Tampa Bay Rays are not backing down from last week’s announcement that the franchise is seeking to split the team’s season between Tampa Bay and Montreal.
Owner Stu Sternberg and president Brian Auld spoke at length at a press conference on Tuesday, both enumerating the Rays’ loyalty to the Tampa Bay area and making a case for the split plan, in which the Rays would play the first half of their 81 home game season in Tampa Bay and the second half in Montreal.
The press conference came among backlash from much of the Tampa Bay community, disapproval from Kriseman and skepticism from the Pinellas County Commission after Sternberg announced last week that Major League Baseball approved the plan to split the team between the two cities. Kriseman said in an interview with PM Tampa Bay that he was given just 30 minutes notice of the team’s plans before the announcement went public.
Despite the roiling controversy around the plan, so far there is little solidified from the “sister city plan.” Sternberg confirmed that no significant discussions have been had with officials in Montreal, no financing has been secured, and no sites in either city have been selected. One thing Sternberg was clear about, however, was his expectation of two newly constructed, open air stadiums, one in Tampa Bay and one in Montreal.
As for site plans in Tampa Bay, Sternberg said that all options are on the table, including Al Lang Stadium and Tropicana Field. Sternberg was clear that the franchise does not plan to make an early exit from its commitment to play in St. Petersburg through 2027, but he said that if the “sister city plan” were to fall through, it is “highly unlikely” that the franchise would stay full-time in St. Petersburg beyond 2027.
“For most of the franchise’s two decades, there has been a question about its viability,” said Sternberg. “We cannot pretend that with a tweak here or a slight turn there, everything would be great. That we’d have the strong and sustainable franchise that we all crave.
“In spite of our successes on the field and a growing fan base across this wonderful region, we greatly lag behind the rest of the league. We are at or near the bottom in every economic category in Major League Baseball. This is a reality and we can all confront it together. In many ways, our issues are the product of what makes Tampa Bay great, what makes it unique.”
Sternberg cited issues like the fragmentation of the region into smaller cities each with its own economic hub, the transportation challenges posed by large bodies of water like Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, and an economy driven by tourism that relies heavily on small business over Fortune 500 companies. As a result of these factors, Sternberg concluded, “We are simply not well-suited for a Major League Baseball team that needs to draw tens of thousands of people to each of its 81 games to its ballpark.”
“To be clear, this is not a staged exit,” explained Sternberg, addressing comments made by critics of the proposed plan. “That thought has never entered my mind. This is not us taking even one glance towards a relocation to Montreal. I rejected that idea years ago and I continue to reject it today. This is not a page out of a playbook to gain leverage. We are focused on this plan. We are focused on how the Rays can thrive here in Tampa Bay. This is about Tampa Bay keeping its hometown team and Montreal having one as well. A permanent arrangement, a generational commitment to both communities.”
Sternberg framed the press conference as the start of a community conversation, and an opportunity for both regions to bond together, providing economic benefits for both.
*Update: Kriseman took to Twitter to respond.*
I believe progress moves at the speed of the trust. If Mr. Sternberg and his team are serious about this idea or any other, it will require the reestablishment of a good working relationship with my office. #RaysUp pic.twitter.com/NZDYjXJON2
— Rick Kriseman (@Kriseman) June 25, 2019