Saturday, February 21, 2015

What to Read Into Sternberg's Q&A with the Tampa Bay Biz Journal

UPDATE: The Tampa Bay Times' posted its Sternberg story too, where the Rays' owner says team executives will skip St. Pete council meetings from now on after he likened council's actions to a "mob mentality."  He also detailed the need to advance the stadium discussion sometime before 2022, since it will take at least five years to make a new home happen.  Which is no surprise and only supports the theory that the worst-case scenario may be 15 years of inaction...without losing frontrunner status for keeping the Rays here past 2027.

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.

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].
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?
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?

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?
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.
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.

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.
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 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.


  1. Rick Scott must have had tears rolling down his cheeks as he read Sternberg's total non-answer about how the stadium might be financed.

  2. There's no way ownership pays for $200 million plus for a new stadium..

    1. If they need to pay $200M, then it will for selling/moving the team in a bigger market with bigger potential revenues like Montreal.

      Because with a TV audience between 300,000 to 500,000, it is good. But imagine a TV audience in Canada between 500 000 to 1 000 000 with some peak at maybe more than 1 000 000. This is way more profitable over the long run (with a full stadium).

  3. Big FanFest yesterday for the Rays. Hundreds of people attended based on Stephen Nohlgren (and pictures on Twitter).

    Remember the Winter Caravan of the Expos, thousands of people were attending the event in small cities across the province.

    And with such great event, of course, Sternberg will invest millions of dollars for a new stadium.

  4. BTW:

    Free FanFest in TB = hundreds of people

    Paid FanFest in Montreal (April 3-4) = 75 000 tickets sold so far.

    Do you think Manfred, Sternberg & al. get the message?

    1. @Kei Teay, you may be right.

      Let's say that the Jays plays against the Rays in April 2016 in Montreal. Nothing prohibit the Rays to play 2 pre-seasons games in Montreal, right?

      Imagine the message that will be sent to TB and the MLB. Panic mode, you said.

      Manfred will probably be in Montreal in April, let's see if the message is loud and clear when the Big 'O' will be sold-out! Even in TB, those games will be the talk in town April 3-4, 2015.

    2. Attendance =/= relocation in 2015

      New ballparks built on the public dime are what really drive relocation talks, and have for decades. To wit, that's a huge reason why this blog exists in the first place.

      Montreal isn't any closer to building a new ballpark than the Tampa Bay region is.

    3. Montreal is closer to building a new ballpark than Tampa Bay region is. Why?

      We have massive transit transportation system in place (Train, Metro, Bus, SLR coming with the new Champlain Bridge), we have a Mayor that is in the driver seat to make sure the business community is behind the project with lots of money, we have several sites considered for a stadium and we are at the stage to determine the right one with the budget (and how to fund it).

      2015 will be an important year for Montreal. A revised feasibility study, a new stadium proposal with clear steps and milestones, a business community that will meet several MLB owners to update them on the plan and the steps.

      In the meantime, Sternberg don't want to talk to the TB city council members, the MOU is not even close to be approved and attendances will be another time the talk of the town instead of talking about the team an the players.

      Your point of view is as good as mine, but let's have facts, not just impressions.

    4. "we are at the stage to determine the right one with the budget (and how to fund it)"

      Aye, but there's the rub. Getting a handful of businessmen to invest in a stadium and actually getting a stadium deal done are many, many steps apart in terms of the whole process. Then figuring how to finance the whole thing -- and by extension, how to get it all approved -- is another crucial step in itself. Rome wasn't built in a day.

      The Rays are essentially stuck in St Pete for at least another decade. And as I said in another post, MLB will be more than content to use Montreal in the same way that the NBA currently uses Seattle. Joe Six-Pack and Plain Jane will lose out no matter what, though.

  5. Saying that we have 7 years left is delusional. Getting something agreed upon by 2022 still means that the team will be in the Trop until 2027, which is ridiculous and something the Rays have already said they wouldn't do. By 2022, there'd be 5 years left at the Trop, and while I understand it's a use agreement, not a lease, I can't see the cost of breaking the contract being extravagant at that point.

    I still feel like 3 years to get an agreement is more realistic. Stu already said he deals with the mayor and no longer wants his people going to council meetings, yet it's city council that will ultimately have to OK a ballpark. It's obvious he's fed up, so how likely is he to stick around until 2022 if he sees no progress 3 years from now?

  6. Buy my business all of these things! I am surprised the Rays have already given up on the economic argument. This appeal to emotion--the short-circuiting of reason--across media outlets is the last leg on which they can stand. Boohoo, Brooklyn. Boohoo, Montreal. Times: [posts a few pictures of Rays management holding babies]. Yawn.

  7. I understand that people in Montreal want a team back, but I'm sick of seeing posts on this blog from people who are obviously from Montreal talking about how baseball is done here. I know none of them appreciated Washington, Portland, etc watching their 2004 situation like vultures either.