Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Rays Stadium Question Worth Asking

Hypothetically, if the Rays/Tampa were to find a way to finance a new stadium on the other side of the bay, how could the city possibly draft an ironclad agreement if everyone seems to think the Rays won't be at Tropicana Field come 2027 no matter what?

It's a point raised in a Tampa Tribune letter to the editor today, as well as one I've raised on numerous occasions:
St. Pete's contract with the Rays is considered the strongest in recent memory of all the stadium controversies around the country, which led Trib reader Larry Thornberry from Tampa to write:
If the Rays are to be allowed to stiff St. Petersburg on the Trop agreement, how long will it be before the team stiffs Tampa/Hillsborough when attendance at a new ballyard here that could be publicly subsidized does not meet Sternberg’s expectations? 
Two years ago, I asked if "promises of an 'ironclad' lease (are) hollow?"

Thornberry also touched upon another point I've made - the Rays' frustrations stem from the region's unwillingness to suffer through the tiniest inconvenience for a MLB game.
If (Tribune columnist) Henderson finds this kind of driving (to Tropicana Field), in his word, “stifling,” then he’s been badly spoiled. He should try getting to major league ballyards in the Northeast. And if he’s up to a challenge, he also could try finding a safe parking place within walking distance of Fenway Park for $10, something that’s easily done near the Trop.

There are more attractive explanations for poor attendance than geography, chief among them being that tickets and such baseball accessories as hot dogs and beer cost way too much at major league parks. And the Rays have yet to develop the kind of fan base, nurtured over generations, that teams like the Red Sox enjoy. It’s very possible that Rays attendance in Tampa would be no better than in St. Petersburg. Then what? Do the Rays bug out again?
What can our region do - aside from doing everything possible to set a new stadium up to succeed - that would prevent a similar scenario in 2035?


  1. Sick of Noah feeling sorry for pathetic St.Pete!!!

  2. Fill the stadium today. That's the answer. Especially if the team is successful. There are no good reason that the Rays attendances are on par on less that the Montreal Impact, a MLS team.

    Here are the numbers of the Impact in the last 3 years (they joined the MLS in 2012 but the team exist since 1992) and their stadium is next to the Big "O", so not downtown and far away from restaurants, bars, offices, ... like the Tropicana Field.

    2012 - 22,772
    2013 - 20,602
    2014 - 17,421

    I know, it's not the same crowd but bottom line, such comparison is very interesting. If soccer in Montreal can compete with baseball in Tampa Bay, Houston, we have a problem!

    So which approach is the best one: thinking of an ironclad contract for a new stadium or planing a strategy to fill the stadium (Tropicana Field or a new one)? Seems that the people are focussing on the wrong priorities for years.

    Darcy Raymond, Vice President, Marketing and Game Entertainment for the Tampa Bay Rays (interesting, he's from Montreal!) discuss what was done and need to be done to get more fans in the stadium.

    Sorry, the interview is in french only, but very interesting discussion. As you can understand (for the one that listened to the interview), he's very careful by saying that Tampa Bay is a very good market (of course, you will not say the opposite and affect the fan base).


    Yes, new stadium must be tied to contracts. However, what all parties (not only the Rays) will do to make it work and fill the stadium? That's the most important question.

  3. Sounds like Noah thinks baseball can't work in Tampa Bay, and the Rays should just run out their string of games at the Trop until 2027, before leaving for a place that will actually support the team.

  4. Just a thought, does anyone now think the Rays are dismantling to field a terrible team to drive down attendance over the next few years so they can break the contract and pay minimal damages Joyce, and probably Myers, and I've heard rumblings of Longoria. Obviously, if they're only pulling in 7k, the damages would be considerably less.

    Basically the plot to Major League. Please find someone in the California Penal league.

  5. Not to that extend, David.

    For sure, the value of the Use Agreement (or the level of penalties) will be way less if the attendance is dropping. It will be very difficult to explain to a judge that there are huge damages to break such agreement when the economic impact is very low (less part time employees, smaller economic impact, no community support, …). The irreparable damage wording of the use agreement does not mean the same anymore.

    Also, with a dropping attendance, the pressure will be on the city council and the community because they are the ones that can authorize a new agreement (to break the Use Agreement to move the team outside Florida, which is the next step if the existing moving agreement does not work). Nobody wants a sport team with very low attendance.

    Once that said, I don't believe that Sternberg will play such game at this time (of getting rid of all the good players just to negotiate a new agreement and leave). Part of his existing motivation is that the other teams owners are not happy that the Rays (and other teams like the Marlins) are getting year after year revenue sharing with such low attendance. So the two teams in Florida are relying on the MLB Central Fund to make profits.

    To give you an idea, the Marlins received in 2008 around $31,298,000 and in 2009, around $31,592,000. So probably that the Rays are receiving the same level of amount every year since then. This is huge when your profits are maybe in the $15M range.

    Source: The Economics of Professional Sports, page 91


    So Sternberg need to adjust the salary budget with the reality of the market in Tampa Bay.

    Having a MLB team is a privilege and each teams must contribute to the success of the league. So far, the Rays are generating more visibility with their low attendances and their poor stadium (with all the debate over the last 5+ years) than by their results and contribution to the other MLB teams.

    So Sternberg is for sure frustrated that the attendances did not improved over time and changing the stadium is still a big issue with all the constraints that such project is facing.

    I see it as some key players are leaving (or asking to leave, like Maddon and Friedman) and some are traded because of the impact they will have on the salary considering the existing profitability (relying on MLB Central Fund).

  6. Noah seems to be a poster child for St.Pete. They rays won't work in St.Pete. Residents of the city can't get over how they failed the team. The Rays owe the low class residents of. St.Pete nothing. This whole issue has been a teerrible inconvenience to the Rays. They are being held hostage by city stuck in the stone ages!!!!

    1. Don't confuse my watchdog questions with support of one city over another.

      PS - I live in Tampa.

  7. Noah this has to move forward. Either city will end up paying for it. Lets move to the future not get stuck in hurting St. Pete 's residents feelings!!