I left Thursday's made-for-TV event between the Rays and Hillsborough County with a lot of thoughts. First of all, it seemed Stu Sternberg and the Rays brass struck the perfect harmony by stressing the urgency of their case while still emphacizing their committment to Tampa Bay. They encouraged the region to start planning for a long-term solution now, and generally came across as sincere with good intentions.
However, what's good for the Rays may not be good for the taxpayers and fans of Greater Tampa Bay. And a number of issues raised in the team's presentation demand further examination:
STU STERNBERG: MLB at this point doesn’t believe anymore in the Tampa
Sternberg indicated the displeasure was coming from Commissioner Selig as well as other team owners. I'm sure they don't like having to share revenue. But it's the league's fault; not Tampa Bay's. And record revenues coming into MLB mean there are lots of profits to go around. Of course, stadiums are a way to increase those profits.
But it's hard to believe MLB doesn't believe in the Tampa Bay region anymore; if they had lost faith, why does Selig keep suggesting a new stadium fix?
TIMES EDITORIAL: "That is a sobering assessment of the situation that ought to raise concerns throughout the region. Yet it did not amount to a threat."
Except the whole point of the Rays' presentation - as evidenced by every headline Thursday - was to imply MLB would move or contract the team if a new stadium wasn't built. When I asked Sternberg afterward if the threat was legit, he backed off a bit, saying, "There was threat of con-... consolidation a number of years ago...it's not really on the front burner by any stretch...but it's always an option."
The Times' says that's not a threat, but it's a classic example of how teams up the ante in stadium stalemates with a "non-threat threat." Just ask Atlanta when replacing the Georgia Dome became such a good idea.
MICHAEL KALT: Eight minor-league clubs have more people within a 30-minute drive of the stadium than the Rays.
A subtle nod to the "non-threat threat" that the Rays could potentially draw better elsewhere. And Kalt's absolutely right - Florida fans' reluctance to drive 30 minutes for baseball accounts for much of the attendance issue. But the Rays never make mention of the big TV money that's waiting for them around the corner because so many fans are watching the team from home.
COMMISSIONER KEN HAGAN: "I am not talking about taxpayer-funded stadium. There will never be another Raymond James/sweetheart deal in this county."
Hagan, a conservative Republican, walks a fine line in advocating for a stadium. He pledged in 2010 to help keep the Rays without public dollars, but knows building a stadium without subsidies is probably impossible. Neither Hagan - nor the Rays - said they had any idea yet of what a stadium could cost the public; they just want to focus on location for now. Putting the cart before the horse?
STU STERNBERG: "The bay is on one side of us; and fish don’t necessarily come to baseball games."
Sternberg never said he wants to leave St. Pete for Tampa, but he said everything he could to indicate it. All things being equal, I'm sure the team would prefer to be in Downtown Tampa instead of Downtown St. Pete, but I'm not counting out Pinellas County's Gateway region yet - the area I speculated in 2009 would eventually get the new stadium.
TRIB STORY: "Losing the team to contraction, if it ever happened, would not occur
for at least several years. An agreement between the 30 major league
clubs and the Major League Baseball Players Association precludes
shrinking the leagues through at least the 2016 season."
Writer Ted Jankovics gets it right in that contraction is the most uphill battle MLB would ever tackle and it's almost silly to suggest. But if you saw the comments on Twitter and Facebook today, you'd think baseball's 30 owners were ready to vote the Rays off the island.
More to come...