Last week in this space, you may remember a bit about Major League Baseball’s “stadium situations in Oakland and Tampa … the latter of which now appears like it might be” on track. Turns out, nope, the Rays will not be heading to Ybor City and instead will play out their lease in St. Petersburg. So, start getting ready now for talk about how “Portland Rays” or “San Antonio Rays” or “Vancouver Rays” could happen between now and 2027.
The saga that awaits the Rays – really, that the Rays have been going through for years already, but now will be re-energized – will be fun for absolutely nobody. Not for anyone associated with the team, not for fans in the Tampa Bay area, not for fans in baseball-starved cities hoping to get a team. It’s also a good reminder that nothing ever really changes all that much in this segment of the sports economy.
The Rays’ beleaguered home, Tropicana Field, began its life as the Florida Suncoast Dome and had its coolest name, ThunderDome, when the Tampa Bay Lightning played their home games there. Yes, they had a hockey team in a stadium built for baseball, because there was no baseball team there. The Rays didn’t come along until 1998, but ground was broken for the dome in 1986 and it opened in 1990 without a tenant.
They were gonna get the White Sox. Then it was going to be the Mariners. Or the Giants. The 1993 round of MLB expansion was a possibility, but Tampa Bay lost out to Miami and Denver. It took a while, but the stadium built for a team that didn’t exist eventually did get a team, and by the time it did, it was an outmoded dump, having been built right before Camden Yards changed the stadium game. Whoops.
After all the time that Tampa Bay was used as leverage by other teams, the shoe went to the other foot, and that’s where it will be until there’s resolution one way or the other. Seattle knows the feeling, having been tormented by potential Mariners moves until they got a new ballpark built, then seeing the SuperSonics skip town for Oklahoma City, and eventually becoming the leverage city for hockey teams until the NHL announced an expansion te—right, that’s back to last week in this space. This week, it’s more Seattle as leverage, and Las Vegas too, because the Phoenix Suns are trying to blackmail their home city into arena renovations. The ploy lasted about a day, because it was obvious to everyone involved that Suns owner Robert Sarver is full of crap, most notably to Phoenix resident Greta Rogers, who spoke at the city council meeting.
Possibly lost in Rogers’ brutal takedown of Sarver was this gem: “We are not in the business of funding private enterprise.” Now, if someone would like to tell that to Andrew Cuomo and Bill De Blasio… oh, someone did. The one plus side for New York, though, is that Amazon will never miss the playoffs, and try to convince everyone that they were successful because they had a winning record in a season when they were widely predicted to flat-out suck.