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Selig: New Ballpark Would Help Rays Succeed in Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Rays

Pointing to the strengths of the Tampa Bay market, former Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig recently said he believes a new ballpark could reverse the Tampa Bay Rays‘ attendance struggles. 

Low attendance figures have been a long-running problem for the Rays, and that trend is continuing at Tropicana Field this season despite the team’s on-field success. For years, it has been believed that a new ballpark will have to be part of the answer to reversing that issue for the Rays, and Selig was vocal at times during his tenure as commissioner in calling for Tropicana Field to be replaced.

Selig, who stepped down from the commissioner post in January 2015, discussed the Rays’ situation recently. In his comments, he express confidence that the demographics of the Tampa Bay market could allow the franchise to be successful there under the right circumstances, but acknowledged that a new ballpark would have to be a part of the solution. More from the Tampa Bay Times:

“I did award the franchise and I guess it’s disappointing to some extent and puzzling because the demographics in Tampa are damn good. But I’m not yet ready to call it a mistake, absolutely not.”

Selig, who retired in 2015, often played the role of baseball’s heavy during the early years of a stadium pursuit in Tampa Bay. As far back as 2008, Selig said the Rays could not survive at Tropicana Field. At times, he called the situation “very, very troubling” and said the status quo was not sustainable.

He did not backtrack during an interview with the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday, but his tone was much softer than previous years when helping to get stadiums built was part of his job description.

“I don’t want to get too much into the middle, but the answer is (a stadium) would be a huge help,” Selig said.

The Tampa Bay region offers some undisputed strengths, including a ranking as the 11th-largest media market in the United States. That is perhaps part of the reason why Rays owner Stuart Sternberg and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who succeeded Selig in the post, have stopped short of threatening to relocate the franchise despite uncertainty surrounding the team’s long-term ballpark situation.

For years, there has been debate about whether a new ballpark in Tampa would help solve the Rays’ attendance issues, and that point was discussed repeatedly when the Rays were in negotiations about building a facility in Tampa’s Ybor City. However, those negotiations broke down in December and the team did not seek an extension of the Dec. 31 deal giving it the ability to negotiate a new ballpark location outside St. Petersburg. Thus far the Rays have not ruled out the idea of exploring a new ballpark in St. Petersburg, though no firm plans have surfaced to date.

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