ST. PETERSBURG — Rays officials are “actively exploring” ways to have fans attend games at Tropicana Field this season, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman isn’t discounting the idea.
“The mayor is open-minded on this,” Kriseman communications director Ben Kirby said in a text message Thursday. “He’s talked to the Rays. Everyone would like to see the trajectory of the (coronavirus) data change. But the mayor is receptive to learning more.”
Specifically, Kirby said, “let’s hear more about how we keep everyone safe.”
Rays officials confirmed they are looking for ways to host fans at the Trop and also for Rowdies games at Al Lang Stadium while working with area authorities about coronavirus concerns.
Major League Baseball has announced plans to start a 60-game season on July 23-24. The Rowdies are expected to play a 16-game schedule starting on or around July 11.
“We miss the passionate support our fans bring to Tropicana Field and Al Lang Stadium, but the health and safety of our fans, players, coaches and staff remains paramount to our reopening plans,” Rays president Brian Auld said Thursday. “We continue to work closely with local authorities and experts to determine a safe path forward.”
Key issues are plans for socially distanced seating and the number of fans that would be allowed in, especially with the Trop being domed. Gov. Ron DeSantis has said sports venues could open at 50 percent capacity, but teams seem likely to target a lower number.
Also an issue is the timing, given the recent spike in positive tests in the Tampa Bay area, leading to regulations requiring masks in several area municipalities and throughout Florida.
The expectation for a baseball season has been that teams would host games without fans, and that premise of lost revenue was a key part of the owners’ arguments during the drawn-out negotiations for a season on why they wanted to limit pay to players.
But in the past few days, executives with several teams have said they expect to have a limited number of fans back at some point.
The Texas-based Astros and Rangers are making plans for fans from the start of the season at 50 percent capacity, with the Rangers selling tickets for about 20,000 per game at their new Globe Life Field.
Executives with the Cubs and Red Sox have talked about having fans back on a limited basis at some point during the two-month season.
Cubs business operations president Crane Kenney said Thursday on Chicago radio: “We do see that happening this year,” suggesting maybe 8,000 fans a game at 41,649-seat Wrigley Field, wearing masks and socially distanced.
South Florida radio host Andy Slater reported Wednesday that could happen in Miami, that Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez “will consider allowing fans at Marlins Park starting next month,” but that “the Marlins must first submit a plan to the county showing how fans can socially distance.”
Also Thursday, The Rays announced a partnership with Tampa mobile technology company Venuetize for fans to have an enhanced cashless and touchless transaction process within the MLB Ballpark app, including introduction of Rays Pay, a mobile payment wallet to be used for food, beverage and merchandise purchases. Features include discounts for season ticket holders and express pickup at spots throughout the stadium.
Castor ‘hopeful’ about keeping Rays
Also Thursday, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor told WDAE-FM 95.3 that while stadium talk has been paused briefly due to more pressing issues, she remains “hopeful” of finding the Rays a new home in Hillsborough County.
Before the pandemic, team officials had been actively engaged in a plan to split future seasons between new stadiums in the Tampa Bay area and in Montreal.
“We want the Rays to stay in the Tampa Bay area,” she said. “The Rays want to stay in the Tampa Bay area. So I’m very, very hopeful that we will find a way to get that done here in Hillsborough County. That is something that we’re going to work hard towards achieving, that goal of keeping the Rays here. And just really having Tampa Bay known as a sports town with the Bucs, with the Lightning and with the Rays.