There were some comments made last week by Tampa Bay Rays’ owner Stuart Sternberg that should be cause for concern among the team’s fans. You might have missed them since most baseball-related news over the past week has been centered around the deaths of legends Stan Musial and Earl Weaver, the trade of Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves, and the latest performance-enhancing drug scandal (reported in the Miami New-Times) that has ensnared Alex Rodriguez and Gio Gonzalez among other players. Here is the quote from Sternberg (courtesy of http://www.tbo.com) that should make fans of baseball in general and of the Rays in particular very nervous. You can view the entire article here.
“Major League Baseball doesn’t believe anymore in the Tampa Bay area,” Sternberg told Hillsborough County commissioners in a lively morning session that ran twice as long as its scheduled 30 minutes
The main issue for the Rays is that the location of their home stadium, Tropicana Field is in an area that is not convenient for large segments of its fan base. This is borne out by the fact that the club consistently ranks at the bottom of the Majors in attendance. In 2012, Tampa drew less than 1.6 million fans, last in baseball despite winning 90 games. The organization’s lease with the Trop runs through 2027 and St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster is not about to let the team out of the lease early, threatening to sue anyone who moves the club out of the Tampa-St. Pete area. This has the potential to be very messy. All one has to do is gaze southeast of Tampa and the shenanigans that has happened with the Miami Marlins and their tax-payer funded stadium. Expect there to be strong opposition to use any kind of public funds to fund a new ballpark for the Rays.
It seems as though Major League Baseball was so anxious to get a team in Tampa, they forgot to take into consideration that the location of Tropicana Field was a potential hinderance. As we know, Florida’s population has skyrocketed over the past two decades and baseball was eager to cash in on the gravy train first in Miami, then in Tampa. Also missing in their evaluation of the Sunshine State’s suitability for the Big Leagues was that most people were nearing retirement age and do not want to spend discretionary income on baseball. They had to understand that it could take two or three decades for professional teams to gain a strong foothold as a younger generation has to grow up knowing these teams as the only ones they have ever cared about.
If the Tampa Bay Rays need a new stadium to survive in the area, why can’t MLB put up some money to keep the team there? In fact, every other team should contribute to the cause as well. After all, every one of them will be playing in Tampa at one time or another. Instead of asking taxpayers to foot the bill for stadium or arena building, it should be a combination of the individual team, its league and all of its other members. The public should be asked to contribute LAST, if at all. I believe the organization will remain in the area whether it’s with a new stadium in the near future or when their lease runs out. The first generation of their fans will be all grown up and ready to be full-fledged participants of their favorite baseball team.
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