The Rays held a long-awaited press conference today to announce the team’s plans for a new ballpark in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa, Florida, as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports in a still-developing story. While hurdles still remain for making the vision a reality, it’s certainly an encouraging moment for the organization and supporters of baseball in the region.
Since beginning play in 1998, the then-Devil Rays have utilized Tropicana Field as a home park. The domed facility has long drawn criticism for its inconvenient location, among other demerits, and the club has never drawn particularly well.
Of course, poor attendance is now a leaguewide concern. And it’s an issue that has plagued the Rays’ neighbors to the south, the Marlins, even since they got a shiny new ballpark. The Tampa Bay organization is surely hoping to avoid some of the pitfalls from that experience.
The design unveiled today is for a cozy and quite unusual facility with a total capacity that would max out at 30,842 paying visitors (with 28,216 fixed seats). That would make it the smallest MLB park in existence.
Architecturally, the plan is unique: a fixed, translucent roof with flourishes that evoke the manta ray that originally inspired the team’s nickname and still features in its logos. Sliding glass walls would also allow natural light while permitting partial exposure to the outside elements, though unfortunately grass is not considered compatible with the approach. At first glance, it seems a rather appealing means of balancing local peculiarities with a classic ballpark experience, though it’s certainly not a design that will be loved by purists. (Some images are available at the above link.)
Of course, the Marlins Park troubles aren’t really related to ballpark design so much as financial and political considerations. Public financing will be a hot topic surrounding the Rays’ prospective facility, no doubt, with supplemental economic opportunities representing an important element.
As John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times explains, in a nice overview of the broader situation, the general circumstances seem favorable to finally getting something done, but the dollars and cents remain a looming obstacle. Club president Brian Auld acknowledges, regarding financing, that the team still does not “have those answers yet,” as Topkin adds (Twitter links). Preliminary estimates are that the new park would cost $892MM to install.
Does anyone else think it’s silly to invest so much money into a ballpark when Florida is such a dangerous hurricane zone? Neither Florida team has ever really drawn well. Time to get baseball out of Florida before mother nature does.
That’s what property insurance is for.
The Marlins couldn’t even fill seats during their championship years – not even for playoff games! The Rays have been a consistently competitive team the past 10 years, but building that stadium is a huge gamble. What if people still don’t attend?
The problem is not the past 10 years, the problem is the 10 years before that. When the Rays should have been building a fan base, they were consistently in last place for their first decade. A team like the Pirates or Royals could withstand a long stretch of being non-competitive because they had a longtime brand recognition, but the Rays did not. The other 90s expansion teams were all in the playoffs within their first 5 years and 2 of them even won the World Series. Yes, the Marlins built a reputation as a fire sale team, but the (Devil) Rays reputation was so bad, they had to change their name. By the time they became consistently competitive, it was too late.
Their other major problem is that the area of St. Pete and Tampa is a known retirement destination for a lot of New England fans which means a lot of residents are Yankee and Red Sox fans. Added to the fact that the city of Tampa has been a Yankee minor league city for 25 years. Which is just weird. Can you imagine the Cubs having a minor league team in St. Louis?
All of that added together just shows Tampa is never going to be successful in this configuration.
It’s not like the Tampa Tarpons (formerly the Tampa Yankees) are a big draw. I’ve been to a number of games there and the stadium is virtually empty on game night. That’s hard to believe because Steinbrenner Field is a great place to catch a game.
As for the Rays’ attendance issues, it can be a pain to get in and out of the Tropicana Field area with all of the traffic on I-4. And the parking prices at the Trop are ridiculous. Tickets were cheap, but parking was something like $36.
Phoenix is home to tons of midwest retirees and California transplants and once was the home of the San Francisco Giants AAA affiliate. Not that much different from Tampa and add in that ALL the Cactus League teams are in metro Phoenix versus being spread across Florida.
To be fair, the Tarpons are single-A advanced. A major league team would draw more of a crowd. Hopefully that will happen for the Rays if they go through with this.
Parking @ AT&T is $40 and I am sure harder to get in and out – most people use public transportation. Florida baseball fans are just not into attending baseball games for whatever reason.
The Marlins have never sold out. Their new stadium has sold out 3 maybe 4 times for the WBC. That’s it. They will never sell out. The former owner got greedy and wanted a new one. They never deserved it or earned it.
Baseball in Flo ida is great…all the spring training games they can watch. But to keep these AAAA franchises going in from of Rookie Ball crowds is silly.
I don’t think hurricanes are a primary concern when you look at how infrequently they hit. The bigger issue is that the locals with money tend to get the heck out of Florida during the summer and early fall, putting a crimp in those who would buy high priced seats and boxes.
This could be very ugly or very nice
Ybor City is an even worse location that they are currently in…..SMH
How? It’s on the other side of the bay
Gotta disagree with you as I’m in Ybor twice a week. It’s closer to more people than St. Pete and a better option than shoehorning it into downtown Tampa. I thought the fairgrounds was a better option but Ybor isn’t bad.
man if it were the fair grounds it would be less than 15 min away! but MLK cant take that traffic
15 mins from me too but my thought was that with I-4, 75, 275, and 301 all nearby, it would provide easy travel to all directions.
“Ybor isn’t bad “. There’s a solid recommendation. VEGAS BABY!
Sounds like it will make a great minor league park whenever the Rays move to Charlotte or Montreal.
I’ll gladly take them in Charlotte
Vegas will be the next city if a MLB team moves
I doubt an Eastern team moves to Vegas. Vegas is more likely to get an expansion team than a moved East division team.
I want another expansion so badly. They keep refusing to put them into the MLB: The Show games, so I just have to pine for them to actually happen.
Be nice if Vegas got a team. Bet they’d have near capacity crowds often.
Even nicer if MLB expanded to 32 team. Four divisions of four teams each. N/S/E/W. No wild cards. Play best of 7 series right through to the World Series. Of course, cut the regular season back to 154 games.
And for God’s sake….. knock down Fenway and build a new stadium same dimensions but put a retractable roof over it.
Am I asking too much?
Where in Boston would you put it?
Thanks I’m clueless. Guess you’re implying there isn’t much real estate left.
there are a lot of places you could have an expansion, vegas is one but also portland, SLC, new orleans, etc are all ripe for a team
Nobody’s moving to Montreal.
Maybe…just maybe…baseball doesn’t work in Florida? I feel bad for the Rays, because their a solid organization, unlike that farce in Miami… But it just doesn’t seem like Floridian’s support baseball enough to make an MLB team profitable….
“unlike the farce in Miami” mind explaining how the new ownership is a farce, and please for the love of God don’t mention Stanton.
I get that they wanted to get out of his albatross, but the way they handled it was pathetic.
Yet so much baseball talent comes out of Florida.
Great baseball state… arguably the best baseball state in the country. That just doesn’t extend to fandom of the two MLB teams there for a wide array of reasons.
“arguably the best baseball state in the country.”
No. That would be California. And it’s not even close.
They need to put a winning product back on the field to justify a new stadium IMO. It feels like they’re back in that pattern of just being a feeder for all the other teams. No stadium will change that if their owner isn’t willing to put the money forward to keep the players they’re developing long term.
The concept art looks way better than the trop at least
You could say that about nearly any parking garage or county jail in the country
The biggest problem with the Rays is the lack of true fans. Most people that come to their games are transplants from the North who have allegiances to the Yankees, or Red Sox, or whoever. The lack of a true superstar hurts as well. Having a guy like Judge, Machado, Betts, Trout, whomever will always put butts in seats. Even a marketing thing like what the Mets have done with Tebow could help.
They consistently have a top 5 starter with a big personality. Longoria was also one of the top 3rd baseman in the league for years. There’s a lot of reasons, but the superstar argument is a little weak. Plus, even if you don’t consider any of that qualifying, it’s not like it’s something they can really control.
I would rank the market size and lack of big corporate sponsors based in Tampa/St. Pete and too much competition statewide for tourism dollars as being equally if not more significant problems than the percentage of Northern transplants vs. “native” Rays fans.
The question as always is financing. This political climate, especially these days, is dramatically opposed to public financing for these millionaire owners.
Lotsa noise, but forward Rays’ mail to Charlotte in 2020……
$892 Million? And that will come from…where?
Let’s build a (nearly) $1B stadium with no idea how to pay for it!! Rays owners Stuart Sternberg made his millions on Wall Street, investing money and turning huge profits. Why can’t/wont’ he do that to generate the funds the build a stadium? As successful as he was on Wall Street, if he had started when he first bought the team he’d likely have enough to pay for it without burdening the Florida tax-payers.
But here’s an idea…for any private stadium that is built with public funds, the public should receive an equal percentage of the revenue until it’s paid back with interest.
“Welfare for billionaires”
Everyone says that. Then they elect a bunch of friggin new-urbanite hipsters promising to make gentrify their city into a green euro utopia where you can leave your loft in a disused warehouse, ride a streetcar to the rent-a-bike station, go down bike lanes past gridlock traffic, get an $27 fair trade coffee and a vegan cupcake, go down to the ballpark to watch a game, then hit up a craft brewery in a Cold War fallout shelter on your way home.
yeah baby! then we all have the hispter pout
I think the Tampa area is great for baseball. Warm weather all year round, retirees with disposable incomes, many people who hail from big baseball fan bases, spring training being well supported.. There is every reason to think that in a new ballpark, the Rays will be economically successful, and this would be good for baseball. Florida only is growing.
This post dated 1998
Anything is better than where they play now.
Am not a big fan of building a new stadium when you are consistently down in the standings, and can’t draw any decent attendance. The Marlins got their stadium, and things are still the same. Just call it a day and move the franchise instead of pushing the issue.
Ridiculous that for almost $900MM, their current design will still leave the Rays playing on artificial turf. In Florida.
If both Florida teams are in constant sell mode, they’ll never have enough fans to make a new stadium worthwhile. The Marlins made the taxpayers pay for that monstrosity, then sold off the new free agent signings (Reyes, etc.) after 1/2 of a season. They sold off again this past offseason.
Put a winning team on the field and KEEP THEM. That keeps the fans in the seats. There’s no point in buying your favorite player’s jersey when they’re always appearing on MLBTR.
I agree with you that they need to put a winning team on the field, and stop the constant fire sale. But they did not have a choice based on stupid decisions by Loris regime. I really hope Jeter can keep the talent that he is currently developing
Maybe it can raise and lower into a swamp to be hurricane-proof and look like that Legion of Doom headquarters from Superfriends? smh
Location, Location, Location. This is a much better set up for the Rays than being in St Petes. This could work.
The biggest myth is that a new stadium will make any difference vis-à-vis Rays’ payroll. They generate most of their revenue from Revenue Sharing. The more local income they generate, be it from a new venue or new (upcoming) TV deal, is just subtracted from those amounts.
In other words, net gain = ZERO. MLB wants them in a new park to lessen the welfare payments. That’s all it all amounts to.
It’s all pointless if there’s more team employees than fans at every game.
That’s bc the marlins park is the ugliest thing in baseball
Anyone that looks at the park doesn’t want to go there
its obvious the Rays need a new stadium but at a price close to a billion dollars seems like a bit much. The league already has three teams that either have moved out or going to move out of newer stadiums. Maybe that doesn’t become the norm though and they stay there for years to come.
Ken In Sac
I think this is yet another mistake by MLB to have one team in Florida let alone two. Then to spend on stadiums is idiotic. Move them or contract is the best options.
Rays are near the top in MLB in radio & tv ratings. Rays also spend 56.6% of their revenue on players. Rays will also have a new TV pact that will increase their tv revenue exponentially over time. The biggest issue is local fans showing up to games. This location will be put into a larger 30m population radius than in St. Pete along with more corporations in that exact same 30m radius. Over half the Rays season ticket base lives outside of St. Pete (I am one of them).
Exponentially is a big word
Looks like there could be the potential for some serious glare! If they can design and implement a workable roof, it looks like a winner!
Why, in 2018 are they even considering a stadium with artificial turf? What a way to alienate the good players from ever willingly going to TB.
Space concerns & retractable roofs in hot climates are not open enough to accommodate grass fields.
Well there seems to be an argument about fans coming and northern transplants issues…. I think if you look at the sucusses of the Bolts you get your answer. Second the answer to who is paying for the stadium is where the buck stops…. I saw no answer from owner or mayor… so it’s all smoke so far
Can’t wait to see all 10 rays fans show up.
Almost a billion dollars for a 28,000 seat park? Florida should be for spring training games only.
They need to just leave Tampa go to Montreal or Las Vegas or somewhere where the fans will actually go. Marlins should be retracted too.
Tampa draws more fans than the Expos did for many, many years.
OK, so even if they manage to fill the park on a regular basis, they’re still going to have below-average attendance. I can’t decide if that’s really stupid for giving up so easily on the fan base and putting a cap on potential revenue improvement, or really smart for not wasting money on seats that in all likelihood would rarely ever be needed anyway given the long time really low attendance figures in Florida even with the Marlins’ new ballpark.
baseball in Florida does not work