As far as Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan is concerned, the Tampa Bay Rays are not going to stay in St. Pete.
That was his unabashed message during an update on the county’s current position in the Rays stadium debacle at the Board of County Commission’s meeting Wednesday.
Hagan reeled off a list of Tampa Bay Rays home game attendance numbers this year and in past seasons, making the case that the team’s continued presence at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg is a “failed business model.”
Hagan slammed St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman for hindering progress and for inaction Hagan believes will ultimately end to the Rays leaving the Tampa Bay region altogether. He read a quote from Kriseman in which the St. Pete Mayor reportedly said that Tampa already had its chance. He further said Kriseman refuses to meet with Hillsborough County staff to discuss opportunities to keep the Major League Baseball team in the Tampa Bay region and has so far declined to allow a meeting between Hillsborough and St. Pete attorneys.
“This laissez-faire approach is dangerous,” Hagan said. “Although the team is winning, our fear is the case is being made that our community can’t support Major League Baseball.”
Kriseman spokesperson Ben Kirby dismissed Hagan’s comments and fired back.
“It’s worth noting that the Tampa Bay Rays have not inquired about a new agreement once again allowing them to explore future stadium sites in Hillsborough County. Therefore Commissioner Hagan’s remarks are nonsensical,” Kirby said. “As Mayor Kriseman has suggested before, it’s time for Commissioner Hagan to be benched. He’s struck out wildly on this issue countless times. Mayor Kriseman’s regional approach is what led the Rays to explore future stadium locations throughout Tampa Bay.”
Kirby said, based on statements team officials have made, Kriseman expects to learn more about the Rays’ “future desires” by Labor Day. He said Kriseman would “continue to talk with team officials, focus on this exciting season, and not engage in fights with other governments.”
The Rays continue, as they have for years, to sit at the bottom of Major League Baseball home game attendance averages. Hagan said that in one particular game this season, only 5,786 fans attended.
“Several minor league teams had higher attendance that evening,” he said.
Hagan suggested two things for future action. He wants the county to continue trying to set up meetings with the city of St. Pete and the Rays.
“Based on Kriseman’s position, I don’t know if this will be fruitful,” Hagan said. “But too much is at stake to keep our head in the sand.”
He also wants the county to begin taking steps to create an entertainment district in Tampa with consideration for a Tampa Bay Rays stadium.
“It would strengthen our position if or when we’re able to discuss [stadium options ]with the team,” Hagan said.