Major League Baseball in Florida is an experiment that verges on failure. And its two franchises couldn’t be more opposite in showing that these days.
The easy target is the Miami Marlins, who convinced elected officials they needed an incredible new ballpark to attract fans. They’re on the hook for a whopping $1.2 billion dollars, according to a recent Miami Herald story, once interest and debt service is factored in to their loan to build that ballpark. And the product on the field? Well, we covered that already. Suffice to say that there’s some buyer’s remorse in South Florida. The Marlins are a micromanaged mess that might be beyond repair.
And then there’s the Tampa Bay Rays, who have the exact opposite problem. Contending team, obsolete ballpark, and the worst attendance in the big leagues because of that ballpark and its undesirable location in St. Petersburg. MLB officials made the proclamation last week that “Major League Baseball at this point no longer believes in the Tampa Bay area.” So, Rays fans: Baseball no longer believes in you. You’re like Santa Claus to a 10-year-old.
Anyway, they’re not leaving anytime soon. The Rays have a contract for the next 15 years at Tropicana Field. But an economist that works for MLB says the team needs a new ballpark, preferably in downtown Tampa. Rays officials believe their biggest problem is the location of the ballpark, which is too far from their suburban demographic.
So MLB is helping the rays ratchet up that pressure. And the politicians are hearing that request, and in a perfect world, they’d get what they want. But might the Marlins deal affect the Rays negatively? You bet. They don’t want to get on the hook the same way their South Florida brethren did, and that will be a major barrier to a deal, whenever that might be.
But they probably will get one, someday, somehow. Why? Because these pro teams always get what they want. Always. The leagues are blackmail masters. They’ll keep threatening. Heck, even the cities that actually dare their teams to leave eventually get on board, even after the fact. Cleveland lost its NFL team, then built that stadium anyway for a new (and underperforming) expansion team. And the same is likely going to happen in Seattle with the NBA if the Kings pull up from their Sacramento home.
The easiest solution won’t happen: Contraction. But that won’t fly with the union — just too many jobs for players that would vanish. But they’ll threaten it to get their way. And win.