Saturday, May 14, 2016

Eleven Years Ago, Stu Sternberg Made a Promise

A couple weeks ago, Rays owner Stu Sternberg issued a "non-threat threat" that basically said the Rays may be outta here if local corporations don't start buying up tickets.  He suggested that only when corporations meet the challenge, can the Rays move forward with finding a new stadium solution. This makes total sense from a business standpoint.

It was a similar tone Sternberg struck back in 2005, when he purchased majority ownership of the franchise and put unknown "Harvard Business School graduate Brian Auld" in charge of duct-taping together the Trop:
"If we can't make it work at Tropicana Field, I don't believe - and I could be proven wrong - but I don't believe it automatically works because of some panacea of some other ballpark."
But the preceding paragraph in that same 2005 article seems at-odds with everything Sternberg has done in the 11 years since.  He makes this promise to Devil Rays fans:
"You will never - and I will say it now and hopefully I can say it and you'll follow up - you will not hear the words, "We need to have a new stadium,' " Sternberg told a group of Times editors. "We might like to have a new stadium. We can work with the authorities to have a new stadium and work with businesses to have a new stadium, but it won't be from a sense of "need.'
Stu, I'm following up, as you requested.  I should have done this in 2010, when you told the region you "need to be in a location that's convenient (and) attractive" and "the discussion needs to begin soon" if the team is going to stay in Tampa Bay long-term.

To your credit, you didn't stand behind that 5.5-year-old non-threat threat any more than you stood behind your 2014 non-threat threats that the franchise was "doomed to leave" without a new ballpark soon, or that you'd walk away from the negotiation table after St. Pete's council voted down one of your proposals.

Yet, your flip-flop is pretty evident, even if the "need" for a new stadium isn't the team's only "need."  READ HERE - 2011 post - "Is new Rays stadium a 'need' or 'want?'"

So what prompted the broken promise?  It would seem, Stu miscalculated his investment.

"We have learned (attendance) is not just about winning," Sternberg admitted in 2010, five years after assuming control of the Rays.

But the miscalculation should not be Tampa Bay's cross to bear.
If SeaWorld built a new orca tank the week before Blackfish came out...then claimed a business miscalculation in smaller-than-expected do you think taxpayers would feel about requests to build them a new state-of-the-art orca tank?

Or if Pitbull had a reputation-damaging scandal that threatened his "Mr. 305" would taxpayers feel about a request to subsidize his next tour so that he could continue to rain economic impact on Florida?

Similarly, the Rays/MLB miscalculations - and changing business models - aren't the fans' fault.

Furthermore, isn't the "we aren't making enough profit" line a tough sell around here, in a time where Pinellas County is struggling to get its schools in-order and Hillsborough County can't properly fund transportation?  All the while, as MLB closes in on $10 billion a year in revenue?

Sternberg did say when he bought the team the ballpark may need replacing before 2027...but he was not officially asking for public help; just a "partnership" with local governmental and business interests:
"I would expect it to be cooperative, and I think cooperative always works best. Now is it 90-10, or 10-90, or 50-50? You have to look at it and get a sense of where the benefit is coming and where it's going," he said. "We are not going to build a stadium at whatever point in time that comes to line our pockets. If it's necessary to do, and it will be necessary to do at some period of time, it will be done because it works for the community, it works for the area, it makes a lot of business sense and it makes a lot of sense for something that will create a lasting showpiece. "Even if we pay for the whole thing, it will be cooperative. But I don't anticipate us having the ability to ever pay for an entire stadium."
But just as Sternberg didn't forecast attendance struggles like the Rays have experienced, he probably also didn't forecast the MLB revenue boom, largely on the back of its digital properties.  So yes, MLB & the Rays do have the ability to pay for their own stadium.  They just won't.

And they won't officially ask for public money, either.  Because asking for public cash is so 1990s. Nowadays, it's much more en vogue to rely on the non-threat threat of possible relocation!

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  1. "This makes total sense from a business standpoint."

  2. The lack of commenting on blog posts of this nature is perfectly in sync with the lack of Rays fans and paltry attendance at the Trop. Complete and utter apathy seems to be the prevailing sentiment. Unless the subject matter is about Montreal, which significantly drives up the number of comments. From Montrealers. With very little response from Rays Fans. If franchises were awarded on the number of fans from a given city commenting on this blog, Montreal wins by a country mile.

  3. Awarding franchises by the number of comments a blog generates makes as much sense as awarding franchises by attendance figures generated by two meaningless exhibition games. C'est non?

    1. Regarding exhibition games, they were so meaningless than since 2014, there are more talks about Montreal getting a team than talks about Tampa Bay keeping their team.

      Never underestimate the law of attraction of Montreal.

      Like Jean-Pierre Ferland wrote, "Montréal est une femme!".

    2. Hi Pat,
      The Tampa Bay area knows alot about 'talk' and how long it can last. Here is a snippet from

      "The prolonged absence of a permanent Major League team in this area was not for a lack of effort. Tampa Bay actively pursued Major League baseball through expansion and made numerous attempts to lure an existing franchise.
      That dogged pursuit lasted some 19 years. Along the way, it appeared a number of teams were headed for Tampa Bay: the Minnesota Twins, Oakland A's, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Giants all seemed destined to move to the area."

    3. Scott, Montreal is in waiting mode while the overall Expos plan is probably almost ready but not ready to be disclosed publicly (we've been told by the end of 2016). We all know it will be a long process and we will continue to hear things from several cities/groups, don't worry.

      Once that said, when Montreal attendances are qualified "meaningless" (reading what Montreal accomplished so far is irrelevant), it only demonstrate a complete misunderstanding of the story (chain of events) or an attempt to discredit a process with words rather than facts.

      Minor (and Senior) baseball is booming like crazy in the whole province for the last 3 years. The snowball is getting bigger and bigger while rolling. So it's not only talks, but real actions from practicing baseball, investing in diamonds, planning the biggest economical project/investment of the last 40 years with the REM (Light Train) where the baseball stadium will be one component at station Bridge-Wellington, in Goose Village.

      Montreal learned one thing over the decades: once you demonstrated your interest for a professional team (no matter if it's for a new one or a relocation), we need to let the stakeholders around that league take the lead and let them influence/push the whole process forward.

      That's where we are right now. There's so much we can do. And I think most of what we control is already taken care of by the right people.