The Rays' Tropicana Field lease prohibits the team from exploring a new stadium outside of St. Petersburg. (J. Meric/Getty Images)
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said Thursday that "Major League Baseball at this point no longer believes in the Tampa Bay area," according to the Tampa Bay Times.
During a discussion at a Hillsborough County Commission meeting, Sternberg said he wants to keep the Rays in the region but the team's success on the field has not been reflected in tickets sales. Five years of poor attendance have left the team at an annual deficit and his fellow owners are growing tired of the Rays collecting tens of millions of dollars from their teams under baseball's revenue sharing system.
Steinberg was at the meeting to promote a new stadium for the Rays as a necessary step in keeping the team in the Tampa Bay area. He categorized Tropicana Field as being located too far from the team's target fan demographic and corporate sponsors.
He said exploring new stadium sites might change the minds of other MLB owners and convince them that baseball "can be here for another 50 or 100 years.''
The Rays are also seeking relief from St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster's refusal to allow the team to explore stadium sites and financing in Hillsborough County on the Tampa side of the bay. The Rays' current lease prevents them from talking to other entities about a new stadium.
“When you became the principal owner of the Rays in 2005, you did so with your eyes wide open, fully aware of this history, and with full knowledge of the commitments made by your predecessors just ten years earlier,” Foster wrote in October.
“Our stance has been and continues to be that only a regional dialogue will preserve baseball for generations of Tampa Bay fans. We are both surprised and disappointed by the letter from Mayor Foster today,” Sternberg wrote.