Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg raised eyebrows earlier this year when he said that the Rays would contribute only $150 million to a new Rays stadium that he estimates will cost $800 million and, based on how these things tend to go, will likely cost more.
Last week he said that the Rays could actually pay more for it — perhaps $400 million — and that’d he “go halfsies” on the ballpark. Hey, isn’t that better? Nah. As Neil deMause of Field of Schemes notes, however, that $400 million figure comes with a big, unrealistic caveat to it, in that Sternberg predicated it on getting a big lucrative naming rights deal. A naming rights deal the size of which is extraordinarily unlikely in a market like Tampa.
Looking at all of that, Sternberg’s comments can and should be read to mean “I’m not paying any more than I’ve already offered out of pocket, someone else figure it out.” There is no sense whatsoever from the Rays that their owners will commit any more to the ballpark out of their own pocket in the way most other businesses are expected to pay for their capital projects.
Sternberg and the Rays would like someone else to pay for the vast majority of the ballpark’s construction. The government is one obvious option. Today John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times talks about the other option, which includes the naming rights funding Sternberg is dreaming about:
It basically comes down to this:
How will the business community in Hillsborough react?
If corporate leaders decide a major league baseball team in Ybor City is good for business/quality of life/future growth, then they will commit to a certain spending level on tickets, suites and sponsorships.
And, ultimately, that will determine if a stadium gets built.
Because if the Rays see a greater chance at revenues, they will be willing to invest more in stadium construction. And if they commit more, there is less public financing that will have to be secured.
Like it or not, that has been the team’s position from the very beginning.
In this, the Rays are not unlike a food truck wondering about maybe opening an actual restaurant. Except, of course, the food truck doesn’t get a guarantee before deciding to make the leap into a permanent storefront. There’s some risk involved when you’re selling tacos that Major League Baseball owners are unwilling to countenance. They need guarantees.
Thing is: they’ll probably get them. Unlike the taco truck, Major League Baseball teams and their owners — with a big willing assist from fans, politicians and the media — have convinced everyone that sports teams are civic institutions like museums and parks and things as opposed to for-profit businesses. It’s the most successful business scam there is.
The more you watch this play out, year after year in city after city, the more you’re likely to wish that it was the taco truck getting those subsidies and guarantees.