Tuesday, August 24, 2021

What St. Pete's Election Results Mean for the Rays

Ken Welch, former Pinellas County commissioner and the top vote-getter in Tuesday's St. Petersburg mayoral election, is no stranger to the Rays' Stadium Saga.  
SPOILER ALERT: he hasn't won the election yet.

Without getting too into the weeds, Welch has been a consistent, long-time advocate of helping the Rays build a new stadium in Pinellas County with the help of the county's robust bed tax collections (which Hillsborough simply doesn't have). 

He knows baseball deals better than most, having served on St. Pete's "Baseball Forever" group as well as casting votes to send tourist tax cash to the Blue Jays and Phillies. He's also defended Tropicana Field against national critics.

He's suggested in recent forums that the Tropicana Field site may be better-off without baseball, but a new baseball stadium on the Al Lang site could make more sense

Like most of his fellow candidates, Welch expressed skepticism regarding big stadium subsidies, but promised to have better relations with the team than previous mayors, each of whom has found negotiating with the Tampa Bay Rays Baseball corporation to be exceedingly tough. 

Welch will be the presumed favorite against city councilman Robert Blackmon, a Republican, in the mayoral runoff this fall.  While St. Petersburg has had Republican mayors in the past (Bill Foster, Rick Baker), Democratic candidates hold a decided advantage in the 'Burg these days. 

Blackmon, whose background is in real estate, told the Florida Soccer Report his existing relationship with Rays ownership could pave the way to a new Rays/Rowdies mixed-use stadium in downtown.  It's not clear how Blackmon proposes the city pay for the stadium.

City Council member Darden Rice, meanwhile, who voted to allow the Rays to talk to Tampa in 2015, did not make the runoff.

She had been generally supportive (albiet measured) of Mayor Kriseman's Stadium Saga handling for many years and even criticized the Rays at times.  But more recently, said it is time to rebuild Tropicana Field once and for all, as she told Axios, "The next mayor cannot kick the can down the road on these issues any longer."

Unfortunately, much like U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, the Stadium Saga has been kicked down the road through three administrations, with a fourth on the way.  Of course - as is the case with Afghanistan - there's only so much a public official can do when dealt a crappy hand.

Here's to hoping the next mayor - along with the Rays - can avoid handing the stalemate off to a fifth administration.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

What Exactly is Hillsborough Paying its Rays Stadium Consultant For?

Even after striking out on finding a way to pay for a new Rays stadium in Ybor City, some Hillsborough County leaders still say they know how to make a ballpark work in Tampa. But they didn’t seem to know there is nothing in the Rays’ contract prohibiting the two sides from talking about a new stadium in 2028.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Friday “Tampa is back in the game of luring the Rays across the bay,” as Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill realized he was, in fact, allowed to talk to the team about what they’ll do after their use agreement expires in St. Petersburg after the 2027 season.

Merrill told the Times it was “the most positive thing that has happened in a long, long time,” apparently referring to reporters Charlie Frago, Josh Soloman, and Anastasia Dawson educating him that St. Petersburg’s deal prohibits the Rays from discussing relocation prior to 2028, but not after that.

In addition to not being familiar with the Rays’ contract, it would seem Merrill doesn’t read the Times, either, as a Frago/Soloman story in June explained, “The team cannot even talk to anybody about playing games elsewhere before the contract expires - but it can talk about where it will play in 2028 & beyond."

One has to wonder - what exactly is Hillsborough paying its stadium consultant, Irwin Raij, for?

The attorney hired in 2014 to represent and advise the county behind-the-scenes has billed taxpayers more than $750,000 over the past five years.

Raij, who did not respond to a request for comment, was contracted by the county until late last year, when Merrill and County Commissioner Ken Hagan moved his consulting contract out from under an increasingly-reluctant county commission, and over to the stadium-friendly Tampa Sports Authority (TSA), which is funded by both county and city dollars.

It’s not clear what specific services Raij is currently providing, given Hillsborough’s failure to entice the Rays during a three-year negotiating window and the ten months of confusion/gridlock since. But WTSP-TV documented how he played a key role - along with Hagan - in coordinating land and developers in Ybor City before the team went public with its preferred Tampa stadium location.

WTSP-TV also reported last year how Raij was consulting for the Oregon investors trying to lure a team - possibly the Rays - to Portland.

It seems clear the Rays are aware of their ability to talk about relocation in 2028, telling St. Petersburg officials their ongoing talks with Montreal investors pertain only to life after their current contract expires.

It also seems clear the team’s lack of talks with Hillsborough County stems not from a prohibition in its contract, but a disinterest with what’s been offered to-date.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Kriseman vs Foster, six years later — who was right on Rays?

Six years ago this fall, an incumbent mayor, who had just taken a big bite out of his city’s homeless problem and was enjoying a downtown resurgence unlike any other in West/Central Florida, was getting run out of office — first by the town’s newspaper, then by voters — largely because of one very prominent issue: the future of the Tampa Bay Rays.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster insisted the team either honor its seemingly-ironclad stadium agreement or make the city an offer it couldn’t refuse. When there was no progress, Foster paid the price, suffering a rare — and convincing — loss to a challenger.

That challenger, Rick Kriseman, made the Rays’ stadium saga a differentiating issue from the start of his campaign, promising to craft an agreement with the team that allowed them to explore stadium sites in Hillsborough County. He believed (correctly) they would fail to find the funding in Tampa and ultimately come back to St. Pete (pending).

Foster’s refusal to cut the Rays a deal stemmed from his distrust of ownership, believing its end game was always Montreal (plausible) and any agreement that allowed the team to look outside St. Pete would forfeit some of the region’s only real legal leverage to keep them through 2027 (pending).

Irony No. 1 is that Foster agreed at one point the Rays should look in Hillsborough because they wouldn’t find what they’re looking for.

Irony No. 2 is that the 2013 mayoral election would reshape so much of St. Petersburg’s future — but very little of it involving the Rays.

Irony No. 3 is how the biggest divide in that heated 2013 campaign originated from a stadium issue Foster and Kriseman may not have been all that divided on in the first place; it’s now 2019 and Kriseman finds himself in the same position as Foster six years ago, asking the Rays to come to the table with an offer he can’t refuse.

The only significant difference now is Kriseman holds a stronger negotiating hand, with the Rays having squandered much of the goodwill they once had with fans who sympathized with their stadium plight.

That’s allowed Kriseman to look like the reasonable one as he holds his ground against an anxious franchise. Foster never got that courtesy, especially from the Times editorial board, which targeted (often unfairly) his protectionist approach with weekly assaults in the editorial pages.

Only time will tell if Kriseman’s 2015 deal with the Rays will one day lead to a conclusion that ensures the franchise stays in Tampa Bay for decades to come, or it may ultimately expedite their exit.

However, one thing’s for sure: very little has changed in the stadium saga these last six years, proving wrong the political influencers and stadium cheerleaders who insisted back in 2013 a stadium solution was urgently needed and St. Pete’s mayoral election should be a referendum on that single issue.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Introducing the Pransky on Politics Newsletter

Introducing Pransky on Politics - an occasional newsletter that's heavy on facts, light on partisan tilt, with a moderate level of snark.

Much like its sister newsletter, published by Shadow of the Stadium, emails will be somewhat infrequent, only passing along content that will be hard to find in other places.  You can unsubscribe at any time.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

No, the Super Bowl isn’t Going to Bring $400M-$600M to Miami

In case your summer reading list didn’t include my column on Wrestlemania’s inflated economic impact, here’s a Super Bowl-style remix: big events make ya feel good, but they don’t typically provide cities tangible returns on investment.

The Miami Herald detailed the $20 million (or more) tab Miami-area taxpayers will be picking up for Super Bowl 54 next February, from police overtime to extra city services to a $4 million straight cash payment to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. The headline explained “Miami governments spending millions to make money and get exposure.”

The exposure claim is laughable, because if you have ever been to Miami Beach in February, you know the area doesn’t exactly have trouble attracting tourists from all over the world.

But the “make money” claim is a stretch too.

Miami City Manager Emilio Gonzalez told the Herald “we’re going to get a huge economic impact.” He then likely threw out some inflated figure in the $400-$600 million range that - to the paper’s credit - didn’t make its way into the story.

But if you ask an economist - not the marketers who typically produce the rosy economic impact reports - you’ll likely hear the true benefit to Super Bowl host cities is far less significant. “Economic impact” does not equal revenue, and impact reports always seem to conveniently forget basic economic principles.

For instance, Miami politicians will never tell you big events disrupt local economies and many people choose to spend less time and money in the city during event week. These factors negate much of the event’s impact. So while Super Bowls create business winners, they also create plenty of losers.

There’s also the fact that much of the cash hotels, restaurants, and other corporations pull in Super Bowl week gets shipped right out of town to corporate headquarters in other parts of the country. But rest assured, those Hilton employees in Dallas and Marriott employees in D.C. are greatly appreciative of those Miami subsidies!

Then there’s the public cost; the $20 million estimate in Miami may be on the low side. I wrote for WTSP last year how Super Bowl hosts need to promise endless city services "at no cost to the NFL":

We also know from a leaked 2013 NFL document the league’s crazy list of expectations require tens of millions of dollars in additional private fundraising by the host committee - real money coming out of the local community to pay for these events.

Super Bowl revenues aren’t all new revenues - much of it comes from local corporations and individuals who choose to spend money on Super Bowl events instead of charity events, other entertainment options, community investments, etc.

Between now and February, you’ll hear a lot of people who stand to make money off the Super Bowl - as well politicians simply infatuated with the game - tell you about all the intangibles the NFL will rain down on Miami next February. But it will take a lot longer for them to try and find tangible returns on investment from a game that costs taxpayers so darn much to host.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Friday, August 9, 2019

Florida's Sports Owners Flex Their Political Mu$cle

Stephen Ross, who has faced his fair share of criticism for the Miami Dolphins’ mediocrity over the years, found himself facing a different kind of scorn this week, criticized as a “hypocrite” for hosting a high-dollar fundraiser for President Donald Trump while also running a foundation that promotes inclusion and equality while combating racism.

Ross responded to the controversy, which included calls to boycott his companies Equinox and SoulCycle, explaining he didn’t agree with everything the president did and said, but he has always been “an active participant in the democratic process.”

The billionaire’s activity includes hundreds of campaign donations - mostly to Republicans - worth approximately $2.5 million in recent years, according to federal and state filings. Among the recipients: the Republican National Committee, Mitt Romney, and Rick Scott.

Ross’ political activity is no outlier among Florida’s wealthy pro franchise owners, according to campaign filings. A 2014 WTSP story documented nearly 100 athletes and executives from just Tampa Bay who had made contributions to candidates or political committees.

Teams and executives often donate to the majority party to advance their state and local interests. But at the national level, donations often reflect individuals’ ideology.

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan has become a reliable Republican donor over the last decade, contributing $250,000 to Rick Scott’s Let's Get to Work PAC, $175,000 to Lenny Curry’s Build Something That Lasts PAC, and more than $100,000 to support Mitt Romney and other national Republican efforts in 2012.

Khan has also given $500,000 to the Citizens for the Truth About Amendment 3 PAC, which failed to defeat a 2018 referendum that restricted gambling expansion in Florida, as well as a pair of donations to American Idol star-turned-Democrat Congressional candidate Clay Aiken in 2014.

The Glazer family, which owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has spread its contributions fairly evenly across the two major parties over the years. It supported Virginia’s former Republican governor and senator George Allen with tens of thousands of dollars, as well as Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist and other left-leaning politicians and committees. The Buccaneers have also donated heavily to transit-related political committees in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

One of the Bucs’ chairmen, Edward Glazer, has donated more than $185,000 to the Republican National Committee since May 2016 as well as $55,400 more to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential efforts. He also cut $5,400 in checks to Hillary Clinton’s campaign on the same day he donated to the RNC in May 2016.

Miami Heat owner Micky Arison has donated heavily to both parties, including a $500,000 check to Jeb Bush’s PAC in 2015. His donations tilted to the right historically, but have shifted back toward the left since 2016.

Last year, Arison donated $100,000 to the gubernatorial campaign of former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a Democrat. In 2019, he’s stroked checks in support of Democratic Congressional candidates Elijah Cummings, Stephanie Murphy, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, David Price, and Sean Maloney. He’s also donated to moderate Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski and Florida Republicans Marco Rubio and Vern Buchanan.

Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola was nominated - but never confirmed - as President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Army. However, his political donations appear to be virtually non-existent in recent years. Prior to 2015, he had a history of donating to both Democratic and Republican committees.

Orlando Magic owner Dan DeVos has been a big backer of Orlando’s Democratic Mayor, Buddy Dyer, but has contributed the bulk of his $1 million-plus in donations since 2015 to conservative candidates and causes, including Florida governors Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis, as well as dozens of Republican House and Senate candidates.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has been contributing to Republican candidates and committees for more than 20 years, with some of the biggest contributions coming recently, including more than $78,000 to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid, $200,000 to Rick Scott's PAC in 2015, and another $42,000 to Scott's Senate campaign in 2018.

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg has supported local and state Republicans in recent years as his efforts to land stadium subsidies have increased, but he has historically favored Democratic candidates. Sternberg has donated to Democratic Congressmembers Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, President Barack Obama, gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum, and senate candidate Patrick Murphy.

The least-political franchise owner in Florida appears to be the Marlins’ Derek Jeter, who has not recorded a single state or federal campaign contribution.

The above figures do not include donations from the owners’ businesses, which add up to millions of dollars more in contributions. That’s on top of the millions of dollars Florida sports organizations spend on lobbying Tallahassee.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Even Without MLB, Hagan Wants Tax Dollars for Ybor Stadium & Development

Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan told his counterparts Wednesday he wants to move forward with plans for a new Tampa stadium in Ybor City -- even without 81 Tampa Bay Rays home games.

County insiders say the commissioner is so committed to a new publicly-subsidized ballpark he wants to build a fourth Hillsborough County stadium even if the Rays aren’t ultimately a part of it.

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg announced a proposal in June to split the team’s regular season schedule between Florida and Montreal since he saw no financially-feasible full-season stadium options in Tampa Bay. After three years of negotiating with Hillsborough County, Sternberg indicated the region just never come close to meeting his expectations.

Hagan said Wednesday he thought the county should move forward with creating a taxable entertainment district in the growing Ybor area to fund a future stadium that may - or may not - play host to half a season of Major League Baseball games. Food, drinks, and property within the district could all be taxed at a higher rate to help fund the facility.

The commissioner has also said the ballpark could draw from tourist taxes, federal dollars, and property taxes collected through community redevelopment areas (CRA), also known as TIFs.

“This would not necessarily be created for the purpose of being the Rays’ next new home, but would certainly put us in an enviable position when those discussions occur,” Hagan said.

The “if you build it, they will come” approach on a Major League Baseball park is a familiar one in Tampa Bay; the less-than-ideal location of Tropicana Field was due to St. Petersburg’s rush to build a baseball stadium in 1990 before it had the commitment of an expansion franchise. It wasn’t until 1998 that MLB granted one to the region.

However, Hillsborough County is already paying for three other professional stadiums and doesn’t appear have existing tax revenues to fund a fourth.

So Hagan is looking at creating new public revenue streams, even though he told the board Wednesday “no new public money” would be used to fund a stadium. He indicated it would be smaller than the Rays’ estimated $892 million price tag, and could play home to baseball, soccer, and other events.

Nine years ago, Hagan repeatedly said he didn’t support any public funds for a new stadium, but his stance changed over the years as it became clear a new ballpark for the Rays would require substantial public money.

The desire to subsidize Ybor City

When Sternberg announced the Rays were no longer considering an Ybor City stadium in late 2018 after three years of negotiations, several Hillsborough commissioners who had supported the talks said it was time to move on.

But Hagan wanted to continue the Ybor efforts.

WTSP revealed how he shifted planning resources - and expenses - from the county center to the Tampa Sports Authority (TSA), where he had more board support. The agency is funded in part by county and city tax dollars.

For the last eight months, Hagan and outside attorney Irwin Raij have played a key role in continuing to try and make Ybor stadium subsidies happen - even if a half-season’s worth of games was the best Hillsborough could hope for, and even as the county is currently prohibited from negotiating with the Rays.

Tax breaks and other public subsidies are typically used to stimulate areas that need government help to revitalize. But Ybor City has enjoyed a revival on its own in recent years and wasn’t even included in an initial list of federally-designated “Opportunity Zones” eligible for development-related tax breaks. The city and county later worked to get the Rays’ desired ballpark area included.

However, Hagan’s ties to Ybor go beyond baseball; last November, WTSP-TV reported secret conversations he was having with Ybor City developers who would later contribute to his campaign. When he was asked for public records related to the ballpark planning, he failed to turn them over.

Hagan told the commission on Wednesday the primary goal of the new stadium would be to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay for the long-term and he wasn’t “married” to Ybor City: “we...would consider other sites."

But it doesn’t appear the county has performed any kind of study or analysis regarding the best use of public subsidies or the best way to accomplish its goals in Ybor City. Two commissioners told Florida Politics that Hagan has been driving the conversation on his own.

Hagan has refused to respond to Florida Politics’ questions since the start of the year. And even though Florida Politics has been asking the TSA about Raij’s role and Ybor stadium plans since May, the agency’s taxpayer-paid vice president of communications has refused to communicate on the topic.

St. Petersburg investigating
St. Petersburg city officials confirm that the city is once again investigating whether the Rays have violated their contract by talking to other municipalities about leaving Tropicana Field prior to the expiration of the existing deal in December 2027.

Raij told county commissioners Wednesday he had spoken with the Rays but didn’t cross the line of tortious interference because he wasn’t “negotiating” with the team.

“We can speak to the Rays; we can’t negotiate with the Rays, and there is a difference,” Raij said, adding he was not currently engaged with the team.

A spokesman for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the city’s legal department is reviewing all of the comments made at Wednesday’s meeting.

The city also conducted a lengthy legal review following Sternberg’s June comments and a Florida Politics story that revealed the team had been talking to Montreal about shifting home games away from Tropicana Field prior to 2027.

Kriseman and Sternberg have met twice in the last month to discuss the team’s split-season pitch, but little progress has been evident, as the city expects the team to make concessions of its own in exchange for the loosening of its contract.

Raij, who has billed the county nearly a million dollars for his services since since 2014, said Kriseman has not been willing to allow Hillsborough to have its own formal meetings with the team since its three-year negotiating window expired last December.

Hillsborough Commissioner Mariella Smith warned Wednesday the county is “threading a needle between landmines” with regards to legal exposure as it continues to talk to the Rays without permission from St. Petersburg. Commissioner Pat Kemp also expressed concern about St. Petersburg’s threat of tortious interference if Hillsborough continues to talk to the Rays without permission.

County Commission Chair Les Miller repeatedly defended the Hagan and Raij efforts, while Hagan called St. Pete’s warnings “bogus threats,” saying “there is no risk” to talking with the Rays as long as they don’t negotiate about a specific stadium on a specific site.

Hagan also sent more shots across the bay toward Kriseman, criticizing him as an obstructionist.

But a spokesman for Kriseman said the commissioner was “failing to remember Mayor Kriseman's regional leadership on this issue” that granted the Rays a three-year window to talk to Hillsborough in the first place back in 2015.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Forbes Not Kind to Florida's Pro Franchises

Forbes’ 2019 list of the world’s most-valuable sports franchises is an embarrassment of riches, from the top-ranked Dallas Cowboys to the 50th-ranked New Orleans Saints. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find Florida teams on the list.

Just two of the nine major pro teams to call Florida home made this year’s list: the Miami Dolphins, 33rd in the world with an estimated value of $2.6 billion; and the Jacksonville Jaguars, 49th in the world with an estimated value of $2.1 billion.

Not a single one of Tampa Bay’s three major franchises made the top-50 list, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ranked 12th in the world back in 2010.

More bad news for the Bucs’ owners, the Glazers: their Manchester United franchise was one of only two in this year’s top-50 to lose value from 2018. Forbes estimated ManU was down 8% from last year to a $3.8 billion valuation in 2019, sixth in the world overall.

ManU was the first franchise in the world to crack the $3 billion mark back in 2013, but it hasn’t enjoyed a smooth ride in recent years under the Glazers, even as franchise values soar across-the-board due to lucrative media deals.

It’s not likely the Glazers are hurting, however, as Forbes last fall estimated the Buccaneers - even as one of the NFL’s least-valuable franchises - were worth an even $2 billion.

The Cowboys topped Forbes’ 2019 list at $5 billion, with the New York Yankees and Real Madrid following at $4.6 billion and $4.2 billion, respectively.

A $2 billion valuation, enough to top the Forbes’ list in 2012, no longer makes the cut. Even teams without much of a track record of winning are raking in the profits; the Arizona Cardinals, Brooklyn Nets, and Oakland Raiders all surpassed $2.1 billion valuations this year.

Other Florida franchises have seen their Forbes estimates grow as well: the Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins were valued at $1B each earlier this year, 29th and 30th in MLB, respectively; the Miami Heat ($1.8B) and Orlando Magic ($1.3B) were the NBA’s 10th- and 23rd-most valuable franchises, respectively; while the Tampa Bay Lightning ($445M) and Florida Panthers ($295M) were the NHL’s 21st and 30th-most valuable franchises, respectively.

Every Florida team is believed to be worth significantly more than it was when it was last sold.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Monday, July 22, 2019

Can Stu Sternberg shed title of Tampa Bay’s least-favorite franchise owner?

With his pitch to cut short the Rays’ tenure in Tropicana Field and start summering in Montreal, Stu Sternberg solidified his place atop the region’s rankings of least-favorite franchise owners.

It’s a title that, earlier in the decade, was firmly held by the Glazer family, who allowed Buccaneers games to be blacked-out as Raheem Morris – and then Greg Schiano – turned the once-proud franchise into cellar-dwellers.

Clearly, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik doesn’t belong in this conversation, as he’s achieved a Mark Cuban/Bob Kraft-level of reverence in his adopted hometown.

Vinik could probably get caught in an illicit Kennedy Avenue massage parlor and still get anything he wanted from city and county officials.

So how did Sternberg – once celebrated as the Wall Street whiz kid who transformed a sad Tampa Bay expansion team into a pennant-winner – become so vilified? It didn’t happen overnight.

It likely started with the “if you don’t build it, they won’t come” attitude he took toward a new ballpark shortly after buying a controlling interest in the Rays in 2005. He planted seeds that Tropicana Field was an unfit place to watch baseball.

Sternberg certainly wasn’t the first to suggest it, and many fans probably agreed; but ever since he pulled his waterfront stadium plan off the table in 2008, Sternberg hasn’t been willing to put his money where his mouth is on a new ballpark.

He developed a reputation of trying to squeeze money out of the community, and his now-decade-old self-fulfilling prophecy that nobody wants to watch games at the Trop turned Sternberg, once a sympathetic character, into a scorned one.

In 2011, Rays historian (yes, there is such a thing) Jonah Keri wrote, “If you go to a restaurant and the waiter keeps insulting you and even insulting the restaurant, you’re going to stop going.”

He was right: after 10 years of Sternberg’s stadium campaigning, Rays fans stopped going to the Trop, as attendance steadily dropped from 23,148 in 2009 to 14,259 in 2018. 
What else explains a 38% decline in attendance during a decade where the team remained outstanding, Tampa Bay’s population and corporate base both grew, the economy got stronger, tickets remained reasonably-priced, and teenage Rays fans matured into young adults with disposable income?

You can’t blame traffic for the huge declines; yes, I-275 has issues, but the area also saw major improvements to Gandy Boulevard, the I-4 interchange, and I-275 in Pinellas County.

So the only real explanation for the major drop in attendance – and Sternberg’s drop in popularity – is his negative attitude toward playing in St. Petersburg and fans who choose to agree with him and watch from home instead.

Sternberg insulted the restaurant – and its patrons – a few too many times.

But wait, then 2019 happened!

Even following his wildly-unpopular Montreal snowbird idea, Sternberg is seeing fans come back to the Trop. It may have taken $2 ticket offers and an early playoff exit from his typical summer entertainment competition, the Lightning … but the Rays’ 2019 attendance has ticked up to 15,520 per game.

In a year where MLB has seen an overall 2% drop in attendance, the Rays are seeing 4% growth from the same time last year and a 9% uptick from their end-of-2018 numbers.

Meanwhile, the team continues to win, ensuring their games at the Trop will remain relevant into the fall.

Just as Sternberg’s vilification didn’t happen overnight, his revival won’t be immediate either. But give him credit for continuing to put a winning product on the field in baseball’s most competitive division, as well as bringing (some) fans back to the ballpark in 2019.

Can Sternberg continue to offer deals to Rays fans, downplay his desires to leave, and climb out of Tampa Bay’s team-owner doghouse? Absolutely.

But the real question is, does he want to?

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Why USF Won't Follow UCF's Lead on a Campus Stadium

USF's new president, Steve Currall, dealt a dose of reality last week to football fans hoping for a new on-campus stadium. 

Currall was lukewarm at-best about the potential of a new home, saying a football stadium was "a vision...not a plan," in comments detailed by the Tampa Bay Times' Matt Baker and Megan Reeves.

That's because, even in the heart of football country, money matters - and a new stadium costs loads of it.

Baker's Monday article triggered a predictable cycle of chuckles from the UCF Mafia on Twitter. But Knights fans should check themselves - Currall isn't wrong in how he's playing the hand he's been dealt, even if it means many more years playing nearly a dozen miles from campus.

It's easy for UCF fans to throw stones when they're enjoying a historic run on the gridiron, filling their 44,000-seat on-campus stadium every Saturday. And the Bulls, who once surged to No. 2 in the nation in 2007 and filled the majority of Raymond James Stadium for a good five years, have fallen on tough times.

Yet the two schools are remarkable close on the scoreboard that most university presidents really care about: finances.

Neither UCF nor USF is in great shape when it comes to their athletics budget, as they strain to keep pace with teams in high-revenue conferences. Both the Knights and the Bulls balance their budgets on the backs of students, as well as general booster funds, that would otherwise go toward academic purposes, to close their remaining budget deficits.

UCF is moving in the right direction by growing its booster donations, season ticket base, and game-day revenues, as it's "if you build it, they will come" approach toward an on-campus stadium has been slowly working. But the debt payments on Spectrum Stadium have limited the financial impact of the team's recent success.

USF has similar goals to boost revenue through attendance and donor growth, but instead of using a new stadium to advance their efforts, USF is risking its future with a page out of its old playbook: trying to reignite its base with upsets over ranked teams.

The Bulls have agreed to a series of 2-for-1 series with top programs, such as Alabama and Texas, where USF will play its bigger, wealthier opponents twice on the road in exchange for just a single game at home. USF, hoping to one day join those foes in a high-revenue conference, sees the short-term price well worth the potential long-term payoff.

UCF Nation absolutely hates USF for it.

Knights fans, as well as their athletic director, have been critical of 2-for-1 series, saying they shouldn't have to make a sacrifice to play high-revenue teams. Many have suggested USF should be above it too.

Each school has a right to its own strategy, but at the end of the day, they each need to find a way to boost their revenues...significantly. The risk of not doing so has been realized by UConn, which will leave the American Athletic Conference in 2020 for what it hopes are greener ($$) pastures in the Big East.

USF's new president knows this. He knows money rules in college sports. He also knows building stadiums isn't necessarily the best way to make money.

“I was just talking to the commissioner of the AAC (last week) on the phone about a number of topics, but they all always involve TV rights...that, frankly, has a big financial impact” Currall said, according to Monday's Times article.

That's why you're more likely to see USF change its coaches, conference, or even logo before you see it change its home football stadium.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Yes, the Rays' Stadium Campaign is Following the Same Blueprint of Every Other Stadium Campaign

Expect a tug-of-war: first between two local communities, then two communities separated by thousands of miles. Blogs, petitions, editorials, and maybe even a full-page ad or two. Anger. Heartbreak...all things the Tampa Bay area has to look forward to...as the Rays lobby for a new state-of-the-art baseball stadium.
I first wrote that paragraph ten years ago, in my July 3, 2009 column, "How the Rays Stadium Saga Will Go Down."  A decade later, it's clear not much has changed.

I acknowledged at the time the post was speculative, but also that I had covered enough bare-knuckles stadium shakedowns to know the playbook pro owners all seem to count on  So how did that 2009 column hold up?

Let's take a look, with my 2019 comments in bold:

July 3, 2009=============
Every time a team wants a new ballpark, it starts planting seeds that it cannot field a competitive team in its current digs (Rays got this out of the way in the 1990s).

When people start believing the team actually could be competitive at its current site - both on-the-field and at the box office - the team drops more hints that attendance could/should still be better (see Rays' 2008 campaign).

When people start believing that a new ballpark could make a difference in attendance, the team commissions a study to "analyze" the feasibility of staying put. The Red Sox did it, the Marlins did it, and the Rays did it this June.
Ten years later, Rays owner Stu Sternberg swore his "sister city" split-season pitch was "not a page out of a playbook" and that he likes to be different.  Except, for the last 10 years, almost every move the Rays have made off-the-field, including a half-dozen relocation threats, has been out of the standard "build leverage for stadium subsidies" playbook.

The study - predictably - concludes it's not feasible to stay at current location long-term.  That takes us to the present point in time, where we await a new study from the ABC Coalition that will analyze where a new stadium would be best-placed. There really isn't much suspense here...the foregone conclusion is that a stadium in - or very close - to Hillsborough County will draw more fans than the current location in somewhat-remote downtown St. Petersburg.Later in 2009, that ABC Coalition report affirmed the foregone conclusion that Downtown St. Petersburg, at the time a less-desirable live-work-play destination than it is now, was too remote of a location for most potential baseball fans. 

Disclaimer #2: I love watching the Rays play. I think they've grown a great base here and need to stay here. I think they mean a lot of money to the local economy...but I don't think anyone knows exactly how much that is.
In 2008, the Rays commissioned a study that indicated their impact was $122 million per year at the time, then later suggested their true impact was closer to $200 million.  Not only were economists quick to dispute those figures, but the Rays were too.  In 2013, one team executive suggested St. Petersburg should let the team explore leaving because they were hurting the city's economy. Go figure.

Once the ABC Coalition releases its findings on location, the Rays may finally admit that they don't hate The Trop; they hate playing in downtown St. Pete. That's when things will really get fun.
That moment came in June 2010, when Sternberg shifted his explanation of poor attendance from the facility to the facility's location.

The team will continue to drop hints that it needs a new home at a new place. Grass-root efforts will pop up. Fan groups - on both sides of the bay - will start rallying the troops.
Over the last decade, stadium support groups have included the Clutch Hitters, Top Off the Trop, Build it Downtown Tampa, Baseball Forever St. Pete, and most recently, the not-so-grass-roots group, Tampa Bay Rays 2020.

Since the team's current contract with St. Pete doesn't expire anytime soon, Tampa may not happen. However, since St. Pete and Pinellas Co. could work out a deal to tear up the current lease and sign a new one long-term, the Gateway area (near the bay bridges) will start to become the most realistic location.
Former Mayor Bill Foster offered to let the Rays explore the Gateway/Mid-Pinellas area shortly after he was elected in the fall of 2009. But despite the robust tax revenues available to fund a ballpark in that region, the Rays said they wouldn't even consider it until they could explore Tampa first. Years later, the Rays were still exploring and several Pinellas possibilities near the bay bridges were developed without considerations for baseball.

The public will scoff at the cost ($470M?). The team will become more poignant that it needs help from the community to survive. Execs will "remind" us that they aren't so much a private business, but an integral and beloved part of the community. The Red Sox did it, the Marlins (hilariously) did it, and the Rays will do it.
That $470 million projection in 2009 grew with inflation and construction prices to the $892 million sticker-shock figure the team estimated in 2018. But the Rays have relentlessly campaigned that they are part of the fabric of Tampa Bay's community, and they have amplified their case that they need community support ($$) to stick around.

The team will re-affirm its commitment to stay in the area, but it won't be shy about its need for a new park.  The public will still scoff at the cost.
Check. Check. Check.

It will be right about that time a high-ranking team executive (Stuart Sternberg? Matthew Silverman? Stadium Czar Michael Kalt?) will take a trip to Charlotte. Or Portland. Or some other MLB-starved city.  A trip like that would normally go under-the-radar, but a well-placed call to someone like Peter Gammons or Rob Neyer will drop the tip that the Rays are exploring other communities.Sternberg started talking to Montreal, and it was a well-placed call to ESPN's Jeff Passan that ensured one little tip would fuel more than a week's worth of stadium talk.

Why? Because teams don't get free stadiums unless two cities are competing for their services. The blogs, editorials, and letters to the editor will fire up again. Local politicians will get nervous. One leader - maybe a Pinellas Co. Commissioner or a St. Pete City Councilman? - will decide his/her legacy will be keeping the Rays in Tampa Bay.
This turned out to be Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan.

He/she will fire up more grass-root efforts to save the team. Expect more petitions, rallies, and forums.
Hagan has spent an enormous amount of time and effort collaborating with developers and business leaders to make an Ybor stadium happen.  Some in the Tampa community have followed his lead, while others in St. Petersburg have vilified him.

Fans in Charlotte (or Portland, etc.) will launch similar grass-root efforts to show their interest in a team. The Rays will kick back and let the scenario run its course.
So far, it's happened in Portland and Montreal.  The Rays wouldn't mind if another city or two joined in too.

Baseball fans will fight stadium-haters. City leaders will battle their counterparts in other municipalities. Columnists will stir the pot with provocative headlines. The war will be waged on newsprint, on the airwaves, and of course, online.
We saw a three-year civil war in Tampa, with baseball boosters fighting subsidy critics in their own backyard, as columnists and sports talk hosts fanned the flames.

And while it will be a war of public opinion, the Rays - mark my words - will NEVER let the issue go to public referendum. After seeing a public stadium vote fail (for a modest $16M price tag) in Sarasota, they won't risk letting the people of Tampa Bay decide their $470M fate. (The Bucs won their referendum in a different era - there is no comparison.)
Still true.

Private investors will join the fight, offering up their money, land, and services to help the area keep the team.
See above notes on Ybor City.

The "donations" won't be nearly enough to cover the cost of a new stadium, but it will be enough to give the impression that the people of Pinellas County are willing to buck up to keep the economic engine in-town.
There were lots of developers who wanted to be involved in the Ybor stadium project, but as predicted, none of them wanted to finance an actual stadium that someone else would profit off. 


When the public still scoffs at the cost of a new stadium, the team casually reminds fans that while they are a beloved part of community, they could be a beloved part of someone else's community.

More trips to the second city follow. The Rays will acknowledge publicly that they are talking to another city. After all, the owners aren't from here - they aren't committed to staying in a town that's not committed to them.
To Sternberg's credit, he has continued to say he wants to be in Tampa Bay long-term. But he also hasn't been afraid to continuously flirt with the idea of relocation.

More local politicians start feeling the heat and get legitimately scared the team will leave.
That's where we are today.

That's where the blueprint ends.  What happens from here? Tough to say. Still tough to say. 

Every professional franchise uses these steps to try and leverage a new, free stadium. The results vary but often depend on two things: the economy and the volume of the voices of the stadium cheerleaders.  Those voices aren't loud yet, but when people REALLY get scared the team may leave - and it always reaches that climax - you won't be able to tune them out.
And that's why the Rays are trying to reach that climax before the economy slows down again.  However, they're still feeling the impact of anti-subsidy sentiment left over from the Great Recession, which was magnified by the Marlins' well-publicized fleecing of Florida.  That's made Sternberg's subsidy campaign deciding uphill.

So the next time you think Sternberg is making major stadium news, realize it's probably not the climax of a ten-year soap opera.  In fact, in the last decade, not much has changed at all in the stadium saga except the volume of some voices. 

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Thursday, June 27, 2019

A look back at Stu Sternberg’s 2005 promise when buying the Rays

Stu Sternberg has stated it simply: without a new stadium, the Rays won’t be playing any baseball in Tampa Bay much longer.
It really isn’t any change from what’s the franchise owner been saying for the last decade, as he’s threatened in no fewer than a half-dozen different ways relocation if the region doesn’t help (read: $$$) build the Rays a new ballpark.

But today’s stance is in stark difference to what Sternberg told the editorial board for the then-St. Petersburg Times back in 2005, when he purchased majority ownership of the team:

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 was quoted as saying by the Times. “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.’”
Well, Sternberg wanted someone to follow up...

So more than nine years after Sternberg started saying the Rays “need” a new stadium, it’s clear he made a miscalculation with his original promise.

Sternberg may have also made a slight business miscalculation, and every pro sports owner has the right to run his or her team as a business. But many fans would contend profits aren’t their responsibility.

Furthermore, from what we know about Major League Baseball’s business model — wildly-robust with lucrative broadcast and digital revenues — it would seem that Sternberg and other MLB owners are all making profits. We just don’t know that for a fact because none will agree to open their books to the public.

We also know the profits are flowing, because the value of Sternberg’s investment has skyrocketed.

He reportedly bought control of the team at a franchise valuation of $176 million, a bargain-basement price that was largely a result of poor attendance and the team’s contract handcuffing it to Tropicana Field.

According to Forbes, the Rays are now worth more than $1 billion, appreciation of 380 percent at a time the Dow Jones average grew just 250 percent.

So, while Sternberg may have miscalculated his words in promising he wouldn’t demand a new stadium, it doesn’t seem he miscalculated his investment. And a guy who is that savvy with investments likely isn’t miscalculating much about his next business move, either.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Did Stu Sternberg Admit to Violating His Contract w/St. Pete?...and Other

Stu Sternberg rolled out his "sister-city" idea Tuesday afternoon, pitching the Rays split their 81-game schedule between new, open-aired stadiums in Tampa Bay and Montreal, possibly as soon as 2024. 

"We are asking for people to keep an open mind and join us on this exploration," Sternberg said from the atrium of St. Pete's Dali Museum, with the glistening waters of Tampa Bay behind him. "We certainly don't have all the answers...(but) today begins a conversation, an exploration, and a collaboration."

Here are five takeaways from what Sternberg detailed in the Rays' 45-minute press conference:

Several Canadian journalists made the trip down to Tampa Bay, curious about the role MLB-to-Montreal booster Stephen Bronfman would play in the Rays' proposed new venture.

"Stephen had asked us about relocation (years ago) and I immediately shot that down," Sternberg said. "He talked about if the team would potentially be for sale; (that) didn't go any further than about 12 seconds past that as well."

But Sternberg said the two men "maintained a dialogue" because Bronfman was talking to other MLB owners about expansion.

"At some point, this idea of sharing (the Rays) came up," Sternberg continued, saying he didn't remember exactly when they first discussed the idea, but it was "a couple years ago."

If Sternberg has already discussed playing home games in Montreal prior to 2027, it would be a violation of his contract with St. Petersburg, which requires the Rays to obtain specific permission from the city to have any sort of discussion about playing home games outside of Tropicana Field.

Mayor Kriseman's office apparently agreed, dispatching its city attorney to review the video of the press conference, specifically looking to see if Sternberg violated his contract with the city or if any Montreal parties committed tortious interference by trying to lure the team out of its contractual obligations. 

According to mayoral spokesperson Ben Kirby, "The City Attorney’s office has been in contact with the general counsel for the Tampa Bay Rays and received assurances that the Rays will not commence exploration of the shared city concept, or conduct any other activities related to a pre-2028 future stadium site, without an agreement with the City of St. Petersburg. The Rays' general counsel also confirmed that all conversations related to Montreal were limited to the time period after expiration of the use agreement."
MAYBE STU IS SERIES ABOUT COULD WORK...AT AL LANGSternberg took an early shot at his critics, saying "this is not a page out of a playbook to gain leverage," and suggesting the unprecedented sister-city arrangement was credible. "We all can - and - do find problems in new things, especially when listening to the blaring voice of social media these days."

So despite Sternberg's lack of clarity on many logistical questions, it was clear from some of his responses he has thought about exactly where the Rays could play open-aired games the first half of the MLB season: Al Lang Stadium.

As Florida Politics wrote last week, Sternberg has always loved the idea of playing baseball along St. Pete's waterfront. That's the reason Sternberg chose the Dali Museum for his Tuesday press conference.

And, unlike his proposed 2008 sail stadium idea, Sternberg wouldn't necessarily need voter approval to get major stadium construction done this time. He purchased the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer club, who received voter approval in 2017 to assume long-term control of Al Lang Stadium.

Sternberg also had a message for critics who say the team wouldn't draw any better for 40 games than it does for 81, suggesting a reduced supply of games would help pack the stands early in the season.

HOW WOULD MONEY WORKSternberg said he had no idea how two regions would each afford a new ballpark, and he didn't offer any contributions himself.

Nor did Sternberg specify a preference between St. Petersburg and Tampa for the site of a new ballpark, but it isn't hard to figure out his preference: Pinellas County, where bed tax revenues are robust and available.

The Rays already have rights to some redevelopment revenues derived from the 85 prime downtown acres underneath Tropicana Field and its parking lots, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has also suggested general revenue dollars could be on the table if the team were to stay in the city long-term (albeit, prior to the split-season pitch).

As for the bed tax, Pinellas' beaches keep the money pouring into tourist tax coffers, whereas Hillsborough County is largely tapped out, paying for three other stadiums already.

Sternberg didn't say how much a new stadium would cost him - or taxpayers - but it's safe to say a smaller, part-time, open-aired stadium would be far lower than the $900 million stadium pitched in Ybor. 

We'll find out if he played this hand well - hit Tampa Bay with sticker shock in Ybor, then settle for something a lot more practical later?

WHAT EXACTLY IS STERNBERG ASKING FOR?The Rays opened their press conference with nine minutes of accomplishments they wanted to make sure everyone in Tampa Bay was aware of: from actions in the community to progressive policies. 

It was clear Sternberg was asking the region to forget any ill-will that may have built up in the past.

Then, he asked for the region to simply have an open-mind.

"What happens next, I do not know," Sternberg said. "But even though is seems like a long-shot concept and a cockamamie idea...we really feel great about it and believe it can be done."

That was the public ask. But read between the lines, and Sternberg was also clearly asking for support for the taxpayer subsidies to make it happen...as well as an enormous request from St. Petersburg: permission to talk to Montreal about playing games there prior to 2027.

Mayor Kriseman just responded to the press conference, saying the city would not help fund a stadium for a part-time team and the Rays need to re-establish a "good working relationship" with his office, but you can bet permission to discuss relocating home games to Montreal won't be part of that anytime soon.

THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF LOSING 41 HOME GAMES A YEARSternberg, who spent years talking about how valuable the Rays were to the region, talked repeatedly about the economic engine the sister-city arrangement would create for the region.

In short, he suggested losing 41 home games a year - while also paying for a new Rays stadium - would pay for itself, as new Canadian tourists would come down to see their "home" team early in the season.

Back-of-the-napkin math on this suggests St. Pete would need tens - or even hundreds - of thousands of new Canadian tourists to make this work, which seems somewhat ridiculous, given that no Montreal fan is going to want to watch their team in Florida's June humidity when they could wait three weeks and watch them up north in July.

You could also simply count all the empty seats at Blue Jays' spring training games in Dunedin to know hundreds of thousands of fans aren't coming down to watch their home team play baseball in Florida.

Could a sister-city arrangement create new economic opportunities for Tampa Bay? Absolutely. But enough to pay for a new stadium? Of course not.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Monday, June 24, 2019

Stu Sternberg's Latest Pitch is Just His Latest in a Long Line of Non-Threat Threats

The latest overtures from Rays' owner Stu Sternberg - that the only way to keep MLB in Tampa Bay long-term is a longshot plan to share the team with Montreal - appear to be little more than a reminder that the region to get off its collective butt and help finance him a stadium.
In fact, that makes at least a half-dozen major "non-threat threats" Sternberg has delivered to Tampa Bay in the last nine years, as he tries to wiggle out of an otherwise-ironclad stadium contract he purchased back in 2005.
A brief history:
  • June 2010 - Sternberg says the only way "for this asset to be preserved" is a new stadium, and if not, there are "five markets" that would be better homes for the team.
  • Oct. 2011 - Sternberg says MLB will "vaporize" the Rays within 9-12 years without a new stadium (it hasn't).
  • Jan. 2013 - Sternberg suggests to Hillsborough Co. commissioners the league would move or contract the team if a new stadium wasn't built.
  • Dec. 2014 - Sternberg says team is "doomed to leave" without a new stadium, he was done re-negotiating with St. Pete (alas, he wasn't), and he'll sell the team by 2023 if he doesn't have a new stadium.
  • May 2016 - The Rays will have to leave Tampa Bay if businesses don't step up and spend money on MLB.
Each non-threat threat resulted in a predictable cycle of headlines, news reports, opinion columns, and countless hours of sports talk speculation.
But what none of them have produced yet is real, tangible progress on the stadium saga. 
You can't blame Sternberg for trying; his hands are tied, and to improve his bottom line, he has to find a way to move the needle.
It's straight out of the Pro Sports Ownership 101 syllabus: "a savvy negotiator creates leverage."
However, Sternberg does have some leverage, and he's using it: St. Petersburg, anxious to redevelop the 85 acres Tropicana Field and its parking lots sit on, also has its hands tied by the stadium stalemate.
The city cannot move forward with its much-anticipated (and lucrative) redevelopment without cooperation from the Rays. St. Pete's contract with the team also requires it to pay out 50% of redevelopment revenues to the team as long as its playing at the Trop.
So you can see why the financial situation isn't as dire as the Rays may want some to believe. You can also see why continuing the stalemate may not be in St. Pete's best financial interests, either.
Unfortunately, when hundreds of millions of dollars are at-stake, negotiations move along at a snail's pace.
Sternberg's next non-threat threat is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, where he'll hold a press conference at St. Pete's Dali Museum. Expect a surreal scene.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook

Thursday, June 20, 2019

What Exactly is Stu Sternberg Leveraging with the Tampa Bay/Montreal Split Season Idea?

Just as President Trump can dictate an entire news cycle with a single tweet, the Rays have done the same in Tampa Bay, sending the entire region (and baseball world) into a frenzy by leaking news that they want to explore splitting their 81-game home schedule between two markets, Tampa Bay and Montreal.

However, as with any sensational tweet, it's important to sometimes take a step back and ask, "is this realistic?" 

Because in the case of the Rays, a split season may be nothing more than fodder to fill a news rundown. It also appears to be a possible way for the franchise and Major League Baseball to leverage public opinion on the stadium stalemate in Tampa Bay.

By the time this story is published, every news site across West/Central Florida will have posted a report detailing the unprecedented split-season idea thrown out by the Rays and MLB, a concept team owner Stu Sternberg said (in a prepared statement) was "worthy of serious exploration."

But let's focus on how much of a longshot this idea is. Not only did St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman say his city already shot the idea down (the Rays cannot talk to other cities about home games outside the Trop prior to 2027), but the money also doesn't make sense.

Neither Tampa nor Montreal have been close to cobbling together the billion dollars necessary to build a new stadium for 81 home games, so it doesn't seem very likely they'd have more luck on a stadium for only 40-ish games.

And St. Pete, which has been anxious to move past this never-ending soap opera so it can redevelop its 85 acres of prime downtown land before the economy slows down - with or without the Rays - would have very little to gain by continuing to subsidize a team that's home only 40 nights a year while leaving a giant gaping hole in its redevelopment plans the other 325 nights.

Of course, as White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf pointed out after using Tampa Bay to get himself a new Chicago stadium, "a savvy negotiator creates leverage."

So what are the Rays and MLB trying to leverage? Three possibilities:

1. Maybe Stu Sternberg really does believe some best-of-both-worlds situation exists where he can keep the fan base he's built up in Tampa Bay while also landing a new subsidized stadium in baseball-starved Montreal. But Sternberg, an astute businessman, knows this is unlikely.

2. Maybe it's the next step in the team fleeing to Canada. Former St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster, who has always claimed Canada was Sternberg's end-game, said Thursday in quite unflattering terms, "this is the Rays' way to mitigate damages to (St. Pete) while they transition to a permanent home in Montreal...the Rays want a wife and a mistress, and believe that everyone should be fine with that. That's not how this works. It's time to show the Rays the door right now...they don't deserve St. Pete."

3. Despite all his frustrations, there are two things Stu Sternberg loves about St. Petersburg: the waterfront, where he initially pitched a new stadium in 2008, and the Trop site redevelopment revenues he stands to collect 50% of, for as long as the Rays play ball in St. Pete. So could Sternberg be envisioning a future where the Rays play 41 games a year at Al Lang Stadium (which he now controls through his ownership of the Rowdies) while also collecting revenues from the city's redevelopment rights where the Trop currently sits? As President Trump's tweets remind us, everything is negotiable.

In fact, it's worth pointing out that during last year's Ybor City stadium press conference, where Sternberg was pitching a Rays move across the bay, he still seemed interested in finding a way to tap that St. Petersburg redevelopment money, even after he left the Trop.

So while neither the Rays nor MLB are hurting for money, businesses don't profit off new stadiums if they have to pay for them themselves.

FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter
FOLLOW: Shadow of the Stadium on Facebook