ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays will not be moving forward with a two-city plan involving Montreal that principal owner Stuart Sternberg proposed in 2019.
It's the latest blow to the team and its decade-long stadium saga as part of an effort to increase attendance at games and boost revenue. The Tampa Bay Times first reported the news Thursday afternoon.
“Today’s news is flat out deflating," Sternberg said.
After what the team's principal owner since 2005 describes as more than two years of support and encouragement by Major League Baseball, the plan's rejection was hard to swallow.
“Recently it just sort of took a turn to the south and we don’t precisely know why. But I think at the end of the day it just wasn’t anything MLB was prepared to go forward with," Sternberg added.
But while dreams of sharing the team with Montreal have been squashed, the Rays still need to focus on their future and a looming 2027 deadline.
The urgent need for the Rays to have a "pretty good idea of where things are headed" paired with the stadium fatigue Sternberg says both fans and staff are feeling means nothing is off the table for the team.
That means Tampa Bay area baseball fans could see anything from the Rays in a new home by Opening Day in 2028 or efforts to push things forward with the evolution of the Tropicana Field site.
Potentially on the table is the "world-class," eco-friendly outdoor stadium that was proposed back in April 2021 by the team's leadership group. The stadium would be used year-round to host the Rays baseball team, the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team and other sports throughout the year.
Regardless of what future plans the Rays pursue, Sternberg says the plan is to keep the Rays in the Tampa Bay area. Even with low attendance, compared to other teams, the long-time owner says threatening to move the team out of the region is “not necessarily practical" and “not necessarily fair to your fan base.”
“The Rays organization will be one that continues to make Tampa Bay proud both on and off the field. We’re interwoven into the fabric of our region and we are daily contributors to what makes Tampa Bay so unique. Our goal is and always has been for the Rays to thrive here in Tampa Bay today and in future generations as well," Sternberg said.
In a statement, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch said he's confident the city can move forward with the team to evolve the Tropicana Field site.
"We are working with our county partners and City Council to put together the best plan possible, which will work in conjunction with my planned evolution of the Tropicana Field master development proposals," Welch's statement reads. "With this collaborative approach, I am confident we can partner with the Tampa Bay Rays to create a new and iconic full-time home for Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg while also achieving historic equitable economic growth."
City of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor also offered her thoughts on the news, saying the goal has always been to keep the Rays in the Tampa Bay area.
"All along our goal has been to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay. We had been working on both sister city and full season proposals, and now we can focus all of our energy on a full season. I am optimistic the Rays will call Tampa Bay home for many years to come," Castor's statement reads.
The Rays and their Tropicana Field ballpark perennially rank near the bottom of fan attendance. According to ESPN, the team had an average of 9,513 people in seats during the 2021 season — ranking No. 28 of 30 ballparks. It was second to last during the 2018 and 2019 seasons and last in 2017.
It was during these years the Rays, which struggled early in Kevin Cash's tenure as manager, began to show improvement. The team returned to the playoffs in 2019 and advanced to the World Series for the first time in more than a decade in 2020.
The latest developments surrounding the Rays future might have you wondering: How did we get here? Glad you asked.
It all started during the spring of 2008 when the team moved forward with plans for a new stadium on the waterfront in St. Petersburg. The proposed move didn't get to voters, who needed to approve it — the team backed out from the plan that summer. The next year, the city's "A Baseball Community" group concluded a new ballpark would be best somewhere between the "Gateway" region of mid-Pinellas County and downtown Tampa.
In 2010, Sternberg held a press conference to deliver an ultimatum — the Rays need permission to explore all-new stadium sites around Tampa Bay, or else they won't consider any new stadium sites around Tampa Bay. At the time, the team’s contract with St. Petersburg prohibited it from looking outside city limits.
Years later, in 2016, the team was given permission to explore Tampa sites and had three years to give St. Petersburg a final answer. In 2018, the Rays announced publicly its selection of an Ybor City site but without financing given few public or private funds available for stadium construction. The team later released renderings of its proposed $892 million Ybor City stadium but still without a way to pay for it.
St. Petersburg was told at the end of 2018 that the Rays were terminating its negotiating window with Tampa.
One year later, in 2019, the Rays were first given permission by the MLB to explore the now quashed sister city plan. But then-St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman threw the team a curveball when he said the Rays could not explore playing in Montreal or any other city prior to 2027.
A back-and-forth ensued between Sternberg and Kriseman until the idea pretty much struck out.
That brings us to today, where the Rays now have to shift their focus back to the Tampa Bay area where the options of proposed stadiums and the potential to extend their time in St. Pete await.
As for who the team will play ball with? That's yet to be determined.