Saturday, February 24, 2018
News Roundup

Time for tough talk on Tampa Bay Rays relocation

No negotiations. No proposals. No progress.

On the surface there was little to report in the unhappy marriage of Tampa Bay Rays ownership and the city of St. Petersburg, following their little get-together last week.

Except for this:

After both sides agreed to keep the posturing to a minimum, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster went on a talking-points tour of newspaper, radio and TV outlets in Tampa Bay, and deftly changed the narrative of the story.

Saying over and over again that he did not want to put words in Stuart Sternberg's mouth, the mayor then did a ventriloquist act that would put Las Vegas to shame.

He said the Rays intimated they did not have faith in Tampa as a stadium location. He said the Rays questioned Tampa Bay's viability to support three professional franchises. He said the Rays were interested in looking at sites outside of this market.

Presto!

This was no longer a matter of the mayor blocking a potential stadium in downtown Tampa, it was the mayor keeping the Rays from high-tailing it to Nashville.

Was it spin? Sure. Was it effective? Absolutely.

And Foster did not stop there.

He suggested Tampa Bay was going to lose Major League Baseball if attendance did not increase, and he subtly insinuated that Hillsborough County fans were the culprits.

Just like that, the focus shifted.

No one was talking about Tropicana Field's location, or the lack of corporate support in Pinellas County, or the stalemate between Foster and Sternberg.

Instead, the conversation became a question of whether Sternberg had ulterior motives, and whether fans have been negligent in their support.

Once again, it's powerful as a story line.

I just don't know if it's productive.

Or accurate.

Heaven knows, Tampa Bay has its challenges as a sports market. Lack of corporations, lack of community identity, lack of wealth are just a handful of the problems.

And I don't doubt that Rays ownership questioned the ability of the market to handle three professional franchises because there has been little evidence to prove otherwise.

But this problem does not get solved by blaming fans or portraying ownership as the villain. The only way Major League Baseball survives is by creating an atmosphere where a franchise is not selling its tickets one seat at a time.

And that's not a fan problem or an ownership problem. That's a question of having enough corporations and wealthy professionals near the stadium.

The city seems to be banking on the idea that increased marketing will goose attendance this season, and maybe that will work to some extent. I just don't know that it's a game-changer for the future.

For this thing to move forward, the Rays are going to have to take the lead because neither the business community nor local politicians seem inclined. And that means Sternberg is going to have to become more visible and more vocal and patiently explain what he is trying to accomplish.

For, in some ways, the Rays and Foster are making identical arguments.

Sternberg says the Rays will not be in Tropicana Field long term, and Foster said last week that they will be gone when the lease ends. Sternberg says fan support has not been sufficient, and Foster spent the week saying the exact same thing.

Sternberg said in 2007 that the 85 acres where Tropicana Field sits were more valuable to St. Petersburg as a multiuse development, and Foster suggested last week that he might one day ask the Rays to leave the Trop if a developer has a plan to reinvent that site.

So what's the problem?

I would guess it's a question of timing and perception.

Sternberg wants to begin exploring new sites now, and Foster doesn't want the Rays leaving St. Petersburg on his watch.

So instead of addressing the real issues, we get sound bites. We get insinuations of nefarious motives. We get fingers being pointed.

It makes for sexy headlines and interesting radio banter, but it doesn't come close to solving the problem. And this is a problem.

Waiting until 2017 or 2020 to solve it is probably not going to work. By then Sternberg, or any other owner, will have less incentive to negotiate with St. Petersburg.

At that point they can wait out the end of the lease and sell themselves to the highest bidder, whether that's in Tampa Bay or somewhere a thousand miles away.

It's a difficult issue, but we seem to be making it even worse.

If everyone agrees attendance at Tropicana Field is lackluster, if everyone agrees the land at the Trop is more valuable as a multiuse site, if everyone agrees the Rays are not going to stay in downtown St. Petersburg for the long term, why aren't we moving in one direction? At the very least, why aren't we talking about that direction?

John Romano can be reached at [email protected]

Comments

High school scoreboard for Feb. 23

Friday’s scoreboardSoftballSpringstead 2, Crystal River 0BaseballCalvary Christian 9, Countryside 2Northeast 15, Tarpon Springs 1
Updated: 6 hours ago
Florida Capitol Republicans promise ‘complete investigation’ of what went wrong

Florida Capitol Republicans promise ‘complete investigation’ of what went wrong

TALLAHASSEE — A bombshell that South Florida police ignored tips that a teenager was planning an assault on a school and then failed to stop him when he attacked seems destined to complicate the election-year discussion around mass shootings.Even in ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Top Justice official alerted White House 2 weeks ago to ongoing issues in Kushner’s security clearance

Top Justice official alerted White House 2 weeks ago to ongoing issues in Kushner’s security clearance

WASHINGTON — A top Justice Department official alerted the White House two weeks ago that significant information requiring additional investigation would further delay the security clearance process of senior adviser Jared Kushner, three people fami...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Indiana man killed, two hurt as boats collide on Little Manatee River

Indiana man killed, two hurt as boats collide on Little Manatee River

RUSKIN — Arthur D. Showley, 75, went fishing early Friday morning, something he did two or three times a week, friends said. When they saw his car and trailer still parked near a community boat ramp at 2 p.m., they thought that was strange."He never ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Here are the GOP’s responses to the Parkland massacre. Would any have worked?

Here are the GOP’s responses to the Parkland massacre. Would any have worked?

Gov. Rick Scott and Republican leadership in the Florida Legislature have rolled out their ideas for change in response to the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. But would these measures have made a difference in the worst mass...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Former Florida congressmen say gun control measures need to go much further

Former Florida congressmen say gun control measures need to go much further

TAMPA — A bipartisan pair of former congressmen spoke Friday about gun safety measures that are more drastic than those being considered following the Parkland school shootings, and about hopes for a national youth movement comparable to the 1960s an...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Restricting bullets rather than guns might cut toll of school shootings, some experts say

Restricting bullets rather than guns might cut toll of school shootings, some experts say

This is the sad new math in the age of school slaughter.If one student comes to school with a firearm and 10 ammunition magazines filled with 30 bullets each, and another comes with a firearm and 30 magazines filled with 10 bullets each, who can crea...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Epilogue: Lee Davis, businessman and adventurer, survived many a scrape

Epilogue: Lee Davis, businessman and adventurer, survived many a scrape

TAMPA — Friends and family have a saying about Lee Thornton Davis Jr. Once you met him, even for just a moment, you knew him forever."He was the most outgoing person I’d ever met," Dick Greco said, which is something coming from Tampa’s gregarious, 8...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Edward Peachey demands severance from CareerSource before stepping down

Edward Peachey demands severance from CareerSource before stepping down

The head of the Pinellas and Hillsborough career centers under multiple investigations into the way they report job placement figures says he has no intention of stepping down.That’s unless he is paid five months severance.In a letter from his attorn...
Updated: 11 hours ago
She’s taught at the Parkland high school for 14 years. Can she go back?

She’s taught at the Parkland high school for 14 years. Can she go back?

PARKLAND — She was afraid of what it would feel like, but she needed to know, so Melissa Falkowski pulled into the faculty parking lot. She took a deep breath in through her nose and climbed out of her car. She was back, in front of Marjory Stoneman ...
Updated: 11 hours ago