The continuing saga of the Tampa Bay Rays search for a new ballpark continues, and although progress has been made, there are still too many underlying issues for a resolution at this time.
It is a known fact throughout Major League baseball that the Tampa Bay Rays need a new stadium in a new location. It had been previously mentioned that it is a possibility that the team would relocate to another city. Stuart Sternberg the owner of the Rays even mentioned in the past that if he was not allowed to relocate that he would put the team up for sale and that the new owner would be the most likely to move the team to another city, such as Montreal that wants an MLB team.
On the bright side there has been some progress made in relocation, in recent years. In the fall of 2016, a vote passed allowing the Rays to start looking for locations in Tampa, which is located Hillsborough County. Before the vote occurred, the team was forbidden to even look at potential new stadium locations outside of Pinellas County, because of the structure of the lease.
The Rays currently play in St. Petersburg, which is located in Pinellas County and even though the vote passed to look outside Pinellas County, it is not the only obstacle. If the Rays wanted to move to Tampa this season, or at any time during the current lease, it would cost them $42 million dollars. That dollar figure goes down every year until the end of the current stadium lease, which ends in 2027.
While that seems like it is far away it is closer than you think. It is going to take a couple years to decide on a new site, which the Rays have narrowed down from the list of possible sites that they have already put together. Once the location is decided, it will then take a few years of planning before building the new stadium.
The Tampa Bay Region wants the Rays to stay in regards to tax money brought in and to keep an MLB team in a rapidly growing city. Tampa is one of the fastest growing cities in the US and is continuing to grow as the population of Hillsborough County where the Rays want to move to is 1,292,000. In 2013, the population of Pinellas County, which encompasses the City of St. Petersburg and the current home of the Rays is 929,048.
While the population is Hillsborough County is larger that is not the only positive of moving there. Most of the population of Pinellas County is snowbirds that are not in that area during the summer. Well the summer months are the months that they Rays are playing. On the other hand, the Hillsborough population does not fluctuate as much during the summer months.
The drive from the Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa to Tropicana Field in St. Pete is a half hour if there is not much traffic. So all the fans have to drive quite a ways to go to a game and if it is on a work night that ends up taking up your entire night. Not to mention many fans are living in the New Tampa and Wesley Chapel areas which is a much further drive, as it could takes over an hour to get from Wesley Chapel to Tropicana Field. An hour drive on a school night or for a working adult is huge factors to decide whether or not go to a game.
While it is a risk making the move to Hillsborough county I feel it will be a risk with a positive reward. The Tampa Bay Lightning is actually in downtown Tampa and they have sold out every game the past two seasons. A sell out for the Lightning is 19,092 people and the Rays average attendance last season was only 15,878. If you feel winning would help sell more tickets it will but only a little.
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In 2008, the Rays were in the World Series and had an excellent season. The average attendance for the 2008 season was only 22,259 (26th out of 30 MLB teams) and the season after in 2009 the average attendance was still low at 23,147 (23rd out of 30 MLB teams). Therefore, winning doesn’t solve everything.
Besides location, there are other issues with Tropicana Field as it is currently the smallest stadium in MLB in regards to seating capacity. In addition, it is the only ballpark that has non-retractable dome roof and since it’s in Florida, you need a roof for day games but night games having a roof that opens would be enticing to fans and to be able to get the full night game experience.
Another huge issue is the catwalks in the stadium. MLB has implemented specific rules for games at Tropicana Field. There are four sets of catwalks and set have different rules for when a ball hits them. These are both huge factors in plans for the new stadium.
At the end of the day, relocation is necessary to be able to keep baseball in Tampa. MLB is in support of keeping the Rays in Tampa and is willing to help in the process. With a beautiful city that has a growing population is make sense to stay and the fan support should continue to grow.
With an increase in attendance, the team will have more money to resign players that they could not afford in the past who are currently dominating on other MLB teams. Being able to keep these players will help the Rays in their attempts to get back to another World Series.
Continue to keep supporting your Rays because they will be in the area for a longtime to come and keep checking out our website for new information regarding the ongoing stadium situation.