Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg optimistic about stadium search, team

ST. PETERSBURG — As far as working a crowd, Saturday presented a relatively easy task for Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg at the team's annual, though earlier than usual, Fan Fest. A few questions about their offseason deals, some comments on the stadium quest and plenty of thank yous.

"It's all smiles," Sternberg said, "so it's all good."

Entering his 12th season as the top Ray, Sternberg came across relatively upbeat during a 30-minute talk with the Tampa Bay Times: optimistic that by season's end, there will be a site chosen and a proposal completed for a new stadium somewhere — though they don't know where yet — in the Tampa Bay area; and confident a team he's certain wasn't as bad as it looked last season will be better than expected this year, good enough to compete for a playoff spot.

Having gone through ups and downs for 10 years, Sternberg said he is encouraged by progress on the stadium.

The plan now is to whittle a list of a half-dozen potential stadium sites down to a top "pin-perfect" choice, not looking to identify Pinellas and Hillsborough options then negotiate for a better deal.

"To say this place, this place or the other place means we don't have any place," he said. "We need to know which is No. 1, and that's what we need to shoot for. The idea is to get that place and make it work good."

Sternberg said a reason for his optimism, and resulting freedom from Major League Baseball to drive the process, has been the cooperation of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and other politicians on both sides of the bay.

Acknowledging there is still major work to be done — such as developing specifics of a public/private financing plan and cost/revenue projections in concert with Major League Baseball — Sternberg said they are optimistic the quixotic quest will result in a workable solution, rather than concluding there is not one.

"If we are going to propose it, it will be because we believe it works for generations," he said.

Other factors could have an impact, such as proposed state legislation to limit public investment in stadiums and a pitch to expand St. Petersburg's Al Lang Stadium to accommodate the Rowdies moving up to Major League Soccer.

"We, I believe, firmly put our best foot forward every day and our intentions are as pure as possible to get something done," he said. "However, if because the soccer team is here helps or doesn't, if someone in Tallahassee helps or doesn't, or interest rates change, those are things completely out of my control."

As for the team, Sternberg acknowledged the loss in trading veterans Logan Forsythe, Drew Smyly and, last August, Matt Moore. But he said the returns were beneficial for the short and long term, which is their standard protocol, and allow them to feel they go into each season with a chance to contend rather than go through cycles.

"We feel we improved the team with what we did," he said. "We think we have the makings, if healthy, and with performances of just okay to be making noise in September and past."

On other topics of note, Sternberg said:

• He has had no thoughts of selling, though he gets regular inquiries from people wanting to invest in, buy or relocate the team. "I have not engaged in any of it," he said. "That's a no."

• The Rays are "working on" a new TV deal but won't have one in place until 2019 at the earliest. "That's another one of the challenges we have in front of us," he said. "It could be months, it could be years."

• He did not, as was reported by a Canadian journalist, fund a stadium study in Montreal.

• He remains pleased with the work of the front office on the business and baseball side and confident in manager Kevin Cash. "He's just a joy," Sternberg said. "His growth even in the two years he's been here, and I think the needle still points up there."

• Though there have been "some" years when they have made money, and they get in excess of $50 million annually from MLB while operating with payrolls in the $60 million to $70 million range, the net since taking over in October 2005 is in the red. "We have lost money from every point in time you can pick," he said.

• Attendance is expected to remain "flat" after a majors-worst 1,286,163 last year.

ALSO: Orestes Destrade was hired as director of baseball/community outreach with broad responsibilities including expanding the Hispanic market, and he will continue his work on the Fox broadcasts. … The team said more than 15,000 attended Fan Fest and $84,000-plus was raised for its charity foundation. … TV analyst Brian Anderson is on crutches after surgery to repair a broken right ankle but said he "absolutely" will be ready for opening day.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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