The principal owner of the Tampa Bay Rays says Major League Baseball has lost faith that a team can work here.
"MLB at this point doesn't believe anymore in the Tampa Bay area," said Stuart Sternberg as he spoke to the Hillsborough County Commission.
It was the bluntest public statement yet from Sternberg.
"Something's got to give," he told reporters after the meeting. "I don't want to wake up one morning and see that something can't be changed."
Otherwise, he said, that Major League Baseball could, "make a decision that would be unpalatable to me and unpalatable to all our fans."
The Rays had the lowest attendance record in baseball last year and have been suffering from poor turnout since 2008. Baseball has a revenue sharing system and the Rays collect tens of millions of dollars from other teams. Sternberg said MLB management and other owners' patience is wearing thin. He hears it in conversation.
"I wouldn't say forcefully as much as often," he said about pressure from MLB. "How much more evidence do we need that it's not going to work there, Stu?"
His management laid out the problem.
"We play in a building that is located at a considerable distance from the center of the region's population and employment centers," said to Michael Kalt, Senior Vice President of Development and Business Affairs.
The team didn't discuss any possible sites in Hillsborough County because of its agreement with St. Petersburg for eight more years.
"I think that we need to think about the next 50 to 100 years as opposed to the next eight," Sternberg said.
Some commissioners said they understand the problem.
"It's not a matter of whether the Rays will ultimately relocate but when and where," said Ken Hagan, the board chairman. "To sit on the sidelines or take the approach that this is nothing but outside interference and hopes that this issue mysteriously resolves itself is short-sighted."
He said the Ray's agreement does not prevent the team for discussing their long-term goals. But he made one thing clear when it comes to Hillsborough County.
"I am not talking about a taxpayer funded stadium," Hagan said. "There will never be another Raymond James sweetheart deal in Hillsborough County."
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said he's fine with the Rays management meeting with Hillsborough Commissioners. He's also happy Stuart Sternberg expressed publicly, what he's heard before in private. Mayor Foster said there is a good reason he's dug in his heels on insisting the Rays adhere to their contract. "I firmly believe that the only reason that this regional asset is still in Tampa Bay, is because of a pretty significant use agreement they have with the city of St. Petersburg."
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