The continuing stalemate between the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Petersburg officials has reached the point where former team star Evan Longoria warns of a move.
Nearly since the Rays came into existence, the club has looked to get out of their current domed home and into a more modern ballpark. One stipulation in their contract was the team must remain in St. Petersburg, and not the bigger Tampa Bay.
Several proposed sites for a new stadium made the drawing board, but never came close to a final agreement. After years of bickering, the City of St. Petersburg allowed the team to negotiate with other cities. The hope is a site in Tampa can be found to keep the Rays around a long time.
But, face of the franchise and current San Francisco Giants player Longoria admitted in an interview the Tampa area may not be the best place for the franchise. He hopes a solution can happen near Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with a retractable roof field and natural grass.
He told Tampa Bay Times reporter Marc Topkin:
"“Honestly, and this is maybe not something I should say, but my gut tells me that the best decision might be to move the team. I say that only because I look at the example of the Miami Marlins, and (a new stadium) didn’t really solve their attendance issues. So from purely an attendance standpoint, somewhere else might be better.”"
The Rays have not drawn over two million at the gate since their first season in 1998. Even during their gravy years, a trip to the World Series in 2008 and multiple playoff seasons from 2010 on, the Rays failed to draw 1.9 million in a given campaign.
The team will tell you Tropicana Field is hard to get to without real public transportation and too far from a direct interstate connection. Throw in limited parking and getting to games is a giant mess. Despite two interstates within the vicinity, there is not a specific exit for the stadium. It is a real issue.
So is how cheap the ownership is with the payroll. Tampa has great success in developing players but will not spend the money to keep them long-term. Hard to build a following when smart fans know no one will stay.
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Therein lies the rub. It is difficult to convince a municipal government to kick in millions for a deal when there is no promise money will get spent on payroll, especially in Florida. As taxpayers are on the hook for hundreds of millions with Marlins Stadium in Miami, any deal for the Rays gets harder.
But, groups in Portland and Montreal are making noises about putting together the money for a new stadium in their selective cities. Although Portland is a better play for the Oakland Athletics, Montreal and Tampa are a good match. There have been discussions between the Rays and Quebec.
Those talks weaken interest between Rays fans and the team. As with the endless dance in Montreal to replace Stade Olympique with a new stadium, fans ignored the old Expos in droves once talk of a move became an open secret. No one wants to be part of a lame-duck franchise.
Which the Tampa Bay Rays find themselves on the verge of being. Evan Longoria’s thoughts are on the money.