Rays, Tampa, and MLB Territorial Rule 52


Pending approval by the City of St. Petersburg, the Tampa Bay Rays have been given permission to look for new ballpark locations outside of St. Petersburg. For years, the organization hoped for the ability to look across the bay in Tampa and other locations. Now, pending approval, they might have that chance.

Here is where things could get very interesting:

If the Rays do move to Tampa, or anywhere more central to the Tampa Bay population, their “home territory” changes. According to the SoxProspects Wiki,

  • Each MLB and MiL team shall have protected territorial rights over a specific geographic area called a home territory.
  • The home territories are outlined in Attachment 52 to the ML Rules
  • Home territories of minor league clubs may be owned and granted by the leagues.
  • No team may play home games within 15 miles from the boundary of the home territory of another team, unless specifically expected.

Bullet 4 is interesting, especially considering there is a Minor League team in Tampa. Let’s look at the current 15-mile radius of Steinbrenner Field (map created on mapdevelopers.com).

Tampa radius

The red dot in the lower left is the current location of Tropicana Field. Notice it is not in Steinbrenner Field’s 15-mile radius. But move the Rays anywhere in Tampa and there is a conflict.

What does Rule 52 says about overlapping Territorial Rights? (Again, from the SoxProspects wiki.)

  • An overlap exists if boundaries overlap or are within 15 miles of one another.
  • Overlap between MLB and MiL team – (1) neither club’s ballpark may be within 15 miles of the boundary of another home territory; and (2) home territories may not be shared without consent of the MLB club unless the ballpark is 50+ mile from the MLB club’s boundaries.
  • Overlap between MiL teams – governed by the Minor League Association

“Consent of the MLB club”.

According to Doug Pappas, chairman of the Society of American Baseball Research’s Business of Baseball Committee,

Rule 52 allows a major league club to block any other major or minor league clubs from playing within 15 miles of its territory without permission.

Would the Rays give permission to the Yankees to continue playing Minor League baseball and Spring Training in the Rays home territory?

Currently, the Yankees current lease on Steinbrenner Field extends to 2027. As I mentioned in a September post,

if the City of Tampa clears area for the Rays to move across the bridge, would they let the Yankees go? Would the Rays make moving the Yankees a condition in moving to Tampa? Would the Yankees willingly move?

Or would the Tampa Sports Authority try to have their cake and eat it too, balancing both the top drawing Spring Training team and a Major League team who, by the way, are division rivals? Would they keep the Rays in a crowded market?

I think it would disingenuous for the Tampa Sports Authority to want the Rays and the Yankees to call Tampa home. Would the TSA even have a say in the matter if the Rays exercised Rule 52?

If the Rays find a location, and if a new stadium is built, would their claim depend on how many years remain on the Steinbrenner Field lease? Would the Rays let the Yankees stay in Tampa until they get a new park built? Where would the Yankees move to (Orlando? Vero Beach? Ocala?)?

Things are about to get very interesting in the Tampa baseball market.

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3 comments for “Rays, Tampa, and MLB Territorial Rule 52

  1. Bill
    December 8, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    I think the Rays would want the Yankees to move. A deal probably would be made to allow them to stay until they built a new stadium. The Yankees certainly could move to Orlando as it would seem a natural option. However, perhaps they would switch locations. St. Pete would certainly love to replace the Rays with the Yankees since the Trop would be empty and possibly demolished. One option discussed for the Rays new stadium is where Steinbrenner Field is, so this is conceivable. I think both cities would be happy with this and it would meet the teams desires. It will be interesting to see what the cities, counties, MLB, the Yankees, and the Rays decide.

    • Mike Lortz
      December 9, 2014 at 1:18 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Bill! Personally, I don’t think they should switch cities. That would keep the splintered market. I like the Orlando idea though. As long as it is in downtown Orlando and not linked to tourism.

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