Much has been written recently about the future of the Tampa Bay Rays and if that future includes a move across the bay to Tampa. These reports have already led to threatened litigation from the city of St. Pete and what appears to be the first steps in a looming battle between the two cities to be the future home of the Rays.

This past weekend, Stuart Sternberg indicated that he was surprised by the lack of unity between the two cities and left us wondering why the two sides cannot work together to come up with a solution that is good for the Rays and will keep both Tampa and St. Pete happy.

Seem impossible? Maybe not.

Below is our proposal for the Rays to split their home schedule between The Trop and a new stadium to be built in Tampa.

The proposal

  • A new privately-financed stadium built in Tampa. Without going into the details, our gut says the Channelside-area is the best spot for a new stadium.
  • After completion of the new stadium, Tampa Bay Rays home games will be divided between the new Tampa stadium and The Trop as follows:
    • In years 1-5, home games will be split evenly, with 40 or 41 games played in Tampa and the remaining in St. Pete.
    • From year 6 until 2027 (the end of The Trop’s lease) the Rays will play 7-9 series a year at The Trop (20-30 games), with the majority of the schedule played in Tampa.
    • Until 2027, any home playoff games in even-numbered years will be played in Tampa. Any home playoff games in odd-numbered years will be played in St. Pete.
  • If the city of St. Pete builds a new multi-use stadium prior to the expiration of the current lease at The Trop (2027), games would once again be split evenly between the new stadium in Tampa and the new stadium in St. Pete.

Financially, the city of St. Pete would take a direct hit from the reduced number of games at The Trop. According to the Trop’s lease, and based on the Cost Price Index, the Rays currently give the city of St. Pete approximately $.654 per ticket sold (~$1.2M in ’09) . To compensate for the reduction in games (and tickets sold) at the Trop, we propose that the Rays double this amount in years 1-5 to $1.30 per ticket. And after year 5, that number will triple to $1.95 per ticket.

The benefits…

  • The Rays get a new stadium in Tampa without having to fight a lengthy legal battle.
  • Total attendance for Rays games hosted in both cities would likely be higher than if played in just one city. In addition to bringing the Rays closer to a larger percentage of the local population, the reduced number of games in each city, will increase demand for tickets in those games.
  • Tampa gets 41 major league baseball games a year in years 1-5 and up to 61 games a year after that.
  • St. Pete gets to keep the Rays, without having to build a new stadium at this time.
  • The Rays can potentially get a second new stadium in 2027 or move to Tampa full-time after the expiration of The Trop’s lease.

A franchise using more than one home in the same season is not unprecedented. Several teams have implemented a similar strategy with success, including the Green Bay Packers (1930s-1990s), Cleveland Indians (1932-1946), Boston Celtics (1975-1996), KC/Omaha Kings (1972-1975) and Montreal Expos (2003-2004).

Having Tampa and St. Pete share the Rays seems like a natural transition. The jersey already says “Tampa Bay.” Ok, actually they don’t. But the team name is “Tampa Bay.” Tampa and St. Pete should be working together. If they choose to fight, both could lose, and the new jerseys will say “San Antonio.”

 
 

28 Comments

  1. Obviously this is a very rough proposal. There are many financial and legal considerations that most of us dont understand when it comes to this type of business. With that being said, I would love to hear what you guys think. What are the problems with this proposal? Do you like it? Can it work?

    • Joel says:

      I remember joking about a joint custody idea the last time the stadium was in the news, but I’m not sure it would work. I agree with Jason on the other events front – I’m not sure the city can handle two stadiums if one of them is only handling about 40 baseball games per year. Too many places for concerts already, including the music-only Amphitheater.

      Also:

      - I could see enough of a fight over who gets the 41st game – imagine the fight over who gets the Yankees and Red Sox series. Or who gets the Smashmouth concert?

      - Assuming the Tampa stadium were open-air, can you imagine the incessant snide comments from St. Pete every time a scheduled Tampa game gets rained out?

      - If you think Tampa fans come up with enough excuses now to not go to St. Pete, imagine if they could just say, “I’ll just wait until they’re back in Tampa.”

      - What about season tickets? Season tickets probably couldn’t count for both stadiums unless they make the layout identical.

      • definitely fair points.

        I did think about the scheduling problems and just assumed that would be part of the negotiation with some sort of even split with the Yankees and Red Sox games.

        Yes, fewer fans will trek across the bridge, but in the end, more are going to games because they dont have to.

        Season tickets are important and my assumption is that full-season packages would be almost non-existent. But I also think sales of partial-packages would increase greatly.

  2. BJ is my Homeboy says:

    on the surface it seems reasonable. obviously any new stadium is going to need more uses than just one sport, but if new stadiums can be built for football (only 10 home games a year) then i dont see why you couldnt build one for baseball and less than 81 games.

  3. Joel says:

    I think you’re right about partial packages. I don’t think the Rays can possibly promote partial packages enough. All the boon economies and World Series in the world will probably never make the Rays a big full season ticket draw in this area. I have to believe those partials are the lifeblood of this team. A split in the season would probably make those partials much more attractive to locals.

    I do think it would be fun for the cities to see which park gives the Rays a better home record (not that they don’t already have enough reasons to bicker – I’d like to think it would be a friendly rivalry, but who knows).

    One potential plus: We could slip Kevin Kennedy a mixed-up schedule, cause him to keep going to the wrong park and miss the games.

  4. Gus says:

    Haven’t we already tried this with Orlando? 9,000 a game should prove the point that a team with 2 homes has none.

    Look — the downtown St. Pete location may not be ideal, but if people love the team, they’ll go. Although I would love to see a test where say, the Rays play at (renamed) Steinbrenner Field for 40 dates and the Trop for 41 dates and see if the sibling rivalry (and fan comfort) would produce dramatically different attendance. I think the air conditioning would win out over the Tampa location except for the hardened Tampan natives who regard St. Petersburg as the inferior city. Again, absent a retractable roof stadium for $500M, there is no better place to play baseball in June, July, August and September in Florida than the Trop. It ain’t perfect, but its better than being inside. Now if the Rays would just open up the wallet for some new Field Turf (8 years old now?) and focus on winning the hearts and minds of the locals, they can worry about a new stadium later.

  5. Political_Man says:

    It’s a fun thing to talk about how it would work but not a very realistic alternative. If the argument is that the Rays can’t compete in Tropiciana Field for 82 games, I don’t think playing 41 games there makes any sense. This is something I’ve talk about on other boards one of three things HAVE to happen for a new stadium to be built in the Tampa Bay Area:

    Either:

    1. City of St. Petersburg has to build/finance a new stadium

    OR

    2. City of St. Petersburg has to decide not to build/finance a new stadium and waive the penalty for breaking the lease so long as the team remains in one of the surrounding counties

    3. City of Tampa has to build/finance a new stadium and compete with other areas in the country who will be making stadium proposals (including paying any fees associated with breaking the lease at Tropicana Field.

    • i hear what you are saying but….

      St. Pete has shown little desire to do (1) and I am not sure why they would ever do (2).

      as for breaking the lease. I have read the lease, and best I can tell there is nothing in there about fees for breaking the lease. in fact, the contract makes it pretty clear that getting out of the deal is not to happen and that buying out of the deal is not an option.

      • I’m not going to count Stu or MLB out when it comes to getting a new stadium…regardless of the lease. That’s why the finger-in-the-ears stuff from St. Pete’s city leaders is so frustrating. There’s a snowball coming down the hill and they want to pretend like their contract will stop it. I don’t thing so. It’s better for them to get out in front of this and figure out a way to make the Rays happy. Unfortunately, there’s a very vocal majority in St. Pete that seems to think going to court is the best answer.

        As for your proposal, I’d prefer the Rays to get a new stadium SOMEWHERE in the Tampa Bay area. I really don’t care where. I just don’t want to see this dragged to the point where other cities are making plans. MLB went a long time without franchises in Florida. They could easily do it again.

      • Gus says:

        Let me note that of all the actors in this situation, the people who are out the most are (a) the property taxpayers of St. Petersburg and (b) the hoteliers/people who pay tourist taxes in Pinellas County. People in Tampa/Hillsborough have been all hat, no cattle for 30 years. The Pinellas/St. Pete taxpayers completely financed the Trop, gave $85M to the original Rays ownership group to finish the Trop for baseball and saw that money squandered. Just because the ownership group brought in a few new faces doesn’t mean that Naimoli still isn’t a huge beneficiary of that bargain. Stu bought his interest in the team on the cheap because Vince did such a poor job with the build-out of the Trop and the management of the team.

        So to suggest that the City should rip up its deal with the Rays in the 13th season of a 30 year deal seems a bit extreme to me, especially when we’ve had exactly two seasons of anywhere close to watchable baseball out of 12 seasons so far. Continue to build your fan base and you’ll get your new stadium. But not yet. Not ripe.

        • Nate says:

          Gus touches on the most disappointing part of this whole thing: the pace that this discussion has taken. There is no mistaking that Tropicana Field is 21 years old this year. By comparison, Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati was “alive” for 32 years. Give 3 years to construct, another 3 to haggle, I guess now’s about the time you would expect the discussion to start.

          The sad thing though is that St Petersburg went through over a decade of labor pains (from the early 80s until March of 1995) trying to give birth to a franchise. When they finally threw out the first pitch, the “honeymoon” period was painfully brief. Complaints right out of the gate, followed by brutal play on the field. We finally get a quality product and this talk is swirling. It’s very annoying, and is strips the City of a lot of satisfaction that they should feel from luring a team to begin with. I don’t blame the city’s elected officials for handling this poorly, but at the same time there is a greater good at stake and we can’t loose the team altogether in the long term.

          This has been an unfortunate series of events for many. Yes we have a team here, but it has come at a giant price, and we really haven’t seen the final tag yet. It’s hard not to think what would have transpired had City Council not pushed the stadium through back in 85/86.

        • You’re right, Gus. The taxpayers in St. Pete/Pinellas are out the most in this whole situation. But, that doesn’t change the fact that there’s a snowball rolling. Whether it’s right or it’s not, MLB & Rays ownership want a new stadium to increase the profit margins. They believe (mistakenly or not) that a New Stadium = Greater Profits. It has nothing to do with what’s going on the field.

          With that being said, it’s important for the leaders of St. Petersburg to get in front of this. I’m not suggesting they necessarily tear up the contract. But, refusing to hear the ABC report and threatening legal action is the type of move that will make all the time, effort, and cash St. Pete/Pinellas has invested in the Rays go to waste.

  6. Kevin says:

    I know what Solomon would suggest… Cut the Rays in half!

  7. Nate says:

    Didn’t read the comments yet, so I apologize if I’m being redundant, but the statement from your post I least agree with is:

    “Total attendance for Rays games hosted in both cities would likely be higher than if played in just one city. In addition to bringing the Rays closer to a larger percentage of the local population, the reduced number of games in each city, will increase demand for tickets in those games.”

    I don’t think either city has the capacity to support major league sports on their own. If you split a teams schedule up geographically citizens of each county are likely to consider restricting their attendance to the games played close by. So you would almost guarantee a drop in attendance by implementing this strategy. We need folks from both counties in the pool of potential customers for all games.

    I like your spirit though. We need a solution that keeps the Rays in the bay area. Most likely that would mean one side of the bay comes out as the proverbial loser, sadly.

  8. Ben says:

    I’ve given up on this issue.

    Either the complainers get over it and support the team, no matter where it is, or the team will move altogether. (Here come the Las Vegas Rays!)

    They won’t build a new stadium until support for the team is shown (which it has started to do).

  9. Mike says:

    In addition to the problems above, where is private financing for a stadium going to come from? Stu has already said he doesn’t have the money. No one else is going to build a stadium for him. There is no realistic chance of public funding for a stadium either (unless it somehow gets put into the federal budget as part of the health care bill, maybe someone should call Sen. Nelson and see if he can get another 500 mil for his vote). Tampa isn’t going to pay for it. Not anytime soon anyway.

    The Rays will be at the Trop for the foreseeable future. This is not a bad thing. The Trop is a fine place to watch a ball game. People need to realize that there is no new stadium anytime soon and just enjoy having a great MLB team to watch.

    • i agree with you on the Trop, but it just isn’t working and all the powers-that-be say the Rays need a new park. As for the funding. Stu said he cant pay for all of it. He was ready to pay about $150 million of his own money for the original proposal and emphasized the other day that he would probably do the same in the future. Of course, that still leaves ~$300 million unaccounted for. But when push comes to shove, I think the money wont be a problem. Stu will find somebody that wants a piece of the big league action.

      • leningan says:

        What happens to the proceeds of the (eventual) sale of the Trop? Could that (legally, or otherwise) go towards the $300m gap?

        • mike says:

          St pete owns the land. No way in hell they give any money from a sale to Tampa to build a stadium. Also, they tried to sell the land last year and the offers were really low. Apparently no one wants to pay a lot of money for a few acres of the ghetto in st pete.

  10. John says:

    Stu is surprised at the lack of unity btwn Tampa & St. Pete? Did he do any research before he bought the team?

    I’m beginning to think my admiration for the folks he hired (Friedman et al) has colored my opinion of Stu and given him a halo he doesn’t deserve. Seems like every time he opens his mouth lately, my response is “WTF?”

  11. Jason says:

    This is definitely an interesting proposal, really thinking outside of the box. However I don’t see a move to Hillsborough happening and I hope it doesn’t. In my opinion the downtown St. Pete area is one of the best in the bay area. I agree the Rays need a new stadium. Why not build where the trop is already located. If this doesn’t happen, a move further north in Pinellas it much more probable than a move to Tampa.

  12. Noah Pransky says:

    I actually like the idea…in spirit. But I don’t see the political powers ever coming together to make it work…nor do I see enough private money ever coming together to pay for a park.

    I can’t think of a single MLB/NFL/NBA/NHL venue constructed without public taxdollars….and a new Rays stadium certainly would not be the first to buck the trend.

  13. leningan says:

    Mike – I wasn’t suggesting the money go towards a stadium in tampa. I think the gateway is the most likely scenario… just was wondering whether the eventual sale is already earmarked for some civic purpose, or if it could be applied to a new stadium. As for the low offers, nothing is going to sell for top dollar right now. But, the trop site isn’t going to be sold right now either. By the time the site is ready to be sold (5 years?), it should bring out some more attractive offers. And if tampa wins out, then the sell/redevleopment of the trop site could help alleviate st. Pete’s pain…
    Maybe they could put Sun City North there? … I kid, I kid

    • Gus says:

      The only proposal that makes any sense to me is to effectively swap out the pari-mutuel land at Derby Lane for the Trop site, let gaming go in on the Trop site, put the new park on the Derby Lane site (which is close in size to the Trop site), use CRA financing on the Trop site to make that deal more feasible. Still have trouble financing the new stadium, unless the gaming site kicks money back to the Derby Lane project.

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