Three weeks ago, on these pages, the Tampa Bay Times’ Editorial Board echoed former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker’s opinion that the Rays should be named after the city that pays for the stadium.
Our board is a collection of people of which I am one. My viewpoint does not always carry the day. As the chairperson and CEO of the Tampa Bay Times, formerly the St. Petersburg Times, I believe the Rays belong to our region, not any one city. The Times’ own history, and our decades of advocacy for regional identity and growth, made the board’s call for a new, less-inclusive name rich irony, if not hypocrisy.
The argument is that St. Petersburg will pay for the new stadium. Actually, all of Pinellas County will pick up the tab. The Pinellas Rays?
Professional sports teams are funded by more than just stadium attendance. The Rays enjoy one of the most loyal TV audiences, a fact that has challenged filling seats. The Bally Rays?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tampa Bay Lightning don’t belong to just Tampa. Feeding Tampa Bay doesn’t just fight hunger in Hillsborough County, where it is headquartered. Organizations mean more than where they have a building. We should know.
Bemetra Simmons, CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, which created the highly successful Tampa Bay Water, shared that 20% of all residents in our area cross county lines daily. Our beaches, our downtowns, our airports, our natural springs and so much more are treasures of regional pride.
We are fortunate. Tampa Bay is a body of water. Nobody lives in the bay, but we all live around it. It is what unifies us.
There is no shortage of parochial fights in metropolitan areas across the country. Some are clumsily resolved with complex hyphenations like the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, metro or the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina, research triangle. The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, are anything but twins. Then there are awkward directional state labels like Northwest Arkansas, a collection of four cities, or South Florida, which somehow leaves out the entire southwest coast of our state. These identity tussles are not new, and they are not helpful for what really matters.
St. Petersburg does not live in Tampa’s shadow. They both have thrived adjacent to the same bay. Tampa Bay.
Labeling for broad economic development and quality of life is wise. Labeling for ego and name recognition is just inside baseball.
Conan Gallaty is Chairperson and CEO of the Times Publishing Company.