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Romano: Time for straight talk when the Tampa Bay Rays meet with Pinellas County today

In a perfect world, they would speak freely.

Tampa Bay Rays executives would appear before Pinellas County commissioners today and explain in stark terms why location is a problem with Tropicana Field.

This would not be the theoretical work of research firms and 30-minute driving patterns, it would be the hard numbers of a business lacking desired revenues.

It would be the exact number of season ticket holders within the city limits of St. Petersburg. It would be the comparison of sales in Pinellas and Hillsborough. It would be the breakdown of tickets sold to corporations and individuals.

In a perfect world, they would ask blunt questions.

Commissioners would inquire about the team's finances. Not just vague assertions that the current numbers are unsustainable, but the details of a business in peril.

The Rays do not have to open their books on the steps of the county courthouse, but they have to acknowledge that asking for a $300 million or $400 million or $500 million commitment requires some reciprocal show of trust.

And don't let them say Major League Baseball forbids it. The Houston Astros underwent a certified audit in 1996 to prove they were losing money prior to a stadium vote.

In a perfect world, their message would be heard.

Rays executives would not get silly questions about their number of billboards, or the price of a beer or any other knee-jerk complaints that have little to do with the real issue.

A week ago, while meeting with Hillsborough officials, the Rays explained their concerns as succinctly as possible.

In 2008, the Texas Rangers were 25th in attendance and the Rays were 26th. During the next five seasons, the Rangers made three playoff appearances and averaged 89 wins a season. The Rays also made three playoff appearances and averaged 92 wins a season.

For the Rangers, on-field success was a revenue boon. Texas was third in attendance in 2012. For the Rays, the opposite was true. They fell to 30th in attendance.

In a perfect world, they would challenge the timing.

Commissioners would point out the Rays were talking about a new stadium less than halfway through their lease and less than two years after new ownership took over.

Major League Baseball has seen an explosion of new stadiums in the last two decades, but construction usually comes at the end of a lease. The Marlins, Twins, Padres, Brewers, Pirates, Astros and Giants were all theoretically closer to relocation.

If the Rays want to jump the gun on a new stadium, they're going to have to be a little more forthright about what they're willing to offer in exchange.

In a perfect world, someone would take charge.

If not a mayor, then a commissioner. If not a commissioner, then a business person.

But someone has to get in front of this story, lest it become a much larger version of a grocery store that closes its doors because the numbers didn't add up.

The map is littered with cities that lost baseball (Washington, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Seattle) or football (Houston, Cleveland, Baltimore, Oakland, St. Louis) and spent years and dollars chasing a replacement team.

In a perfect world, that wouldn't happen here.

Romano: Time for straight talk when the Tampa Bay Rays meet with Pinellas County today 01/28/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 7:59am]
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