The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce presents: Coronavirus Impact Insights. Click the play arrow above to watch the full video.
On this episode, Brian Auld, President of the Tampa Bay Rays and Vice-Chairman of the Tampa Bay Rowdies joins Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and Joe Hamilton, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst.
He shares how the Rays have supported Tampa Bay relief efforts, and what Rays and Rowdies leadership is thinking in regards to reopening professional sports in St. Pete.
But first, Steinocher takes listeners through the Florida Chamber Scorecard for Pinellas County. While the percent of positive tests continues to decrease, the 14-day average of positive cases is increasing, which Steinocher says is a caution sign to the business community.
Auld shares details about the more than $2 million that the Rays organization has donated through its foundation to the local community through donations to the City of St. Petersburg and City of Tampa’s small business relief funds, as well as Feeding Tampa Bay, and a series of small grants to local nonprofits and its own seasonal workers left without a job when the Major League Baseball season was cancelled.
“I think sports did this nation an incredible service by shutting themselves down,” Auld said. “When Adam Silver did it in the NBA, and then Major League Baseball and the NCAA tournament followed, I think that’s really the point that I would suggest we started taking this virus seriously as a nation …When you’re relying on the owners of the businesses turning off their revenue spigots and shutting them off completely, we’re talking about a pretty big sacrifice.”
Auld says despite the challenges, he hopes to see Rays baseball play in St. Pete in 2020. The first priority in the decision to reopen, however, is safety. It’s most likely, he says, that the games would be played without fans in the stands.
“I do think there are big benefits to it,” Auld says. “I know if I had a Rays game to watch every day, it would make quarantine a heck of a lot better. There’s a lot we can do for the good of the game and the good of the country to do what we do, which is provide a respite from challenging situations.”
Auld also says the pandemic could prove the Rays’ case for a sister-city plan with Montreal. Fears of spreading the virus in large crowds would reduce the ability of fans to see games in person, regardless of where they are played, and would encourage the construction of smaller stadiums. Auld says he sees this as an opportunity for the Rays organization to be nimble and creative.
With such daunting challenges ahead in terms of revenue, as revenue has been lost completely for the baseball season, Auld explains that the Rays are looking into re-imagining the virtual experience of watching baseball, possibly through television screens behind home plate that would allow a live view from the plate through a program like Zoom.
“A lot will depend on our broadcast partners and how the League functions,” Auld says. He doesn’t rule out the possibility that the pandemic may be a catalyst for changing the way the game itself is played.
One thing the Rays organization is certain about, Auld says, is supporting its home in Tampa Bay.
“One of the beautiful things about St. Pete is that we’re the right size, where we can all be in this together. You’re not seeing the finger-pointing in St. Petersburg that you’re seeing other places- the conflict around it. Everyone is doing the best they can trying to follow the rules, and get things going as soon as possible.”