It is no secret that the Tampa Bay Rays want out of their contract with the city of St. Petersburg that binds them to playing at Tropicana Field until 2027. But one secret that was revealed is that the Rays don’t want to pay the city anything to break the de facto lease, according to Chris O’Donnell and Michael Sasso of the Tampa Tribune.
“Talks between the Tampa Bay Rays and city officials about the team’s lease at Tropicana Field have stalled, largely because team officials say they won’t pay the city any compensation if the Rays leave the stadium before the contract expires in 2027, according to two City Council members…That hardline stance was the Rays’ response to a city offer allowing the team to move to a new stadium if it agrees to pay an undisclosed amount for every year remaining on its lease and to pay for demolition costs of the Trop and any outstanding debt on the stadium, said City Council Member Bill Dudley.”
AMOK, AMOK, AMOK!
But wait, there are a couple of things going on here:
1) Bud Selig and Major League Baseball are now officially involved in the stadium negotiations and that means a more hard-line stance.
2) This sounds horrible and in some respects it is. But make no mistake, this is just a negotiating tactic. By offering nothing, Major League Baseball is just saying, “we hate your offer” and are going to offer the other extreme. No good negotiation starts with the best offer. Both sides start at the extremes and you hope they can find a common ground in the middle.
3) Bud Selig is willing to accept the role of the villain. This is great for the Rays. If the negotiations were just between the Rays and St. Pete, the fans and residents would take sides and it would be even uglier. Now the Rays’ ugly demands are being credited to Selig and the league’s office in New York. This was clear last week when Mayor Bill Foster blamed Major League Baseball for the stalled negotiations and not the Rays.
4) But keep in mind that Selig works for the owners. And the owners are tired of giving money to the Rays in the form of revenue sharing when it looks like there is little hope that the current situation will improve. Recently, Stuart Sternberg met with local business leaders and told them that the only thing keeping the team afloat is revenue sharing. Of course, what the other owners really don’t want is the perception that the Rays are profiting off of revenue sharing. And according to Nick Cardo of the Boston Globe, the only reason the Rays were able to trade for David DeJesus was because the team was “under budget” this year. Profit and loss is not that simple with the Rays, who work on multi-year budgets. But it sounds bad and looks bad for other owners.
It has long been accepted that the Rays would have to offer the city something. And I have long argued that it was going to take something more than cash. It is going to take something more creative in which the Rays worked with either the state or the city of Tampa to offer St. Pete something tangible for the residents of St. Pete (e.g. something similar to the discussion around giving St. Pete a stake in Tampa’s cruise industry, something that turned out to be impossible).
Eventually, Major League Baseball is going to have to offer St. Pete something. The city gains nothing by letting the Rays walk without compensation, even if it is just across the bay. So St. Pete will hold out and will take their firm contract to court if needed.
On the other hand, MLB has little with which to threaten St. Pete. What city is stepping up and making a big play for a baseball franchise? The most common city that fans bring up is Charlotte. But that is not happening after they just built a triple-A stadium with public money.
Until MLB comes up with a legit threat, this is a weak stance by the Rays and MLB. But make no mistake, if a legit threat does step up, it will be real. Unlike other teams that have threatened to move and did not, the other owners don’t like this market.
But in the meantime, don’t fret too much about the idea that the Rays want out without paying.