I still believe the Rays and the City of St. Petersburg will come to an agreement that allows the Rays stadium search to consider sites in Tampa. I also think that this is a positive, for no other reason than it is what the Rays want and it pushes forward the conversation of a new stadium during a time of sub-par Tropicana Field attendance.
Regardless of what side of the fence you sit on I am convinced that there are certain elements of this conversation being ignored by fans, area leaders and the media.
1) Uncertainty is Bad Business.
No matter if we’re talking the stock market or our own lives, uncertainty creates stress and impedes growth. This will be true for the Tampa Bay Rays. It will become tougher to retain the right personnel, attract new fans, retain old fans and grow the Rays brand in our region as uncertainty continues. Politically we seem very comfortable wallowing in some kind of stadium purgatory. As this saga drags on markets like Charlotte, Montreal, Nashville, Indianapolis and Las Vegas will continue to call us clouded and undeserving. Are they wrong?
2) St. Petersburg has failed at Major League Baseball.
It is time for everyone to admit that baseball, on the basis of attendance, has failed (in its current existence) in St. Petersburg. We can talk of great TV ratings and speculate on the Rays bottom line but I promise you outside of Tampa Bay no one is listening. A profitable team does not trump our current attendance situation at the Trop.
3) Tampa residents will now be LESS LIKELY to attend Rays Games.
The cat is out of the bag. Whether you like it or not St. Pete and Pinellas residents (I am one) the team will be allowed to look at Tampa eventually because it is what they want to do. My fear all along is that Tampa residents will now sit on the sideline waiting for the Rays to waltz across the bridge. They will not increase their support of the franchise in the years to come.
4) The MoU that the St. Petersburg City Council will eventually approve won’t be a whole lot different than the deal voted down on December 18th.
I applaud Mayor Kriseman for having the foresight to recognize two things: One is that the Rays current lease is an impediment to the future of baseball in Tampa Bay. Did majority owner Stu Sternberg know of the 2027 lease when he bought the team? Of course he did. Well then how is that our problem? Simply put the Rays presumed a winning product would create a winning atmosphere inside of the Trop and it hasn’t.
Ultimately the Rays might flex on the condition of profit sharing for Trop redevelopment but I don’t see the compensation dollar value improving drastically here. Secondly the Mayor sees that without the crutch of “municipal stadium financing,” that the Rays need to move forward without being unreasonably “penalized” for a break of lease. If you disagree that the Rays will need to “win” here than you are simply hoping to remove one shackle from Raymond’s left leg only to peg another to his right.
5) Attendance is Going to Get Worse
Just watch. The team has lost marquee faces of the team (Joe Maddon, Andrew Friedman, Wil Myers, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Jocye to name a few) and while change can be good we are going through a transition that will ultimately hurt “butts in seats.” Add to that the prospects of a losing record and now what does attendance look like going into Fall 2015? The continued uncertainty of our Stadium Saga will magnify these negatives.
6) The Stalemate has provided an opportunity for some to confuse the issue at hand.
One local leader (who personally I have a great deal of respect for) tweeted just moments after the December 18th vote: “City Council votes unanimously to study building a new stadium for the Rays in St Petersburg. Rejects the concept to let them look in Tampa.” While this tweet isn’t untrue it is certainly misguided. The issue at hand is still whether or not the Rays should be able to explore sites in Hillsborough County. What I see for many, is they are using this opportunity to return to a “baseball will exist only in St. Pete” agenda. I am not saying St. Pete shouldn’t be a part of the conversation but maybe the only way to get back into the conversation might be by letting the Rays explore other area options. Selfishly, I’d love to see a new Stadium in St. Petersburg.
Instead of focusing on the quality of baseball’s life in St. Pete it would seem to be that local leaders are only focused on the quantity (years potentially remaining at the Trop). In my opinion this is both shortsighted and dangerous.
Brett Morgan is a St. Petersburg resident, Social Media enthusiast and Rays Season Ticket holder. He is the platform manager for the Morgan Auto Group that operates car dealerships in Pasco, Hillsborough, Alachua, Marion and Sarasota Counties. Around the Trop he is known as “Top Off The Trop” guy, founding an annual movement that works with Small and Medium Bay Area businesses to drive attendance at Tropicana Field. Since returning to Florida after college in 2004 Brett is proud to say he’s seen a Game 7 ALCS game in St. Petersburg, a World Series opener and of course the greatest game ever, “Game 162.”