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Rays’ Stuart Sternberg on Montreal, ‘affordable tickets’ and the team’s outlook

The Rays principal owner weighs in on Montreal, ticket accessibility, attendance, Astros and more.
Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg addressing media at spring training on Wednesday. [MARC TOPKIN | Times]

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg did his annual spring training session with the media Wednesday to discuss myriad topics including the Montreal season-sharing plan, reduced ticket prices, the Astros, the Yankees, Yoshi Tsutsugo and more. Here are some highlights:

• New pricing plans will include tickets for $12 or less to half the games, and $10 or less to about 30, as well as specials during the season. “Affordability won’t be an issue, and never should be an issue, with attending a baseball game, and especially attending a Rays baseball game,” said Sternberg, adding that under their plans it will be “amazingly affordable. It’s already amazingly affordable. Ridiculously affordable. Amazingly, ridiculously, silly affordable.”

• Given the excitement coming off last year’s success, he expects “attendance to be up this year, as it really should be.”

Related: Kevin Cash had simple message to his Rays

• They have made good progress convincing league owners and Tampa Bay area business leaders about the merits of the Montreal plan, but understand fans are still skeptical. “I totally get it,” he said. “And until we get this done, and when we get this done, I would anticipate people will look back and say, ‘How, why was this not done years before?' I truly believe going forward this is going to be a model for all of pro sports.”

• They will announce several new ticket products later today, expected to include flex packs, a monthly pass and one that “I don’t think has been done" elsewhere."

• Though the team announced Tuesday they would sell tickets only on mobile devices, he said that fans who don’t have smartphones will be accommodated — “friction-less” — through the box office or team store.

• He is “thrilled” that players around the league have spoken out recently against the Astros’ actions and the discipline that was meted out, but “would have loved” to hear them speak out during the investigation rather than “a little Monday morning kind of quarterbacking.”

• Asked if the Astros were disciplined enough he said “I think the franchise has suffered a good amount” and “is going to be living with this for years.” He said it should be enough of a deterrent for other teams to not do so: “At the end of the day that franchise is going to be feeling a dramatic amount of pain for a number of years, and any other franchise that is going to think about even contemplating the possibility of the idea of doing something like this is going to have to wear that stain and that stink, and I think that should be enough to be a deterrent.”

• Though he didn’t accuse the Astros of cheating against the Rays in the 2019 playoffs, he implied they still had an advantage because the Rays had to be concerned they were. “The truth is our eye was off the ball because a lot of our baseball staff and upper staff were really focused on that, and seeing if it was going on,” he said. “We had to deal with changing signals and things. They changed our normal course of business. So in retrospect, it hurt us. But we lost. Any which way you slice it up, we lost. And that’s what it is.”

• He is “a little too optimistic” about his team, noting they have “the best team, or second-best team in baseball” to compete against in the Yankees but, “I think we’re going to give them a run for their money.”

• The Rays’ biggest strength for 2020 is being “thick,” especially the pitching staff, which he considers the most important part of the team. “To me it’s all about the pitching. This group, top to bottom, I’m going to talk about 20 pitchers, through and through is the greatest group we’ve had since we’ve been here.”

• His primary concern, as usual, is the bullpen.

• Adding Japanese star Yoshi Tsutsugo will “be helpful” in increasing the team’s presence in Japan from a marketing and recognition standpoint “but won’t move the needle much.” He did say there likely will be some signage at the Trop, and thus on game telecasts, from companies in Japan.