Stu Sternberg talks competition in Tampa Bay baseball market

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On Sunday, Tampa Bay Times writer Marc Topkin spoke with Rays owner Stu Sternberg about the Yankees receiving money from Hillsborough County for Steinbrenner Field upgrades. I’ve written about this political decision a few times over the last few weeks. I called it “unnecessary” and “dishonest”. I also though it was rushed and based on a biased economic impact study.

Needless to say, I am not a fan.

But Stu Sternberg is.

According to Topkin, Sternberg believes any money spent on any baseball in the area is good for the game.

“It’s about the sport. It’s good for the sport. It shows that Hillsborough is committed to and sees the value of baseball in their midst.”

Even if the baseball is alternative options to his Major League team and commitments that line the pockets of teams his team competes with.

Sternberg also said:

“I’d be more concerned if all the municipalities chose not to want spring training in their midst and not to want teams, because they don’t really see the value to their constituents for baseball.”

But I thought Hillsborough County re-upped the Yankees because of the tourist income, not because the Yankees had value for the local constituents.

And aren’t those constituents the same constituents who could be Rays fans?

Just because every municipality wants baseball, doesn’t mean they should get it. Does every Pittsburgh suburb have a team? Does every St. Louis suburb have a team?

No. They don’t. They support the regional Major League team.

Then Topkin asked Sternberg about competition in the market. This is a great question and Sternberg’s answer was very interesting.

“They’re there,” he said. “In a straight-up fashion, it is a dramatic impact on us, and it’s not positive that we have so many spring training teams in our midst. It has some positive benefits in that we get Blue Jay fans coming to some games, we get Tiger fans coming to some games.

“But to have all those teams around us, it does create a problem in selling tickets and sponsorships, but they’re there. We just have to live with it and make the best of it and use it as a positive.”

Part of this I disagree with. The Rays would get Blue Jays fans and Tigers fans coming to some games whether Spring Training was there or not. As a matter of fact, they would probably get more if Spring Training wasn’t there. Because those fans would have no other choice but to attend a game at Tropicana Field versus the Blue Jays, Tigers, or Yankees. But those options exist and fans spend money on them.

Sternberg’s comments might be the first time I’ve ever heard the Rays mention they have trouble winning the market or bringing in revenue because of Spring Training.

Imagine if Topkin’s article had been written with the paragraphs in a different order. Had Topkin entitled his article “Rays Owner Says Spring Training Hurts Sponsorship”, the article would have a totally different tone. Had Sternberg’s comments about the Yankees-Hillsborough County agreement been buried on the bottom, maybe he wouldn’t been seen as compliant to the many obstacles the Rays face in winning their market.

It does surprise me that the Rays never fight back. When other MLB owners don’t believe they can succeed in the area and the Rays accept relationships between municipalities and alternative baseball options, the Rays appear weak and powerless in their own region.

Do they really think a new stadium and “second generation fans” are all they need to win the market? Do they not think pushing for a monopoly of baseball dollars in a small market is important? Do they think Tampa Bay has the economic capacity to support more baseball than any other region?

I’m not sure I agree with their position on these questions.

But at least local media asked the right questions.

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