What do the Rays want?
The Rays want to get a municipality in Tampa Bay, most likely St. Petersburg, and the city of Montreal to agree to the nearly unprecedented move of sharing a Major League Baseball team. Rays officials believe getting both cities to build smaller, outdoor stadiums — as opposed to a larger domed stadium, like the $892 million structure once proposed for Ybor City — will allow each community to enjoy baseball during optimum periods: Tampa Bay in the spring and Montreal in the summer.
It eases the burden on corporations and fans, and theoretically heightens demand since there will be fewer regular-season games. Additional enticements could possibly include spring training games moving from Port Charlotte back to Tampa Bay, creating an economic benefit for the area that would bring spring training visitors from Montreal.
What’s in it for the Rays?
Increased revenue and added franchise value. Make no mistake, this deal makes terrific fiscal sense for the team. It could reap the benefits from two markets and two fan bases, and that would include two television deals; possibly three if it found a Canadian network to broadcast the games in French. Team officials already project having a higher payroll and in theory, a better team.
What’s in it for the fans and the community?
The community’s limited resources (read dollars) could be devoted to other needs. If it chose to retrofit Al Lang Stadium, it might lead to lower tax expenditures and the new stadium could attract an MLS soccer franchise to the area. Ultimately, it’s a value proposition for fans and the community.
What are the drawbacks for fans?
Under the proposal, which still must clear numerous hurdles to reach fruition, Tampa Bay fans sacrifice the opportunity to see more than half of the home games. They also would not get to attend the most exciting games of a pennant chase in September and could have to miss out on postseason games if the team makes the playoffs.
What’s next for the Rays?
The team will pursue approval from St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman, the St. Pete City Council and Pinellas County commissioners to officially explore the idea of sharing home games with the city of Montreal. It can’t conduct the exploration without approval from the city. They hope the council and Kriseman, who initially called the idea silly, will warm to the possibility.
If Kriseman and the council refuse, will the Rays renew efforts to reach agreement with the city and the county on a new, larger domed stadium that can host all 81 home games?
Team officials responded to that question by saying it would be “highly unlikely.” They also said making that plan work would be “extremely difficult” and “beyond very challenging.” Critics might argue the hard stance is a negotiating ploy or posturing, but on Tuesday, they said they no longer believe the Rays can enjoy fiscal success and strong attendance at home games, even with a new stadium, in Tampa Bay. That stance runs counter to some nefarious plan to press elected officials into agreeing to a full-fledged stadium.
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Kriseman does not want to be known as the mayor who allowed the team to constitute a deal that left Tampa Bay with only half of its games. It could hurt any future political ambitions he may possess and to date, fans have widely panned the proposal. Granting permission holds no immediate benefit for the mayor with rank and file voters.
So, why would Kriseman ever grant permission to the team?
Kriseman may not want to be known as the mayor who lost the franchise. If the Rays honestly have lost faith in the Tampa Bay market as a full-time home, their only alternative may be dividing the home games with another city or leaving the market entirely for another city (Charlotte, Nashville and San Antonio are among the possibilities). Kriseman could allow the team to explore the possibility and if it failed — there are many more hurdles to overcome — he can at least say he can’t be blamed for not granting permission. He also may be getting pressure from local business interests who seen a boon in spring training returning to the area with a Montreal component.
If Kriseman refuses to grant permission, is this dispute over?
Not necessarily. The Rays could wait until St. Petersburg elects a new mayor and new city council members in 2021 and hope to find a friendlier administration and city council after the election. Team officials don’t want to wait that long, but they didn’t rule out that possibility on Tuesday.
What will the team do to win over fans?
Not much until it gets approval from the elected officials. The Rays believe creating a marketing effort to win over suspect fans before it gets approval would be akin to putting the cart before the horse. However, it’s clear it needs to, at some point, convince fans to buy into even what Sternberg said some fans view as “cockamamie.”