Getting out of the contract with the city of St. Pete is going to cost the Rays a lot of money. Remember, the Rays have a “use agreement” contract, not a lease. So it is more complicated than just “buying out” what is left. The city of St. Pete is also going to want to be compensated for any dent in the local economy that is caused by losing a Major League Baseball team.

We have long suggested that the Rays, the state, and possibly the city of Tampa would have to offer something tangible in return for losing the Rays.

Stephen Nohlgren of the Tampa Bay Times suggests that one way to appease the city of St. Pete would be for the Rays to move their spring training headquarters back to St. Pete.

We think Nohlgren is on the right track, but spring training may not be the answer.

First of all, the Rays like being in Port Charlotte. It expands the Rays reach into Charlotte county. But more importantly, Pinellas county already has enough spring training.

Rather, the more enticing move, one we have long been a proponent of, is to move the Rays triple-A affiliate to St. Pete and the site of Al Lang Field.

Nohlgren does say that a minor league team would likely follow if Al Lang is renovated, noting that the Rays can’t control where their minor league affiliates play.

It is true, the Rays do not own their minor league affiliates. But if the Ray and the city of St. Pete worked together to build a new minor league park on the site of Al Lang, and then offered a single-A or double-A franchise in another city a spot at the triple-A level, many minor league owners would jump at the opportunity.

And while the Rays struggle in St. Pete, we think a triple-A club in a new park on the water would do very well.

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27 Comments

  1. Gus says:

    Good lord this has gotten beyond stupid.

    They have 17 years left on the Use Agreement. No local government has any revenue streams to build a new stadium in Tampa Bay or elsewhere. No judge is letting them out of the Use Agreement. Period.

    We'd be better off talking about bringing nuclear fusion and time travel to Tampa Bay. I fear the Rays management has gotten to you Cork. This is the 5th or 6th relocation article this month, and we've been fretting over it for 4 years and NOTHING has changed.

    Gve me something that isn't fantasy. Like the Rays developing a big-league catcher (perhaps a bad example).

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      Yes, the use agreement gives the city power. But it is not as unbreakable as you make it sound.

      The Rays could file for bankruptcy, something the Rangers recently did.

      The Rays could go to court and argue that the city is not living up to their end of the deal and that the partnership is harmful to the business. If a judge agrees, the contract will be voided, or the judge will order mediation of a buyout. And let's not forget that the city has a $5,000 budget for fighting the Rays in court. The Rays court budget will be a little bigger.

      Or the Rays could just up and leave and take their chances in court after the fact. Maybe they lose. But if they do, they are not going to be ordered to move back. They will be ordered to pay a settlement.

      And at some point, the cost of breaking the deal will be outweighed by the gain of moving and the Rays wont care if they lose in court.

      In the end, to think that the Rays are going to still be playing in the Trop into the mid 2020s is the only fantasy I see.

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      • Gus says:

        To file for bankruptcy, Sternberg and the owenrship group would forfeit their equity and lose control of the team. We are talking time travel if you think that is happening (p.s. the City (!) would be one of the biggest creditors in bankruptcy).

        They makes lots of money with this team EVERY season. They are in the black before the first ticket is sold. They would like to make more. They would like the taxpayers to help finance that.

        To fall for the okeydokye here is really blind. I make my living in public finance and law but have no connection with the City or Tampa. I'm telling all of you good people: the team has no leverage and nothing is happening anytime soon. Didn't the meeting between Foster and Sternberg just say that? Both sides are "stuck" with each other. If Sternberg could get out, he would have filed suit long ago.

        One day, we'll look back and realize that the low overhead of the Trop and the low debt of the Rays organization made for a transformative baseball (and professional sports experience). Put another way, you give the Rays excess revenue, it would screw them up like the Orioles or the Rockies. We are low rent and can beat the Yankees and Red Sox because no team revenue is being drained by a new stadium and its costs. That is an amazing thing that should be savored by fans and ownership alike.

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    • MJ says:

      so you dont believe there is any way that the Rays and/or MLB can move the team from the Trop before 2027, or perhaps just "vaporize" it out of existence entirely? I would venture to say that you would be fine w/ the latter anyway, correct?

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      • Martin B says:

        Yeah, there is no way that the Rays or MLB move from the Trop (but more specifically, out of St. Pete) without St. Pete getting some cash in the deal.

        The team wouldn't be "vaporized" because there is no way the union lets it happen. You can't just contract a team without the union agreeing to it.

        To think that the city budget of 5k allocated to court costs against the Rays wouldn't immediately be increased if needed is ridiculous.

        I do think you're just grasping at straws here, Cork. Are you angling for some in's with the front office or something?

        For some reason people go nuts when they look at sports teams. They don't view them as you would any business, which is what it is. I run a business. I provide some jobs to the community. I'd love a government subsidy, even one that's simply proportional to my revenue against the rays revenue. I don't get one. The Rays shouldn't get one. They're a business. Giving them a stadium is nothing more than a government subsidy.

        Now, if the Rays want to pay the city to have the ability to look elsewhere, I wouldn't be against that. The city has leverage here, the Rays don't, no matter how badly you seem to want to spin it that way.

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        • Cork Gaines says:

          "Are you angling for some in’s with the front office or something? "

          C'mon now. You have been around here long enough to know that is not true. I'm not in the kiss-ass business. I'm in the information business. I present the info. Sometimes I try to interpret the information. And sometimes I try to predict what will happen based on the information we have.

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  2. Amy says:

    As somebody who works for a minor league team what you are offering is not as easy as you have wrote it. Most Minor League teams and stadiums have their own contracts and leases with their own complicated agreements especially when its come to moving a Triple A team.

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  3. Don says:

    The ONLY problem with the rays playing in St. Pete and at the trop is 10,000 more fans a game, you tell me there aren't marketing/sales people in this country that could do that..
    Lets say Mark Cuban was owner of this team, there would be 30,000 + in the stadium every night and we would have a better team....But Stuie and Friedman can't figure it out...heh? I guess its harder than the investment business?
    Well then.... its the Stadium & St. Petes fault....

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  4. angrybuddha says:

    It seems to me that putting a minor league team in St. Pete will simply create direct competition for the Rays if they want to put fans in seats. A Tampa-based Rays team will have to compete with a St. Pete-based minor league team that has all the great talent of the Rays organization.... and minor league tickets/beer/parking are a fraction of the price of the major league equivalent.

    The fear that TB can't support 3 major league teams is not unfounded, but at least hockey & football (more or less) don't overlap with the baseball season. Put another (cheaper) baseball team in the area? I don't think the region has enough $$ to support both.

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      whether T-StP can support a triple-A team in addition to the Rays on the other side is legit concern. But there is a precedent for teams having their triple-A club close by.

      The Braves, Mariners, and Red Sox all have AAA clubs less than 50 miles away. and another five teams have a AAA team between 50 and 100 miles.

      One way that the Rays could benefit is the strength of their farm system. The Rays always have top prospects in the minors. How many Rays fans would have travelled across the bridge last year for a chance to watch Matt Moore or Desmond Jennings before they were promoted?

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      • DRR says:

        I wonder how much the topic of spreading the Rays' brand matters to the front office (I ask that seriously, not sarcastically). I am a Rays fan, but honestly the only reason I am is because I live in Durham and have watched Bulls players become Rays players. I know a number of other baseball fans here who are the same way. When you have your minor league teams in other communities it provides a connection to fans outside your home city.

        That sort of thing probably wouldn't really matter to a team like the Yankees. It might matter to the Rays, I don't know.

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        • Amy says:

          I believe that the fans who love the Rays follow the minor league teams more now than they did before. Working for the Jax Suns when we play the Biscuits people acutally come to see the team and wear their Rays gear. They never did that when the Rays were the Orlando D Rays. Around our part of town you see more Rays hats than you do Braves which our area use to be.

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          • DRR says:

            Interesting. I wonder if part of what I see here in Durham is related to the Bulls being a deeper part of the community than is often the case with minor league teams. I have lived in three other cities with AAA baseball before and none of them cared about the team as much as we do here. I can say that, if the Bulls switched affiliation, so would I.

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  5. Martin B says:

    I think Noah Pransky had a very level headed assessment of the situation.

    http://shadowofthestadium.blogspot.com/2012/01/fostersternberg-summit-extended-fallout.html

    I agree whole heartedly. There is no reason to move today to what can wait until there are 7 years left on the lease.

    Heck, even 7 years left might be too much time. While I didn't live in St. Pete at the time, I remember reading in the Extra 2% how they literally STOPPED TIME in Chicago to get a deal done at the last minute, keeping St. Pete from getting a team.

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    • Gus says:

      You, Pransky and me think alike here. See what happens in Tampa Bay and elsewhere in the next few years and play this thing out. Another helpful thing: the Marlins experience. We'll see in 3-4 years what a retractable stadium adds to the bottom line. My guess is that it won't move the meter that much.

      When Cork thinks its fantasy to see the Rays in the Trop in 2021, I think, to the contrary, that it is far more likely they'll be there than anywhere else.

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      • Sarah says:

        OK, then let's make a pact. We'll revisit this conversation in 2021 and see who got this right!

        I have no idea where the Rays will be then, but here's my contribution to this bet. IF the Rays are still playing in Tropicana Field, it will have become a dearly beloved icon, trumpeted as one of the oldest remaining parks in the league and a great example of 1980s architecture. Fans will talk affectionately about the catwalks just as they now talk about the Green Monster. When there is talk of building a new stadium, preservationists will be up in arms; new stadiums built in other parts of the country will start imitating our white dome, cellar-like atmosphere and catwalks as an example of "classic" or "retro" baseball park design.

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  6. Chris says:

    OK. It must have been a quiet day. Cork is trying to draw us Bulls fanatics into a dispute we could care less about ... Tropicana Field/the Rays/St. Petersburg, etc. All I can figure is he wants Al Lange field to become some sort of glorified bullpen within reach of that jukebox by the bay. But consider this: what if the AAA franchise outdrew the Rays? A region that can't support one professional baseball team is supposed to be able to support two?
    Wait! Let me check my calendar! Is it April 1st already? Is Sidd Finch coming to the mound?

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  7. pete says:

    As soon as the Oakland situation is handled and the team gets the go ahead to move to Sacramento then Major League Baseball is going to step in financially and help get the Rays out of St. Petersburg and into Tampa. The Rays have become one of the best run teams in the sport and we don't draw dick. The writing is on the wall ... Developers of Coors Field buying up land at channelside is just one of the first signs of things to come.

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  8. Dave L says:

    This discussion always starts out with the weird bizarro world premise that St. Pete is somehow obligated to be the first sports franchise city in history to begin to fire the opening salvo in letting a team leave who has no visible alternative offer from any sports starved community in america.

    The fact is The Trop is a great place for any sun baked overhumidified resident of St Pete to watch the team they built a stadium for and the Rays signed a lease agreement.

    If the current ownership find a comparable alterative which looks more profitable and allows them to break thier lease and compensate the city... well then the city may need to rethink its position. But that is entirely absent in January 2012.

    The only business in america in which the failure of the product acceptance is blamed on the potetial consumer of said product is sports entertainment.

    By the way failure???

    Dispute the following:

    1) The Rays made a nice profit in 2011 compared to capital investments

    2) The Rays were successful in this business environment by any normal assessment in this difficult economy in a very strapped community.

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    • Don says:

      Dave, your close. Sports is the ONLY business in the US, that when business starts to decline or is slow, Its the customers fault......or the city or the stadium, or what ever....
      Isn't it funny Mcdonalds, UPS, Waltmart ect. ect. don't feel that same way???

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    • Gus says:

      Dave L. Yout thoughts are dead on and welcomed to a conversation that is premised on ridiculous assumptions.

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      • Dave L says:

        Thanks for your support. I think alot here get caught up in how the national media perceive us and parrot it. Its kinda sad.

        Man only makes millions yearly instead of tens of millions on his toy sports team in a market he has no familiarty with and visits only occasionally. Pity the man.

        The Trop is missing only 2 real things. The luxury boxes are truly awful and that and local corporate support doesnt exist. But for the typical lunchpail fan the Trop is great. But hey I live in Venice so what do I know?

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  9. Robert says:

    I thought Nohlgren's article was stupid and this is even worse. It would takes tens of millions to get Al Lang ready for a AAA team and no one would go. Durham is an awesome organization with an unbelievable stadium. If it's not broke don't fix it.

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      Ahhh. So you would prefer to just leave Al Lang as is with the occasional high school game? Eventually, SOMETHING will be built there. And it won't be free.

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      • Robert says:

        Nothing will be built there without voter referendum as it is a waterfront park. I would be happy with the stadium razed, and the field left untouched for your "occasional high school game." It is very easy to make the argument that more Hall of Famers have used those grounds than any ballpark in the country and that should certainly be memorialized somehow.

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        • Sarah says:

          And so we memorialize those Hall of Famers ...by NOT playing professional baseball there?

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          • Robert says:

            Yes, we have the unique opportunity to keep old Waterfront Park a public place where future generations can play the game and St. Pete residents can maintain the public waterfront that we have enjoyed for over 100 years.

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