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ESPN's Olney: St. Pete "baseball market is dead"



Principal owner Stuart Sternberg's dire post-game comments - reported and analyzed by our Gary Shelton and John Romano among others - have created a lot of conversation nationally about the future of the Rays.

ESPN's Buster Olney today offered some harsh analysis of his own:

The view from here: It doesn't matter when Sternberg made his comments; his words will have no impact on the Rays' situation. Winning doesn't matter; losing doesn't matter. There seems to be no hope for change so long as the Rays are in St. Petersburg, which leaves Sternberg several options: 

1. He could look to sell the team and take ownership of another franchise, or walk away from baseball altogether. 

2. He could keep the Rays, but with extremely low expectations and a lower payroll -- and hope that his Ma-and-Pa shop can continue to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox despite enormous disadvantages. 

3. He could hope that somehow, the opportunity for the Rays to move to Tampa or to another city could arise. But the St. Petersburg baseball market is dead. The only questions are whether the body will be moved, and whether resuscitations will be attempted. The best and the brightest of baseball have operated brilliantly for the Rays, and it hasn't worked.

Here are some excerpts from two other interesting columns, one by Maury Brown of and another by Jim Caple of ESPN.

From Brown, who theorizes that the Rays aren't in danger of relocation or contraction:

Tampa Bay, you’re safe. The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t: any market you’d look to relocate to is thin – a small or mid-market with caveats. You could move the Rays to Northern New Jersey where there is plenty of population and business to build off of, but the Yankees and the Mets would scream. Go to Portland and you deal with the Mariners. Go to Vegas and you deal with 6 clubs that claim the television market.

Maybe, you consider contraction. After all, former commissioner Fay Vincent confirmed in an interview with The Biz of Baseball that the league expanded in the ‘90s to off-set payments to the players after the owners colluded to hold down player salaries in the ‘80s.

Fat chance.

The league tried this with the Expos and to do it, they needed another team to go with them. Back then, it was the Twins. Now…? The Athletics?

It doesn’t matter. The MLBPA would never go for it as they would see players on MLB rosters lose jobs as would all the affiliated minor league teams. Throw in television contracts and the municipalities that host them suing MLB left, right, and sideways, and contraction is off the table.

No, Tampa Bay, you’re safe. But, that doesn’t mean you deserve the Rays. Only by luck are you keeping the team. If the opportunity to relocate or contract the club were available, as fast as you can say, “Bud Selig”, I’m betting they would. Fans in other markets would die to have a team as good as the Rays have been. Fans in other markets dream of an owner and GM the likes of which the Rays enjoy. Tampa Bay yawns, goes to bed early, or flips on a sitcom. The Rays may have some of the finest writers – both mainstream and new – covering them, but the ones that matter the most – the average fan – are below average. They just aren’t there.

There will be apologists that will use the location of The Trop. There are fans that will say it’s the economy. Horse pucky. If it were the economy, the television ratings wouldn’t have crashed harder than a rock falling from The Trop’s roof. And, even if the location is poor (and it is), at least the bandwagon would have shown up in the last week of the regular season, but they didn’t.

Tampa Bay, your name is apathy. You are the last years of the Montreal Expos in terms of attendance with the team being 1994 before the strike (for the record, the Expos averaged 24,543 in the shortened 1994 season. The Rays in 2011 averaged 18,878). The ability to sustain these winning ways is fragile. The Rays show that they can win on a shoestring, but at some point, it won’t be as such.

Here’s to the Rays organization. You’re putting up with more than you should, but you have no choice, and that’s a pity.

And from Caple, suggesting a reasoned approach to the problem:

What support do fans owe a team? That's difficult to answer. But here are a few thoughts:

• Fans are NOT required to help build a stadium for an owner, especially during a deep and lingering recession when we're closing schools and libraries. If a stadium makes so much financial sense, let the owner build the damn thing himself.

• Fans are NOT required to pay $50 per ticket and $25 for parking and $9 for a beer to see a team that hasn't been competitive since Prince Fielder weighed 115 pounds.

• Fans, however, ARE expected to support their team when it builds a winner the right way, signing and developing talented players who hit towering home runs, throw blazing fastballs, happily sign autographs and feed the homeless on their off-days. That doesn't mean you have to buy box seats behind home plate. You can buy the cheap tickets. You can buy tickets to see Evan Longoria and the real Moneyball team for less than a ticket to see Brad Pitt and "Moneyball'' in a theater.

• You don't have to outdraw the Yankees but when your team wins the division or wild card it would be nice if it outdraws the Marlins or the Royals. And when your team reaches the postseason, you should at least have enough tents lined up outside the ticket office to be mistaken for a Wall Street protest.

• And even if you can't afford a ticket, you MUST watch the team's games on TV or listen on the radio.

• You MUST care. And somehow you must show the team you care.




[Last modified: Saturday, November 5, 2011 12:40am]


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