With CBA negotiations becoming even more tense, it now looks like the MLB season will not start on time, with Spring Training at the bare minimum being pushed back. Writers and fans STILL don’t have much to talk about right now regarding baseball, but in other news, MLB finally shot down the Tampa Bay Rays’ ridiculous plan to split their season between the Tampa area and Montreal.
With Rays ownership seeming more and more likely to move out of their current spot once their lease at the dreaded Tropicana Field ends in 2027, I decided to take a look at some possible cities in the United States the Rays could possibly end up. Keep in mind I mostly avoided cities that were too far away from St. Petersburg, because many of those scenarios are far-fetched, and it seems like the Athletics are moving to Vegas anyway, with other Western cities like Portland and Vancouver being expansion options. So yes, these options are regional. That being said, let’s get to it!
I decided to list 5 cities, one for each of the times a baseball flew into the Tropicana catwalks during the postseason over the years.
5. Austin/San Antonio Area (Central Texas)
Central Texas is one of the most populous areas in the United States, and there have been talks of them potentially hosting another sports team for some time. The Spurs were consistently in the top half of the NBA in attendance pre-pandemic, showing that San Antonio can gather fan interest, while Austin would be a fun experiment. There has been discussion from some investors, most notably MLB legend Nolan Ryan and his son Reid, who have both given consideration to pitching the owners on an expansion or relocation to Central Texas. The article I linked mentions how San Antonio is a tad crowded, and that Austin is a government city, and that a better place for a Rays stadium would be in between the cities, in a place like San Marco, or New Braunfels. Additionally, I wouldn’t want to try to compete with Texas Football during the fall, which is another reason to keep out of Austin.
The downsides of this proposal are apparent. There are already 2 teams in Texas that have been there for a long time (Astros since 1962, Rangers since 1971), and they have taken up the majority of the fan interest. There’s also the fact that the Rays would have nowhere to play until they move, which sours the idea of an immediate relocation. It’s also a decent distance from Florida. While this proposal has some ground, it’s one that needs to become more concrete, and works better for an expansion franchise.
The biggest reason to move to Charlotte is because it is an untapped baseball market. I need not remind everyone there’s no team between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. Not to mention that the Triple-A Charlotte Knights get pretty good attendance, at least when COVID isn’t affecting their numbers. There are corporate interests, fans to pounce on, and an area that wants baseball. As a matter of fact, there were some in Charlotte that did not want to give the Knights a new stadium out of the belief they could bring an MLB team to the stadium instead. Charlotte is a fast growing city, and there’s tons of potential in every way.
Why is this candidate city so low, then?
Because Charlotte is another example of a city that would be better off receiving an expansion franchise than an exported Rays franchise that would probably have to change its name to something more relevant. A city that has history rooting for other teams would find it more appealing to take the time to build a stadium for an original team and to start new than bring in a franchise that already has 20+ years of history in another state. Charlotte is a great city that baseball should look to expand to, but for the Rays, it’s not the right option. However, if they were to bite the bullet and go to North Carolina, there’s definitely reasons to believe they can succeed.
Much like the last two cities on this list, Nashville would be better off receiving an expansion franchise than sorting through recruiting the Rays.
Firstly, one has to know that Nashville has an entire website dedicated to making a push for their own Major League Baseball team. They have a stadium and entertainment area proposal, a section on the city’s baseball history and their Negro League ties, and an entire group of investors. However, as I just stated, this is geared towards getting a new team.
But, let’s say the Rays come to town. It’s definitely still a possibility and a good idea at that. The Titans and Predators have no issues with attendance and are immensely popular in the region, while Nashville also had the highest economic growth of any American city in 2021. The market, fan interest, history, community, and financial backing all exist, making this a great option if they’re willing to have a relocated franchise.
Nashville’s high interest makes them the most attractive of the out of state relocation options, but again, a desire for a new team and a lack of a temporary stadium make this difficult when they collide with the Rays lengthy lease and their TV deals in Florida. Not to mention a name change the Rays would have to do, to something like the Stars or Outlaws. Let’s give Tennessee its own team instead.
Orlando is a fantastic in-state option for the Rays, and it doesn’t have the cumbersome cost of starting the fanbase over or getting out of a valuable TV deal across the state of Florida.
Co-founder and retired executive of the Orlando Magic Pat Williams has made a direct appeal to Rays management about a move to the city of Orlando. With the Ream’s lease at the Trop ending in 2027, Williams pitched to the team in 2020 an entire proposal fleshed out for a Rays move, including a $1.2 billion dollar stadium, corporate sponsorships and possible support from Disney, and the numbers, that show how Orange County collects triple the tourist taxes of Pinellas and Hillsborough, where St. Petersburg and Tampa sit, respectively. This scenario seems perfect for an in-state move.
There isn’t really an issue with this proposal. Orlando is a smaller city than Tampa, but it gains much more tourist revenue. Disney World visitors would pounce on the opportunity for other entertainment, similar to how the Golden Knights of the NHL built up their attendance by pouncing on bored Vegas visitors who had run out of shows to see and money to gamble away. If the Rays were to leave the Tampa-St.Pete area, this should be the first place they should consider going. But why isn’t it the first option?
This was the only city that was going to be number 1. Let’s be real.
The Rays’ easy solution to fixing their money and attendance problems is to simply move north to Tampa. The Trop was built as a hockey arena, and even the Lightning found it wasn’t as suitable for it, moving to the Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa. Their attendance matches the team’s talent level, and the Bucs have had great success, even before Tom Brady showed up in town. Why? Because they play somewhere accessible for the greater Tampa Bay area. Meanwhile, the Rays couldn’t fill their stadium during a playoff game. A playoff game. St. Petersburg is a hike from Tampa, and most of the ways to get between the two cities are clogged during weekday rush hour.
If you can plop a stadium right into downtown Tampa, you get it all. Rays ownership still has a proposal for a $700 million stadium in Ybor City at their feet, and with the split-season proposal with Montreal shot down, the idea is gaining traction. They get corporate interest, the same attendance as the other two Tampa-based teams, more fan interest, and more money to work with. This is the ONLY place the Rays need to go. Period.