ST. PETERSBURG — Encouraged by a reported thaw in relations between Mayor Bill Foster and the Tampa Bay Rays, the City Council agreed Thursday to become one of the team's biggest boosters.
The eight-member board unanimously voted to enlist themselves as "ambassadors" of the team to help increase attendance, which was the second lowest in baseball last season.
"This is the logical way to begin the conversation," Karl Nurse said. "To me, the common ground is quite clear: We have to sell tickets or we won't have a baseball team."
Still to come is a specific plan for this mission. Thursday's discussion was limited to vague talk about getting the city's and the team's marketing teams coordinated, scouting for charter buses to ferry fans to games from across the region, and working with other Tampa Bay cities and counties to help sell tickets.
While sounding trite, the vote did signify that, for now at least, the council was going along with Foster's handling of the Rays. Last year, the board pressed Foster to more actively engage Rays officials. Some members of the council, most notably Leslie Curran, had grown restless with the lack of communication between Foster and Rays owner Stu Sternberg.
The two had stopped talking after Sternberg announced in June 2010 that he wanted to explore new stadium sites outside of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. Foster has refused to let the Rays explore outside Pinellas. The club is contractually obligated to play at Tropicana Field through the 2027 season.
At the council's urging, Foster and Sternberg set up a meeting. Held Tuesday at the Tropicana Field, it lasted two hours. Afterward, Sternberg and Foster said their positions hadn't changed.
Still, both went out of their way to characterize the meeting as a positive step toward better communication. With low expectations met, council members encouraged Foster to continue to talk with Sternberg — and next time tackle more solid issues like the stadium and transit options like light rail that can make it easier for fans to attend games.
"There's more work to be done," Curran said.