Saturday, March 28, 2015

Three Ways the Rays Can Force the Issue with St. Pete

No surprise, we have a new Times editorial advocating St. Pete's city council to pass Mayor Kriseman's latest deal with the Rays.

The board made some very reasonable arguments for why councilmembers should reverse their course and accept the latest deal, which would compensate the city about $2 million for each year they could shave off their contract that runs through 2027.

"Hurt feelings, large salaries for players and other side issues are not legitimate reasons to maintain a standoff that only hurts St. Petersburg," wrote the Times, contending the city could make far more money by redeveloping the Trop sooner rather than later.

There's something to be said for catching a wave of downtown development before the next downturn. There's also something to be said for an action that might help the region keep the Rays (as long as they don't use the deal to ultimately flee Tampa Bay).

But good points aside, the Times editorial board again failed to address perhaps the biggest issue here: that this is a business negotiation with the city dealing from a position of strength. (For what it's worth, the Trib's morning stadium editorial missed the issue too):

With 13 seasons left on the current contract, there is no immediate urgency for St. Pete to cut a deal it doesn't like.  The Rays are likely years away from being able to entertain 2028 stadium concepts, and if you believe that 81 baseball games a year are good for a community, St Pete in no rush to lose them.

So even though the Rays have made some recent negotiation concessions, it's still on the team - not St. Pete - to make this deal happen.

Here are three ways the Rays could win council approval:

1) Offer more money.  Why are the Rays offering just $2M/yr to St. Pete?  Why don't they offer a single penny for not fulfilling the contractual obligations of the 2027 season?  I'm pretty sure if Evan Longoria wanted to get out of his contract a year early, the team would expect a hefty sum in exchange.  But Mayor Kriseman's chief of staff, told the Times' Charlie Frago the city won't ask for any more money: "this is a really good deal. The mayor fought hard to get to this point."

2) Work with the mayor to cut old-fashioned political deals.  Every councilmember has some pet project they need city approval for. The Rays could work with the mayor to address some of the needs in exchange for votes.

3) Create a PAC and replace unfriendly council members.  This may be the most extreme option, and it may not foster much goodwill in the community...but if the Koch Brothers can do it, why can't an MLB team?  "No" votes Wengay Newton and Bill Dudley will be replaced this fall because of term limits, while "no" vote Steve Kornell must run for re-election.

NOTE: I'm not advocating any of these approaches; just laying out the facts...which any political insider has certainly already considered.

A brief history of Times editorials on the Stadium Saga: 
The history goes further back than that, but for a good synopsis, watch my 2010 piece on newspapers cheerleading for new stadium projects.

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