Sunday, March 26, 2017

New Non-News on Rays' Stadium Location Search...and What Comes Next

As the dust settles on the non-news news that the Rays' top choices for a new ballpark location are not available and Stu Sternberg's diagnosis that the team's future in Tampa Bay is very much "unknown," it's a good time to remind Shadow of the Stadium readers that you already knew all this from years of posts on this site.

You knew there was not going to be a "pitch-perfect" stadium location anywhere; you knew the "great" prospects around Ybor City and Channelside were deeply flawed; and there was never an easy solution to any of the challenges the Rays have identified.

But as the news cycle churns, Times' columnist John Romano echoed those sentiments this week, writing Sternberg's comments were more or less "inevitable":
If you're a realist, you understand that this was never going to be a pretty process. It involves too much money, too many government layers and far too many variables when it comes to finding suitable land in a market that is close to being built-out.
But what I disagree with Romano on, is his assertion that Sternberg's comments were "significant."  They simply are not significant, and they are simply not news.

Why the comments were not significant

Sternberg's brief quotes in Marc Topkin's original Times article were either one of two things:
  1. Passing comments from an owner increasingly-frustrated taxpayers aren't tripping over themselves to hand over land and build the team a stadium.
  2. Or, calculated comments meant to further distract & divert attention from the team's biggest challenge, as identified by Shadow of the Stadium since 2010: land isn't the biggest problem in the Stadium Saga; funding is.
I'm inclined to give Sternberg the benefit of the doubt, and believe it was Option No. 1.  But another thing readers of this blog know is pro teams never let a good opportunity go to waste, and the Rays are no strangers to distracting the conversation from their impending problem of how to pay for a new stadium.

         WATCH: Why you shouldn't feel too bad for Rays

Field of Schemes elaborates on Sternberg's distraction/diversion strategy, one that was executed by so many other pro teams previously:
It’s not a sure strategy, but it’s certainly worked in the past, and it sure appears to be the endgame he’s preparing for — with the aid of the Tampa Bay Times, which assigned five people to work on this story and didn’t bother to quote a single person who wasn’t either a Rays official or a local politician in favor of building a new stadium. Oh, journalism.
Regardless of what Sternberg intended by his comments, the fact remains that this is just more of the status quo in the Stadium Saga.  No news to see here.

What Sternberg's comments actually accomplished

Well, we of course got a few days' worth of newspaper columns out of it, including the Times' Martin Fennelly penning this head-scratching paragraph: "Tampa Bay needs major league baseball. Major league baseball needs Tampa Bay."  I'm just not sure that's true.

But even more fired up were the area's sports talk hosts, who never miss an opportunity to wax poetic about the Rays' plight.  And that gets politicians fired up too.

Hillsborough County's stadium cheerleader-in-chief, Ken Hagan, suggested to the Times that Pinellas was to blame for dragging their feet years ago, then added he had concerns about the team's "ability to have a significant investment'' in the ballpark.

If Hagan didn't hate this blog so much, he would have known by now the public cost of a Rays stadium in Hillsborough County looks to be immense.  I mean, everyone else around the county - including a very hands-off Bob Buckhorn - seems to acknowledge it.

What Hagan's comments actually accomplished

If you really want to read into Hagan's epiphany about the actual cost of a stadium and pretend its news, here's John Romano's take on what it could indicate:
This could simply mean that the Rays are not willing and/or able to make a sizable contribution to the building of a stadium. It might mean Tampa and Hillsborough County officials recognize it will be difficult to persuade taxpayers to pony up as much money as the Rays expected.

It might mean Hagan, as the point man for the Hillsborough effort, is already anticipating a Rays return to St. Petersburg, and he's beginning to assign blame ahead of time. It has not gone unnoticed that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has never made the Rays a top priority, which could be construed as a shrewd politician recognizing this deal was going to be difficult to pull off.
Buckhorn's pullback from the Stadium Saga was first noted here way back in 2013, when it was clear to me a controversial stadium standoff (coupled with the lack of funding) wasn't worth risking his political future.

But Hagan has only doubled down in recent years, suggesting taxpayers should open up their pockets to help the Rays move to Tampa, holding private meetings with the team and refusing to disclose details, then encouraging the county to start talking money with the team when St. Pete was under the impression the two sides of the bay would cooperate before the wound up in a bidding war.

Last week's comments were the first time he expressed much of any doubt in Tampa's ability to land the team.

So what happens next?

Well, the Rays aren't ready to do much of anything in the next few months, most likely because of the lack of political opportunity. A strong season or shift in Tallahassee priorities could change that.

But in the meantime, Pinellas remains light years ahead of where Hillsborough is in terms of courting the team.  Readers of this blog understand they've always been, simply because of funding.

Mayor Kriseman responded to Sternberg's comments with a short statement:
But one thing is for sure: Tampa and St. Pete are fully engaged in the tug-of-war the team has been seeking for nearly seven years.  St. Pete is already suggesting general revenue dollars could go to the Rays, on top of the increasingly-valuable development rights they're dangling in front of the team.

And at the end of the day, the Rays will end up not where they can pack the biggest crowd through the turnstiles...but where they can make the most money on land development and real estate, for that's what pro teams have learned can lift your franchise values over a billion dollars.

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1 comment:

  1. Exactly...ultimately it won't be about sellouts but rather about a Glazer-like deal for Sternberg and Co. regarding any and all revenues that go through whatever facility ends up being built.