After yesterday’s loss to the Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg held court and he brought the noise regarding the Rays’ future. The extremely pessimistic and damn nigh depressing noise.
The upshot: the Rays keep winning but attendance goes down. About how the model that he and everyone believed in — win games, get fans, get money — just doesn’t apply in St. Petersburg, and that because of it, there is little hope for the future of the Rays. You often hear owners of small market teams talking about the “challenges” they face, but caught after yesterday’s loss, Sternberg was far more frank than we are used to hearing:
“I am frustrated this year. We’ve replicated last year [on the field] and our attendance numbers were down 15 percent and our ratings were down. The rubber has got to meet the road at some point here. When you go through the season, you control your own destiny, if you win out. We’re getting to the point where we don’t control our own destiny. This is untenable as a model going forward.
“”When you’re sitting here at this point and you lost by a run, you know another X dollars might have changed things. Three or five million wouldn’t have changed things necessarily but 15 to 30 might have. That’s where we were. And for the foreseeable future that’s what we’ve got … Whatever you want to say, there are 29 other teams passing us like we’re going in reverse right now. Except on the field. And at some point that changes.”
Which stinks. But the fact is, Sternberg bought the Rays fully-aware of the challenges of drawing fans in St. Petersburg, fully-aware of the terms of the stadium lease which ties his team to Tropicana Field and fully-aware of how challenging getting public funding for a ballpark is in this economy. It’s a bad situation, yes, and I feel bad for Rays fans, but Sternberg needs to get past his griping stage about this and try to do something about the team’s situation.
What can he do? Well, if it’s truly hopeless, he can sell. If he doesn’t want to sell for some reason he can try to negotiate some sort of buyout of the lease with St. Petereburg and look into privately-funded stadium projects either in the Tampa Bay area or elsewhere. What he can only do for so long, it seems to me, is to (a) continue to state the bleedin’ obvious about the Rays’ lot in life, because that doesn’t fix anything; and (b) beat his head against the wall in an effort to get local government to fix his problems.
My sympathies, Mr. Sternberg. Really, you have them, because you’re right, it shouldn’t work this way. But get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’, ya know?