Stuart Sternberg held court with the media in Port Charlotte yesterday. His comments are transcribed below and we have highlighted a few of the more telling passages.

Here’s the video…

On the upcoming season: “We’re optimistic, we’re happy, we’re excited. It’s been an eventful, yet uneventful, off-season. We did some really good work and I think, from where we started, our off-season fortunately came a little later than we anticipated last August, we finished up in a place here and we did great work in the off-season with our players and getting them prepared for this year. We were fortunate enough to acquire a few players to come in, especially on the offensive side of the ball, who can make a significant difference for us this year. I think it was clear to me, and you don’t have to be the owner of the team to recognize what we have to go up against during the season… We are doing everything we can to counteract that.”

On if he expected to spend so much during the off-season: “No. I wouldn’t have told you last year if I did, quite frankly. I think it was understood and we had a belief [the 2012 payroll would be in] the low-$50s [million]…We knew it was going to go up a bit this year, we had a number of guys under contract with raises and we try to do things internally, but it always depends, like any off-season or during the year, on what’s available.”

On being able to sustain what you’re doing: “No, can’t … plus we’re sustaining losses. It shows, the money that we’re putting toward the payroll, it shows the faith we have in this market. I’m optimistic, my belief since day one, that it can and will work in this market, but we’ve got more challenges and things to do ahead of us. If I didn’t think it would work, we wouldn’t be spending what we’re spending here to win. I think the winning, and the continued winning and continued success, gives us the best chance to ultimately put us in a position to have this sustainable. … The most crucial year was after ’08. That was a water-shed sort of year, because none of us had a real sense of where we were heading. I had a goal at the time of being league average, and that was sort of looked at as ‘oh, you’re going to do much better than that, Stu, you just made it to the World Series – where we ended up was a shock to everybody from the Commissioner’s Office to me, to you guys – a lot of people scratching their heads, but that’s the nature and reality of it. So that was sort of the watershed year, we continued after that to throw everything we possibly can in extraordinarily creative ways, and using all our resources, to continue to bring the magic of baseball to the area and succeed.

On the timeframe before MLB steps in and addresses the stat of the team/stadium: “There’s no one killer app, so to speak, that works here. It’s just what can we do? There’s a frustration level at the MLB level. Clearly there are 30 teams, but the Commissioner’s Office – and when I say that, it counts the business people in there, and labor in there – is saying, ‘Clearly, we’ve got to do better. Stu, you’ve done everything and anything and all that you can, what can we do to help?’ And they’re trying, but something’s not working, we’ve got to figure something out. This can’t go on for decades. …It’s clearly going to go on for years. Here we are in 2012, and we keep winning, [that’s] the most important thing. The reason why you want more revenue is to give yourself a better opportunity to compete. We are competing without the revenue. That is not an endless cycle. I don’t mind the difficulty of doing it – I like that challenge, that’s all fine and dandy. But, you want to have a ray of hope that we can sustain this, and we have to this point, it’s been very fortuitous, we’ve been very fortunate. That’s really what it’s all about. If we had more revenue … there are teams with a lot more revenue that don’t win like we do. I would much rather have less revenue and winning. If you could say to me, ‘Gee, Stu, don’t worry, your attendance will stay where it is, your revenue will stay where it is but you could keep winning, that would be certain, you’ll have a good opportunity to win the next 10-15 years’, I’m fine, but it’s unrealistic.

On St. Pete & Tampa mayors meeting together with business leaders: “I think I’m encouraged, but I also think it’s going slower than it can be. I think Chuck Skyes’ group, working with both groups on both sides, is incredible. To me, the work they’re doing, the time they’re taking and the energy they’re putting in, and most importantly, the regionalization of the team – which I’ve been a proponent of since ’06, since it was clear to me on coming in here – is what’s going to make this thing really hum over time. I can’t underestimate the great job Chuck and the people he’s working with and their willingness to do that job with him.”

On if he had doubts on if Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman would return: “There’s challenges; anytime there are challenges, no one is 100% sure. I knew the sun was coming up, I knew I was going to be owner of the team and I knew that, even though Joe [Maddon] was under contract through this year, that he’d be in demand for other teams. Certain things happened during the off-season with different teams and their managers leaving high-profile jobs, retiring or moving on. Not that Joe was available for anybody, but to just make sure Joe wanted to be here because Joe was to believe it’s in his own best interest because you don’t want a person who doesn’t want to be there. Once it was certain to me and certainly to Joe that he wanted to be here, that we could strike up a longer term relationship again, for a third time, and Andrew [Friedman] as well- just make sure this is the place he wants to be. There were a lot of high-profile openings again in the off-season. It’s not about tying somebody up or throwing the most money at them necessarily, because that’s something we certainly can’t do often or at all, but it’s about them wanting to be here and believing in what they are doing and what we are all accomplishing together.

On owning a baseball team and keeping the management team together: “It’s everything to me. People ask, ‘why do you get involved? Why do you buy a baseball team?’ For the obvious reasons: you can buy a baseball team. When you are a baseball fan, that’s the first thing. But what you want to get out of it is certainly success on the field, because it is fun to win. It’s just a good thing and you feel like you are good if you are able to get that done. Second is, and most importantly, bringing the joy of baseball and all that baseball can bring because of the nature of the game. It’s day-in and day-out, a very long season that can be part of people’s lives and I thought the Tampa Bay region really fully appreciated and understood, for a lot of good reason, what baseball could bring to them. The third leg to that chair is giving people opportunities who really didn’t have them before. Joe [Maddon] is a perfect example. He’d been a bench coach and done a lot of different things with the [Los Angeles] Angels before, he interviewed and never had that opportunity. Matt [Silverman] had never had anything to do with baseball before, Andrew [Friedman] neither, and a lot of other people in the organization as well. We just wanted to give them different tools, different people to work with and a different mindset. To see people succeed like that is, to me, the most rewarding thing as a person who is ultimately responsible for business.”

On the history that’s been built: “Winning the American League twice, whether it was given to us or not – and I would choose to say it was not – we’ve put ourselves in a position to be there. It’s what you do with that; that preparation, and putting yourself in that position to succeed. We succeeded, and last year the team found another way which was completely off the wall and completely serendipitous, amazing and incredible. If that’s the course of getting to the playoffs, great, but I’d prefer to do it in a nicer fashion.”

On his expectations for the team this season: “We’d like to win a lot of games this year. I can’t say if I expect to win 80 or 100 … you can never expect to make the playoffs. I don’t think any team does other than one or two of them. Look, if I came in and was spending [three times] what we are now, I would tell you I had an expectation to make the playoffs. But to sit in the American League East, and spend 60-some million dollars, which is still a 50 percent [increase] from last year, I have no right or need to expect that we’ll make the playoffs. I do expect we’re going to win a lot of baseball games. Short of that, it will be disappointing.”

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14 Comments

  1. Gus says:

    "No, can’t … plus we’re sustaining losses."

    I'd like to the first one to call BS on that?

    If the Rays lost money in 2011, than I've got a bridge to sell Stu in Brooklyn. There is no possible way. In the black before the first ticket was sold. And no rational actor would incease his payroll like they have done (very welcome and commendable, by the way, but not exactly Mark Cuban overspending to finance the Mavericks' championship run) unless they had made a nice profit in 2011.

    Is anybody in the working press, you know, working? Or is the sportswriter-sports team industrial complex too hard to break? Everybody knows the real money for baseball teams is in the new regional TV contracts (Texas; Angels; Seattle). Why isn't that being reworked (as opposed to trying to rework a lease with taxpayers)? Where is that question?

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    • Dave L says:

      My first reaction too Gus. For most of us loss means losing money, as our assets have dwindled, take home pay, etc.

      Loss means losing money.

      For those in Stu's circles , loss means not making as much money as other owners.

      Sportswriters who want access to Owners will never call them out, they will be frozen out.

      Now the national media will pick up on this and slurp it down like warm mothers milk.

      Someone show me the simple math where the Rays LOSE MONEY.

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  2. Dustin says:

    Can we all take a breath for a second and appreciate the fact that prior to Sternberg's ownership the D-Rays were the worst team in baseball, that he, his ownership group, and their front office have turned this team from a joke to a legitimate contender not just once, but for the last four years running? Maybe he's making money off the team, and maybe he's not. Whatever. He is, ultimately, bankrolling the whole thing, and it's been way fun to watch since he's been here. I'm not saying we ought to drink his bathwater, but I do think he deserves the benefit of the doubt and at least a little bit of slack.

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    • Joe says:

      Five better cities than Tampa Bay?? Vaporize? An admitted Mets season ticket holder and attends as many Mets games as Rays games if not more? The unmitigated gall of this man? It's amazing, and its not your fault, but I find it so amazing that people can see all good or so much more good than bad that what he has done. Honestly, look at his practices, look at them hard. It's all about bottom line with him. If he wants to truly build the Tampa Bay fanbase, sit back, take some monetary "losses" (or lack of extra profit), grow the market and stop with the insidous, sinister comments and being Selig's lackey.

      But it's not Stu's DNA to do that, be a maverick and rock the proverbial MLB boat. He can't step in and tell Selig to step aside and acknowledge some of the more serious hardships here. And for all of the good he has done, I contend, with many to disagree, the bad had disqualified him as a long term owner here. He doesn't "get" Tampa Bay fans. As I said last not, qualifying a comment like putting pretty in front of the certain raises a level of doubt, a level of doubt that is pandering and pathetic. If Stu cared, he would keep his mouth shut, open his books and appreciate what he does have than blasting what he doesn't. Does this make Stu Sternberg a bad human being? No, but it makes him naieve and not the smartest man in the room, which he prides himself in being. I simply and utterly refuse to accept this man or Silverman or Michael Kalt as anything but opportunistic and greedy rather than solution-oriented and pragmatic to a rather complex cause. What about your local television deal, as Gus stated? What about staring in the mirror at yourself and you wonder what kind of effect talking down a fanbase has had? But Stu thinks its not on him, its on us and/or the political figures. He refuses to accept he must bring a lot more to the table to make the partnership to be a wholesome and fruitful marriage.

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  3. Beth says:

    Gus, Dave, Dustin: I think you are all right, and your points are not contradictory.
    1. As Dustin notes, Rays ownership has given us an exciting, well-run team. No doubt many MLB fans envy us.
    2. The Rays are not losing money. Thanks to revenue sharing they have a guaranteed income stream, which ticket sales, merchandising and TV contracts supplement. The owners possess a nicely appreciating asset. Let's just say that if I were "losing money" like they are, I'd be much less worried about paying for my kids' college.
    3. It would be nice if we had a press that treated such statements about the teams' finances with at least a touch of skepticism.
    4. Here's my addition to the conversation: any team that uses, or seeks a publicly-subsidized stadium has to open its books to the the public. If teams don't want their finances to see the light of day, fine, then behave like a purely private business and pay for your own building. But if you want to be partners with the tax payers, that partnership needs to be based on transparency.
    5. We really do appreciate what an exciting team we have, and how creative the RFO has been to field competitive teams now for five years running. All conversations can begin and end with that point.

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    • Matt says:

      Great post Beth.

      One thing I'll add: while the Rays most definitely made money last year, I wouldn't be so sure that they'll make any this year this an increase in attendance and/or a playoff berth. I do think the Rays are probably unsustainable at their current payroll and I think that was his main point: I want to be able to spend more, but the financials won't let me.

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    • Gus says:

      The problem with No.4 is when teams have done that, they've cooked the books, as the Marlins did in Miami. People may go to jail for that deal; many political careers have ended over it, most notably the Miami-Dade County mayor, who was recalled before his term ended. But theoretically, that is the bargain that should be made.

      Make no mistake -- the guys Stu has hired to run his team are great, the way they run the Trop is good from a fans perspective. It is one of my joys in life to have a likeable, competitive baseball team to root for. Stu deserves credit for that, as it is largely his vision.

      But that doesn't leave him beyond criticism when he tells a whopper of an untruth as he did Tuesday, or when he blames the fans for losing the playoff game (the vaporize rant) or when he pits one area of his market against the other area.

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      • Beth says:

        Of course, "cooking the books" can reduce the effectiveness of information sharing. But there must be ways of ensuring that business partners come clean about their finances -- companies enter into partnerships all the time, and even public agencies do manage to create win-win relationships with private investors, and none of these business arrangements could survive if partners didn't have real information about the others' financial situation. Just because the folks in Miami were either too stupid or too corrupt to do this right doesn't mean you can't possibly have accountability.

        I don't even care if Stu wants to "spin" his finances for the press, but I don't think the Rays should get a penny of public funds for a stadium without opening their books in a manner that means generally recognized accounting standards.

        So, Gus, I think we are largely in agreement here.!

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        • Gus says:

          The particular problem with financial data of sports teams is many fold, and it includes (a) wacky tax rules that allow player salaries to be depreciated, a precedent set by none other that Hugh Culverhouse in a case in which he represented the Falcons ownership and was so important to sports team owners, the NFL rewarded him with the chance to step in and buy the Bucs; (b) the ability to pad the expense line with expenses (i.e. how many Naimolis can we fit on the D-Rays payroll) that are questionable; (c) leverage (if you pay $10M a year in interest on a loan that you used to finance the team, is that a proper cost above or below the line?); (d) the peer pressure from your fellow owners to not share information with local governments, lest it fall into the hands of the players unions and they see where you hide the revenue from them.

          Absent a bankruptcy, we almost never get the data. As quiet and secretive as the Rays are about player development and evaluation techniques, I can't see them ever coming clean on financial data. Without that, I don't think they should get a new stadium until the lease expires. If they take that off the table, they can lie about losing money as long as the fan base will tolerate it. Then it's just PR.

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  4. David says:

    Every time I get over the last time Stu says something stupid he comes back and reminds me why I dislike him.

    I appreciate what the ownership has done turning the team around, but how about make 1 rule--don't lie to your customers. If you think saying "We won't make as much money as we expect to with this pay roll" would make you look bad then don't say anything at all. Just don't lie to me saying you're losing money.

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  5. Joe says:

    What is the problem and major malfunction with Stuart Sternberg? Go ahead and get mad at me, but for making these comments, he obviously has some serious problems with the fanbase. To me, he has disqualified himself as a savior with his comments. Of course he is disingenuous with his comments and the media in Tampa Bay is complicit in this conspiracy, which is despicable, atrocious and treacherous to the very fans Stu Sternberg allegedly covets and loves.

    To Beth, why like this man when everything comes with a caveat and a condition? Stu's very attitude is despicable in nature. Why appreciate him? He treats the market and puts the market in a parent/child relationship rather than in a partnership? Is there any pleasing this man? What does he want? Why appreciate this man when he plays games with words and holds everything in condition? He says he's "pretty certain" instead of being absolute?! Call me whatever you want, but why like Stu Sternberg when he is willing to stab you in the back? I equally detest Marc Topkin and Gary Shelton who are accomplices in this crap, why can't we have an owner who truly loves the fans and be the ultimate fans' fan?

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  6. Joe says:

    I have mentioned this before, are we supposed to be remorseful and sorry to Stu Sternberg that he went "extra" in 2012 when he still in any year of owning the club, never even being close to putting a club on the field that has the average payroll of all 30 clubs? Why hasn't anyone called him out on his change of plans? It is a gut punch and a sucker punch to a cynic.

    Hey, I want this team to do well, and as fans we win. My problem is with Stu and Matt Silverman. It's a shame we don't have better ambassadors to the area than these two. Can they make it any less obvious that it's all about money and revenue than passion for the fans and the plight and hardships of the area? What about pointing a finger at your ownselves for making a terrible, and I mean terrible business decision with Fox Sports for an extended television deal that no one wants to call you on? We got pollyanna media in this town with an owner who can say an do no wrong?

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  7. Don says:

    If you just understood the meaning of "Wallstreet Trader" you all wouldn't get so frustrated with Stuie and Friedman et al
    Its business as usual for the boys, your not used to it...Yet?

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