The Tampa Bay Rays Major League Baseball franchise has reached an agreement with the city of St Petersburg that will allow the team to seek potential new stadium sites in the Tampa Bay area.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is expected to be approved by St Petersburg City Council on Thursday. The franchise, which has been based at the ballpark now known as Tropicana Field in Pinellas County since its inception, has consistently ranked near the bottom of the attendance table despite reaching the play-offs on four occasions since 2008 and finishing with winning records in six of the past seven seasons.
The new deal, outlined by St Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, has also established how much the Rays will have to pay the city if the franchise leaves its current home before the lease expires in 2027. The team are not required to pay St Petersburg in order to search for a new stadium cites, but must provide the city with $4m (€3.2m) per year through to 2018, $3m per year from 2019 to 2022 and $2m from 2023 to 2026 after they leave.
The MoU will help to quash rumours of a possible move for the franchise to Montreal in Canada. “Today marks a significant step forward, but this is just the beginning of a long process,” Rays president Brian Auld said. “Together as a region and as a community, we can now begin seeking a solution for the future of this great organisation.”
Rays principle owner Stuart Sternberg said that the franchise intends to spend four or five years at Tropicana Field as they formulate plans for a move. Sternberg added that there are no specific sites in mind at present, but the franchise is committed to keeping the team in the region if he remains at the helm.
“Look, I'm not leaving. I'm not moving this team,” he said. “I'm not taking this team out of the area – but that's me – and the chances of me owning this team in 2023 if we don't have a new stadium are probably nil. Somebody else will take it and move it. It's not a threat, it's, 'I won't be sitting here 10 years from now waiting to move the team’.”
He added: “I think baseball can still flourish down here, and I'm looking for the opportunity to make that happen. We need to get the building and the location pinpoint perfect for that to happen. So I don't know. I don't want to speculate about it, but it's never been my intention or desire or concept to move this team away from Tampa Bay.”