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Columns

Tampa Bay Rays: Going, Going, Gone!

December 13, 2018 - 2:00pm
Stuart Sternberg Tuesday in Las Vegas
Stuart Sternberg Tuesday in Las Vegas

Major League Baseball’s near decade-long attempted extortion of Tampa Bay taxpayers is over.

It culminated with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan whiffing on their misguided effort to relocate the Tampa Bay Rays to Ybor City.

Rays’ owner Stuart Sternberg’s earthshaking announcement rejecting the plan, made Tuesday at MLB’s winter meeting in Las Vegas, rattled bones a continent away.

Proclaiming the Ybor effort dead, Sternberg vowed to renew efforts to find a suitable site for a new stadium in order to keep MLB on Florida’s West Coast. 

“We’ll continue to look in Tampa Bay and we’ll put our efforts to that,” Sternberg said at a news conference during the 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.”

Any new ballpark can’t open until at least 2024 and the team must start thinking about where it will play when its lease at St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field ends after the 2027 season, he explained.

Ignore the rhetoric from Sternberg and any local politician. The Rays are outta here, very well before 2027, as it is likely the lease agreement can be settled. If anyone doesn’t believe feelers are out to receptive, sports-starved cities throughout the country, I know a bridge for sale.

The only real question is what city is willing to pony up hundreds of millions to feed the MLB greed machine.  Candidates most prominently mentioned: Montreal, Charlotte, Orlando, San Antonio, Portland, and Las Vegas.  Back to that in a bit.

Sternberg has only two real choices: sell the team at a modest profit or relocate  to a city that will roll out the red carpet and enough greenbacks to significantly boost the franchise’s value.  A new owner will relocate as the Tampa Bay elite never puts skin in the game when the public trough is so readily available.

In addition to taking public utterances at less than face value, locals should not buy into the nothing burgers and myths being served up for what passes as mainstream media in Tampa Bay.

Hagan said earlier this month that he had cobbled together a public financing package but it supposedly was insufficient incentive for New Yorker Sternberg who made his billions in hedge funds -- code for using other people’s money.

Darryl Shaw
Darryl Shaw

Tampa Bay Beat has it on excellent authority that Sternberg became wary of the Ybor deal when it was revealed that Tampa Bay Times “investor” Darryl Shaw stood to profit from the relocation by hundreds of millions.  A buddy of Hagan, Shaw began purchasing Ybor parcels by the dozens in anticipation of a quick, humongous profit.

Shaw’s fiduciary relationship with the Times was disclosed by Tampa Bay Beat 14 months ago.

The Times dutifully promoted the Ybor deal in its news pages to the extent that it failed to call out Hagan who said “no tax monies” would be involved in the Rays relocation.  Oh what a tangled web we weave.

Sternberg had every right to be spooked.  RICO statutes not only provide for criminal wrongdoing but they can be used in civil suits against alleged perpetrators.  Those actions are difficult to prove most of the time but there are enough potential plaintiffs to fill 10 Tropicana Fields:  any entity that sold property to Shaw at bargain basement prices; surrounding businesses who would suffer from the destruction of an historic neighborhood; those displaced by the stadium and attending infrastructure; hell, any Leon County taxpayer.

A feeble Times article in the aftermath of Sternberg’s rejection is pure bunk:  that Tampa attorney Ron Christaldi’s relationship with a Chicago real estate investment firm raised conflict-of-interest concerns among Hillsborough officials that squelched the deal.

The conniving Hillsborough officials weren’t the least bit concerned.  It’s also a very fixable problem: find another real investment firm.  No, it was the Shaw-Hagan-Times stench that ended Sternberg’s 10-year pursuit to replace the minor league Trop.

Rays attendance has been in the doldrums since ... forever. Some fan bases can endure a bad team -- hope is easy to sell -- but the Rays, with the exception of three seasons, have been a bad and boring one. That’s a deadly combo.

Sternberg trades or releases the most popular players in their prime: David Price and Evan Longoria to name two. Not only are Blake Snell and Kevin Kiermaier virtually unknown around the league, they rank nowhere near the popularity of their predecessors.

Tropicana Field
Tropicana Field

So, where will the Rays finally land?  Montreal failed to hang onto a franchise and its current mayor is averse to sports subsidies. Charlotte cannot support a minor league team and tobacco road roundball is impossible to overcome in popularity. Orlando would be a tremendous gamble if the Rays and Marlins are any indication of Floridians’ (lack of) appetite for baseball. San Antonio seems viable, replete as it is with a high percentage of Latinos ... but the present mindset of most Texas politicians opposes sports subsidies.

That leaves Portland and Las Vegas. Reportedly the city of Portland stands ready to build a stadium with a commitment from MLB. It’s a youthful city that is becoming more affluent. Though Millennials say attending sports events is not a priority, Portland is a good possibility.

The best odds: Las Vegas. The maiden season of the NHL Las Vegas Golden Knights was a smash. Jon Gruden is bringing his NFL Raiders act to Sin City in a couple of seasons. The Phoenix Suns are threatening city fathers they'll relocate to Vegas if the team can't get a commitment for a new arena.

Only baseball remains to be snatched in an area where gambling bucks flow like lava in the Ring of Fire. Vegas movers and shakers are favorably disposed to financing professional sports and a move by the Rays would make that desert outpost one of the few cities with at least three teams representing the major sports.

Even the Rays nickname is suitable.  

One thing is certain: the Rays will be gone from Tampa Bay.  Even a half-billion won’t be enough to give Sternberg second thoughts.

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

Comments

Montreal has over 4 million people - Vegas and Portland just over two You will never be able to play a game during the day in Vegas unless its a dome - yes more baseball in a dome - how exciting Portland is a 3 hour drive from Seattle - maybe not close - but maybe close enough Better of getting the A's

https://www.thespec.com/sports-story/9084276-montreal-willing-and-able-to-support-mlb/

“Studies” by locsl economic development groups are never realistic and probably skewed. Montreal failed once and the political will just isn’t there. Sternberg has much better choices in Portland and Las Vegas.

Things have change drastically soince they left Montreal, do not forget that when the Expos left town, Major League Baseball is partly to blame for what happened to the Expos as they were a force when the strike happened in 1994. The team and the city never recovered from that strike and ownership had changed to Loria which became the laughing stock of MLB. Believe me, if they ever come back, it will be a real good story. Montreal was at the time the best farm system and produced some real great prospect. With Stephen Bronfman at the helm of ownership, success garanteed

Not at all likely. Sternberg would have to sell the Rays to Bronfman who would need assurances from the city of Montreal before he would make such a. purchase. Montreal is not in a podition to do that. Sternberg can amp up the value of his franchise when Portland or Las Vegas, two willing cities, rolls out the red carpet for the Rays. Sorry, Montreal not feasible for the Rays.

https://montrealgazette.com/sports/baseball/survey-shows-montreal-mlb-team-is-financially-viable-stephen-bronfman

As a Hillsborough County taxpayer, I’m grateful this story was posted. It seems we cannot get meaningful news here since the Tampa Tribune was shut down.

This is horrible journalism. It's an emotional, unhinged Twitter post without a character limit.

You obviously have a vendetta against Bleyer whose credentials are impeccable. He writes truth to power.

It’s an exceptional article with information that other media in Tampa Bay are unable or unwilling to report. The only entity worse than the pay-for-play Tampa Bay Times is the oay-for-play Florida Politics whose owner was drummed out of the Florida press corps years ago for faux rrporting.

THANK YOU Mr Sternberg !!!! Let Darryl Shaw "EAT HIS PARCELS"..! Ybor City is dried up & dusty..."a cigar is just a cigar", and nothing to crow about (OR raise exhorbitant taxes on Florida's Citizens over) in one of the worst sections of Tampa...... The new YOUNG "Rays" team has "heart" and obviously LOVE "playing the game" ! These "boys and their team" WILL be picked up by a city who will truly appreciate them..... As for Ybor City???...Tacos anyone???

Fuck you, your not from Tampa BITCH!!!

Thank you for writing what others have not. The Times knew of the Hagan/Shaw conflict months before they were essentially forced to write about it. They knew of the Christaldi/Oak St conflict weeks before Sternberg pulled the plug on the deal for an after the fact article. They browbeat politicians in St. Petersburg until an early exit on the lease agreement was approved. Don't be surprised if the Rays are the autonomous lender in the last financial bailout of the Times. The team owners are capitalists. The fan base cannot support their needs. The newspaper is financially destitute and can be bought. St. Petersburg will thrive in developing the land currently leased to the Rays. Once the Rays leave and the Times goes out of business, we will be better off.

Here's a perfect example of what's wrong with major sports franchises. With the billions and billions of dollars they take in from ticket sales, concession sales, TV/Radio revenue and Luxury box sales. Not to mention a percentage of the stadium naming rights. They still won't build their own stadiums. They blame the costs of operations, player salaries etc. What a crock of horse hockey. So the current reality is (as much as I love the Rays, Bucs and Lightning) we taxpayers HAVE to foot the bill for any new facility, in order to keep any team from moving away, whether you follow that team or not. Football has the sweetest deal. Not only do you have to pay for a seat (if you're a season ticket holder) but you have pay a premium for what they call a PSL. A Permanent Seat License. ON TOP of the price for season tickets. So you pay all that money, sit down, drink that 15 dollar beer and 10 hot dog, after paying 30 dollars to park your car. My God. You have to take out a mortgage to watch a game in the stadium. Because the NFL holds your TV hostage until the stadium is sold out 72 hours before game time. THANK GOD FOR THE COLLEGE GAMES! That's all I'm saying.

Bonjour, Les Rayons du Soleil De Montreal! End the soap opera. Move, already!

It's absurd that Tampa/Hillsborough taxpayers would have to put up even half of the $900 million cost of that foolish-looking stadium! Bye, bye, Sternberg and Manfred. Tampa/Hillsborough went F-A-R beyond the call of duty!

I hope the land speculators lose everything

So glad the public is not on the hook for financing a new stadium complex. Americans for too long have been taken to the cleaners by wealthy team owners who don't hesitate to get even richer off the backs of the middle class, and the local and state politicians who grease the wheels for it to happen.

Let them go. I am tired of listening to their shitty announcers during the Yankees’ game against them.

Well, THIS year the "Rays" beat the Yankees 4 out of 4 in a "4 game series"; and beat Boston 3 out of 3 in a "3 game series" and consistently beat the "Orioles" and "Blue Jays".... NOT TOO SHABBY for a one year cobbled together VERY young group of players who were a pleasure to watch EVERY GAME !!!! (We'll STILL catch you boys on TV, wherever you go..!!!)

Pittsburgh would like to have a Major League team. AA doesn’t play well there.

Let them go! I will just go back to being an Atlanta Brave fan.

Comments are now closed.

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