Last summer Rays’ owner Stuart Sternberg announced a novel idea—for the team to split their seasons between St Petersburg and Montreal. The proposal was for each city to build a $500M outdoor stadium, and to play the first half of each season in Florida and the second in Canada. They had hoped to start this in 2024.
There are, of course, multiple problems/challenges with the idea. One of the first is that, not only are the Rays locked into playing in Tropicana Field through 2027, they cannot even negotiate playing elsewhere prior to 2028 without permission from the St Petersburg mayor’s office. Today, Mayor Rick Kriseman made it clear that permission is not forthcoming. He also stated there would be a public funding contribution for a stadium for a full time tenant, but not a part time one.
So, what does this all mean? One, there will be lots of posturing, which I will not delve into. The Rays are committed to staying in St Pete through 2027. They’ve reiterated it, and really don’t have a choice anyway—the lease has no buy out clause. Once 2027 ends, though, they are a free agent franchise. The world would be their oyster—but where would they go? That is the question, indeed.
Multiple places have been mentioned over the past few years. Among them are Orlando, Nashville, Charlotte, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Portland, Vancouver, and Montreal. They all have certain things in common: (1) They’d still be a small market team. (2) Each city is part of some MLB team’s “territory” (with a couple exceptions)—and said team would demand significant payment (in addition to the billion-ish $ relocation fee the other 29 owners will certainly not waive). The exceptions I mentioned? Montreal…and Orlando, which is already Rays territory. (3) None has a major-league ready stadium, nor solid plans for one. Before anyone mentions it, Stade Olympique in Montreal is not major league ready in addition not being a viable long term option. (4) Any stadium that is built anywhere will have to be at least mostly taxpayer funded. That has in many places become more of a sticking point than it used to be.
There will certainly be more rumors, and rumors of rumors. 2027 is still 8 years off, but if there is to be a new stadium in place, solid plans have to be in place within the next 2-3 years, or the Rays may end up still in St Pete on a year for year deal that’s really good for nobody.
It will be interesting to watch, if frustrating and annoying at times. My money is still on the Rays eventually getting a new stadium in Tampa, St Pete, or Orlando.