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Sternberg: Yes, I’m committed to a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark

Tampa Bay RaysSome speculation from The Athletic cast doubt on Stuart Sternberg’s commitment to the Tampa Bay market and a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark, but Sternberg made it clear the team is not for sale.

In the most clickbaity way possible, The Athletic reported that Sternberg has been approached about potentially selling the team either to a local buyer or to an outsider investment group looking to move to the team to, say, Nashville or Montreal or Salt Lake City.

Well, duh. Of course he has.

At the core of this reporting is a nugget of truth: of course Sternberg has received feelers from potential buyers asking about the status of the Rays. As a team potentially available for relocation after The Trop lease ends, the Rays are a rarity in Major League Baseball: because of lease issues, there are very few teams available for relocation. But you’re naive if you don’t know that those same potential investors and buyers have also approached Oakland’s John Fisher and Kansas City’s John Sherman. All three are seeking new ballparks, all three have expiring ballpark leases, and all three own teams that would be cheaper to acquire and move than spending the big bucks expected to be charged by Major League Baseball come expansion time. You could have substituted John Fisher or John Sherman in The Athletic story for Stuart Sternberg and it would have been just as true.

But here’s where The Athletic was a little fuzzy: listening to an offer isn’t the same as seriously considering a deal. For Sternberg, who is coming closer than ever to a new-ballpark deal somewhere in Tampa Bay, is in promising public talks with St. Petersburg for a new ballpark and less public, less fruitful talks with Hillsborough County/Tampa officials for a new ballpark. This is not the time to be putting the team on the market–that’s a clear signal to every public official in Florida that he’s not committed to Tampa Bay.

That’s what makes The Athletic reporting so irresponsible. It implies a stance from Sternberg that simply isn’t there.

To his credit, Sternberg immediately shot down the notion that he was fielding offers for the Rays. The more likely explanation, per the Tampa Bay Times, is that Sternberg is thinking a little more strategically and figuring out if he needs to bring in outside investors to make a new-ballpark and development plan work:

“I expect we will build a ballpark in Tampa Bay that will keep the Rays here for generations to come,” Sternberg said. “I also plan on remaining the Rays owner.”…

Sternberg would essentially be selling a portion of his considerable equity in the franchise instead of taking on loans that would hamper the team’s future payrolls.

It’s similar to the strategy the Rays were pursuing with the sister city plan in Montreal. Canadian businessman Stephen Bronfman was expected to purchase a minority share of the franchise, and his investment would have helped fund ballpark costs in Montreal and/or Tampa Bay.

So take all this talk of relocation and franchise sales with a huge grain of salt.

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