ST. PETERSBURG — Faced with a huge public outcry, the Tampa Bay Rays announced late Wednesday that they would hold off selling the naming rights for their spring training stadium to the world's largest phosphate mining company.
The announcement of the deal with Mosaic for naming rights to the Port Charlotte stadium outraged some Charlotte County residents and officials, because the county has spent $12 million fighting the company in court over the past decade.
The team pulled the item from the Charlotte County Commission agenda at the last minute on Feb. 9, promising to gauge public sentiment and return to the next commission meeting. Now they have deferred it indefinitely.
"While we believe this naming rights deal presents many benefits to both the Rays and the entire community, neither the Rays nor Mosaic wants it to distract the team and fans from their focus on baseball," team senior vice president Mark Fernandez said in a news release.
Commissioner Adam Cummings, the leading critic of the deal, called the announcement "good news" and said it "illustrates the Rays' sensitivity for our community and citizens and what they want."
If it had been approved, the deal would have turned the ballpark into Mosaic Field at Charlotte Sports Park for 15 years. The Rays have not disclosed what they would be paid, but the county would get $1.4 million over the life of the deal.
Mosaic has been battling Charlotte County over permits for new phosphate mines along the Peace River, which flows into Charlotte Harbor, the basis for the region's fishing and tourism industry. Critics of the naming rights deal said they believed the company was trying to buy off its biggest opponent and make it appear that the county was now a partner.
"Community investment is a core element of Mosaic's culture and our principal reason for entering into the naming rights agreement with the Rays," Mosaic spokesman David Townsend said in the news release. "We remain committed to continuing and building upon our history of support to communities throughout our operating area."
The Rays moved their spring training from St. Petersburg to Port Charlotte last year, after the facility underwent a $27 million face-lift. The contract they signed with the county allows the team to sell the naming rights to the stadium, though the county can veto the deal.
Pitchers and catchers report to Port Charlotte today, with the team's first spring training game at Charlotte Sports Park scheduled for March 4 against the Baltimore Orioles.
Craig Pittman can be reached at (727) 893-8530 or firstname.lastname@example.org.