Rays ‘highly optimistic’ about getting St. Petersburg stadium deal done

Stuart Sternberg says the team is willing to pay half of the cost of a proposed new $1.2 billion stadium. Plus, the search for investors has led to inquiries about selling the team.
Rays process and analytics coach Jonathan Erlichman, left, speaks with principal owner Stuart Sternberg, right, before Wednesday's game against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field,
Rays process and analytics coach Jonathan Erlichman, left, speaks with principal owner Stuart Sternberg, right, before Wednesday's game against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field, [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Sept. 9|Updated Sept. 15

ST. PETERSBURG — Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Friday the team is willing to pay more than half of the cost of a proposed new $1.2 billion St. Petersburg stadium, and he is “highly optimistic” about getting a deal done by year’s end.

With a commitment to potentially exceed $600 million for the domed stadium near the current Tropicana Field site, Sternberg said the Rays have been actively seeking investors to provide some of that cash in exchange for a share in the team.

The process has led to numerous inquiries about selling the entire team. While saying “it’s not my intent to sell” and he expects to remain owner, Sternberg said he is willing to at least listen.

That position isn’t new, he said, but the amount of interest in the Rays has increased.

“I think you could say I’m open to selling the team,” he said, “but I’ve always been open to selling the team.

“More people are approaching us as a result of us being out there trying to raise money. And we’re not trying to raise a million dollars from somebody, we’re trying to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. And when you’re talking about people raising potentially hundreds of millions of dollars, they’re going, ‘Well, maybe we can buy the whole damn thing.’ So they take a run at you.”

The increased interest also could lead to a hike in the price offered, which in theory could make a potential deal more intriguing.

For example, Forbes reported in June that a Tennessee-based investor was “trying to put together a group” that included Tampa businessman Dan Doyle Jr., the chairman of DEX Imaging, to buy the Rays for $1.85 billion, which would be an extreme premium price, given the magazine in March valued the team at $1.25 billion. The New York Mets sold for $2.4 billion in November 2020; the Kansas City Royals for $1 billion in 2019.

The Athletic also reported in May that Doyle was “trying to buy the franchise.”

“We’ve always maintained that it’s not for sale,” Sternberg said. Still, he tells interested parties, “if you want to make an offer, I always listen.”

Sternberg said the Rays have received “many, many” offers over the years, but no deal is currently in the works.

“Like I’ve said also about all our baseball players all the time, you never say no to everything,” Sternberg said. “There hasn’t been anything, obviously, because this has been kicking around for a long time. I’m still standing here right now, and I haven’t seen anything happen.

“We’re going forward with the season, and we’re going to go forward, trying to put together something to raise some money to the very least be able to finance this ballpark.”

Sternberg said the Rays make it clear to any inquiring party that if the new stadium deal is completed, the team is staying put. But he said if there is no agreement for a new stadium, he would sell the team and expect the new owners to move it out of the Tampa Bay area after the 2027 expiration of the Tropicana Field lease.

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“If I can’t get something done here, the best buyer will be somebody from somewhere else, and the team will be sold,” he said. “I will not be moving the team. I’ve always been clear on that.” (He noted that he viewed the previously considered controversial plan to have the team split games between Tampa Bay and Montreal, during which it also sought to raise capital to pay stadium costs, as a way to keep it based locally.)

Rays process and analytics coach Jonathan Erlichman, left, speaks with principal owner Stuart Sternberg Wednesday at Tropicana Field.
Rays process and analytics coach Jonathan Erlichman, left, speaks with principal owner Stuart Sternberg Wednesday at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Sternberg said the Rays have been working “very closely and diligently” with St. Petersburg and Pinellas County officials on the new stadium as part of the 86-acre Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment and are optimistic about their goal to have agreements by the end of the year.

“Things are moving forward,” he said. “Nothing ever goes completely forward in a straight line. You get from here to there, you have setbacks and all. But I think we’re moving along at a very nice pace. And I feel pretty good about where we stand.”

As those talks (which include the global Hines Co. developer) proceed, Sternberg said the Rays continue to talk at some level with Tampa representatives about the potential for a stadium there. However, that seems increasingly unlikely given the lack of action so far.

“We stay in contact with them,” he said, “and we’ll keep it at that.”

Sternberg saying the Rays are expecting to “pay for half or more” of the $1.2 billion stadium is the first public indication of the size of their commitment. The stadium would open in 2028, and the full development project would take about 15 years to complete.

Among other topics in a wide-ranging interview with the Tampa Bay Times at Tropicana Field, Sternberg, 64, said:

• Handling the Wander Franco issue, including taking signage and merchandise out of the stadium, was not difficult following the star shortstop’s placement on administrative leave as multiple investigations continue into allegations of inappropriate relationships with one or more minors.

“Not having him on the field is really difficult, but as far as dealing with the issue itself, no,” Sternberg said. “We can always deal with it when we have to deal with it. But right now it was a pretty clean decision (on the signage and merchandise) for us to make.”

• He praised players and staff for persevering through the loss of numerous key players to remain in postseason contention.

“Injuries are part of the game, certainly, but there have been injuries and other circumstances (that) have been really problematic for us this year,” he said. “But you see the amazing job our organization has done, on the run-suppression side of the ball, especially.”

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