TAMPA, Fla. — Could baseball be at risk in the Tampa Bay region? It’s uncertain. But the message delivered by Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg on Thursday during a one-hour talk at a Hillsborough County Commission meeting was strong.
Sternberg, who became the club’s principal owner in 2005, told commissioners, “MLB, at this point, doesn’t believe any more in the Tampa Bay area.”
His statement was part of a discussion in which the Rays were given a forum to share goals and a timetable for a new stadium that the club suggests is needed to sustain professional baseball in the region. Sternberg didn’t share specifics about where such a stadium should be placed or when construction must begin. Still, he emphasized that Tropicana Field, located in St. Petersburg, Fla., is too far from the region’s commercial center.
Currently, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster refuses to allow the Rays to search for potential stadium sites in Hillsborough County, where Tampa is located.
“I promised the very first day I came in, in October 2005, that I would never demand a new stadium,” Sternberg said. “I’m still not demanding a new stadium. (I’m) just trying to get as many new facts out there as we can.”
The Rays have enjoyed success of late, but attendance figures have failed to follow. Since 2008, Tampa Bay has averaged nearly 92 victories per year and earned three postseason berths, including a World Series appearance in ‘08. In addition, the Rays’ .565 winning percentage over the last five seasons ranks third in the league.
MLB teams averaged about 2.5 million in attendance last season, but Tampa Bay ranked last with a total of 1,559,681 (an average of 19,255) despite finishing 90-72. It marked the Rays’ third campaign with at least 90 victories in the last four years.
“The Commissioner has had conversations with Stuart Sternberg and is disappointed with the current situation in the Tampa Bay market,” read an MLB statement released late Thursday. “The status quo is simply not sustainable. … The Club is an eager contributor to worthy causes in the Tampa and St. Petersburg communities and takes pride in meeting the social responsibilities that come with being a Major League franchise. We are hopeful that the market will respond in kind to a Club that has done a marvelous job on and off the field.”
The upcoming season will be the Rays’ 16th in the region.
“I own the team. I control the team,” Sternberg said. “But this is not Stu Sternberg’s team. As we sit here today — as we sit here in the near and mid-future — it’s Tampa Bay’s team. And my intent is to have a Tampa Bay team until the year 2100. I want to get that done.”