One of Peter Ueberroth’s final suggestions as Major League Baseball Commissioner to his owners in the late 1980s was don’t sign any stadium lease for more than 20 years. Ueberroth’s term was ending as the owners began to understand the 1986 federal tax code revisions which changed the way cities could publicly fund a stadium.The news that Tampa Bay Rays ownership reached a deal with St. Petersburg to look for another stadium in exchange for a buyout for significantly less money than John Lester’s guaranteed salary for the next seven years is a big deal. Rays ownership can go to another municipality and ask for as much as 92 cents out of every dollar spent inside the facility in a 20 year contract.
Ueberroth warned owners about the terms of a stadium deal and also was leading the charge to dissuade St. Petersburg from building the baseball stadium which was not used for baseball in the first years it was operating. Tampa Bay only got a Major League Baseball franchise in 1995 because there was an expiring publicly funded stadium package that would have gone by the waste side on April 1, 1995 if Major League Baseball didn’t expand or relocate a team into Phoenix. Baseball expanded by two.
Once Tampa Bay interests secured a team, the Devils Rays ownership signed a 30 year stadium agreement and was stuck in a bad lease. The kind of thing Ueberroth warned about in the late 1980s. After 17 seasons, the St. Petersburg domed stadium doesn’t cut it for various reasons but mainly place doesn’t produce enough revenue. Rays ownership is now free to discuss options with other Tampa area elected officials and maybe those outside the market although there doesn’t seem to be any good market available with Montreal still needing a stadium and a host of small market, small TV revenue cities out there. But in the stadium game, it is all about leverage and those cities could come into play if for nothing else but leverage. That’s the way the game is played.
This article was republished with permission from the author, Evan Weiner.