "it's not really on the front burner by any
stretch...but it's always an option."
Commission chair Ken Hagan campaigned in 2010 on promises to break the
stadium stalemate, but little has changed in the two-plus years since.
Thursday's meeting was - what he hopes - the first step toward getting the ball
"Too much is at stake to simply put our head in the sand," Hagan said,
referencing St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster, who has maintained the Rays need
to abide by their contract.
"We've known there are problems with Tropicana Field - with that location since opening pitch in 1998," Hagan continued. "I think Major League Baseball is somewhat complicit in allowing the team to go to (St. Petersburg) to begin with."
Foster told 10 News that the stalemate is because Sternberg has ignored his
offers to sit down and discuss things like the recently-proposed
stadium at Carillon, near the Howard Frankland Bridge.
"The people of my city have already paid for 15 more seasons,"
Foster said. "They're owed 1,215 more regular-season home games, bought and
Sternberg didn't address possible compensation for St. Petersburg, the team's impending television renegotiations, nor did he address how a stadium might be paid for. When asked how much the team might contribute, he said he didn't know.
Hagan made it clear during the public meeting that he was "not talking about another taxpayer-funded stadium. There will never be another Raymond James/sweetheart deal in this county.
Also interesting was Commissioner Kevin Beckner asking Sternberg what role transit (i.e. light rail) would have in his team's future success:
"Transit (is) the real difference-maker," Sternberg said. "It's a foregone
conclusion: wherever we end up (with a new stadium)...there will be a (transit) stop there.
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