The Tampa Bay Rays are set to announce Tuesday a public-private partnership with St. Petersburg and Pinellas County to build a 30,000-seat, $1.2 billion domed stadium on land adjacent to the aging Tropicana Field. It’s targeted to open in 2028, a year after the team’s long-term lease in the current building expires.
That coupled with a pending move of the A’s from Oakland to a new ballpark on the strip in Las Vegas could put closure on two ballpark problems for Major League Baseball, which have festered for decades. The A’s have completed their relocation application, which is currently being studied by MLB. Approval could come from a vote of 75% of the 30 current owners at their next meeting after the World Series in November.
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Commissioner Rob Manfred has said the sport won’t contemplate expanding to 32 teams until after the ballpark situations are resolved in Oakland and St. Pete. With the Rays’ upcoming announcement, the league appears to be one step closer to settling those issues.
Nashville, Montreal, Portland, Charlotte and even Oakland are targeted as possible cities for expansion that could cost an ownership group $2 million in the franchise fee alone. A ballpark in any of those areas also would have a base cost of about $1 billion.
The pending decision puts to rest any possibility of the Rays moving from St. Pete to other side of Tampa Bay. The Rays have played at Tropicana Field since they expanded into the American League in 1998. At the same time the Arizona Diamondbacks expanded into the National League and are also considering ballpark solutions as their lease at Chase Field heads toward expiring at the end of the 2027 season.
The Rays have long been plagued by the same problems that have the A’s on the verge of leaving Oakland. For years, the team has tried to initiate new ballpark projects in several locations around the Tampa Bay area ahead of the 2027 expiration of its lease at Tropicana Field. They even tried a novel “twin cities” approach, proposing to split each home season between Montreal and Tampa, a concept that was ultimately rejected by MLB.
Owner Stuart Sternberg said recently he suspected the team will build a ballpark to stay in the area and that he also plans on remaining in control. But when he had a chance to build a $900 million ballpark on the Tampa side of the bay in 2018, Sternberg scuttled the project. Hillsborough County came up with public funds to support 50% of the deal, but Sternberg wanted more. When officials balked, Sternberg walked away.
Even with an exciting team on the field, the Rays are drawing a 27th-in-MLB average of 18,063 for 68 home dates at the Trop, which is about par for their attendance in the dome for 25 of the 26 years they’ve played there. According to Sportico, the Rays are valued at $1.19 billion, 29th in MLB. Their revenue stream of $251 million in 2022 was 28th.
Despite all this, the Rays are on their way to making the playoffs for the fifth year in a row. The team lost in six games to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a 2020 World Series that came at the end of the 60-game pandemic-shortened regular season.
The Rays, with 92 wins, trail the Baltimore Orioles by two games in the AL East with 11 games left to play. Tampa owns the first Wild Card spot by nine games, 8 1/2 games ahead of second-place Toronto.
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