Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg recently spoke to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times regarding the club’s progress in its search for a new stadium and rumors earlier in the year of bids from outside investors to buy the team, with Sternberg providing clarity regarding both matters.
Perhaps most importantly, Sternberg noted that the Rays are willing to cover the costs of more than half of a proposed domed stadium in St. Petersburg, with the project estimated to cost $1.2 billion in total. The comments give fans a window into what the Rays’ total commitment might look like if a deal is worked out for the first time while providing an update on the negotiations, which Sternberg says he is “highly optimistic” about. Topkin notes that a deal could get done before the end of the year.
Such a deal would seemingly leave the Rays owing over $600MM for the stadium, which Topkin notes would open in 2028, the year following the expiration of Tampa’s lease at Tropicana Field. Sternberg says that the club has been seeking investors to raise the necessary funds in exchange for a stake in the team. Topkin adds that those discussions have been the catalyst for inquiries regarding the possibility of a sale of th entire team, and Sternberg has not shut those offers down entirely.
Regarding the possibility of selling the team, Sternberg told Topkin that he doesn’t intend on selling and expects to remain the club’s principal owner. That said, Sternberg expressed a willingness to listen to offers, saying that “when you’re talking about people raising potentially hundreds of millions of dollars, they’re going, ‘Well, maybe we can buy the whole damn thing.’ So they take a run at you.” Sternberg likened his approach to inquiries regarding the team to that of his front office regarding the club’s players, saying that “if you want to make an offer, I always listen” but adding that no deal is in the works despite the club receiving plenty of offers over the years.
Sternberg added that he has no intentions of moving the team, though he did simultaneously indicate that without a new stadium agreement the Rays would likely be on the move, explaining that he would sell the team if the club fails to reach a new stadium agreement in the Tampa Bay area and that he would expect a hypothetical new owner to explore relocation for the team following the expiration of the club’s current lease in 2027. Fortunately for Rays fans, that eventuality seems unlikely to come to fruition as things stand. Sternberg describes the negotiations with St. Petersburg as “moving along at a very nice pace” and says that he “feel[s] pretty good” about where the talks are at with just under four months left in the year.
Along with the A’s, who seem all but certain to relocate to Las Vegas in the coming years, the Rays’ stadium situation has been perhaps the biggest roadblock to an expansion effort by MLB. Commissioner Rob Manfred indicated as recently as last year that he would “love” to see the league expand to 32 teams, though he’s previously noted that the league won’t considering expanding beyond its current 30 teams until stadium issues in both Oakland and Tampa are resolved.
With the timeline for expansion uncertain and fees exceeding $2 billion being floated as a possibility, it’s hardly a surprise that potential ownership groups would also have interest in purchasing and relocating the Rays. Topkin notes that a Nashville-based investor explored buying the Rays this past summer with a potential price tag of $1.85 billion. Massive as that figure is, it would still be less expensive than the aforementioned rumored expansion fees, lending credence to Sternberg’s suggestion that potential buyers have interest in exploring relocation for the franchise.