Will Tampa Bay Rays ever get a new stadium?
As we’ve known for a while, Tampa Bay’s Rays simply cannot draw fans to their home stadium.
In their very first season, the (Devil) Rays drew 2.5 million, in the middle of the American League pack.
Since then, their best attendance came in 2009, on the heels of their American League pennant and World Series appearance. That season (2009) they drew nearly 1.9 million, good for 11th in the league. Since then, they’ve ranked 9th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 14th, and finally 15th this year. Usually with really good teams.
Due in large part to their inability to attract patrons to their stadium, the Rays have traded some great players while still in their primes, and one can certainly imagine Joe Maddon leaving because he couldn’t see things changing anytime soon.
By the way, it’s not really the market. The Tampa-St. Pete metropolitan area is roughly as populous as St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The Rays actually draw a fairly health television audience. For various reasons — but mostly the venue itself, and the difficulties getting there — people just don’t show up in great numbers. And it seems highly unlikely that they ever will.
You probably know all this already. What you might not know, because I certainly don’t, is why Major League Baseball has allowed this pus-filled postule to fester for so long. Because let’s be honest: All it would take is writing a big check.
Thursday, the St. Petersburg City Council approved a plan that would allow the Rays to escape their lease, which currently runs through 2027, by paying $33 million if they leave by 2020. This would obviously add $33 million to the coffers and open up 85 acres to development, once the dome is do-molished.
Win-win, right? Maybe not:
Karl Nurse, who had supported previous attempts by Mayor Rick Kriseman to broker a deal with the team, voted for Kennedy’s plan. He said he would have voted for Gerdes’ plan, too. Anything to get the city off the dime, he said.
"I think this plan has zero chance of being accepted by the Rays," Nurse said after the vote. "But if you’ve ever bought a house you know, you make an offer and hope they counter."
Gerdes said he thought his plan — which would have cost the team $22 million, or a third less than Kennedy’s — was a better deal, but the important thing was the council "put the ball in play."
Mayor Rick Kriseman was dubious. The Rays have said they won’t pay more to look for alternate stadium sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
"Typically, you don’t see offers get better with time. So that’s a concern. The other concern is that the amount that the Rays are being asked to pay is more than they were asked to pay the first time," Kriseman said after the vote.
Could the issue really be $33 million? And before this, $22 million? When $33 million (let alone $22 million) is barely even walking-around money for Major League Baseball these days? Is MLB simply so beholden to the "principle" of never paying for anything that they’re willing to let a franchise rot away for another decade-plus?
I do realize that it’s complicated? There’s the city, and there are counties, and there’s actually not a perfect site for a new ballpark, let alone a new ballpark that the public’s eager to finance.
But it strikes me that while Major League Baseball and it’s Commissioners are pretty good at the small stuff — making schedules and protecting catchers and shaving four minutes from game times and whatnot — they often seem almost helpless when it comes to the big stuff.
So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised if the Rays are still last in the American League in attendance in 11 or 12 years.