Pat Williams, co-founder of the Orlando Magic, announced on Wednesday his plan to bring baseball to the city of Orlando. He will gauge fan interest which will help him determine how much effort, if any, he will put into the venture. Williams already has a team name picked out, the “Dreamers,” as The Athletic’s Josh Tolentino and Josh Robbins report.
Williams convinced the NBA to add four new expansion teams for the 1987 season as the Magic joined the Minnesota Timberwolves. He has experience with this kind of thing.
This new wrinkle has a very real impact on the Rays, perhaps giving them leverage to escape Tropicana Field and St. Petersburg. You may recall that earlier this year, the club was exploring becoming a two-city team, bringing baseball back to Montréal. Reading between the lines, it was part of an ongoing effort to get a new stadium. The Rays have eight years remaining on their Tropicana Field lease, but as Tolentino and Robbins note, owner Stuart Sternberg has to get the ball rolling in one direction or another much sooner than that.
Referring to the Marlins and Rays, Williams said, “If I can say this as sweetly as I can, it hasn’t worked in either city.” He said of Orlando, “I’m convinced this market is different.”
The Rays had the 29th-highest attendance in baseball this past season, drawing 1.179 million fans while the Marlins ranked last at just over 811,000. Along with perennially sagging attendance, both teams have ranked at or near the bottom in payroll since their inception — the Marlins in 1993 and the Rays in 1998.
The Rays’ response to Williams’ announcement can be described as cryptic at best: