Jan 23, 2013

Economist: Rays need new Stadium in Downtown Tampa

by Aaron Giddens
Rendering of the proposed Carillon ballpark
Rendering of the proposed Carillon ballpark
Category: TBO.com
So, we're about to enter the 2013 season. After this year there will be 13 years left on the contract agreement between the Rays and St. Pete. But as is well accepted as fact, the likely hood of that full contract panning out is becoming smaller by the day as this stalemate continues.

What I've wondered for a while now is what does an expert economist think about this situation? Luckily that's what Stephen Nohlgren of the Tampa Bay Times provided just today in an interview with "Smith College professor Andrew Zimbalist, one of America's pre-eminent sports economists."

The entire interview is a great read in my opinion and I highly recommend going to read it, but there are a few points I want to touch on here. Starting here.

Nohlgren: Do the Tampa Bay Rays need a new stadium?

Zimbalist: Yes. The Trop is a bad facility in a bad location. The market is in the bottom third in Major League Baseball. The team performed over the last five years as well as any team. It has charismatic players, an interesting manager and an intelligent ownership group, and it still has the lowest attendance in baseball.

You are consigning them to be a break-even team without adequate resources to hold on to good players and field a winning team. However brilliant you think Matt Silverman, Stu Sternberg and Andrew Friedman are, there is no way they can keep performing the way they have performed. What is going to happen when they drift back, as all teams do?

He does point out the issues that are the most common talking points for pro-new-stadium people. But he also points out that despite this grand team we have from the ownership to players to management. All through this team is great yet we still pull very little.

Let's look at some facts on this. Last year, the Rays ranked LAST in attendance. Pulling a grand total of 1,559,681 people to the stadium. That's an average of less than 20 thousand people a game, out of 81 home games. If you remember back in June of 2012, Bud Selig called our attendance "disappointing" and "inexcusable". And while the words were harsh, he's right. But the real inexcusable thing is not doing any thing about it to try to bring it up.

But what can be done? This is mentioned indirectly in the interview.

Nohlgren: Where do you think this Tampa Bay stadium stalemate is headed?

Zimbalist: I can only hope that Mayor Foster and Stu Sternberg will sit down at a table for sustained negotiations. Maybe bring in some people from Major League Baseball. Maybe bring in political representatives from Tampa, and sit down and realize there is a compromise in everybody's interest — and sooner rather than later.

I'm not predicting that, but I am an optimist. I'm convinced that a compromise is possible.

I've been saying something similar for years. Mayor Foster needs to quit acting like a child waving around that contract like it's a golden ticket. Each year that comes off that contract makes it easier for the Rays to say "See ya!" and go elsewhere in the country. If he really values the Rays business relationship with the city he will do what Zimbalist said and sit down and have extended negotiations with the Rays, MLB and Tampa. He really should be doing what it takes to keep the team in Tampa Bay as a whole. Not just St. Pete.

The last interesting bit of the interview touches on what could happen if the stalemate continues.

Nohlgren: What if five or eight years pass with no change?

Zimbalist: Major League Baseball and the Rays could play hardball. They could contract the team, make it disappear and promise the players' union that no jobs will be cut.

Or the Rays could drift into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Either way, the team could then be brought back to life and relocated in another place.

There would be many ramifications to that and I would not call that threat a matter of great leverage on their behalf. But it is a card they could play.

That pretty much sums up why the stalemate must end, one way or another. Even the boldness of a St. Pete developer wasn't enough to permanently break the stalemate.

The stalemate has just got to end. No one wins if this stalemate continues. Please, mayor Foster, sit down and negotiate without any set limits. There is a compromise that can be reached that satisfies everyone if you open your mind and listen.

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