Does the Tampa Bay Rays stadium search rejection guarantee a team move?


Last week the Tampa Bay Rays and city of St. Petersburg reached an agreement that would allow the Rays to look at potential new stadium sites within Hillsborough County (Tampa area). What looked to be a step in the right direction for the Rays organization was cut off Thursday by the St. Petersburg city council. One step forward, two steps back.

Should the deal have been approved the Rays would’ve been able to find a new stadium site that would allow them to opt out of their current lease at Tropicana Field before it’s expiration in 2027 and make yearly payments to the city of St. Pete. Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg has been expressive about his want for a new stadium over the past few years. During last week’s winter meetings, he expressed his plans to sell the team should a new stadium deal not go through:

"“I’m not leaving. I’m not moving this team. I’m not taking this team out of the area. But that’s me,The chances of me owning this team in 2023 if we don’t have a new stadium are probably nil. Somebody else will take it and move it. It’s not a threat, just the reality.”"

It’s been heavily rumored that the Rays would be moving elsewhere due to poor attendance (finished last in 2014 with an average of 17,857 fans per game), and Montreal is at the head of those rumors. Montreal baseball fans look to the Rays as their only current hope for baseball to return. Unfortunately, the chances of the Rays even having a possibility of moving outside the St. Petersburg area are incredibly slim.

Essentially, former mayor Bill Foster had threatened to sue anyone who attempted speaking to the Rays about moving elsewhere by citing a clause in the city’s agreement that prohibits inducements to break a contract. There’s also the signed “Use Agreement” that prevents the Rays from leaving Tropicana Field and calls for significant monetary damages should the organization leave the stadium before 2027. The Use Agreement also allows the city to ask for specific performance, meaning that it can call upon a court to force the Rays to stay and play.

The city could sue the Rays for millions of dollars if it so chooses, thanks to the restrictive language of the Use Agreement.  Therefore the rumored chances of the Rays moving elsewhere, at least for 2027, is highly unlikely. It’s possible that they could move somewhere else in the Tampa area should the St. Petersburg city council allow the previously reached agreement before that time. That could happen at a large cost to the organization, and whether Sternberg will be around to see that day is unsure.