St. Petersburg's city council rejected an agreement with the Tampa Bay Rays that would have allowed the team to seek new stadium sites while providing the MLB franchise an out from its lease with the city that locks them into Tropicana Field through 2027.
The sticking point for many council members seems to have been the "arrogance" with which Rays team president Brian Auld demanded the city share future revenues from redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site. Rays ownership now says it will sell the team, allowing a new owner to play out the remaining 13 seasons.
St. Pete mayor Rick Kriseman called the rejection "an unfortunate outcome for St. Petersburg's taxpayers and every fan of the Rays," but he couldn't be more wrong. (I'm a St. Petersburg resident and former Rays season ticketholder, so I know.) By forcing the Rays to pay out the full value of their lease, it ensures taxpayers get every dollar the team owes them. It also guarantees Rays fans another 13 years of baseball in St. Petersburg.
After that? Good luck. But 13 years is a long time; given the transience of the average Florida citizen, can any Rays fan in the Tampa Bay area guarantee she will still be here when the lease finally runs out?
Finally, the deal rejection guarantees that no city's taxpayers will be able to screw themselves (or be screwed by their elected officials) by luring the Rays with another publicly-funded stadium. That's good news for fans from El Paso to Montreal, and bad news for their corrupt or stupid politicians. We've said it before, and we will say it again: publicly-funded stadiums lose money for taxpayers.
For years, Rays ownership have cut every corner of the fan experience while attempting to maximize the team's performance on the field. That's great for earning trips to the postseason, but awful for attendance; from the laughable lack of perks for season ticketholders to the curiously overpriced day-of-game tickets, there are reasons for low Trop gate numbers that extend well past "the city doesn't support them." Indeed, with the team now on the auction block, it's possible the Rays will actually restore many of the benefits to season ticketholders that have been stripped away during Stu Sternberg's tenure as owner. Similarly, individual tickets may feature lower prices or more enticements as the team tries to polish its turd with bolstered attendance numbers. Either way, that's great for Rays fans who would like to attend games but have, over the past few years, found that the Rays really don't want them to come.
Photo credit: Scott Halleran /Allsport