The incomparable Alexis Muellner with the Tampa Bay Business Journal spent 15 minutes with Rays owner Stu Sternberg Saturday at FanFest. It's a good article worth checking out...but here are a few key excerpts from the Q&A:
TBBJ: There was some interesting reporting in the dailies this week about the economic impact of the Tropicana Field site without the stadium versus the team's impact, and coverage of a council workshop which it's been reported generated a lot of traffic online. A lot of the discussion boils down to the overall value of baseball to a region.There is a definite sting to losing a professional team. It's probably not an economic loss, but an emotional loss...and what's the price on that?
Sternberg: There is a place for sports in an area and culture in an area. I don't know if these things are mutually exclusive but very good metropolitan areas have a lot of different attractions that draw a lot of different people and clearly, for whatever reason – and I happen to be a baseball guy so I believe in the game and what it does – we get a million and a half visitors through the year, through our gates over 80 nights. We get anywhere from 300,000 to 500,000 people per night in the area watching our games on TV and spending hours and hours with us. So clearly it has a place in the lives – not of everybody – but certainly not a small minority.
TBBJ: I spent some time with Brian Auld [Rays president] this week for our Executive Files profiles and we talked about retaining the team. He said he talked to a lot of people in Montreal that said when the Expos left, a party of the city's soul left with them.
Sternberg: I'm from Brooklyn and I grew up in Brooklyn. While it has recovered, I was young enough to know. After they left when I was 5 or 6, and able to understand it, the hurt that was there in Brooklyn. That's a team that I think was also, in a lot of ways, not unique, but I don't think there has ever been a team that's reflected its area as much [as the Brooklyn Dodgers].
TBBJ: The fact is there is little support for public financing of a stadium right now. What do you say to someone who asks why can't you finance this yourself?Your honor, let the record show Mr. Sternberg answered a totally different question than was asked of him. However, he is right that the team's attendance struggles are likely the result of a multitude of issues...issues that he may have underestimated when purchasing the team.
Sternberg: When you boil it down, a new stadium for the sake of having a new stadium is not a reason for having a new stadium. When we came into it, we had the idea that we could look in the area specifically the land and in St. Petersburg downtown and explore that so we started on that track, but we also felt quite frankly, that the area hadn't seen a good product and one to be proud of and if we can instill that pride. So, let's try to make this place [The Trop] great and as good as we can. We put over $20 million bucks in at first. Now it's a while ago. We've continued to make improvements to it and with the idea of, if it can work in here, great, there's no reason for a new stadium. Clearly there is something that is inhibiting people from coming here. We want to explore and try to figure out what that is. Is it in fact the stadium? Is it in fact the location? Is it the fact that is surrounded by parking lots? Is that a plus or a minus? Do we need public transportation? How important is that? Is it important to have multiple restaurants and bars and other entertainment in the area. Those are the kinds of questions or is it in fact, this stadium?
TBBJ: In reality, the fan experience, my experience has been that it is good. It does take an hour to drive home to places like North Hillsborough, or for me, east Pasco County.Bingo. I've written before about Floridians' short tolerance for recreation travel if it doesn't involve football, a beach, or a hunting rifle. But the Rays' (and Marlins') biggest problems generally revolve around fans' unwillingness to drive more than 30 minutes for a game on a weeknight. It's not like that in many of the traditional markets.
Sternberg: Those are the same issues elsewhere in many other areas as well. St. Louis people drive six or eight hours. I'm not saying I would. I was used to taking three subways and a bus to get to where I needed to get. It's all different.
Sternberg continues to say the widespread market poses a problem more for the potential season-ticket holder than it does the fan who goes to just a few games a year. He also talks to Muellner about living in NY vs. Fla., and as Sternberg has done in previous one-on-one interviews...he comes across very sincere and well-intentioned.
Click here to read the entire Tampa Bay Business Journal Q&A.