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Rays’ Sternberg: “Open to selling the team”

As we approach the final stretch of planning, principal owner Stuart Sternberg says that his group is committing to picking up half the cost of a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark and looking at raising outside money from new investors–but he’s now “open to selling the team.”

The current estimate of a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark is $1.2 billion, which pegs the Rays’ share at $600 billion. Whether this estimate holds true in coming months remains to be seen, of course, and given how costs in the construction industry are rising rapidly, that $1.2 billion price tag may not hold firm.

In any case, by committing to at least $600 million, Sternberg is drawing on a well-traveled path: bringing in outside investors to bolster the construction coffers. What’s going to help in this process is the rising valuation of the team, pegged at $1.25 billion by Forbes but likely higher given the scarcity of MLB teams for purchase–and a number that could be boosted if a bidding war ensues.

But the real news in this Tampa Bay Times interview is that Sternberg is now open to selling the team.

The process has led to numerous inquiries about selling the entire team. While saying “it’s not my intent to sell” and he expects to remain owner, Sternberg said he is willing to at least listen….

“I think you could say I’m open to selling the team,” he said, “but I’ve always been open to selling the team.

“More people are approaching us as a result of us being out there trying to raise money. And we’re not trying to raise a million dollars from somebody, we’re trying to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. And when you’re talking about people raising potentially hundreds of millions of dollars, they’re going, ‘Well, maybe we can buy the whole damn thing.’ So they take a run at you.”

Not all of these potential buyers are locals, of course; with the Trop lease ending in 2027 and a potential new market–let’s use Nashville for the sake of argument–needing four or five years to build a new ballpark and go through the relocation process, the Rays become even more valuable to owners in other cities–say, Nashville. So there’s no surprise Sternberg has been approached by owners seeking to buy the team and move it to, say, Nashville or Salt Lake City or Montreal; we reported on that development several times in the past few years.

Sternberg’s comments could mean two things. One, it could mean Sternberg thinks the Rays are close to a deal but some potential partners need a push in the form of a gentle reminder that the team could be sold and moved–to, say, Nashville–without a ballpark deal in place. Two, it could mean that the Rays ownership isn’t close to a deal in either Tampa or St. Petersburg for a new ballpark, though he did drop the nugget of data that talks are more advanced with St. Pete than Tampa.

Or three, this isn’t really isn’t a change when it comes to Sternberg’s plans for the Rays.

We will see.

Rendering of potential new St. Petersburg ballpark development courtesy Tampa Bay Rays.

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