In an exclusive interview with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster finally admitted that the Tampa Bay Rays future might in fact have to happen in Tampa.
Foster has tried to stand his ground over the past few years to keep the Rays inside Tropicana Field, but the Rays are again at the bottom of the American League in attendance with just 18, 476 per game, which is less than 300 more per game than the Miami Marlins for least in Major League Baseball.
“If your goal is keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in Tampa Bay until 2050, you have to let them look in Tampa,” Foster said.
This is the first time Mayor Bill Foster has acknowledged that a move to Tampa might be the only way to keep the Rays in the Tampa Bay region.
Foster also pointed out that a move to Tampa still might not be enough to fix the Rays’ attendance woes.
“I think there is a big question mark as to whether or not Tampa Bay is a major league region.”
Foster hits on a question that could rear its ugly head if a new stadium is built in Tampa. What happens if a new stadium is built in Tampa, and no one goes?
The excuses would be gone. The stadium would be newer, hipper, and cleaner. The stadium would be closer to a larger percentage of people. The stadium would also be at a closer proximity to more people with money in this area. What would be the excuse if attendance still struggles?
The Rays would need a bump of nearly 13,000 per game just to reach the middle of the pack in baseball. Can Tampa provide that?
“It’s a flag to the entire community. Are we a major league community? Are we a major league region? I think people need to decide what we are. We’re either going to be major league and support this team or we risk losing them.”
Mayor Foster also acknowledged all of the Rays efforts in marketing to try and draw attendance.
“I didn’t always believe that, but I do now.”
Recently, Tampa Bay commissioner Ken Hagan and Mayor Bob Buckhorn have slowed down their efforts in attracting the Rays to the Tampa side of the Howard Frankland Bridge, saying that no money would come from tax payers for a new Rays stadium.
Bill Foster has noticed this as well.
“It’s somewhat humorous to watch (County Commission Chairman Ken) Hagan and (Tampa Mayor Bob) Buckhorn kind of backpedaling a little bit because they were all wearing their finest trying to court the Rays to look over there,” Foster said. “Now that it might actually happen, you got Ken Hagan saying he’s not going to commit any taxpayer money to it, which is naïve.”
“And you have the mayor of Tampa saying he could come up with $100 million. But the private sector and the Rays have to come up with the lion’s share. That’s extremely naïve.”
It would truly be an incredible feat if the city of Tampa provided just $100 million towards a new Rays stadium and they still found a way to get it done.
Excellent job by the Tampa Bay Times editorial staff for getting this very candid interview from Bill Foster.