The Florida Suncoast Dome was completed in 1990, and even then the facility quickly become outdated; a stereotypical 1980's multi-use domed stadium whose architecture was bland at best.
21 years after its completion, Tropicana Field now serves as an ugly reminder to Rays fans that a city with notorious Napoleonic Syndrome will fight tooth and nail to make sure the team honors its 30 year stadium lease and does not move across the Bay to join the regions other professional sports franchises.
The city of St. Petersburg, namely Mayor Bill Foster, is keeping this young organization from growing into the superpower that it ultimately could become.
Tropicana Field is located just off of I-275, west of downtown St. Petersburg, in an area of town a typical fan would not want to be roaming after a late game. To make matters worse, only 19% of the Tampa Bay Areas population lives within a 30 minutes driving range of the ballpark, ranking dead last in the majors.
Without a legitimate mode of mass transit, many people do not bother driving the hour to the stadium for a Tuesday night game against Kansas City, resulting in very poor attendance and a loss in ticket revenue. Even though Tampa Bay is considered a small market team for Major League Baseball, the region ranks as one of the top 20 in total population in the country. The people are there, but the stadium is out of reach.
To make matters worse, Business Insider has reported that Major League Baseball has, on at least one occasion, considered contracting the Rays and the Oakland Athletics, for reasons mainly involving ownership politics with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets.
This is not a discussion that happened pre-winning in Tampa Bay; this is a discussion that the top brass in baseball are having now. Despite the on-field success of the Rays, their paltry attendance figures could ultimately end up in their demise as an organization.
Fortunately, according to this same website, these contraction talks will go no further than spoken words in order to avoid a labor dispute.
St. Pete mayor Bill Foster has repeatedly told local media that, if necessary, he will pursue legal action to ensure the lease between the Rays and the city is honored. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Tropicana Field is not a viable option if the Rays wish to remain competitive in the AL East.
With the superpowers of Boston and New York routinely spending double, triple, or quadruple the amount on player salaries that the Rays are able to, the team needs a reliable source of revenue in order to stay competitive on a loaded division.
While Boston and New York routinely sell out home games, the Rays are pleased with 10 sell-outs per season in a stadium that holds ten thousand less than the Replica Yankee Stadium in New York.
With two giants of revenue in their division, the Rays need to gain every advantage that they can, and a new ballpark would do just that. Taking into account that Tropicana Field itself is a dreary, warehouse-like stadium only adds fuel to a quickly spreading flame.
The city of St. Pete is afraid to lose the team to its Bay Area rival, and even Tampa isn't sure if it wants to publicly finance a new stadium (the county is still dealing with the expenses for Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL's Buccaneers).
The issue will be resolved eventually, one way or another. Either Mayor Bill Foster is enlightened as to the consequences of being too stubborn and allows the team to have open talks with the city of Tampa, or he remains steadfast in his fantasy world that the Rays are succeeding in St. Petersburg.
Will it end with lawsuits on an unprecedented level when Stuart Sternberg decides to move his Rays to a shiny new ballpark in downtown Tampa, ignoring the lease contract? Or will it end with the same Mr. Sternberg moving his team to a cozy new stadium in Charlotte or San Antonio?
Mr. Mayor, it is your move.
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