And the Rays Cry Poor

The Rays are in trouble! Somebody send a lifeline! So goes the story now presented by Rays majority partner Stuart Sternberg, stating the Rays situation might just be “untenable.”

Is it true? Some of his comments are awfully worrying if you’re a fan of baseball in central Florida.

After the Rays unceremonious exit from the 2011 playoffs, Sternberg expressed great concern over the finances of a team that just cannot sell tickets, or something. Observe some key quotes, lovingly culled from the scrum by Gary Shelton of the St. Pete Times.

• “If I had $80 million to put out there, we’d be moving along in life,” Sternberg said. “We just don’t have $12 million to put into a hitter.”

• “When I came here, I was confident we could put a winning team on the field, and that would do it. We won, and we won, and we won and we won … and it didn’t do it. Whatever it is, there are 29 other teams passing us like we’re going in reverse now. Except on the field, and at some point, that changes.”

• “As the owner, I could have affected things today. Today, and a couple of games where a thumper would thump. I could decide to mortgage the future and trade all the young guys, but the truth is that we would only get $9.82 extra at the gate. So what’s the sense?”

• “These guys deserved better. They deserved better. We need some horses.”

Cue ominous music. While the attendance situation is certainly a rough one, this whole thing rings a little hollow when you filter it through the prism of a pitched stadium battle with the city of St. Petersburg. How much of this is just sabre rattling? Hard to say…until Sternberg goes for the jugular with the money quote.

“It won’t be my decision, or solely my decision. But eventually, major-league baseball is going to vaporize this team. It could go on nine, 10, 12 more years. But between now and then, it’s going to vaporize this team. Maybe a check gets written locally, maybe someone writes me a check (to buy the team). But it’s going to get vaporized.”

KABOOM! VAPORIZED! That is a pretty pointed word choice for a very rich man. A smart, rich man, mind you.

This issue is a thorny one indeed. Not fully equipped to get into the nitty gritty business dealings of men far, far smarter than myself, permit me a healthy dose of scepticism. Are the Rays really so bereft of revenue streams that the ticket gate is a make or break situation? I have my doubts.

When considering the given ownership situation of any professional sports team, one must remember what Malcolm Gladwell wrote recently, equating owning a sports franchise with owning a great artistic masterpiece. Sure, it’s an investment but it is also a toy. The joy/pride/hubris associated with owning something as rare and storied as one of only 30 professional baseball teams offsets the traditional business losses.

For Sternberg and friends to wake up this morning and say, “this isn’t fun anymore. Being the big swinging dicks that made baseball work in Central Florida just isn’t worth the pain” isn’t accurate. They’re playing at either bigger payday or a parachute, me thinks. Nice of them to use the guise of the Evil Suits Within The Commissioner’s office as the bogeymen that might one day take the team away from the good people of Tampa/St. Pete.

Comments (9)

  1. It is more than a little ridiculous for the owners of a baseball team to cry poor these days. If its really that bad you should be looking to sell the team. Still, I have to wonder what if anything will make Baseball work in the Tampa region. Its clearly not about a winning team. If it was that, the team would have been selling out while they were making an historic run at the wild card – instead of struggling to find 15000 people per night. I can also understand the frustration from the owners’ perspective. They’re arguable the best-run franchise in terms of money-efficiency. They have done fantastically well in the draft. They’re doing just about everything that you would say would be the correct way to create a successful franchise. What gives?

    From the Jays’ perspective it makes you a little leery of the story that we’re always told – that once the team is competitive, the fans will come back. As a season ticket holder I feel like baseball is coming back, and that if the Jays were close to contention there would be a vast improvement in attendance numbers. Joey Bats and Gordie Dougie had the attention of this city for long stretches of this last season. I would imagine if there were other positives to look to (other than RickyRo), that the people would return. It certainly wouldn’t be sub 20 000 attendance like in St Pete while making a run at the wild card.

    • I think there are some perfect storm elements in Tampa Bay with the economy, local demographic, stadium location, etc. that make the Rays the exception to the rule. Compare Yankees attendance in the early nineties to Blue Jays attendance now. A lot depends on winning.

      • Understood for sure on that level. I guess my point is that there is no guarantee that a team only has to win in order to fill the stadium. There are other factors that could get in the way. Our currently death-spiraling dollar being one obvious factor. I guess it makes it all the more important to market the hell out of the assets that we have to ensure that the “culture” of baseball – the practice of actually attending baseball games important in the city again. Its like attending 2 different games when you’re in the 100s or 500s these days. There is a huge support among young fans which you hope will translate into people who still attend when they actually have the cash to sit in seats that cost more than $14 (or $1.20 if you have the Star pass).

  2. I talked about this topic a bit in the Linkin post, but I don’t think they can move the team. Where will they move them to? And who’s going to pay for a ballpark nowadays. The fact Miami did it is astounding. Contraction has to be negotiated (though, if Sternberg stops paying the bills, maybe not).

    Other revenue streams rely on having fans, and many Florida residents have links to other baseball teams from their original living place.

    • This cry isn’t anything new. Sternberg does it every year as an attempt to get out from under that Tropicana Field lease that will last until 2016.

    • If there were to move they should definitely move to San Juan, Puerto Rico. They’d sell out every single night for years. It would certainly be justifiable. That won’t happen anytime soon though.

  3. I thin the fact that the St. Petersburg Stadium is in the middle of nowhere hurts the Rays the most when it comes to attendance. If you live in Tampa, it is a long drive and a hefty toll to get across the bridge if you want to go to a game.

    Why they didn’t put the team in Tampa or Orlando is beyond me.

  4. Is anything about this supposed to be shocking? Sternberg made his fortune with Goldman Sachs. Making a lousy investment and then asking for subsidies while holding the public hostage is what these people do. For the love of baseball, we can only hope the demands of this team owner does not hold as much sway as that of the kingpins of the global finance industry.

  5. Sorry. You bought a team with a crap stadium and attendance issues. If you weren’t willing to construct a new barn, you shouldn’t have purchased.

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