Stuart Sternberg spoke up. St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster got pissed.

Then Sternberg did something we did not see coming. He basically called Tampa-St. Pete a crappy baseball market

“If I were just coming into this, and you dropped me in the middle of the United States, this isn’t going to be one of the top five markets that doesn’t have baseball,” Sternberg said. “But we’re here. Our fans are here.”

Wait, you say. There are five markets better than this one? Five empty markets?

“Yes,” Sternberg said.

Really?

“At least five,” he said.

There are places he could move, Sternberg said, where the Rays would be among baseball’s best 10 markets. However, he says, he is thinking about only Tampa Bay.

Did you see what he did there? Sternberg just threatened to move without actually threatening to move. If this were a Spaghetti Western, Clint Eastwood just pulled his coat aside to make sure the bad guy saw his gun.

Remember folks, the contract keeping the Rays in The Trop, is also the only thing keeping the Rays in Florida. Keep that in mind if this ever goes to court.

And you gotta love the Beautiful Girls tone of the above statement: Hey,you’re not a supermodel, but I guess I’ll marry you anyway. Sternberg would rather be in “at least” five other cities. But he’ll take Tampa, because it is better than the alternative.

And just like that, we went from Sternberg making a statement confirming everything we already knew to something that escalated quickly…We mean, that really got out of hand fast. It jumped up a notch.

When does Matt Silverman kill somebody with a trident?

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37 Comments

  1. Bob says:

    I think Sternberg really messed up here. He seemed to have all the goodwill, but I can't agree with him here and I think this changes how people think of the situation.

    First of all there is no way there are 5 better baseball markets then here. No way in the world. It's a total lie. There are similar markets that he could move to, but none that are clearly better.

    Second, the ABC report shows that the Trop has about half as many people within 30min drive time then the next closest city. I really don't think the fans here are worse then many other baseball cities. If there was a more central location. I am sure it would work.

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    • Bob says:

      I don't think the threat to move is a false one, but at least 5 is a stretch.

      I really don't think Brooklyn or Hartford are options and I can't believe the other 3 are top 10 baseball markets or anything more then marginally better then this area at best especially if they had a more centralized stadium location in the Tampa Bay area.

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      I agree. I think you can come up with 5 just on face-value. But I think you can also find problems with those also. For example, I have long thought NYC can support a 3rd team, but obviously there are some huge territorial hurdles there that are even bigger now that Yankees have the YES network and Mets have SNY.

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  2. John says:

    I don't get this either. Bill Foster was the bad guy. Why would Stu also want to be the bad guy?

    Stuusually thinks everything through so part of me believes he wants to be the bad guy which makes me even more worried about this teams future here.

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  3. Mike says:

    I dont think the lease would have that much of an impact should the team decide to move to Connecticut or somewhere else with a large market and money to build a stadium. The Rays would have to pay substantial damages for breaching the lease, but if a new market really wanted the team they could probably come up with the dough. When you are building a $500 mil stadium for the new team, whats another $40 mil (I dont know the real number, but I would be shocked if it was more than that) for the city you are taking the team from?

    However, I think the lease does have an impact on a move to Tampa. There is simply no way Tampa has the money to build a stadium right now, and adding the extra costs associated with breaching the lease makes the problem that much worse. St. Pete needs to recognize that having the Rays in Tampa is better than not having the Rays at all and work with Tampa, Hillsborough County, Sarasota, and anyone else who will contribute to keeping the Rays in this area. My suggestion, play at the trop for 5 more years while all of the local communities put together financing for a new stadium in a central location (Tampa), then move to the new stadium. Maybe after the Rays move to Tampa we can rename them the St. Petersburg Rays.

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    • John says:

      Mike,

      People always assume a move to a new stadium happens a lot quicker then they really do.

      If they get approval within the next year or two most estimates have a new stadium opening between 2017-2020. That is why Stu is pressing so hard. Time is getting short.

      Its not like they get approval and then next season they are in a new stadium. The Rays will be at the trop for at least the next 5 years.

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    • Michael says:

      I agree that the Professor's tweet is wrong when he says the Trop lease is the only thing keeping the team in FL. I would put at least two factors ahead of the lease:

      1. Baseball just doesn't move teams, at least until the situation is completely hopeless. Before the Expos moved to Washington D.C. the last team to move was when Bud Selig bought the Seattle Pilots and moved them to Milwaukee in like 1970. Look how long the Marlins and Twins put up with terrible stadium situations until their deals got done. This might change in, say, 5 years if the area makes it abundantly clear that they will not be building a new park, but until then I don't think MLB will give up on this market that easily. MLB has been extremely patient in this regard.

      2. The mood for public financing of sports stadiums around the country is not good right now. Maybe Sternberg is right that there at least 5 better markets out there, but none of these places seem willing to use taxpayer money to build them a ballpark. Unless Stu and Silverman have had private meetings with other cities that said otherwise.

      In the end, I don't think that use agreement is worth a whole lot, at least in terms of forcing the team to stay. No court is going to grant an injunction or anything that keeps them in the Trop. When has that ever happened? This guy who called in to Steve Duemig's show yesterday lives in Washington D.C., works in the area of sports business, and is from this area. When Duemig asked him what the Rays could do to get out of the agreement, he basically said the team can move and the City really can't do anything to stop them. Sure, they'll sue, but so what? Apparently the City of Cleveland's lawsuit vs Art Modell for moving the Browns to Baltimore is still unresolved. There are still open lawsuits from the City of Oakland vs Art Davis from when he moved the Raiders to LA, and they've moved back! If the Rays were to move after the bonds are paid off and the City is allowed to sell the Trop site for something close to the $60 million they were offered a couple of years ago, they'd have even less of a case.

      Yeah, the Mayor came off as hard-headed yesterday, but he was voted in to protect the City's interests and I find it hard to fault him for starting off a negotiation with anything less than his strongest position. If he agreed to let the Rays consider Tampa right away, they might have a deal to leave in a hurry. By saying he expects the team to honor the lease, that could at least give him enough leverage to force the Rays to give St Pete the first shot at a ballpark in the Gateway area.

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      • Cork Gaines says:

        Two things to consider:

        1) supposedly Selig did indeed consider contracting the Rays several years ago, so MLB has already shown that they are worried about the viability of this baseball market.

        2) taxpayer money is the norm, but there have been exceptions. AT&T in SanFrancisco was privately financed. If another city wants a team bad enough, there are ways around that.

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        • Bob says:

          Michael I see your points, but I'm going to agree with Cork.

          Selig has let it be known for years that Tropicana field is unsatsifactory. I think you could say MLB has been patient already.

          I also disagree with your take on the mayor's position. This may seem like the start of negotiations, but it's not. Posturing and stances have been going on for awhile now. He needed to give a little in this instance. The Rays knew his stance about staying in the Trop until 2027. The Rays have come out and said this 100% will not work for us and have provided information backing that. He can not just stick to his guns. He has to give a little. Like discussing the Carillon site

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        • Michael says:

          If you really believe the contraction talk (which was what? almost 10 years ago now?) was anything more than a ploy to light a fire under the politicians in Minnesota, then why on earth do the Rays and Marlins still exist today? If contraction of two clubs was truly as necessary and urgent as Bud made it sound at the time then those two teams (and/or the A's) would have been long gone. Miami only recently approved their stadium deal (it looked really bad for a while there too) and the only thing that's changed in the Rays situation is they suddenly got really good two years ago. It was a total crock from the get-go.

          Now I do think a lot of what Stu has said publicly over the last day was to a large extent the result of pressure he's getting from Selig and the other owners. The Rays have been a real drag on MLB's total revenues and other owners (read, Steinbrenners and Henry) can't be too pleased that he's using their money from revenue sharing to kick their butts. I think it was among the remarks Stu made in Spring Training when he said "this situation can't continue, my partners at MLB won't allow it to continue". With that said though, for now I think they're content he at least got the discussion started and will give him plenty of time -- two to three years? -- to work something out. You can't say MLB has been patient already when it was barely 24 hours ago that Sternberg made serious statements for the first time about the need for a new park. If absolutely nothing changes between now and the start of the 2012 or 2013 season then maybe they consider allowing the team to move.

          As far as the mayor's stance, I don't like it but I can see where he's coming from. If his reaction to Stu's announcement was "Yes, I agree the Rays should consider a stadium in Hillsborough County as well", I think you can be pretty sure the Rays would initiate talks with Tampa/Hillsborough immediately and give a lot less consideration to a possible Carrilon proposal. And his posturing seems to be working if you read the reactions by Iorio and the Hillsborough County commissioners. They're scared to death to say anything right now, whereas they might be full-speed-ahead in efforts to land the Rays had Foster said it was OK to discuss it. In the end I think the Rays end up in Tampa anyway, but he does not help himself or do his constituents justice by immediately allowing the team to ignore the terms of the agreement.

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  4. Aaron says:

    this development scares me.

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  5. Carey says:

    I'm sorry, but Shelton and the Times really dropped the ball here (I'm assuming these comments were from their meeting with Stu) as this clearly calls for a follow up question:

    "Such as?"

    It's one thing to throw that line out, but quite another to back it up with concrete examples. If he thinks there are five markets out there without baseball that would automatically go to top-10, I'd like to know what they are.

    Conn. is a pipe dream. Think you have problems with fan loyalties in Tampa Bay? Good luck with that.

    Charlotte, San Antonio and maybe Nashville make the most sense. But top 10 Baseball markets? And there are divided loyalties there too (Braves, Astros, Rangers).

    Maybe Portland, but that's a smaller market than Tampa Bay.

    Seriously. How can you let him make that statement and not ask him to back it up. Weak journalism.

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  6. Gus says:

    There isn't even one better market without baseball, much less five, especially when you consider that none of the local governments in the US has any money. Moreover, he can't move to the northeast. The A's can't move to San Jose without violating the Giants territorial rights. The Nationals pay the Orioles a ransom annually for the privilege of infringing on their territory. He has no leverage. He sees there is no political will to build a new stadium (and maybe he realizes that doesn't solve his problem anyway).

    I would like some explanation on how he could possibly have lost money on this team in the last few years. If it is true, then that is proof positive he should sell the team immediately, because that makes him the worst businessman I've ever seen. Of course, it is patently false, and it is just one of those statements he can make and nobody will challenge him on it.

    I've come to view the Sternberg ownership group as guys who came in for the quick turnaround and now want to flip the team (and best case now that they are in the MLB club, go get the Mets). So if I were Tampa Bay leadership, I'd set about trying to find a local owner who wants to own the team in Tampa Bay and who has money to invest. Really, this has been the problem for the better part of 30 years since the baseball quest began in earnest. Ownership weathly enough to afford the team and run it right but with local ties.

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    • Michael says:

      I believe Stu when he says the team has lost somewhere between $10 and $100 million since he's owned them. Of course I also think the franchise is now worth significantly more than what he paid for it to make up for the difference if he were to sell tomorrow. Then again, who would buy the team right now knowing the stadium mess they have to walk into?

      I think you're right, though, that he'd have a lot tougher of a time to move the team somewhere than he seems to indicate when he made those comments.

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      • Gus says:

        The stadium mess is a lot less messy, actually, then when Sternberg bought the team. To his everlasting credit, his group finished the Trop off in a manner suitable to MLB standards (something the original ownership never did). The Trop debt and the Trop lease are now also 5 years closer to being paid off and expiring, respectively. These facts make the team more valuable, not less valuable. The absolute worst case is the team says we'll stay, but only if you give us a more favorable lease, give us the facility itself, whatever. With each passing year, the local governments (City and County) have more and more ability to do just that.

        Piling more debt on this team is the absolute wrong answer in my view; any incremental increase in attendance is outweighed dramatically by the costs paying the debt off of a new facility. That makes the Rays less competitive in the AL East, not more competitive, no matter who owns them.

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    • jim says:

      with the 35-40 million that we recieve yearly from mlb, it's hard to imagine that stu has lost anywhere near 100 million.

      besides he bought them for 200 and they're now valued at 320.

      once again, they raised season ticket prices, walkup prices, did away with most free parking, how did they think that this would improve attendance? they didn't, if attendance increased AGAIN, or stayed the same, then where's the push to move out of the trop. the attendance has improved EVERY year since 2005.

      even with a new stadiium in tampa, we're still probably not going to average the mlb average, and when the new is gone, we're back to 14k on a weekday vs kc.

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      • Bob says:

        Jim,

        Didn't we totally debunk your whole theory in the other thread.
        Why do you keep feeding us this BS?

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        • jim says:

          bob, you didn't debunk crap.

          how do you sell more tix when you increase prices and take away free parking?

          like i said, it's hard to said it's hard to make a case for moving when attendance has gone up every year since 05.

          bob, what do you think we'll average a night in the new ball park? 1st year? 5th year?

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      • MJ says:

        Jim, even though all of these things increased, they are still low compared to the avg. Tickets are crazy cheap, decent packages, and you can still park free w/ a car pool. And the attendance numbers have barely gone up, and where else could they have gone, down? Whats your actually beef w/ getting a new stadium location, cause you aren't really saying why you don't want one. Do you live down the street from the trop?

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        • jim says:

          i live in sarasota and attended 35 in 09, 45+ in 08, 30+ in 07. frankly, i think the rays took a piss on their season ticket holders on a budget last year. my weekend season tickets in the upper level went thru the roof. they've gone up every year, but 35% in a single year is rediculous.

          why? because market research said these tickets were priced to low and to book the likes of adam lambert and vanilla ice? sorry but i not a fan of the saturday night concerts, and judging from the numbers this year, neither are a lot of people.

          so basically they were a good deal last year, but not anymore. and they surely won't be a good deal in a new stadium. i've been to one game this year, and i sat in my season ticket section. i asked the usher how many people renewed and he said literally a handful.

          if the average family can't afford season ticket, and there is little to no corporate help, then you're left with walkups. the rays chose walkups over their dedicated season ticket holders. that's why fridays and sundays now look more like tuesdays.

          i spent thousands of dollars on tickets, shirts, and food over the past few years at the trop. a new stadium can't depend entirely on walkups. so after the new is gone, so will the crowds.

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          • jim says:

            crazy cheap?

            compared to the 2 mlb teams closest to us? no there about the same if not more.

            compared to NY, BOSTON, Baltimore, sure, but how many $2000/month one bedroom apts are there in the tampa area, it's all relative.

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          • Bob says:

            Jim,

            I know we have different views on this issue, but I have to say it's awesome that you make it to that many games a year. Keep supporting the Rays. Let's get the Padres tonight

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  7. d-money says:

    Its all posturing. Just like when the Bucs wanted a new stadium. We heard all of the same things then...but times are different now.

    I think he should be very careful.

    He has a lot of people on his side right now. If he keeps making inflammatory remarks like that it could go away very quickly.

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  8. Aaron says:

    Bingo!

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  9. Jordi says:

    The problem here is we have politicians on one side and businessmen on the other and media guys who aren't experts in either.
    The St Pete Times has that great political checking section with their paper. Can't they employing them to focus on the Rays situation? This is out of the realm of sports reporters.

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  10. Boxauthor says:

    I live in Orlando, and a coworker and I were just discussing that we enjoy going to the games, but a late night drive home after a game is really undesirable. I think there is a fan base in Orlando that would like to go see more games. It would be nice (supposing the new rail plans go through) for the stadium (wherever it is) to be at or near a station. I don't know that there are enough fans here to merit a move to the Orlando area, but I think the two series they played here in the last couple years, sold out. Should be enough to keep Orlando in the plans for a new stadium. Might even get some fans from Daytona if the rail goes that far.

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  11. Alex says:

    I don't want to lose my Rays....I've grown up with them since I was 8.

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  12. Joe D. says:

    Screw all of this. Wade Davis needs to pitch at least 7 good innings tonight, and the Rays need to take 2 of 3 from the Padres. This crap better not become a distraction like the Kazmir trade became last year. If it does, I'll never forgive Stu, no reason this couldn't have waited until the end of the season.

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  13. Ro says:

    I'm glad some others said this is all posturing. I said that to a friend just an hour ago. This reminds me of when the manager gets himself tossed to fire up the team and the fans. I'm not saying a move won't actually happen, but it sure seems like a lot of drama, fitting since we just fell out of first.

    And moving the Rays to CT is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Yeah, lets move the Rays to where all the Boston fans are. That makes a lot of sense. That's just freakin laughable.

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  14. Ro says:

    Joe D, amen. I'm worried about this series and I'm really worried about Wade. The D-Backs gave us some help last night but I doubt that'll continue.

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  15. Amanda says:

    Cork, isn't it funny how you were lambasted for griping about attendence earlier this year? Who's laughing now?

    I wish I could laugh at the thought of the Rays potentially moving to Charlotte, but I see no joy in it. But I also don't see Charlotte as a viable market. The Panthers have a hard time winning over their own fans because too many people won't give up their Redskins or Cowboys allegiances. (Sound familiar?) And because many Northeasterners are starting to use North Carolina as an alternative to retire instead of Florida (commonly known as "halfbacks"), more and more Yankees/Red Sox fans are moving in. Also, this is still BIG-TIME Braves territory. Also, the Panthers fans have a label of "the wine and cheese crowd" ... showing up fashionably late, leaving fashionably early, and getting mad if people stand up to cheer.

    Then don't get me started on the Bobcats. People are still mad at the old NBA team for leaving, so they're taking it out on the new one.

    Although, we may see the first case of a franchise moving its major league team to be closer to its AAA affiliate instead of the other way around. Heh.

    I still say the St. Pete mayor comes off the worst in all of this. His stubborness, pride, and ego have caused all of this. For him to not even think about it moving to the Clearwater area -- let alone Tampa -- is spiteful. It rests squarely on his shoulders if the Rays move. Period. The Rays have tried nine ways to Sunday, including coming up with their own plans (which was used as toilet paper by the mayor), and participating in the ABC Coalition. And I think they have every right to think and talk about moving and/or selling if this mayor is forcing them into a situation in which they are guaranteed to lose buckets of money.

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  16. Joe says:

    I saw these comments last night and I was shocked. I have had the chance to let it marinate here. It is so amazing the schools of opinion and thought and how Stu is a fabulous owner and Stu is greedy.

    I really thought that Sternberg's comments in regards to five better cities is a revealing look inside his soul. Let's face it, the folks at 620 WDAE do a good job for what they do, but face it folks, they have a franchise to protect. I think only one side of the story is coming out and other points are being glossed over. Stuart Sternberg still does not have a residence in Pinellas or Hillsborough Counties. He does not have a proper pointman to act as a liason between himself, his interests and civic leaders. If he wants to get this park built, he is going to have to show more fortitude on his own end to get it done.

    He apparently has had three different takes between comments to Mayor Bill Foster, the press conference we all saw, and then apparently to the editorial boards and columnists. Face it, wouldn't it be in Sternberg's best interests to be as upfront and even more frank with Mayor Foster than with anyone else? What purpose does talking about five other cities being better than Tampa Bay be other than self-serving?

    I agree with the comments that Jim made. Unfortunately, there is a battle of the soul between 620 WDAE being the main broadcast partner of the Rays as well as the St. Petersburg Times and the public. Believe what you will.

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  18. John says:

    Is he kidding? Five markets better than Tampa Bay? If there were five markets out there, two should be brought into MLB, so we can have 32 teams and realign for fairly scheduled interleague matchups which could be rotated equally each season. Charlotte and Nashville are possible, but Atlanta draws from the Southeast areas as the late Skip Caray always mentioned how every interstate in the south goes through Atlanta. Indianapolis really should be home to theChicago White Sox. They would be in it's own market, and not have to try to get attention from the Cubs. It would still be in the Midwest as well. San Antonio will get an NFL team before MLB, just not the economics for baseball. Why not reconsider Montreal? Sorry, no one will play there, MLB really screwed the Expos in l994 and many haven't forgiven them since. Perhaps Orlando would be a good place. Central Florida seems to share the market for Rays baseball, Bucs NFL, and Lightning NHL. Have the Rays and Magic in Orlando, and keep the Lightning and Buccaneers in Tampa Bay.

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