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Tampa Bay Rays in Crosshairs of Brash Vegas, Restrained Portland

January 2, 2019 - 12:30pm
Action was hot, attendance was not
Action was hot, attendance was not

The abject failure of Hillsborough County to provide a sensible location and realistic financing for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium has emboldened two western cities that yearn for Major League Baseball.

Both Portland and Las Vegas are rumored to be hastening plans for building state-of-the-art stadiums, even without the awarding of a franchise or commitment for one.  Their tactics mirror the personality of each city: Vegas hasn’t disguised its glee at the Rays’ plight; Portland, publicly at least, is playing its cards close to the vest.

The two cities have reportedly expedited their timetables for stadium construction.

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg asserted last month at Major League Baseball’s winter meetings -- held in Las Vegas -- that the ephemeral plans for a new stadium in Ybor City are dead.  Not only was the proposal more flawed than diamonds sold on E-bay, Sternberg was reportedly spooked by associating himself with self-enriching land barons connected to county government cronies.

The Rays owner, a New York resident with no real ties to Tampa Bay, then issued this outlandish statement:

“We’ll continue to look in Tampa Bay and we’ll put our efforts to that,” Sternberg said at a news conference during the winter meetings. “One way or another, we need to figure out where the team is going to be in 2028, if not sooner. Ideally sooner. But absolutely by 2028.”

Don’t buy it. He knows he will find the best deal elsewhere from cities starving for a MLB franchise that won’t be as attendance-challenged as at Tropicana Field, or very likely, any Tampa Bay location.

For decades, the four major professional sports leagues have shunned Vegas, the world’s No. 1 gambling mecca. That longtime barrier has fallen with a gigantic thud.

The city is home to the second-year NHL Las Vegas Golden Knights and is building a $1.5 billion stadium for the relocation of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders in two years. The NBA’s Phoenix Suns, unhappy with ancient American Airlines Arena, are leveraging a move to Las Vegas to gain a new facility in the Valley of the Sun.  In November, Major League Baseball named MGM Resorts as its first official gambling partner.

The convergence of events is stunning.

There is rampant speculation that the Vegas stadium will be built on the site of the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino, owned by Caesars Entertainment, on Flamingo Boulevard. This would have been heartbreaking a dozen or so years ago, but the property has been on a downhill slide. At least I’ll always have the memory of assisting Teller with a card trick.

What makes the rumors so believable is that Sin City would be hard-pressed to find a better location. In my mind, it is perfect.

The Rio sits on more than 100 acres and is 1.2 miles from Las Vegas Boulevard, the Strip. Close enough but not too close to bottleneck the main drag any more than it is now. Tropicana Field, home of the Rays for the time being, sits on 85 acres.

Future home of the Rays?
Future home of the Rays?

Six-lane Flamingo Road can handle the traffic and it is traversed by Interstate 15. The cross streets surrounding the Rio are more than adequate. The hotel runs a shuttle to the strip, similar to the one operated between Tropicana Field-downtown St. Pete. That’s easily replicated if the Rio site becomes home to the Las Vegas Rays. City buses also serve the property.

I-15 is .6 miles from the projected stadium site. Vegas insiders are betting that demolition of the Rio is impending. Land in proximity to the property is being snapped up by speculators.

Portland, meanwhile, has pined for Major League Baseball for years but, unlike the city 762 miles to the southeast, it’s angling for the Rays with more humility.

John Canzano of the Oregonian, following the Ybor City debacle, wrote that Portland’s movers and shakers should  “operate with caution and humility, and great care.” That’s the Portland way.

Spearheading Portland’s effort to land a MLB franchise is a group known as the Portland Diamond Project. The PDP  has garnered land rights, political support, and allegedly, the blessing of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.

"Tampa fell flat on its face," Canzano wrote, "it didn’t just blink, it shut its eyes." He added that Portland is, by far, the best city for relocation.

The scribe is already concocting nicknames for the team. “Rays” would belie Portland’s reputation for wet weather. His suggestions: Mavericks, Pioneers, Steelhead. Meh!

The loser in the Rays derby can afford to be patient. The Oakland Athletics are also nursing stadium and attendance woes with no solutions on the horizon.

Jim Bleyer, a former reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Tribune, writes the Tampa Bay Beat blog.

Comments

What about a move to Orlando - right down I-4? Keeps pretty much the same fan base, same demographics, and picks up the Disney/tourism traffic, that is funneled heavily from the AL East "corridor" of the Northeast by I-95 and one of the busiest/easiest airports in the Country! Orlando is flush with tourism tax dollars, so a stadium deal is doable if the framework was right. We already have sparkling new facilities in our Amway Center, Orlando City Soccer Stadium, rebuilt Citrus Bowl, and the Dr. Philips Center. Orlando/Orange County leaders - hope you're listening before it's too late and the State of FL loses the Rays altogether!

I can't speak for those who are planning to migrate from the north to the Tampa area, but I can say that I was excited to hear that the Rays wherein the process of building a new stadium in Ybor city. Even as a long time Yankees fan I was ready to support the idea of a hometown baseball team that would host the Yankees throughout the season. It's a real bummer!

You not once mentioned population radius or TV market. Good research, but it rests on a house of cards. At least it is better than the last biased article you wrote about the Rays. This gets a B-.

Boys, boys, boys with your limited, narrow, focuses. This is not about yesterday but tomorrow. Florida's west coast is at the beginning of experiencing a massive migration, population shift from the north to the south. By 2028, Tampa Bay will be a booming metropolis with unlimited growth potential. Stu and anybody with money knows this. Investors and large real estate firms are scooping up land. The Tampa Bay Rays will be worth billions and Stu knows it, ergo his willingness to finally spend some money on "quality' veterans. He knows a population explosion is around the corner. In Stu's wisdom it's never been build a team and the fans will come, but rather: fans are coming, I'll start building a team.

I have resided in Tampa for nearly two decades and you are living in Fantasyland. Hillsborough County and Tampa elites are too focused on feathering their own nests rather than promoting inclusiveness, an improved educational system, and a well-paid work force. No high tech relocations, No AmazonHQ2, nothing but the country’s biggest polluter because local laws are lax. The leading candidate for Tampa mayor is a former police chief who implemented racial targeting and never apologized for it.

Goodbye "Rays": We love you and your spirit,... but you're owned & managed by idiots... so we're content to watch you on TV, and attend the many good Minor League Teams in their delightful stadiums RIGHT HERE IN FLORIDA ( without being raped for tax-money to build you a new stadium in a small downtrodden ghetto neighborhood that USED to make cigars..).

Jim, you claim you "covered the Expos move to Washington - the first franchise move in 40 years" yet with comments like ""Montreal not at all viable—no political will, no financing, no site, along with a failed history" you demonstrate a complete lack of understanding the situation past and present. Yes, the last several years of the Expos in Montreal were miserable - for reasons that are well documented (Loria, MLB, stadium) but to call the Expos failed history is inaccurate. Washington on the other hand lost their team TWICE before this move. And saying there is "no political will, no financing, no site" in Montreal right now, well all 3 are actually present right now as is business support and investors ready to jump in when MLB starts their process in relocating or expansion. Do your homework before spewing falsehoods.

I stand by my story. Your post is pure fiction.

I mean, I'm seeing a lot of Canadian articles that disagree with that assessment, but okay.

@JB - you stand by your story? LOL - it's riddled with falsehoods. You are as credible as Donald Trump!

Montreal is definitely in play and it would make a lot of good sense to keep the Rays in the AL East by relocating the team to Montreal. First, Canada gets two teams competing in the same league and same division ... and, second, travel back and forth between the AL East teams would be reduced by some 65%. And, of course, Les Rayons Du Soleil De Montreal has a nice ring to it!

Good riddance, Sternberg! I've been sick of the guy and his insipid wimpering for a new stadium at public expense for the past ten years! Now, he can go and whine and bicker with the As ownership and his chippie buddy, Manfred, about which team gets to be the one that ends up in Las Vegas! Go, already!

Don’t mind “Jim Williams.” He is a disciple of the perpetually vexed Noah Pransky.

You are incorrect on so many points that I won’t take time to address them all. Montreal not at all viable—no political will, no financing, no site, along with a failed history. Minimum for a move would be 3-4 years. The Vegas media market, not far behind four established MLB teams, did not stop the three other professional sports. Value of franchise would mushroom compared to a refurbshed Tropicana Field or a new stadium in Tampa Bay. You don’t know “what’s going on here.” Sternberg quit using relocation as a wedge months ago. But thanks for checking in anyway.

Jim - I respect your well-written column. You make many fine points and my goal was not to call into question your credibility - this is about history. It is a fact that Major League Baseball has been slow to move teams, I covered the Expos move to Washington - the first franchise move in 40 years. Is possible that the Rays or A's could be relocated to either Las Vegas or Portland? Of, course, it is possible the Rays or A's My point is that there is NO urgency from MLB to move either franchise and that is a simple matter of fact. Again, yes I am not there in the Bay Area and I would love to see the Rays succeed I did my share of pushing for a team in Tampa back in the 1970's when I was in the market. I would love to see local ownership in the area that has a REAL passion for the game. Building the Trop was a huge mistake, and I did the first event at the dome and it was outdated the day it opened. In many ways the Rays were doomed to fail before they ever got started. But let's talk sports business - something I do know very well. The idea of three professional franchises in Las Vegas within a span of say 5 years would be sports business insanity. Portland is a great town that has supported both NBA basketball and MLS soccer but Major LeagueBaseball is another matter. There is not the level of corporate money out there to prove they is in other cities. Frankly, that is a problem in central Florida, but that is another conversation for another day. I will stand by my statement that the Rays and the A's are not moving anywhere for at the very least 5 to 8 years and I also stand by my point that neither Portland nor Las Vegas are markets that MLB is excited about moving to anytime soon. So, as they say on Vegas that I am willing to put my money where my mouth is. We can bet dinner or a contribution of $100 to our favorite charity. But the Rays are in the Bay Area for the next 5 to 8 years and I really do think that a stadium is still possible - I am an optimist! Jim love your work and good luck! A fun debate is always a good way to see the world. PS- I have been told by many owners in baseball that they would love to go back to Montreal someday. I agree it will be way down the line. Have a great day and thank you for the fun conversation.

@jim williams - Jim, you claim you "covered the Expos move to Washington - the first franchise move in 40 years" yet with comments like "Montreal not at all viable—no political will, no financing, no site, along with a failed history" you demonstrate a complete lack of understanding the situation past and present. Yes, the last several years of the Expos in Montreal were miserable - for reasons that are well documented (Loria, MLB, stadium) but to call the Expos failed history is inaccurate. Washington on the other hand lost their team TWICE before this move. And saying there is "no political will, no financing, no site" in Montreal right now, well all 3 are actually present right now as is business support and investors ready to jump in when MLB starts their process in relocating or expansion. Do your homework before spewing falsehoods.

Your thinking is entirely faulty....but I haven’t the time or inclination to parse every inaccuracy in your screed. Repeating yourself does not make anything closer to the truth.

The Rays are not leaving the Tampa Bay area for at least 5 years. Let's begin with the fact that since 1903 Major League Baseball has moved a franchise just 13 times. Either Vegas or Portland would become the smallest media market in the sport, this as their cable deals are being redone. Market size will keep the Rays in the Bay area for a while. I saw how the Tampa-St.Pete area was used to get better stadiums for other cities and that is what is going on here. By the way the Oakland A's are in the same boat as the Ray's they have plans for a new stadium but no clear funding in place. If the A's plan would fall short it would make more sense for MLB to send Oakland to either Vegas or Portland. But again, we are talking years. The TV deals need big markets and for now both cities Vegas and Portland are good leverage points for baseball. The city to watch out for is Montreal but they are too far away from a real deal there. So, for at least the next five years the Rays and the A's are fine, plus they still have local stadium deals to explore.

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