St. Petersburg isn’t as well known to the wider world as “Tampa Bay.” One of the main reasons is that most of the area’s professional sports franchises have Tampa in their names, even the ones that don’t play in that fine city. Now is the time to address that discrepancy, as the Rays baseball team negotiates to build a new stadium at the western edge of St. Petersburg’s downtown. A name that reflects where the team actually plays its home games would be good for the city. But a St. Petersburg Rays would be good for the region, too.
Anyone from St. Petersburg who travels outside of Florida can relate to their city’s relative anonymity. Most have had some variation of the following exchange while on vacation, visiting family or doing business out of state.
Where are you from?
St. Petersburg, you reply.
The questioner returns that vague look. You can tell they have never heard of it. Either that or their brow twists as they wonder whether you reside in the homonymous Russian city on the Baltic Sea.
You eventually have to fill in the blank.
It’s next to Tampa.
Oh, right. Tampa.
Yes, what’s good for St. Petersburg can be good for Tampa Bay. Just like how a tourist who comes to ride the Iron Gwazi at Busch Gardens in Tampa often spends money to visit the Dali Museum or to eat at a gulfside restaurant. A business that relocates to Tampa from New York or Texas can just as easily hire someone who lives in Largo as someone who lives in Plant City. And for years, this Editorial Board has argued for lowering the political walls between our area’s various local and county governments. Those walls, we believe, too often hamper progress.
Giving St. Petersburg’s brand a boost on a national scale helps the entire region. That’s something a professional sports team that plays all around the country can do that a regionally constrained business cannot. It’s not parochial to be strategic. Adopting St. Pete as the name makes more people in more places aware of Tampa Bay’s robust offerings — for tourists and businesses alike. Every time the Rays play against teams from New York, Seattle, San Diego, Phoenix, Chicago, Denver or any other area it will remind viewers that St. Petersburg is its own mid-sized city, not a suburb of some larger place. In fact, it’s a vital component of one of the country’s fastest-growing metro areas.
The name would etch St. Petersburg into the national consciousness in ways that no amount of expensive advertising can accomplish. Green Bay, Wisconsin, has fewer residents than Clearwater and far fewer than St. Petersburg. But everyone has heard of it, thanks to the city’s legendary National Football League franchise. The St. Petersburg Rays could help do the same for The Sunshine City.
In a column published with this editorial, former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker makes the financial argument for changing the name. The city and county, he writes, are contemplating whether to contribute nearly $1.3 billion toward the project envisioned on the 86 acres in the Historic Gas Plant District. “Why would our taxpayers invest over a billion dollars for a team named after Tampa?” Baker asks. That’s a good question, one that St. Pete’s City Council should address head on.
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Leaving the Rays’ name the same does little to help further promote the region. It’s the conservative approach, an acceptance of the status quo. We should aim higher. Changing the name will help push St. Petersburg into the national limelight. That’s a boost for the entire Tampa Bay area.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.