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Rays Tales: New TV deal “is going to happen” but bucks won’t be as big

Downturn in industry had an impact, uncertainty over networks sale is also an issue.
Rays pitchers Tyler Glasnow and Ryne Stanek had a good time at Saturday's Fan Fest. [TAYLIR IRVINE | Times]
Published Feb. 10
Updated Feb. 10

ST. PETERSBURG – Nothing’s official yet and it’s not clear when it will be, but principal owner Stuart Sternberg confirmed the Rays are finally set to sign a long-awaited new local TV deal.

That’s good news because it means an increase in revenues from the $30 million they got in 2018 in the final year of their previous deal, which was among the worst in the majors.

But it’s not nearly as much as the Rays had once hoped, given a sports industry-wide drop in rights fees as a fallout from cord-cutting and other issues, or that some of their competitors got previously.

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And it’s “well, well, well under” the $82 million annual average over 15 years that was reported last spring by Sports Business Daily, Sternberg said, declining now, and likely ever, to reveal what the exact number is, or how much it could boost payroll or help pay for a new stadium.

“It’s going to be an increase of where we are,’’ Sternberg said, estimating the new deal would rank about 20th in the majors. “Much of the reason we’ve spent all that we have is because we knew we had some more revenue (coming) off of TV. Unfortunately it’s going to fall reasonably short of what we anticipated four years ago.’’

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Completion of the deal is complicated by the ongoing sale of Fox regional sports networks, such as Fox Sports Sun, as fallout from Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets. Adding to the oddness, Major League Baseball is one of the potential buyers.

“There still things in flux,’’ Sternberg said. “It’s going to happen. There’s a structure of a deal. But there’s still just too much (unsettled). … We don’t know who’s going to own the thing.’’

The Rays and Fox worked out what basically is a placeholder deal for this season, so you’ll have Dewayne and BA yucking it up like usual, with hopes the new pact will be executed sometime in 2019. But the sale uncertainly makes it tough to finalize the terms, possibly even the length of the deal, with the team wanting at least 15 years. Another factor could be the Rays’ unsettled stadium situation, given at least the potential for relocating within the length of the deal.

Commissioner Rob Manfred suggested the new TV deal could help the effort to get a new stadium built in the area. “It’s an improvement in their revenue stream and that’s always a positive,’’ Manfred said. “And I also think it’s reflective of the fact that the Tampa region is a major-league market and we ought to be able to find a way, with the help of the local officials, to make it work there.’’

Rays rumblings

Baseball Prospectus’ annual PECOTA projections peg the Rays for 86 wins and the second AL wild-card, though only a 12-9, 3.24 season for Cy Young award winner Blake Snell. … A fifth date, April 20, is being added for wearing the Devil Rays throwback uniforms. … Initial reaction to the proposed rule change requiring pitchers to face a minimum of three batters is that if anything it would help the Rays, given they prioritize pitchers who can faced right- and lefthanded hitters and work more than one inning. … Installation of the Trop’s third Shaw Sports turf in three years starts after a Feb. 22-24 gymnastics meet. … With the Rays controlling Al Lang Stadium through their ownership of the Rowdies, a couple mounds were re-built to give pitchers the option of working out there to prep for hot weather road trips. … The Rays are still deciding whether to put tarps over the now unused seats in the closed upper deck. … Tommy Pham was named to mlb.com’s all-underrated team for 2019, although as the centerfielder. … The New York-based Steiner Sports memorabilia company sold, and claimed to sell out of, 52 balls signed by Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia with the phrase “That’s for you b----” that he yelled into the Rays dugout after a retaliatory pitch that hit Jesus Sucre in the Sept. 27 game. … Playing off the classic scene in the Bull Durham movie, the Rays Triple-A Durham Bulls team will re-brand for their June 14 game as the Lollygaggers. Added bonus, the special jerseys include words from the script. … Snell is on the cover of the pocket schedules. … Sounds like the new LED stadium lights, that can be quickly turned on and off, will be an element in walkoff celebrations.

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