Rays owner Stuart Sternberg made comments in the locker room following the Rays elimination from the playoffs in which he suggested that the Rays are being held back by the lack of ticket sales, and indicated that if things don’t improve, the team would either move or be contracted.

Today, Sternberg addressed those comments and the ensuing criticisms in an email sent to season ticket holders (thanks to those of you that forwarded the letter).

In the letter, which can be read below, Sternberg doesn’t back down from his comments, saying it would be “disingenuous” to suggest everything is fine with the team. However, he does want it known that he is not complaining or blaming the fans.

Sternberg adds that the organization is “committed to doing all that [they] can to find solutions.”

We can quibble over whether the Rays are truly doing everything they can. But the lack of effort by the Rays to open any dialogue whatsoever with the city of St. Pete on the stadium issue seems to contradict this notion. At least that is the appearance on the surface.

As fans, we just want to know that Rays want to stay in the area. The rest is just details. But when there is no dialogue between the two sides, and the only word we hear on the issue all season  is “vaporize,” it is hard for us to be in an understanding mood.

“Thank you for being such a big part of a wonderfully improbable season!

I know you share my pride in our ballclub’s successes over the past six seasons. We are one of three teams to reach the Postseason three out of the past four years. To do it from the AL East, while winning the East twice, makes it all the sweeter.

Rays fans support the team in many ways. Perhaps they attend a few games each year, coordinate a group outing, or watch or listen from a distance. I am grateful for each and every Rays fan.

But it is our season ticket holders who have been and continue to be our foundation. Without your loyal support, we could not begin to do what we do. I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciate the time and hard-earned money you invest in the Rays. You are the ones who support the team through thick and thin. You spread word throughout our community about the great experiences you have at Tropicana Field, as well as your memories and friendships that are connected to Rays baseball.

We all care deeply about the organization. We want it to succeed. We want it to be a fixture in Tampa Bay. We want the seats filled, the atmosphere charged, and the play on the field to be of high quality. Each Spring, we want to look forward to the bright prospects of a new season.

As in the past, I will continue to communicate with you honestly and with candor.

I became the principal owner of the Rays in 2005 because I believed that Major League Baseball could thrive in Tampa Bay. The transformation of the franchise has been breathtaking: a rebranding of the team to become the Rays, significant investments in Tropicana Field, top notch fan experience and customer service, and, of course, development of an acclaimed baseball operations department.

Just as when this organization was “under construction” back in 2005, we continue to face major challenges. At that time, I said that there were no quick, easy fixes. I asked for patience as we built the Rays from a team that had never experienced success into what it is today.

Recently, I have acknowledged that the future of the Rays and Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay is precarious. I have expressed concern about the long-term health and vitality of our franchise. When asked by the press, I did not shy away from answering questions about attendance and our future. For the sake of our franchise, we cannot ignore these questions. Doing so would be a disservice to the organization, its employees and all of its loyal supporters.

Please do not take my remarks as a complaint — they were not intended to be. I was not pointing fingers. I was not blaming anyone. I do not mean to sound ungrateful to our fans for their support, and I certainly will not tell anyone how to spend his or her money. I was simply being forthright about a reality that must be faced. It would be easy to assure you and all Rays fans that everything will be fine, but that would be disingenuous.

It has been a thrilling past six years for the Rays. We have experienced success on the field that most everyone believed to be impossible. This success has exposed questions from which neither the Rays nor the Tampa Bay region can hide. I assure you that our organization is committed to doing all that we can to find solutions.

I am proud to be the principal owner of the Rays, and I am truly grateful for your support, dedication and passion. Thank you for being a season ticket holder. Your support does not go unnoticed by any of us within the organization.

I look forward to seeing you on Opening Day 2012 for the next edition of our Rays.

Sincerely,

Stuart Sternberg

 

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39 Comments

  1. Beth says:

    At least he recognized that he needed to say something conciliatory. I'll consider that a plus.

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    • J says:

      Beth,

      What about the issue regarding Stu lying about funds last year. When leaked documents came out contradicting his claims, I lost faith in his words.

      I'm not sure we should trust this guy. If he lied once, why would he not lie again?

      #occupythetrop

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      • Beth says:

        The only leaked documents I'm aware of where those posted on Deadspin, and those actually showed that the Rays were pretty much correct in their claims about how much they made and lost. It was the Miami owners who looked foolish at the time. Here's a link to an article about that: http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/leaked-financial-documents-may-aid-tampa-bay-rays-cause-in-stadium-debate/1117203.

        So, J, I'm not sure what you are talking about.

        And by the way, when you find a baseball owner who is 100% truthful about the business side of baseball, could you let us all know?

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        • J says:

          Right, because it's either 100 percent or 0 percent... zero sum much?

          Let me find the docs.

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        • J says:

          Yuuuup.

          Leaked docs showed that the Rays turned a profit. Sternberg said they didn't.

          John Romano suggested that the docs proved the Rays right, but... still they directly contradicted Stu. 11 million profit. The .001 percent.

          What's new?

          http://deadspin.com/5615096/mlb-confidential-the-financial-documents-baseball-doesnt-want-you-to-see-part-1?skyline=true&s=i

          http://www.fieldofschemes.com/news/archives/2010/08/4263_mlbleakgate_wat_2.html

          http://floridaindependent.com/6915/will-leaked-docs-showing-rays-profit-affect-the-teams-fight-for-a-new-stadium

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        • Gus says:

          Well the Deadspin documents showed a hefty $10M in interest expense being paid to unknown creditors (possible the general partners themselves).

          $10M in interest would be equal to a $100M loan at 10% (probably way higher than ant Goldman Sachs guy would ever pay to an outside lender). So most people consider that one example of them cooking the books as lending to themselves, for example. Also, the Deadspin documents were leaked from MLB central offices, so those were submissions to the MLB central office that should be understating their revenues as much as possible to qualify for more revenue sharing.

          If these guys are smart enough to manipulate MLB rules to get extra draft picks, I think they are also gaming the system to get more revenue sharing.

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          • Mike says:

            The partner loans are specifically identified in the leaked documents, so I don't see how you can be correct. No doubt the company takes measures to reduce its taxable income, but I don't think there is any reason to believe that Stu and his partners are taking in tens of millions every year from the team.

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          • Gus says:

            Then what accounts for $10M in interest payments in one year? $200M loan at 5%? That would seem to violate the MLB anti-leverage rules. Under any reading of those docs, there is $10M there that most accountants would tell you is cash-flow profit. How they account for that in their internal leverage is their own deal. But they are likely in the black cash-flow wise probably every year before they sell one ticket. Just a matter of how much profit Sternberg wants. And if he frames it that way, I got no problem with him saying I want to make more. But if he's crying poor on these crummy payrolls, he's full of crap.

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  2. Gus says:

    Question for the local press: ask how many games at the Trop did Sternberg attend this year? I think 4 or 5. Usually opening day, the trade deadline weekend for the breathless Todd Kalas interview ("good chance a trade is on the way, Todd"), and then the playoffs. I'm sure he saw them more in NYC than at the Trop.

    The nerve of some out-of-tower to complain about attendance when he bashes his own stadium and its location. Like many other spots fans these days, he probably realizes that it is a better experience on television anyway.

    Renegotiate the TV contract please. That is where the real $ are.

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  3. lightningbuc says:

    He says that for the sake of the franchise, they can't ignore questions about "attendance and our future." Fine, but what are you going to do about it? Just continue to spew the same gibberish you've been spewing? Or actually act like the leader you apparently were back in your banking days and get something going? Couldn't agree more with Cork. If I had any sort of inkling the guy wanted to go to bat for the Rays somewhere in TB, we may be a bit more understanding. But most of us don't get the feeling he even wants the team here. So until I see otherwise, its just more blah, blah, blah, from Stu.

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  4. Joe says:

    I am awaiting John Romano, Gary Shelton, "Maury", our radio friends et al, to describe this as a holiday and a beacon day for Rays fans. This amounts to a joke and another disingenuous slap in the face. This is a disgusting time to be a Tampa Bay sports fan with.

    I would give benefit of the doubt if Stu seemed to have more of a pulse with the blue collar, typical Tampa Bay Rays fan. But I don't believe him anymore. And I made my peace and will continue to have my day with media members of this town as long as they are not honest with their readers and consumers. Gus gets it, some have thought Gus and I are the same person, no we are not :)

    It's time for some frank, uncomfortable conversation with Stu outside of his comfort zone, APOLOGIZING for his behavior and try to be humble for once. And although some of this is conciliatory, there are contradictions here that he refuses to reconcile.

    I am not done yet having some hide. I hope the truth comes out before someone gets burned.

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  5. John says:

    It's my understanding that it's the city that doesn't want to talk and keeps saying "we have a lease." I'm not sure what you expect Stu to do here. Building another ballpark in the place where people aren't going now doesn't sound very smart, even if you could get it past the people who derailed the sail stadium.

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  6. Joe says:

    I expect Stu to acknowledge the lease and make a fair effort and make a deal with St. Pete...Make a final deal to the county and city. If he gets voted down, then he can leave. He won't even do that. He can change course here, can't he?

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    • Sarah says:

      But St. Pete's mayor has made clear that he is not open to any deal that doesn't involve the Rays staying in his city. So what exactly would a "fair effort" look like?

      I don't mean to be blindly defending Sternberg; I just think that everyone, on the government side and the Rays side, has failed in moving this discussion forward.

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      • Joe says:

        Sarah, he has stated that he can and would allow for a mid Pinellas site or a Gateway site. Now would it have to be annexed, I don't know, but the only one who has gotten off of any position is St. Pete.

        What I want Sarah, is go to court. If you want to leave, break it. Enough of this wishy washy stuff where its sticks and stones may break our bones and names will never hurt me crud. Well, the prestige is being hurt. I said it in the last blog. Stu didn't take an oath to God, Bill Foster did. Does that mean anything, well, you tell me. How can Foster give when he has responsibility not to? If he waives the lease, then St. Pete would be entitled to $0 and no reparations WHEN Stu leaves. And that is unacceptable to me at any stage.

        You bring a good point Sarah, but I think the onus is on MLB here. I haven't heard Stu say one good thing. His letter today was conciliatory yet contradictory and somewhat defiant. The pot has to be sweetened in this culture and climate.

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  7. rayalan says:

    All of you people are just spewing gibberish. The facts are, this is our communities fault. They are putting a quality product on the field that we should be thankful to Stu for. We will get what we deserve in the end. Up to now, since Stu took over the team we have gotten more from them than we have given back. Our support is appalling.

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    • Joe says:

      Why should I thank Stu hearing that our fans are pathetic at every turn? He is behind this! We can argue this all night. What came first, the chicken or the egg?

      You aren't going to convince me that Stu has been a saint and perfect and ideal in this process. And I will admit the politicians haven't been either. But why do you think its ok to allow fans to be bashed and humiliated?

      Yes, I have said it 1,000 times, we aren't perfect, and we can do more. But I REFUSE to believe that Stu hasn't played this in his mind that he has all the cards and he can have maximum public relations advantage.

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      • rayalan says:

        Name me one other team in all of sport that has done a better job with their resources than the Rays and Stu's leadership. There are none even close. We need to comprehend how fortunate we are to have such an OUTSTANDING organization. Everything in life in our society is about money. That is nothing new. However, it is what you do with what you have access to is what separates the sheep from the goats.

        I never said Stu or anyone else is a saint. I just truly believe that we really lucked out in having an incredibly well run baseball team. It all begins and ends with the person who makes the final decisions and that is Stu. He has put together a fabulous team and the results prove it.

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        • J says:

          What really saddens me about your comments is that you think we the fans are indebted to Stu and co for producing winning baseball.

          The Rays are a corporation. We owe them nothing. Seriously, this attitude is complete BS. Get it out of your head.

          We should be thankful? Stu should be thankful that we pay his salary. Longoria, Price, and Maddon should be thankful. That's called customer service.

          If Walmart or Target said the same things about Tampa that Stu and Maddon have, would you still shop there (insert any store)?

          No. It's the same thing, except there is no competition in baseball.

          Stu is greedy and ungracious. I will not support him ever again.

          Sort of--I will buy tix to third level seats, but sneak lower. I'll do what my girl's dad does--buy a refill cup and smuggle it in for the rest of the season. I'll bring in my food.

          Screw Stu.

          #occupythetrop

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          • Dan says:

            J, you are right--this is about money and the Rays are a corporation. So please tell me why any corporation would want to stay in an area where it has a hard time turning a profit, like the other same businesses it competes with?

            The Rays fight the other teams in their division with both hands tied behind their backs. This is all non-sense. This area has to make a decision either to support this team like all 29 other markets with baseball teams do, or let them walk. Just as $tu isn't entitled to tell you how to spend your money, so this area isn't entitled to having a baseball team, if they can't/won't support it.

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          • J says:

            @Dan

            Are you serious? Entitled to a team? Go screw yourself!

            Stu turned a 11 million dollar profit, 1, and 2, if you want to be a slave to a corporation, go ahead.

            I'm hoping Stu has to leave now.

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  8. rayalan says:

    The only reason for Stu wanting a new stadium is for it to be closer to the population. He would be happy to stay at the Trop if we would just show up. He has already said, he would love to take the tarps off of the seats in the upper deck if 40,000 of us would show up for some games like they do on a regular basis in Milwaukee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    • Joe says:

      This is about money, rayalan. What about the RSN? What about opening that up for renegotiation? Anyone will tell you with a straight mind that money and revenues in the current formula come from merchandising and television, not from turning the turnstyles over. I guess you don't believe in revisionist history about the waterfront ballpark?

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    • S says:

      completely false. if all the rays want is a stadium near the population then why was their first choice a few blocks away from the old one?

      if the rays are and were concerned then why have ticket prices continued to increase, including as much as 35% on some season ticket packages? how do you expect to draw more fans with higher prices in this economy?

      i keep hearing all these numbers about population and x amount of miles? in the area, what is the viable population that should be attending games? now throw the "transfer" (out of towners, that will never pull for the rays) stat to those numbers. i would say it's as much as 30%, for every rays fan that would attend theres at least one out of this group(det,ny, boston or philly, fans) in the area that will never be rays fan and you can't or shouldn't include in the true poplulation.

      once you calculate the number of "paper" fans in the region, subtract another 30%. see if that doesn't throw us into the bottom of the market catagory. look around the entire state and convince me that isn't the problem with pro sports in general in this state. not enough "hometeam" fans, and too much competition with major college sports and entertainment dollar in general. no stats or figures that have been released show this in any way, shape, or form. they can't calculate it so therefore they seem to act like it doesn't exist or isn't a real issue. it's the main issue!!!

      the bucs can't fill up a 65K seat venues for 8 SUNDAYS a year. it's in the "prime" location, they're cutting prices, they put a good product on the field, and that includes a lot of "out of town" team tickets sold. there's no way in hell this area will ever put 30K a night in a stadium for 81 games a year to see MLB. the ONLY time will be in the first few years of a new stadium. its not a tampa bay issue, it's a florida issue.

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  9. Matt says:

    Anybody who says he is lying because he made 10M one year is missing the point:

    HE ONLY MADE 10M WITH ONE OF THE LOWEST PAYROLLS IN BASEBALL.

    If anything, it should show that he is justified in cutting payroll. This isn't a team that an sustain a 60M-70M payroll or else they won't make any money.

    Stu would have no problem raising payroll if he had a favorable stadium situation and attendance was 5k-10k more per game.

    But the reality is, it's not. And it's certainly his choice to look for better opportunities to make more money if he believes is profit ceiling is 10M/year.

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    • Gus says:

      We don't know what the real #'s are. My point about the $10M was that was just one area where the Rays profits were understated as "interest expense."

      Taking an educated guess at 2011 (if anyone has better numbers, please point them out to me):

      Income:
      Local Broadcast: $13M
      Attendance-based revenue: 1.5M @$20 per: $30M
      MLB Central Fund: $40M (a guess)
      MLB Revenue Sharing: $30M (could be higher now)
      Sponsorships and Misc Revenue: $4M
      Playoff Net Gate (Game 4 only I think): $1M

      Total: $118M

      Expenses:
      MLB payroll: $41M
      Player Development: $15M
      Front Office Management Expense: $3M
      Marketing: $1M
      Net Trop Lease/Operations Costs: $1M or less

      Total: $60M

      He's got plenty of room for profit and to add payroll there.

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      • S says:

        they probably have between $150 and $160 million coming in.

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      • Beth says:

        Why do you assume that any "debt" payments are hidden income? Didn't the current owners borrower to buy the team in the first place? Didn't they borrow to finance the renovations of Tropicana Field? I would assume that some amount of debt is a legitimate part of their operating costs.

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        • Gus says:

          Beth: Typically, pro sports have required owners to finance very little of their purchases with borrowed money (25% cap). I know MLB liberalized its debt rules in a couple of circumstances, but that is all on the owners' side. His debt payments would not typically be counted against the franchise if you were trying to examine if they were profitable or losing money. Stu has the cash. He chose to borrow because he preumably wants to leverage himself. His financial call. But not our problem as fans or as Tampa Bay citizens.

          If they borrowed for the Trop improvements or spring training improvments, I'd agree that would be a legit off-set. I thought the deal they cut with the City was they'd get an off-set on lease payments to the extent they put $ into the Trop. But that was a few years ago and not sure how that plays out now, if at all.

          I'm not an accountant, so not sure on the art of "above the line" or "below the line" financial statements here. But I am pretty sure that for Sternberg to assert that he is pouring money into a black hole (see the NY Daily News this weekend) with the Rays is an outrageous fib on what I've been able to discern. Again, if I'm missing something, I'll be the first to admit it.

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  10. Kevin says:

    Yes this is all about money. But what gets me is that what Stu and all the other players and managers aren't seeing is the big picture. They are only seeing the small window. The big picture is this, 1. Florida got hit doublely hard with the economy and the housing market. A lot of people have either lost their jobs or taking paycuts to get a jobs. Pinellas County where the Rays are based has a 12% unemployment rate right now. The players and managers are going to get their money no matter what. 2. The Rays have been around for 13 years.... you are not going to have a fan base as big as the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, etc. It takes a generation to build a fan base like those markets. 3. The finally thing is a question that needs to be looked at. How many people in the Tamp Bay area are from somewhere else in the country? You have a lot of people from other states that have supported their teams from birth and when they have kids their kids will follow (in most cases) the same team. There are not very many Floridians that have been born and raised in the Tampa Bay area. I have gone to games a lot of times and have even seen the Rays in New York, (and I have pictures showing it wasn't a sell out either). But who in their right mind schedules a playoff game on a weekday at 2:00 in the afternoon and expects a sell out? The bottom line is that a new stadium would be nice and it would have to be a dome stadium because of the summer weather here. But a new stadium right now will bankrupt the city of St. Petersburg..... The Rays need to live with what they got, make some inprovements where possible and wait for the right time to push for a new stadium.

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  11. Joe says:

    And is it the fans fault? What about regional sports network revenues and increased advertising and brand awareness?

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  12. Bob says:

    After being a big Stu backer, I've now had it and concluded that he made a few good hires, and that is about it. He is a loser owner who should move on as he is no Bill Davidson or Jeff Vinick, both of whom had long term plans, know how, and a wallet they would open. Stu is beginning to look like Art Williams - a big mouth, a small wallet, and no brain. If Stu can't make it work over the long haul in the 12th biggest media market in the U.S., he shouldn't own a team. I'll miss them, but take the Rays with you if you want as all the complaining and posturing because of short term "losses" has sucked the joy out of Rays baseball. Go Lightning -the best product in town!

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  13. S says:

    once again, the biggest lie in all of this is that MLB's welfare checks are going to come to an end. they're not, there too many teams that depend on these yearly checks to survive. oak, SD, pitt, KC, florida, tampa bay and a few others. mlb writes about $400 million in welfare checks a year.

    do you honestly think that florida's hand isn't going to back out in a couple of years? hell, i don't think that mlb will stop writing them the checks even in the new stadium.

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  14. S says:

    here's the bottom line.

    stu has said that baseball(mlb) will find a spot for him. meaning they'll make sure that he has a team be it in tampa or elsewhere, and they'll either buy the rays or help him sell them. so we know where stu's allegience is, based solely on that statement.

    what the fans want is for stu to stand up and say,

    "i'm stuck in a lease, and i'm trying to do everything in my power to make sure that we maximize attendance, be it in the trop or in a new stadium. how am i supposed to build a fanbase when MLB is talking about contracting this team? these statements by the league and other owners are counterproductive at best, and in no way help in my cause. why are these statements pointed directly at tampa bay, but the older markets seem to be bulletproof."

    but our owner knows that mlb has his back so he'll never make a statement anywhere near this. sad but true.

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  15. Ken Heller says:

    Lost in all the back and forth arguments about how much Stu makes and how poor fan support is in the bay area is an important point. Namely, the Rays ineffectiveness at landing the one or two players needed to take the team over the top. Manny wasn't gong to be the answer even if he was clean and sober. Last year Hawpe and Burrell weren't either. Damon, while a clubhouse leader, was no between the lines firebrand.
    Our inability to make mid-season moves to upgrade deficit areas have affected both our chances at moving to the next level and 2nd half attendance. We could have had Pence, Braun, Melky, and several other impact players had we been able to pull the trigger. Stu, Andrew and Joe's stance that we will not sacrifice our farm system is a flawed concept. What good is it to have 8 MLB ready arms when you only have 3-4 MLB ready bats? Pence carried the Phils in the second half, he would have done the same for us. doing so would have created excitement, a stronger finish and more fans in the seats.

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  16. S says:

    cork,
    here's a couple of questions. why is bill foster involved in ANY decision? the city doesn't own the park, that's complete BS. they sold it to the county in 2002 to avoid property taxes. so why does he hold any cards in this hand? should it not be a county issue? last time i checked he wasn't the county mayor?

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  17. S says:

    i've searched the web to no avail. here's a open challenge to anyone on this board.
    1. season ticket prices in 2008 vs 2011
    2. playoff ticket prices in 2008 vs 2011

    if you don't want to type it, will you please send it to cork or link it.

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  18. CC says:

    Hey, until MLB can figure out how to split up $7Billion and have a salary cap this is going to be a problem. It works in other major sports it will work here.

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