Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg says baseball cannot survive long-term in downtown St. Petersburg, and all sites throughout the region must be considered for a new ballpark.
The team is a regional asset, he said, and it belongs to all of the fans and businesses throughout the region. That is why the team will actively begin looking for a new place to play ball.
"We need to be in a location that is convenient for our fans to reach," Sternberg said. "We need to be in a place that makes us attractive to the region's business and community."
Sternberg said the team will consider any potential ballpark site in Tampa Bay, including Hillsborough or any other county in the area, but a new stadium is needed in order for the Rays to survive and thrive in this region.
The Rays' owner met with St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster earlier Monday, and said that he told the mayor that the city must "rise above municipal boundaries and work together with a common interest" order for baseball to do well in the region.
Sternberg says the entire Tampa Bay community needs to be brought into discussions about a new ballpark for the Rays, and a decision about where a new ballpark will be built cannot be made "until those discussions begin in earnest," he said, and added that the Rays organization is ready to engage in those discussions.
"We need creative, cooperative leadership for baseball to succeed here," Sternberg said. "We need to know that we have the support of civic and business leaders across the region. We need to stop talking about why things can't happen. We can make them happen together."
The ABC coalition was formed two years ago to study potential stadium sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough, and recently made the conclusion that baseball's survival in the area is based on finding an optimal site in the region that will best insure the team's success. During his news conference, Sternberg thanked the coalition for their hard work.
When Sternberg became principal owner of the team several years ago, while they were still the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, he said he spoke to many people who said that a winning team would bring fans out to the ballpark.
"Clearly, that has not been the case," Sternberg said, though he believes it is not for a lack of interest in the team. He cited the Rays as being among the most affordable teams in professional sports, in terms of ticket prices and other factors, and mentioned their significant growth in TV ratings as well as their high standing in the community.
The Rays won their division -- one of, if not the, toughest in all of baseball -- in 2008 and went on to win the American League Championship before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. They were also a contending team for much of the 2009 season have been in first place for most of 2010, yet their attendance has remained among the lowest in the league and no significant jump in year-to-year numbers has been seen.
Sternberg reiterated that the Rays will not be playing in Tropicana Field when their current lease expires in 2027, but that the team wants to remain in Tampa Bay.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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