Last Friday, the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported that the Rays decision on a new stadium site could be made within the following three weeks.
Tampa Attorney Ron Christaldi spoke on the record with the Journal that after conversations with team presidents Brian Auld, Matt Silverman, and principal owner Stuart Sternberg that the Rays were prepared to move forward with a new stadium in downtown Tampa.
This vote of confidence comes after a productive dinner meeting between the above parties, County Commissioner Ken Hagan — who up to this point had been brokering the Rays stadium search, but acting politically as a lone wolf — and, importantly, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
The remaining question mark, however — and probably the point that prevents a final announcement — is assembling the funds to cover the considerable costs. A stadium will require significant contributions from the Rays, and undoubtedly some sort of public financing, but the piece that has long been missing is finally coming into focus: the involvement of the Tampa Bay business community.
As discussed in the Tampa Bay Times this morning, the Rays are unique in Major League Baseball’s landscape in that corporations have comparatively less involvement in Rays ticket purchases than other teams:
Rays fans have taken a beating nationally for not supporting a franchise that has a better record than 23 other teams in the last decade but has, at the same time, had the lowest attendance in the big leagues.
The truth is, that disparity has had more to do with the business community than everyday fans.
Many teams sell the majority of their tickets before the season’s first pitch is even thrown because businesses buy season ticket packages to entertain clients or to hand out to employees.
That hasn’t been the case in Tampa Bay.
As a tourism-driven economy, we don’t have a lot of corporations. And certainly not a lot surrounding Tropicana Field. And so tickets have been sold, essentially, one at a time to you and your neighbors.
That’s why, when the Rays make their upcoming announcement, it had better include economic commitments from businesses in Hillsborough County.