St. Petersburg Mayor Says Rays Should Be Allowed To Explore Ballpark Options in Tampa
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster has "reached the reluctant conclusion that keeping" the Rays in the region means he "has to let them cross the bay to explore a new stadium," according to Nohlgren & Puente of the TAMPA BAY TIMES. Foster yesterday said that "tepid attendance over the last few years has changed his thinking." He added, "If your goal is keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in Tampa Bay until 2050, you have to let them look in Tampa. ... I think there is a big question mark as to whether or not Tampa Bay is a major league region.'' Foster said that letting the Rays "explore all options now will enhance chances that the team stays for the long haul." Foster and the Rays have "quietly negotiated for months on a legal framework that would let the team explore possible Hillsborough sites." Foster yesterday "publicly explained his thinking for the first time." The Rays are "averaging 18,476 fans a game -- second worst in baseball." Foster: "You've got the hottest team in baseball, you're in a fight in the AL East, and you're not breaking 20,000. That sends a message to a lot of people." Foster in the past has "questioned whether the Rays were marketing the team aggressively." But he said that "ticket discounts, a summer concert series and other efforts show the team is making a good-faith effort to draw fans." Foster: "I didn't always believe that, but I do now" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 8/6). In Tampa, John Romano writes, "Whether he planned it this way or not, Foster might have played this perfectly." He "stood up to the Rays when it suited his purposes, and then turned conciliatory before the game got out of hand." By "reaching out to the Rays now, he maximizes his bargaining position while more than a decade remains on the Tropicana Field use agreement" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 8/6).