By now almost everyone understood the publicly funded stadium scam. Teams threaten to leave, local and national politicians give in, citizens pour tax money into the new stadium, and only the team owner and his high-ranking employees see the benefits. And generations of taxespayers end up asking why are we paying for it? As more and more people stand up against this scam, teams are trying to find more and more ways to do it behind closed doors where they don’t have a say.
The Tampa Bay Rays have been in the ballpark for almost their entire existence. Their attendance has actually always been poor, and it seems they were looking for a new solution right after the expansion season. Many possibilities were brought up in Tampa, and then the Rays were super geniuses who came up with the idea of splitting the season between Tampa and Montreal, where they could hold the two cities hostage to pay for two separate stadiums.
That, thankfully, seems to have fallen by the wayside crowd, and God knows the precedent that might be set for anyone else. The Rays are back to trying to fix where they are, which means they are a return to the familiar playbook.
As the story above says, although the front story is that Rays owner Stu Sternberg will throw in some $500 million with the shell game overdrafts, TIFs and other events, it’s hard to know what the public will be asked to put out. And of course, the public will get nothing in return except the opportunity to watch baseball in a slightly nicer place (though it is possible without an actual seat) or rent and buy in obscenely expensive places that are also owned Sternberg. MLB teams aren’t just teams anymore, they’re real estate rackets.
To give you the Cliffs Notes version of why they never work for municipalities: new stadiums do not create many new long-term jobs. They don’t get any more tourists than the city already gets (and the Rays are already heavily dependent on visiting fans), and all revenue goes back to the team and the owner after the various tax breaks for them go into them. This one would be no different.
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It’s not there
Another problem with this whole project is that it’s in the same location as The Trop, and it’s a location that the Tampa area has already adamantly rejected. It is extremely difficult to get to and from Trop because there is only one bridge leading to the stadium. This just seeks to redevelop the Trop, not move it somewhere people actually want to take the time to travel. It will still be over a bridge that will be too crowded. They are there only 258,000 people in St. They need Tampa residents to come over and they just don’t want that.
Safe, I can’t complain about the product. The Rays are consistently good and consistently produce stars throughout their system. Perhaps any fans willing to make the trip are being put off by knowing that it’s only a matter of time before these stars start flogging high schoolers because it’s time to pay them more than a pittance. But Sternberg used low attendance for this, and the cycle feeds on itself. Perhaps this is the reason why he is so troubled by the redevelopment around the park, knowing that the stadium in St. Petersburg always be a loser.
And it’s not that there are no fans. Rays actually rank in the middle of the pack when it comes to TV ratings. Their ratings are about the same as the Brewers, except the Brewers double their average attendance. Although The Trop may look like a garage on TV, or feel like one when you’re inside, if that garage were more central, more people would go to watch a good team, which the Rays usually are.
Maybe the Rays’ new stadium gives them some interest in attendance for a few years, like their expansion year when they averaged 30,000 or when they first got good around a trip to the World Series in 2008 when they averaged 22,000. But clearly it didn’t stick even with good teams. Maybe it’s the constant talk of moving. Regardless, Rays fans have made it clear they don’t really want to go to St. Louis. Heels. Then again, they’ll be asked to pay for a stadium they’ve already said they don’t want to go to. The same as it was.