The Chatter Class: Examining ex-Rays

Monday, June 2, 2008 at 1:40am
A computer image shows a proposed bayfront ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays. But will it be built and does Nashville care? HOK Sport

During the discussion over a Nashville Sounds riverfront ballpark, a point some folks made was to build it so it could be expanded to attract a Major League Baseball team.

With that in mind, a Tampa Bay Business Journal reader made an interesting comment in a poll on whether or not the city should build a new ballpark for Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Devil Rays on the waterfront in St. Petersburg.

“Wake up folks,” the paper quoted one reader. “If we don't build the Rays a new stadium, rest assured Charlotte, N.C., or Nashville are just two of the 20 cities lined up to do whatever it takes to land a major league franchise. If you vote no, don't cry when the Rays are gone for good.”

Since the reader decided to throw Nashville in the mix of cities willing to woo the team, perhaps just for giggles the thought should be pondered here more deeply at least from a speculative economic-development what-if standpoint.

Obviously, the reader is responding to those who oppose the proposed $450-million project, which involves public assistance along with a hefty financial commitment from the Rays owners.

They have teamed with Houston-based Hines to redevelop Tropicana Field into a vast mixed-use development as the new ballpark is built.

And if you think the arguments for and against differ from city to city, think again. The team addresses “common misconceptions” on its Web site.

One misconception: “My taxes will help pay for the Rays ballpark.”

The team’s response: “No existing taxes will be diverted to fund the ballpark, and no new taxes will be imposed.”

Another misconception: “This is a ploy to move the team.”

The team’s response: “The Rays are committed to St. Petersburg. We are not demanding a ballpark. The Rays feel this is a rare opportunity to create a win-win with the City and community.”

Sound familiar?

Many would acknowledge that landing a third major professional sports team here has as much of a chance as a snowball surviving in the Bahamas. The odds are better for the Predators getting beyond the first round in the playoffs — maybe.

A third pro team would slice the pie more thinly. The Predators, in particular, still need to get attendance higher than what’s needed for league revenue sharing.

But let’s go from the viewpoint of bringing an American League team here is like building roads. More roads encourage more development.

State Route 840 is a perfect example. There’s plenty of newly built, empty warehouse space in Wilson County just waiting for tenants that economic developers and real estate brokers try bringing.

Bringing a Major League Baseball team into a shiny new ballpark could be creating infrastructure, that quality-of-life feature that attracts people to the Nashville area. Perhaps, the 39 companies a Partnership 2010 presentation recently said are looking at the area would be more inclined to bring 10,000 jobs here.

From a fan perspective, think about all those former Michigan folks here for the auto industry. They may like to see their American League Detroit Tigers play without going to Detroit.

They certainly fill a lot of seats for the Red Wings games when they play the Predators. They may not be as loyal to the Tigers as the Red Wings but they still represent a base.

And surely Mayor Karl Dean isn’t the only Boston Red Sox fan. Dean could conduct the city’s business from a seat along the baseline.

There’s at least one fan of the lousy Texas Rangers. (Ironically, President George Bush was an owner in the team the last time it was any good.)

The New York Yankees probably would draw crowds as would other American League teams.

In addition to the “build-it-and-they-will-come” perspective, there’s the sales point economic developers have long used that could work — Nashville’s central location.

Economic developers as well as a bevy of consultants often highlight Nashville’s proximity to a large percentage of the U.S. population. The area has increasingly become a distribution and logistics hub because of the central location and the three interstates cutting through the area.

So, the baseball team could be pitched as a super regional team. It would have to be. The Nashville area’s population is about 1.4 million compared to the 2.5 million in the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg.

The Tennessee Titans draw from outside Tennessee, although it’s just for eight home games a year, compared with 81 home games for a baseball team.

There are three National League teams within a half-day drive of Nashville — St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds, but the nearest American League teams are a day or more drive away. It’s easier to fly Southwest Airlines to Kansas City or Chicago.

Fans making the trip to Nashville for a baseball game of course would bring business downtown, assuming the new ballpark was built on the former Thermal Plant site along the riverfront.

That would mean more hotel/motel tax revenue to help payoff bonds to build a new convention center, unless the revenues were diverted to build a new ballpark since it could be considered a tourist related venue.

The trouble is that folks traveling here for baseball probably would have to be avid fans of American League baseball and enjoy watching the designated hitter instead of a pitcher who can’t hit. And it’s doubtful the 11-year-old Rays have developed the deep following of many other teams in baseball to be the draw.

So, is it folly to think of American League baseball in Nashville? Probably in the short term it is.

Another million people in Nashville would help. The outlying counties are doing their part for sure.

The Chatter Class appears Mondays in The City Paper. Comments may be sent to rlawson@nashvillecitypaper.com

Filed under: City Business
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By: BigPapa on 12/31/69 at 7:00

What is the point of writting this? Just fantasy? I can not imagine that any major leage team would look at us and want to move here.

By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 7:00

They are setting us up papa. The foundation. They want to get Titian 1 all excited.

By: develop12344321 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

This article is a joke. Dean can't figure out a way to build a Minor League ballaprk at 1/25 the cost. How is he going to fund this one? And make no mistake, MLB will require 100% public dollars. No chance.

By: BigPapa on 12/31/69 at 7:00

YOu got it wrong. The Sounds can't figure out a way to obtain a loan or secure financing. Dean just isn't willing to do business with a group that apparently has money and managment issues.

By: jthomas1975 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Landing a MLB team is once in a generation opportunity. Nashville's city leaders would be foolish not do everything they can to make this happen. The economic impact would be huge for our city, especially over the long run.

By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Thats what they said about the titians , the preds and the new convention center. How much can we afford to entertain our neighbors?

By: svage_steve on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Can we not afford to NOT entertain our neighbors? With the underperforming schools moving middle class families to the ring counties, Nashville needs attractions to keep it growing. If it can be done so that the ring counties have a stake in it (like was done in building the St. Louis Cardinals new ballpark w/ bonds and a ticket tax to retire the bonds), why not? Quality of life is huge in bringing new opportunities and wealth into a region like this. Otherwise you set yourself up to suffer a similar fate of a rust belt city.

By: jwk6179 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Under the current economic situation that exist in MLB, a team like the Tampa Bay Rays would be moving from one SMALL MARKET to ANOTHER SMALL MARKET by moving to Nashville. Nashville would be in the same boat as Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Minnesota, etc., not being able to compete finacally year in and year out with the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers, Cubs and Angels. Unlike the NFL, where there is Revenue Sharing and a huge TV Contract where ALL Teams are profitable before any games are played, none of that exist in MLB. Despite what George Plaster and his YESMEN on 104.5 The Zone will insist, a MLB team in Nashville will just be another SMALL MARKET TEAM that will competing with the Kansas City's, Pittsburgh's and Cincinnati's of MLB instead of the Boston's, New York's, Chicago's and LA's.

By: tv8527 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

the rust belt city's taxed their people out of the county's.Nashville is running people off by not having done enough to address the under preforming schools & neighborhood gang problems.We need tougher legislation to deal with the gang members that exist & better parent's to keep it from happening in the future.you want to save this city? Don't let the good family's be ran out by more taxes & crime.

By: morpheus120 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Read this bit from the Rays' website closely:"One misconception: 'My taxes will help pay for the Rays ballpark.'The team’s response: 'No existing taxes will be diverted to fund the ballpark, and no new taxes will be imposed.'”Read the fine print... the plan is to get a piece of FUTURE TAX REVENUE to help pay for their business venture. The other way to interpret this is that they say that tax money won't be used to "fund" the ballpark. They say nothing about upkeep and regular maintenance once it's built.At the end of the day, though, BigPapa sums it up well. There really is no point to this article other than the paper's editor wanting to generate interest (and possibly future ad revenues) in another pro sports team.

By: Dragon on 12/31/69 at 7:00

There is a point to this article and most people totally miss it."Sound Familiar?"The major league team wants a new stadium (or arena, or ballpark). Rumors are started and abound that the team will relocate unless the city builds it. The city will relent and pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the project.The real trick here is to learn from others' mistakes.

By: tv8527 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Well said dragon.

By: develop12344321 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Big Daddy you don't get it ..If Dean would back the project as a public/private partnership the team could secure the necessary financing to get the project done. MLB will require 100% public support and financing.

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Nashville cannot support a MLB team. Hell, it barely supports the idiots living here.

By: svage_steve on 12/31/69 at 7:00

jwk6179 the thing you fail to realize is that the Royals actually MAKE MONEY because they choose not to compete financially w/ the Yankees and the Bosox. I really don't think that MLB here in Nashville will happen; but I didn't think that we would get what we got either (in the Preds and Titans). I DO think it's prudent to examine what it would take in terms of costs and benefits and see what we'd really get in the long run. I mean this thing could be a crown jewel for the city that projects Nashville nationally in a way that neither the NFL or NHL could over 82 dates a year or it could be an albatross.

By: RIchardLawson on 12/31/69 at 7:00

It's funny to see the reactions to a column that posed a scenario. It explicitly states the chances of getting MLB isn't very likely just there are are arguments that could be made for one. It would help if folks read it word for word instead of skimming. And in case anyone missed it, the Yankees are at the bottom of their division and the Rays are at the top. Additionally, the low payroll teams have done well in MLB and have competed strongly. The Rockies for example. I think the Diamondbacks won the series with a marginal payroll.

By: nashbeck on 12/31/69 at 7:00

good article Richard Lawson. Well done. I would love for Nashville to have a downtown professional baseball team. It would be great for our city, and be another economic stimulus for the short and long run. I hope we get one some day...

By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Agreed nashback, nice article, Richard. Like you wrote, it is just something that was brought up as "What if". I would love for downtown Nashville to have a major league baseball team, but I don't see it happening. But never say never, right?

By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I meant "nashbeck".

By: BigPapa on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I'm sure the bank would love to know the Nashville tax payer are there to bail them out of the venture went belly up. Again, you privitize the profits and socialize the risk. Very nice deal if you can get it.Dean is smart to wait this out. The Sounds (mis)Mangment Team they have in place is horrible. Only an idiot would get into a deal with that bunch.Once they are gone, Freeman will move a minor league team here.

By: PillowTalk4 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

People in the DC area didn't think it was going to happen either but it finally did. While the Nationals are not as big as the Redskins with the local fan base, they do draw relatively well. The stadium was built on land that was cheap to aquire and has served as an economic stimulus in a part of town that needed a major facelift and a boost. Now there are new hotels, condo's and townhome communities in the area. There are also new office buildings and there are plans for more development. What I find ironic is that not even DC could get rid of the biggest eyesore in its efforts to redefine the area. There's a huge cemet company literally located next to the stadium. They've made it clear they aren't going anywhere. Sounds a little like LP Field and Steiner Lift doesn't it. But at least Steiners junk yard isn't literally next to LP Field.I'd rather see Nashville seek an amusement park to return Nashville to being a true family vacation destination. Of course an amusement park could be built in one of the surrounding counties and still benefit Nashville. However, instead of building a business park in the Bells Bend area, Nashville should strongly consider promoting that land for major amusement, entertainment (alternative concert venue) and water park.

By: svage_steve on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Thanks for a good read Richard. As much as I'd hate it for Tampa for them to lose their team, it's definantly in our interest to examine what our city could do IF they ever became available. Like the Preds scenario, there were two suitors at our gate ready and willing to take away what we've got. I'd dare say that it wouldn't be that much different for the Rays although MLB is not as quick as the NFL or NHL to move a team especially with the squashing of the SF Giants almost move to there that prompted MLB to crteate the expansion Rays.

By: develop12344321 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Little Papa,Freeman is too busy trying to replace his $60 million partner that the NHL is in the process of booting due to the federal investigation. Looks like Dean will have to deal with the current owner.

By: klp0331 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I think having a major league baseball team in Nashville would be AWESOME! There are 81 home games, compared to 8 Titans home games! Nashville would be a prime location for an American League baseball team. It would bring many fans from surrounding states to come here to see teams like Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees etc! Fans of Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox would likely drive here to see them play a Nashville team. Not to mention interleague play, then National League teams would come to town also. I love the Sounds and want to see them get a new home but, I'm all for the Major League coming to Nashville!Mr. Lawson, I think it's a great article. I'm glad you are helping the chatter about baseball. Maybe it will draw out there is more interest in baseball than everyone thinks!

By: b_ellen on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Cannot afford tickets to major league games. Would rather have something realistic.