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‘There’s not another option’: Rays push for new stadium, split-season with Montreal

Mark Parker

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Tampa Bay Rays President Brian Auld told attendees at the Nov. 12 Tiger Bay luncheon that a split season is the only option for keeping the Rays in the area. Screen Grab.

Rays President Brian Auld recently gave his best sales pitch on why the team has no choice but to split a season with Montreal and how such a novel arrangement would benefit both the team and the Tampa Bay community.

At Friday’s Tiger Bay Club luncheon, held at the Cuban Club in Ybor City, Auld was adamant that the only way the franchise can stay in the region is with a new, open-roof stadium – while sharing the team with Montreal, Canada. Auld seemed to prefer an Ybor location, not mentioning the Tropicana Field site as a possibility until the end of his speech.

Worse yet for St. Pete sports fans and the future of Al Lang Stadium, Auld said the Rays – who own the Tampa Bay Rowdies – would also move the successful soccer franchise across the bay if a new Ybor stadium is constructed.

“The Tampa Bay Rays do not have a place to play on opening day of 2028, and that will be here sooner than we think,” said Auld. “We have to talk about it, we have to deal with it and we have to find a solution.”

Auld, who joined the Rays in 2005, began his pitch by noting the on-field success of the organization; since 2008, the Rays have the fourth-most wins in Major League Baseball and have reached the playoffs seven times with two World Series appearances. They won 100 games last season, and the future appears bright with players such as Randy Azorena, who took home American League Rookie of the Year honors Monday and Wander Franco, who finished third in voting despite only playing 70 games.

In addition to serving as the President for the Rays, Auld is also Vice-Chairman of the Rowdies, who face Louisville City FC for the USL’s Eastern Conference title Nov. 20 at Al Lang Stadium.

“So again, I think we’re doing about as well as you could ask for on the field in terms of those results,” added Auld.

Auld said he would not defend the Rays’ current home, Tropicana Field, other than to say, “it is a safe, clean and secure place to watch baseball.” He then stated the organization has spent $50 million making the domed stadium a “great place for our fans to come” and noted how great a corporate citizen the franchise has been for the area.

“In the wake of a pandemic and the accompanying economic crisis, we really got a chance to see how important a sports team and their venue can be,” began Auld. “We tested more people (for Covid) at Tropicana Field – and did it more efficiently – than any other site in Pinellas County.”

The Rays president also described how the ‘Trop provided a non-controversial drop-off site for mail-in election ballots and how the team’s charitable foundation has donated millions of dollars to support the surrounding community.

Auld did not mention what effect losing a sports team and its venue to Tampa and Montreal would mean for St. Petersburg.

After years of giving away tickets and serving as the punchline for jokes on national television, the Rays underwent a rebranding in 2008. The team went from worst to first in the standings, making its first appearance in the World Series. Auld said that season showed the area how a major league team could “energize, excite and unite us all.” Auld also relayed how that was the year the team proposed building a new waterfront stadium at the Al Lang site in downtown St. Pete. He added it would have had a sail to cover most of the stadium to protect players from the rain and provide shade for fans.

“We were really eager to pull it off,” he said. “But the political will to support that project never materialized, and it fell short before we even got to a referendum.”

Auld explained that once Mayor Rick Kriseman gave the team permission to search for a new home across the region, they promised not to pit the two sides of the bay against one another and immediately focused their attention on Ybor City. Auld said this was due to that area being close to the geographic and business center of the Tampa Bay region.

Auld then launched into the reasons why Tampa Bay has such unique attendance struggles. First and foremost, the bay area has fewer businesses and people within a 30-minute drive of the stadium than any other team in Major League Baseball.

“It’s not even close,” he said. “If we went to Ybor, the number nearly doubles, but it is still very close to the bottom of the league.”

Auld said this is a function of the geography of the area, including being surrounded by water. While he is proud and appreciative of the region’s corporate sponsors, he said the small and medium-sized businesses that make up the local economy cannot support the team as Coca-Cola and Delta can with the Atlanta Braves. Finally, Auld noted that a baseball season is 162 games, 10 times as long as professional football, and Tropicana Field is twice as large as Amalie Arena – home to the  Lightning.

“The fact that more people go to Rays games than the Buccaneers and Lightning combined is lost on a lot of folks because the average attendance is so low compared to the rest of the league,” said Auld.

Auld said 20 years of data, 20 years of attendance numbers and two failed stadium proposals (including a previous Ybor site) have made it very clear that “a full season of baseball does not work in this marketplace.”

The Rays propose to play spring training and the first half of the season at a new stadium in Tampa Bay. The Rowdies would play their full season at the same facility, as could a new women’s professional soccer team.

“There have been two leagues that have been in conversation with us of late, and they’ll be able to play there too,” said Auld of a women’s soccer franchise. “We’d love to get into that business as well.”

Auld believes the new facility could host over 200 events annually and envisions the stadium holding 27,000 seats at about four-and-a-half stories tall, without a roof. He explained that most fans attend one to three games a year, and if the team can get those same people to come to the same number of games – while playing 40 games in Tampa Bay rather than 80 – it would effectively double attendance in a split season.

The Rays would follow the same plan in Montreal, which would also double the number of corporate sponsors. Auld said that “almost all” of the team’s current sponsors have said they will continue their sponsorship despite having fewer games, although they might require additional signage and seats to maintain the same level of spending.

Auld said every game – whether in this region or Montreal – would continue to air on local television and radio, and indicated that is how most fans currently engage with the Rays. The team would then sign another television deal in Montreal. He also believes that fans in Montreal would visit the area for spring training, providing a direct impact on the local economy as they stay in area hotels and frequent the region’s restaurants and bars.

Auld said that whether at the Tropicana Field site or in Ybor City, “and for the purposes of today I’m focusing on those two areas,” the franchise would be an integral part of a city’s master plan.

“There are dozens of undeveloped acres in those two spots that will benefit from having a ballpark nearby,” he said. “A four-and-a-half story ballpark that can integrate nicely into the rest of the neighborhood as opposed to landing like some UFO the way Tropicana Field did in St. Petersburg.”

Auld realizes this plan will be hard for fans to accept but said they need to realize this is the only path to keep the team in the region.

“There’s not another option,” said Auld succinctly. “We don’t want to lose this team.”

Auld said the Rays are innovative and creative both on and off the field, and team officials put a lot of thought into every decision they make. He explained the idea is new and fresh, but it is the only way to move forward.

“It wasn’t like in 2005 we came here and said, ‘let’s build this fan base up for 17 years and then pop sister-city on everybody,'” said Auld in earnest. “We’ve gotten here by studying how to be successful, and that’s what drives everything we do.”

 

 

 

 

 

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    enough

    November 16, 2021at4:58 pm

    Enough already. Just go. Over a decade of the same conversation. If Tampa wants this headache, let them have it.

  2. Avatar

    monah

    November 16, 2021at6:42 pm

    I’m so sick of them I can’t even read the whole thing. A new stadium isn’t going to make them fill seats if being a winning team can’t. I agree with the above. Just go.

  3. Avatar

    George

    November 16, 2021at6:45 pm

    No local government is going to support building a stadium for half a season. Not here nor in Montreal.

    It is not viable at all.

  4. Avatar

    Francis E Drexler

    November 17, 2021at8:27 am

    I’m tired of the Ray’s blackmail tactics. Just leave and we can all learn a lesson about how not to get sucked into supporting a team that is not loyal to the community that birthed them.

  5. Avatar

    Rudi

    November 17, 2021at9:13 am

    Iauld said there is no option other than a split season. So what happens to the team if they can’t get two cities to build them a new stadium at public expense? Isn’t that something they should be telling us, too? They have got to have a Plan B.

  6. Avatar

    Ybor city

    November 17, 2021at6:17 pm

    Let see…

    language- French
    Currency- Canadian dollar
    Different Country-Canada (need a passport)
    National anthem- (French) Ô Canada

    How does this make sense to be a slit with people from Florida 🙋‍♂️

  7. Avatar

    T. Ferguson

    November 17, 2021at9:34 pm

    I’ve followed the Rays since the inaugural season, but I’m tired of all the drama. Just go. Leave. Goodbye. You won’t be missed.

  8. Avatar

    OriginalJud

    November 18, 2021at10:50 am

    How come no one talks about the big elephant in the room that the Canadian dollar is .76 to the USD and the 13% tax rate on all business activity to start. I don’t see how these guys get past that?

  9. Avatar

    BeeJay

    November 18, 2021at11:20 am

    The ONLY reason we attend multiple games every year is because the Trop is a cozy 72°. I would NEVER ATTEND ANOTHER RAY’S GAME AT AN OPEN AIR STADIUM. RE: Mr Auld, have you seen the attendance at Miami Marlin’s games with their new open air oven???

  10. Avatar

    Colleen

    November 19, 2021at9:40 am

    My family and I live about an hour and a half away from Tropicana field, and have met other fans who live in Orlando, St.Augustine etc. We have talked about how we only come to 1-3 games a year because of the distance. Did you ever stop to think, that if there was an ENCLOSED STADIUM near Tampa, how many more fans you would get and how many more games, people would actually attend and buy season tickets? We won’t buy season tickets now or never because of the Tampa/Montreal split!!! Just something to think about! We are a family of 5!!

  11. Avatar

    DK

    November 19, 2021at11:41 am

    As a St Pete resident and fan since day one, the idea of moving the team or splitting the season is certainly upsetting. I also understand that for some reason the ownership has decided the Trop isn’t practical, nor profitable enough for them. I’m not going to argue that point, it’s a ten year discussion that won’t ever end until Stu Sternberg is satisfied. My bone of contention is this: if the Rays stay in the Tampa Bay area and only play the first half of the season here, we miss out on the best part of the season. That’s the part of this split season plan that is a deal-breaker – the second half of the season is unquestionably the best half. It’s like watching a great suspense movie in the theater and stopping it in the middle and telling folks to go home and watch the rest! I’m sure I’m not the first to bring this up, but how do they think it leaves longtime fans feeling?

  12. Avatar

    Eddie K

    November 20, 2021at8:11 pm

    If the Ray’s build the stadium with there own money there’s a chance. How much they willing to spend on two stadiums out of there own pocket?? Too many planets have to align to pull this off.

  13. Avatar

    Ryan C

    December 16, 2021at1:20 am

    I’m a native, grew up in the Tampa Bay area. I’ve been a fan since day one, even have a large logo tattoo on my arm. I’ve loved this team, even though I currently live in Texas.

    If the Rays really believe that the Tampa Bay Area can’t support baseball, they need to just leave. Either that or sell the team to someone that WILL keep the team in the Bay Area. Why can’t Stu and Auld make an arrangement with MLB that if they sell to someone that will keep the Rays in the Bay Area, they’ll be first in line for the next expansion team?

    I can’t believe that Jane Castor is on board with building a half-season stadium so that our team can be partially ripped away from us. I won’t support the Rays anymore if they go through with this nonsense and wish they’d just leave if that’s the case.

  14. Avatar

    Jim Barker

    December 17, 2021at1:02 pm

    Can Steinbrenner field be enlarged? Baseball crowd of 30,000 is about right.Need new owners for Rays, these guys appear under capitalized compared to other franchises!

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