SAINT PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – Top officials for the Tampa Bay Rays have officially thrown their support behind the idea of splitting the baseball team’s home games between Tampa Bay and Montreal.
During a news conference held at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Rays Principal owner Stu Sternberg confirmed the organization’s focus on the plan. News of the proposal first surfaced last week after Major League Baseball’s executive council gave the Rays permission to explore the two-city split.
The plan would be for the Rays to play home games in Tampa Bay early in the season and play the rest of the home games in Montreal. Sternberg says he believes the plan would allow the Rays to thrive in Tampa Bay.
“We think this can and will be extraordinary for the region,“ Sternberg said. “It’s not about relocation, it’s not about negotiation. It’s about a new norm.“
Sternberg stated it’s difficult for a city to host 81 home games each season.
The Rays have suffered a steady decline in attendance for years now. Earlier this month they attempted to draw larger crowds by offering 5,000 tickets to five home games for just $5. Only two of those games sold out.
Sternberg addressed those issues during the news conference, saying the Rays are at the bottom of every economic category in the MLB.
“We’re asking for open minds. We think this would be an amazing thing to be part of,“ Sternberg said. “We want to do this.“
Sternberg said the plan would involve two new stadiums. Where exactly those ballparks would go is still up for discussion, he added.
“To be clear, this is not a staged exit. This is not us taking even one glance at moving to Montreal,“ Sternberg said. “We are connecting with another market.“
St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman spoke out against the two-city structure last week but issued a new statement after Tuesday’s news conference saying he is willing to listen.
“If Mr. Sternberg wishes to formally explore this concept with me and his desire to privately and fully fund a new stadium in the City of St. Petersburg, I am willing to listen. The City of St. Petersburg will not participate in the funding of a new stadium for a part-time team. We remain receptive to partnering with the Tampa Bay Rays to redevelop the Tropicana Field site and build a new stadium for a full-time team. St. Pete’s future has never been brighter and every business and baseball team in America should want to be a part of it.
Finally, I believe progress moves at the speed of trust. If Mr. Sternberg is serious about this idea or any other, it will require the reestablishment of a good working relationship with my office.“