By Eric Schmidt

The quest to secure a new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays continued on Tuesday as Stuart Sternberg addressed the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners. Last week, the Rays met with Hillsborough County officials. Hillsborough County is the city of Tampa, while Pinellas County contains St. Petersburg where the Rays currently play.

This debate about a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays has been raging for years with seemingly no end in sight. The argument is that if the Rays have a new facility, the attendance will increase, an argument I absolutely disagree with. I have been to Tropicana Field countless times and I see nothing wrong with the venue. As a disclaimer, I have been to far more professional football stadiums than ballparks, but I see nothing wrong with the Trop.

The Rays front office claims that Tropicana Field is too far away from the center of downtown Tampa, and a move will help to boost attendance. I believe that a potential move will be a zero sum game in the end. What boost in attendance that the Rays will see by moving to the other side of the Bay, the Rays will see is offset by fans from Port Charlotte and Sarasota that no longer wish to drive further to see games.

Major League Baseball and Bud Selig have decided to interject themselves into the debate over the Rays and the possibility of a new venue.MLB issued the following statement last Thursday-

“The Commissioner has had conversations with Stuart Sternberg and is disappointed with the current situation in the Tampa Bay market,” MLB said in a release. “The status quo is simply not sustainable. The Rays have been a model organization, averaging nearly 92 wins per year since 2008 and participating in the postseason three times, including their inaugural World Series in 2008. Their .565 winning percentage over the last five years is second among all American League clubs and third in all of Major League Baseball. Last year, the 30 Major League clubs averaged nearly 2.5 million in total attendance; the Rays, who finished with a 90-72 record, drew 1,559,681, which ranked last in the game. The club is an eager contributor to worthy causes in the Tampa and St. Petersburg communities and takes pride in meeting the social responsibilities that come with being a Major League franchise. We are hopeful that the market will respond in kind to a club that has done a marvelous job on and off the field.”

Mr. Selig should focus his attention on fixing the game of baseball, embracing new technology and stop dithering over the Tampa Bay Rays.

If the Rays think that a move across the bay will be so beneficial to attendance, simply look towards Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay is home to a professional football franchise as well. The Buccaneers play only eight home games a year, not 82 like the Rays, and they are having difficulty selling out their stadium as well. Only two home games of the Buccaneers avoided getting a local blackout during the 2012 season despite fielding a vastly improved product on the field over the 2011 season.

As in political elections, it’s the economy stupid. The economy in the Tampa area is struggling. It has not recovered from the housing bubble burst and the region sees some of the highest unemployment in the state of Florida. Unfortunately for the Rays, the team finally came out of the basement and became a force to reckon with in the baseball world just about the same time the economy went into the toilet. A new stadium isn’t going to fix that.

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