While Rays’ owner Stu Sternberg has to be disappointed that last year’s American League pennant winner will finish third in the American League East and out of post-season play, that can’t be his biggest disappointment. Reality reminds him that the Yankees and Red Sox will always be formidable as well as obscenely deep-pocketed.
But when the Rays were still in the play-off hunt – and hosted the Red Sox last month for the season’s most meaningful series — the average attendance was less than 20,000 for the highly-anticipated, mid-week, three-game series. And Sternberg, who came down from New York for the hyped Sox series, witnessed it first hand.
It’s no secret that the Rays want out of Tropicana Field, an outdated, cat-walked facility stuck in a logistically-challenged location in this asymmetrical, mass transit-less market. It’s also no secret that they won’t be in the Trop when their lease runs out in 2027. That’s too many seasons to endure crowds of 17,000 for a late August series with playoff implications. Downtown St. Pete is not the future of the Tampa Bay Rays. It just isn’t.
But the real wild card may be the St. Petersburg mayoral election. Kathleen Ford, a former city council member now in a run-off with Bill Foster, has taken a tough campaign line on the Rays. She’s insistent that she would force them to honor their lease at the Trop.
That’s not going to happen. There’s ample precedent for broken leases in sports. It’s part of the cost of doing business. The realistic approach is to work at keeping the Rays in Tampa Bay – not downtown St. Petersburg. Unless Ford really has a better idea.