According to the Tampa Bay Times and Tampa Tribune, former MLB player Gary Sheffield is among a group of investors who put in a proposal to Pinellas County to build a Spring Training and baseball complex in Toytown. Via the Tribune:
SportsPark Partners LLC is one of three groups to submit plans to Pinellas County’s Economic Development Office to develop the sprawling 240 acres in the gateway area off of Interstate 275 near Roosevelt Boulevard.
The SportsPark group envisions a $662-million international professional and amateur sports complex that would include the Braves and possibly a second Major League Baseball team for spring training.
This is the second time Sheffield and other investors hoped to lure the Braves to Tampa Bay. Last year, Sheffield and others were planning a baseball complex in the Wesley Chapel area north of Tampa.
Last year, I thought another Spring Training complex in Tampa Bay was a bad idea. This year, I think it is a horrible idea for three major reasons: Demographics, Economics, and most importantly, Territorial Rights.
The final of which could make even opening the bidding a very bad gamble for the powers that be in Pinellas County.
When I wrote about Sheffield’s plan last year, I looked at it from a demographic angle:
Adding the Braves to the area would either create new Braves fans or solidify fandom in a market the Rays really need to penetrate and capture. That would be five Spring Training complexes in the Tampa Bay area. Even if we assume most Spring Training revenue is generated from tourists, there is still a presence and a small amount of local dollars going to a team that is not the local Major League squad.
And given that the Braves used to be the South’s number one team, there are probably still some Braves fans in the Florida. So fans coming to see the Braves might not be Atlanta tourists. They would be Floridians seeing their favorite team. Floridians would not likely root for the Major League team if their favorite team trains nearby.
In May, I wrote a post for Rays Index that described how overstretched the Tampa Bay market is in regards to sports. According to the economic data I used, Tampa Bay is the fifth-most overstretched sports market in the US. And the study didn’t account for non-MLS soccer, arena football, Minor League Baseball, or Spring Training.
Without regurgitating the economic numbers, Tampa Bay does not have the economic capacity to sustain yet another sports facility. Even with the injection of tourists, the market is too small. If you put a McDonalds on every corner, eventually some will fail. Even Starbucks had to slow down growth.
Although there are four teams training in the Tampa Bay area, none of the four are within the Rays territorial area as defined by MLB Territorial Rule 52. I’ve written about Territorial Rule 52 here and here.
Part of the rule states:
No team may play home games within 15 miles from the boundary of the home territory of another team, unless specifically expected.
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.
If I was a betting man, I would say the Rays have already blocked this from happening. Or they have their legal team ready play the territory card. And I would also bet the Rays are not happy with Pinellas County for opening up the bidding and allowing the Braves to place a bid.
Usually in stadium negotiations, teams get cities to the negotiating table by flirting with other cities. In Tampa Bay, it seems the county is trying to get the Rays to the table by flirting with other teams.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg council member Karl Nurse is open to hitting the Rays where it hurts.
“The Braves — at one point — were the team of the South,” Nurse said. “Bringing spring training back here I think is a helpful thing.”
That could backfire in a very bad way.