Since he was sworn into office, Mayor Bill Foster has maintained that the Tampa Bay Rays can only explore building a new stadium inside the city limits of St. Petersburg because the Rays' lease does not end at Tropicana Field until 2027.
For three-plus years, Foster has tried to convince Rays owner Stuart Sternberg that St. Petersburg is the best option for the future of the Rays. However, after the Rays meeting Thursday with the Hillsborough County Commission, it is clear Foster has another entity to convince — Major League Baseball.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Sternberg said the MLB no longer views the Tampa Bay area as a viable place for a professional baseball team.
Sternberg said, according to the Times, that he wants the team to remain in the region, but "Major League Baseball at this point no longer believes in the Tampa Bay area.''
At 2 p.m. on Jan. 29, the Rays will meet with the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners.
According to CBSSports.com, MLB responded to Sternberg's comments by releasing a statement Thursday.
“The Commissioner has had conversations with Stuart Sternberg and is disappointed with the current situation in the Tampa Bay market.
The status quo is simply not sustainable. The Rays have been a model organization, averaging nearly 92 wins per year since 2008 and participating in the Postseason three times, including their inaugural World Series in 2008.
Their .565 winning percentage over the last five years is second among all American League Clubs and third in all of Major League Baseball. Last year, the 30 Major League Clubs averaged nearly 2.5 million in total attendance; the Rays, who finished with a 90-72 record, drew 1,559,681, which ranked last in the game.
The Club is an eager contributor to worthy causes in the Tampa and St. Petersburg communities and takes pride in meeting the social responsibilities that come with being a Major League franchise. We are hopeful that the market will respond in kind to a Club that has done a marvelous job on and off the field.”
Thursday was not the first time MLB called out the Tampa Bay area and Rays fans.
During the 2012 All-Star Game festivities, MLB Commission Bud Selig said attendance at the Trop was 'inexcusable'.
"To study the attendance figures every day and see that they're 29th in attendance, it's inexcusable," Selig said in July 2012. "Nobody can defend that. This is a very competitive baseball team. The average Major League attendance is between 31,000 and 32,000. And if my memory is serving me well, Tampa Bay's attendance is around 19-something. It's disappointing."
In September 2012, a local business group held a lengthy presentation touting the proposed 35,000-seat 'Rays Park at Carillon' in the Gateway area of St. Pete. That stadium proposal would have cost from $424 million to $574 million, with private financing or a combination of public and private financing as options, according to CityScape's September presentation.
In October, Foster sent a letter to Sternberg reiterating his support for the Gateway stadium and his opposition to a stadium outside of St. Pete.
"In light of the Rays obligation to the people of St. Petersburg to play 15 more major league seasons at Tropicana Field, I respectfully disagree that our exploration into this viable site in St. Petersburg would be 'incomplete and inconclusive. ". There are reams of regional studies, transportation analysis and demographic data to provide you with all of the information necessary to evaluate the sustainability of a Gateway site. ...
At this point the only way to adequately preserve the interests of the people of St. Petersburg is to leave the use, management and operation agreement in tact, and the city will not agree, by affirmative act or acquiescence, to any stadium exercise outside of St. Petersburg or Pinellas Gateway."
John Wolfe, St. Pete City Attorney, said while he believes the Rays want to remain in Tampa Bay, there is a huge risk by letting them negotiate with Tampa directly.
"The Rays and the Times want us to allow them to talk to Tampa,” Wolfe said at an August council meeting. “All that does, if that provision is set aside or waived, both the Times and Tampa are really helping to allow the Rays to talk to anybody in the country.”