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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred isn’t sugarcoating things in regards to the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics reaching new ballpark deals in the near future.
Manfred spoke Thursday at the end-of-owners-meetings press conference and said the urgency is there for Tampa Bay to find a solution — whether that’s in Tampa or in St. Petersburg.
“I think there is urgency with respect to Tampa Bay,” Manfred said, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. “I’ve said this before and I’m going to say it again, there needs to be a resolution in the Tampa Bay region for the Rays. Obviously, the end of that lease is a hard deadline. But you need to take into account that stadiums take a little bit of time to build, right?
“So we are getting to the point where, wherever it is in the region that has an interest in having 162 baseball games, they need to get to it. Get with the club. I know the Rays are anxious to get something done. And see if a deal can be made.”
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The hard deadline Manfred speaks of expires at the end of the 2027 season, in which the Rays’ lease with Tropicana Field expires. Owner Stu Sternberg at one point saw the future as a split-city venture between Tampa and Montreal, which fell flat in January after MLB rejected the proposed plan.
The Rays have now gone back to the drawing board as they’ve done for the last 15 years or so, but have yet to make much progress in the five months since. St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch has put a deadline of June 30 for the team to decide which side of the bay they want to build on.
Manfred reiterated that his focus is keeping baseball in Tampa Bay, but said at some point relocation would be considered. The Rays, despite making the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, including a World Series berth in 2020, have failed to draw much of a crowd. They rank 27th this season with an average of 13,739 fans in attendance.
“Right now, I’m focused on Tampa Bay,” Manfred said. “I think a great man once said all good things must end at some point. Right now, we’re focused on Tampa Bay.”
Like the Rays, the Athletics’ stadium saga has seemingly been dragging on years on end, yet the past two years, the fans have decided to no longer show up to the RingCentral Coliseum. The Athletics rank last in attendance this season, with an average of 8,283 fans showing up to the ballpark. Just three seasons ago, the team averaged 20,521 fans in attendance.
The attendance issues reached a peak in a game against the Rays on May 2, in which just 2,488 paid their way into the ballpark, the lowest paid attendance for an Athletics game since Sept. 9, 1980.
The team’s lease with the Coliseum ends after the 2024 season. The Athletics have proposed a new ballpark at Howard Terminal and are working with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf to gain approval, per ESPN. Las Vegas has been identified as an alternative option should a solution in Oakland not come to pass.
“There is really significant activity in Oakland. The political process has moved along significantly,” Manfred said. “I met with Mayor Schaaf last week. She has done a really good job at moving the process forward in Oakland. But as you all know, California political processes are their own sort of animal.
“There’s work to do on the Oakland side. I think the A’s prudently have continued to pursue the Las Vegas alternative. We like Las Vegas as a market. Again, it’s in the same category as Tampa. We need a solution in both those markets and the time has come for that solution.”
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While the bay area teams figure out solutions, cities such as Nashville are waiting in the wings for possible expansion. Manfred has said in the past, however, that Tampa Bay and Oakland’s stadium issues needed to be resolved before expansion could take place.
Three-time World Series champion pitcher Dave Stewart is leading a group to launch a $2 billion bid to secure an MLB franchise in Nashville, which would be named the “Stars.” The group said in April they hoped to have a franchise within the next 3-5 years.
But as Stewart said at the time of the announcement, Tampa Bay and Oakland come first.
“I spoke to the commissioner a couple of weeks ago and the same thing still remains,” Stewart said. “There are two teams that don’t have homes: the Oakland A’s and the Tampa Rays, so those are his priorities to make sure those places have homes to play in. But once they do, expansion becomes next on the agenda.”