Rays-Montreal 'sister city' plan may be the only way to keep the team in Tampa Bay
Brian Auld said two open-air stadiums, one in the Tampa area and one in Montreal, could as much as double attendance at games.
Despite posting the best record in the American League this season, Tampa Bay Rays officials say they're not seeing half of what they need in terms of attendance at Tropicana Field.
Speaking at Café Con Tampa's weekly meeting Friday, Rays' President Brian Auld also said there’s a lot of misinformation circulating about the team's future, and he’s trying to remedy that.
“I don't think I can solve this issue going on sports talk radio for five minutes, I don't think I can do it by engaging on Twitter or Facebook,” Auld said.
“Got to get in front of people, got to explain the realities, got to get people to understand the unbelievable challenges that we face here, that this team's record should be driving greater attendance, that it's not a smart move for this community to think about a $1 billion stadium when we can do it more affordably and possibly generate more economic impact.”
But Auld also said paying tens of millions of dollars a years in financing to build a stadium in a place like Ybor City just isn’t feasible.
He said the only solution to keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in the area — at least for part of the season — is splitting their time between one city known for sand, and one known for snow.
While Auld did not go into great detail, the team's proposal would see two new open-air stadiums built — one in the Tampa Bay area and one in Montreal.
“We were trying to make the numbers work, and we just couldn't do it. And so we turned our attention towards a newer, more unique, fresher concept that we're floating out there that we know has a lot of detractors. We’re doing all that, we are suffering the slings and arrows because it's so important, because we don't see another way to keep the team here.”
Auld said this could double attendance at games, solving the problem they’re currently facing.
“We cannot bury our heads in the sand to what's going on. There's one way through. There's one way to keep this team here for the next 30 years. We need to be serious about it. We need to decide if it's better than not having us at all.”
He said two much smaller venues without rooftops will be cheaper and paid for with public-private partnerships, but added that he can’t comment further on that currently.
“Major League Baseball is extremely pessimistic about the possibility of postseason baseball here. They've watched baseball in Florida for a long time, they've seen the revenue sharing payments that have come down here, they've heard about how attendance is going to grow when we win games — we haven't been able to do it.”
The team had announced it would hang a sign promoting the split season plan in Tropicana Field during the upcoming playoffs, but have since backed off on that idea.