Last week, I wrote a piece for SaintPetersBlog.com in which I discussed how local Tampa Bay politicians have made the Rays second fiddle by focusing too much of their time, money, and interest into Spring Training and Minor League Baseball.
My conclusion was that in order for the Rays to truly be successful in Tampa Bay, they need a monopoly of interest, by both fans and politicians. Otherwise, they are hindered by obstacles no other team with their market size faces.
Today, however, I want to postulate the opposite.
What if Tampa Bay politicians stopped saying Tampa Bay is a Major League region? What if they all opted to divide the region into Spring Training and Minor League territories and didn’t bother kowtowing to the interests of the Tampa Bay Rays?
What if they said Major League Baseball isn’t worth the trouble?
If local politicians told the Rays and Major League Baseball they are not interested in supporting Major League Baseball at the regional level and would rather support several Minor League and Spring Training teams, the Rays could move on to more profitable pastures.
For the sake of this post, it doesn’t matter where they go: Montreal, Portland, Orlando, or Buford, Wyoming.
If Pinellas and Hillsborough County both told the Rays they are not interested in building a new Major League stadium, Pinellas can then reinterest the Atlanta Braves in the Toytown region. After the Braves new complex is complete, Pinellas County could then receive tourist income from Braves Spring Training fans. Even if the Braves bring in half of what the Yankees claim to bring to Tampa, $81 million dollars would go to Pinellas County, which would easily exceed what the City of St. Petersburg makes on the Rays Use Agreement for Tropicana Field.
Speaking of Tropicana Field, once the Rays are gone, the Trop site would need to be redeveloped. The City of St. Petersburg could building a new Spring Training complex on the Tropicana Field site. Both a Toytown spring training complex and one on the Tropicana Field site would still be cheaper than building a new Major League ballpark.
Perhaps the Cardinals, whose Spring Training lease in West Palm Beach expires in 2027, would consider returning to St. Petersburg. Or perhaps St. Pete can woo a team from Arizona back to Florida.
If that team can also bring in half of what the Yankees claim to bring into Hillsborough County, Pinellas County and St. Petersburg would receive millions more in tourist income.
If Dunedin keeps the Blue Jays and gives them a new complex with a renovated stadium next season, and the Braves and Cardinals move to Pinellas County, there would be six teams training in Tampa Bay. Eight teams if you include the Tigers in Lakeland and the Orioles in Sarasota.
- Blue Jays (Pinellas)
- Phillies (Pinellas)
- Cardinals (Pinellas)
- Braves (Pinellas)
- Pirates (Manatee)
- Yankees (Hillsborough)
- Orioles (Sarasota)
- Tigers (Polk)
That’s eight teams bringing in tourist income. If the average spring training stadium held 8,000 fans and each team played 15 Spring Training games, then 960,000 possible fans could see baseball. That’s only 300,000 less than the Rays drew in 2015. And since most of the Rays attendance is local, they are not spending as much on nearby restaurants, bars, and hotels as Spring Training tourists.
In addition, those local residents won’t be disappearing. They will still be spending money on the local economy, just not as many on baseball. They will be spending their money on the movies, museums, and other entertainment.
If we estimate 50% of Spring Training attendance is tourists and 50% are local, then approximately 480,000 Spring Training tickets will be bought by tourists. Maybe the average tourist attends three games. Even though they are taking only one room, they are staying three nights in a hotel, buying at least three meals in the local economy, and buying three tickets.
- Estimated Room Cost: $150 a night
- Estimated Meal Cost: $25 a meal
- Estimated Ticket Cost: $20 a ticket
Total cost x3: $585 per fan per trip
With eight teams from Lakeland to Sarasota and throughout the Tampa Bay area, Tampa Bay could call itself the “Spring Training Capital of the World”. Tourist industries would grow around that label as marketing people could create deals and packages that move fans from park to park and game to game.
Gone would be worrying about the Rays, their attendance, or even their wins and losses. Tampa Bay politicians and local businesses would be rooting for the eight regional Spring Training teams to have good regular seasons so their fans would be more likely to visit the following spring.
Tampa Bay would no longer attempt to be its own Major League region. It would become a service economy for other Major League teams’ fans. Tampa Bay would cater to those fans, embrace those fans, and willingly take those fans’ money. Then, after Spring Training, local fans can get their baseball fix by attending one of eight conveniently located Minor League stadiums.
All the Tampa Bay region would have to sacrifice is a Major League team habitually last in attendance.