Editor's Note: Friend of the site Mike Lortz has been dutifully writing over at his new site Tampa Bay Baseball Market all season, tracking attendance figures and projecting team success, among other topics. Over the weekend, he noticed an article in the Tampa Bay Times by the most prominent Rays beat writer Marc Topkin, written on the same topic but from a Yankees vantage point. Lortz says it was a missed opportunity to call out the Yankees infringement on Rays territory. I wonder if the All-Star Break was the right moment for this article at all. Read on below. - DR
There was a very interesting article on the Tampa Bay Times site on Sunday. Rays beat writer Marc Topkin caught up with Hal Steinbrenner, co-owner of the New York Yankees. Topkin talked to Steinbrenner about the Yankees' brand, Steinbrenner community efforts in Tampa, business goals, and thoughts on the Rays.
A few key points:
the family remains feverishly committed to much the same plan: winning championships on the baseball field with the Yankees, expanding its business holdings and footprint globally and maintaining its base of operations, offices and philanthropic efforts in Tampa.
They also are involved with multiple charitable causes. Hal serves on the board of the Boys & Girls Club of Tampa Bay, the Tampa-based Special Operations Warrior Foundation and supports police, fire and Gold Shield efforts as well.
One of their competitors, of course, is the Rays. And, based on just his personal observation, Hal Steinbrenner said he thinks the market can be viable.
"Look at the location, I think the location of the stadium (in downtown St. Petersburg) has proven to be difficult at times as far as drawing fans," he said. "But the fans here in Tampa are great fans. We see it every March (for spring training), they support our (minor-league) team that is here all summer.
"They're great sports fans, whether it's hockey, whether it's football, whether it's baseball. I hope that continues in the years to come."
But is there enough to support the Rays, who are regularly last in attendance?
"I think it's a great sports town," he said. "They've supported the Bucs, they've supported us, they've supported the Lightning. I would think they would support the Rays. It's certainly a large enough community, correct? And they're big sports fans. So I would hope so."
There is no doubt the Yankees have a large presence in Tampa. George Steinbrenner loved Tampa and his family apparently does as well. That's great, if it wasn't the home market of another team.
For a Rays beat writer to ask a team that has a Minor League team in Tampa if the market is big enough for a Major League team is so backwards it defies logic.
Steinbrenner admits the Yankees goal is to expand the brand. The Yankees are all about branding. The Yankees are one of the most popular sports team in the world. That is a huge shadow for the Rays to be operating under. No other team in Major League Baseball has to operate against that, except for maybe the Mets. In the Mets case, however, they can have the support of 25% of New York City and still have several million fans.
Hal Steinbrenner is absolutely WRONG. Tampa Bay is NOT a large enough community.
The Tampa Bay region is not big enough, nor does it have the economic capacity, to support the Rays and the Yankees. Even with Spring Training tourism. Tampa Bay is one of the most financially over-extended sports communities in the US. The City of Tampa and Major League Baseball is doing the Rays a disservice by allowing the Yankees to operate in Tampa.
Steinbrenner claims Tampa fans will support the Rays because they support the Yankees in the Spring and they support the Tampa Yankees. Of course, he would put his teams first, but Topkin should have prioritized this list. He should have asked Steinbrenner if he felt the Yankees were cannibalizing the Rays local potential. The answer question that question is "YES".
In no way should Major League Baseball be second fiddle to Spring Training and Minor League Baseball.
The presence of the Yankees reduces incentive for people to become Rays fans. The Rays already struggle in a state where approximately 30% of residents are from New York. As I mentioned in my demographics post last year, there are over 1 million non-NY born Yankees fans in Florida.
But Topkin is accepting of this. He must also accept the fact that17% of Hillsborough County are Yankees fans. This number will not drop as long as stories about the Yankees in one of the region's biggest newspapers don't ask the right questions.
I'm not saying Topkin should not mention the good deeds the Yankees are doing - charity is a great thing and is always welcome - but what about asking Steinbrenner about MLB-MiLB Territorial Rule 52?
For a reminder on Rule 52, here a bit from a letter to fans from the owner of the San Jose Giants.
In essence, pursuant to Rule 52, a Major League team wishing to relocate within a 15 mile radius of an existing Minor League club must acquire those rights through a formal notification to the team, (and the applicable Minor League) of their intent to "draft" the territory.
The Major League Club must compensate the Minor League Club for the value of that territory based on a formula. The Major League Club, at their option, can require the Minor League team to relocate or can consent to allow that team to continue operations under present conditions. The amount of compensation due the Minor League Club, (and the league) is impacted significantly by the decision to relocate or to stay but under either option the Major League Club must still compensate all parties in drafting the territory.
Recent examples of these transactions include Miami, Denver and Phoenix. In these cases, the Minor League teams were forced to relocate away from their historic homes. Economics factored heavily in the decision. And these economics represent the second major issue that must be considered regarding staying or relocating the team.
The Miami relocation mentioned was the Orioles and the Yankees moving from the Marlins market in 1992 to other locations in Florida. The Yankees ended up in Tampa.
If the Rays want to move to Tampa, how much would the Yankees charge the Rays? That is what Topkin should have asked. Will the Yankees be a barrier to a Rays move to Tampa (given of course, the Rays get past local politics)?
And have the Yankees looked at sites for possible relocation if the Rays do require them to move? There have been rumors of the Tampa Yankees moving to Ocala or Orlando. Although neither happened, would Yankees operations move there?
The Yankees have no incentive to give up Tampa. The Rays have to know that. If it will be difficult to find a "moving fee" enough for the City of St Pete, the Rays then have to negotiate and pay off a team that does not have the Rays' best interest in mind.
Good luck with that.
There is no way to make an apt comparison between the presence of the Yankees in the Rays market. Perhaps the only comparison would be if Stu Sternberg moved Rays headquarters to Miami and moved Rays spring training to Fort Lauderdale in an effort to sway more of the Florida fanbase for the Rays.
There is no way Major League Baseball would approve that.
Instead of asking the hard questions, Topkin asked what Derek Jeter is doing these days.
For more on the viability of the Tampa Bay Baseball Market, please visit Lortz's site.