Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said today that having one of the best teams in baseball has not improved the attendance at Tropicana Field, and he is convinced that his team will never be financially successful in downtown St. Petersburg.
But as to where he thinks they might play in the future, he wasn't saying.
Sternberg addressed the media after meeting for the first time with St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster.
He also for the first time addressed the report produced by the ABC (A Baseball Coalition) group, the organization named two years ago by former Mayor Rick Baker to examine potential future stadium sites for the team. That group was formed in the wake of the Rays pulling a measure off the November 2008 ballot that would have had St. Pete citizens weigh in on whether to allow for construction of a new park on the waterfront site of Al Lang Field, for years the spring training home of the Rays.
Sternberg thanked the ABC group for their work, which spurred controversy in St. Pete by listing three of five possible sites as being in Hillsborough County, two of them near downtown Tampa. Today, Sternberg did nothing to indicate that he wouldn't be in favor of possibly moving the team there.
Sternberg said that between the time he purchased the team in 2005 and when he took over as the principal owner a year and a half later, he was told that the Rays would do well at the box office if they won. But after going to the World Series in 2008, having a winning season in 2009, and up until recently having the best record in baseball in 2010, the fact that the team remains mired in the lower tier of attendance proves that winning by itself doesn't count in attracting fans to Tropicana Field. (Currently the Rays are averaging 22,301 in home attendance. That's 23rd out of the 30 teams in the league.)
"It's not just about winning, it's not about ticket prices, and it's certainly not a lack of interest in this team," the Rays owner said, mentioning that ticket prices are among the lowest in the game, and the team television ratings have never been higher.
"We need to be in a location where it's convenient for our fans to reach," he said, indicating for the first time publicly that could very well be in either North Pinellas, or across the bay in Tampa.
"What I conveyed to Mayor Foster this morning, is if Major League Baseball is to survive and flourish in Tampa Bay for the long term, we must rise above municipal boundaries, and work together for a common interest," Sternberg said. "Major League Baseball in the region in Tampa Bay does not belong to Stu Sternberg. Just like it doesn't belong to St. Petersburg, or Tampa, or Pinellas, or Hillsborough. It is a regional asset. It belongs to our fans in the region," and then he called for a "comprehensive process for a new ballpark."