Sternberg: "Pretty certain" Tampa Bay area can be viable long term
Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg spoke somewhat optimistically about the future of the franchise during his appearance at spring training today.
Sternberg said he was pleased with the work of Chuck Sykes and the Tampa Bay Partnership to increase the level of conversation about the stadium situation, though he would like there to be more, and said he was "pretty certain" the team can succeed long-term in the Tampa Bay market.
"I read some things that characterized that I might not believe that to be the case, and there's nothing further from the truth,'' he said.
Sternberg cited the team's hefty (and somewhat unexpected) increase in payroll, from $41-million last season to around $65-million this year, and said: "It shows the faith that we have in this market. I'm optimistic and my belief since day one is that it can and it will work in this market. We've got more challenges ahead of us, and we've got things to do. But I'm certain - 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 the continued success gives us the best chance to ultimately put us in a position to have this sustainable.''
Season ticket sales for the coming season are up slightly and team official are hoping for an increase in overall attendance. He also said they are "sustaining losses ... and that has to end.''
MLB officials have been growing frustrated with the lack of progress, and may focus more on the Rays situation once the A's stadium issue is resolved, but Sternberg indicated Tuesday they will not be issuing threats or ultimatums.
"I'm a conciliatory kind of guy, and we just want to keep getting the message out," Sternberg said, "And I believe brighter, more sensible minds will prevail.''
He wouldn't put a deadline or timeframe on action on a new stadium, but reiterated that the team needs a new home that produces more revenues than Tropicana Field.
"Something's not working, we've got to figure something out,'' Sternberg said. "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 - 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 the challenge - that's all fine and dandy. 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.''
On other topics:
* Sternberg said he wouldn't put a specific number on his expectations for the season, but "I do expect we're going to win a lot of baseball games, and short of that it would be disappointing.''
* He is "optimistic" there will be an increase in attendance this season: "I would like it. I'm not expecting it. I believe it's there. I'm optimistic about it. I think that the support is there. Just seeing the cooperation with Chuck Sykes' group and if the businesses can behind it a little bit. I ask the businesses just if they're thinking about it, get off the fence and buy a plan or season tickets ... I also think the economy has at least for now and maybe for a long time has reached it's trough. Things aren't bouncing and flying but there is a better sense.''
* He acknowledged concerns during the off-season about executive VP Andrew Friedman leaving for another team and whether manager Joe Maddon would want to stay long-term. "There were some challenges there,'' Sternberg said.
* He is pleased to see talks between the St. Petersburg and Tampa mayors and the business community: "I think I'm encouraged, but I also think it's going slower than it can be.'
* He lavished praise on the work of Sykes' group: "It's incredible, the work they're doing and 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 upon coming in here, is what's really going to make this thing really hum over time. I can't under-estimate the great job Chuck and the people he's working with and the willingness to do that job, have done.''