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USF Sports Marketing Professor: Rays Shoulder Ybor Blame

Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays planned Ybor City stadium won't be built, in part due to questions about where the funds to build it would come from.

Last week, Tampa Bay Rays Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg said a plan to build a new baseball stadium in the Tampa neighborhood of Ybor City was dead.

The Wall Street investor and other team officials said it wasn’t clear where most of the estimated $892 million for a new ballpark would come from, but a University of South Florida sports marketing expert said Sternberg should shoulder much of the blame for the failure.

Bill Sutton is a professor and director of the Vinik Sport and Entertainment Management Program at the USF Muma College of Business.

Sutton compared Sternberg to the man the program he leads is named for, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

“(Vinik) never has his hand out, he puts his own money into the building (Amalie Arena, where the Lightning play), he’s all about Tampa, he lives here and he goes to every game,” said Sutton.

"Then (in Sternberg), you have somebody who doesn't live here, goes to a few games and says, 'I will give you $50-150 million (for the stadium), but I'm going to wait and see what you do for me first.' That to me was not the way to go about this, that was not the smart way to go about it."

Credit USF Muma College of Business
USF Muma College of Business
Bill Sutton, director of the Vinik Sport & Entertainment Management Program at USF Muma College of Business

Sutton thinks that if a Rays owner would offer to pick up more of the cost of a new stadium – between $400-500 million – the odds of success would increase.

As for what's next, Sutton thinks the Rays will play out the remainder of their lease at Tropicana Field and then move to a city outside of the Tampa Bay market when that lease ends in 2027.

He said that’s partially because of a lack of fan support.

"I've never been convinced that professional baseball, full-time in Tampa and Miami is viable,” said Sutton. “Spring training is very viable here, but why? Because people come from out of the market and fill the stands and come down here and make it a vacation and do different things. I just don't see it."

“The Rays have had some very good teams, the Miami Marlins have won world championships and there’s no staying power. I think the Rays did an amazing job last season with the talent they had and it should have been a team that captured everyone’s imagination – and it usually does, when they play the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox,” said Sutton.

Sternberg said last week that he's committed to helping the Rays remain in Tampa Bay, but isn't sure where the team will be playing after the Tropicana Field lease expires.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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