The reigning AL East Champion Tampa Bay Rays were set to receive approximately $35M from the state of Florida prior to Governor Ron DeSantis (R) setting a record budget for the state on Thursday afternoon.
The site, which was set for the Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area, would have moved the Rays Spring Training from Port Charlotte, which sits about 100 miles south of the Tampa metropolitan area.
While a number of things originally expected to garner funding didn't receive it, including $75M in state funding for USF St. Petersburg's Environmental & Oceanographic Sciences department, backed by Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R), it was the decision on the Rays that stunned quite a few people.
Up until Brian Cohen, who hosts the No Lie With BTC podcast, tweeted that DeSantis planned to veto the movement amidst his $3B proposal vetoes, it was almost assuredly going to be approved.
Christina Pushaw, the Governor's Press Secretary, retweeted an article that heavily speculated that the Rays response to the recent shooting in Uvalde, Texas swayed the Governor's adjudication, raising concerns of politically-charged retaliation. The Rays and Yankees eschewed live game coverage to promote statistics of gun violence via their social media platforms.
This isn't exactly groundbreaking for DeSantis, who has been engulfed in a war with Disney over their response to his polarizing "Don't Say Gay" Bill signed toward the end of March. As Florida's businesses continue to make noise, most of which go against DeSantis' proverbial grain, it'll be fascinating to see what happens to Florida's economy as the second highest tourism state in the Nation.
As for the Rays, they make up an estimated $123M of Florida's economy, per a February report from Tampa Sports Authority that mapped out the blueprint for a potential new stadium as the Rays prepare to perhaps leave Tropicana Field and the St. Pete area in 2027 when their lease is up for renewal. It's not unusual for states to fund new stadiums using taxpayer capital for sports teams to boost the state economy.
As for Spring Training specifically, MLB has a major footprint on the state historically. With Florida and Arizona being prime spots for Spring because of the weather and geographic location, Spring Training in Florida is an annual tradition.
Alienating the MLB may not be the most conducive move for the economy of the state, with over $680M in surplus revenue being generated for Florida's economy in 2018 alone. 52% of fans on average that attend Spring Training come from out of state, per a study from 2018.
Front Office Sports reported that a Spring Training delay threatened Florida's economy by over $1B earlier this year. To say Spring Training is a home run for the state of Florida is an understatement, as it's evident it hits for more pop for the state than Carlos Pena did for the Rays in his 46-homer season in 2007.
It remains to be seen if the Rays ultimately opt to move on from their current complex, Charlotte Sports Park, which is currently the home ballpark for their rookie-level Gulf Coast Rays and the previous stadium for the Class-A Charlotte Stone Crabs. The team has a lease with the complex for six more years. A potential contingency plan to move from the facilities in the latter part of the decade isn't clear.
Fansided and Rays Colored Glasses will continue to monitor the situation should new information become available.
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