We know St. Pete councilmembers - backed by a strong contract that runs through 2027 - are waiting for the Rays to offer them a better deal in exchange for altering the terms of the contract. We also know stadium stalemates often take a decade to figure out (Minneapolis, Miami for example). And relocations are costly, risky, and not typically worth it.
So what happens if this stalemate continues for another five years?
It's possible we could find ourselves in 2020, with the Trop drawing fewer fans than ever and the Rays still at the mercy of St. Pete (although they'd at least have a new, lucrative TV contract by then).
You think Montreal is going to build a stadium in 2020 with legal issues still lingering? Of course not. You think they'll clear a plot of land out with the intention of letting it lay fallow for eight years while the Rays count down to their final game at the Trop in 2027? Of course not. Especially given how tough it can be to break an existing contract.
Just how tough is it to break an existing contract?
In 2002, MLB threatened to take the Twins away from Minneapolis. A judge awarded the city an injunction that required the team to finish out its lease at the Metrodome. And the Twins had just one year left on their deal. For those of you keeping score at home, the Rays currently have 13 seasons left on their Tropicana Field contract.
But even before MLB threatened to contract the Twins, the franchise was years and years into its own stadium stalemate with relocation threats. A short history:
- Summer 1997 - A major corporation steps up to sponsor a new N.C. stadium and relocation bid.
- October 1997 - The Twins say they'll stay if they get a new state-funded stadium by an arbitrary Nov. 30 deadline; some lawmakers reply with a promise to end to stadium handouts in America once and for all! (ha)
- November 1997 - A months-long bid to build the Twins a new stadium and stave off the N.C. move fails. Media calls the decision a "death knell," while one lawmaker says, "The citizens of Minnesota saw baseball die." He also suggests the reporter may not live long enough to see baseball return to Minneapolis.
- November 1997 - "It's all over but the packing, defeated supporters of a new Minnesota Twins stadium said...we'll tell our children and their children what it was like to have baseball."
- November 30, 1997 - Deadline comes and goes, Twins don't leave.
What lessons can be learned?
Well, the large majority of Twins fans' concerns through the mid-1990s and early 2000s proved unfounded.
Just remember that when sportstalk hosts and newspapers tell you the fat lady is ready to sing; she may really be many, many years away. And the stadium "crisis" may only be a crisis to a team owner who finds himself with limited leverage.
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