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Rays owner Sternberg says stadium talks progressing

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 02:39 AM
ST. PETERSBURG -

While he didn't rattle any relocation sabers on Opening Day, Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg continued to express his frustration with lagging attendance amid all the on-field success at Tropicana Field.

In his remarks two hours before the Rays met the New York Yankees, Sternberg sounded guardedly optimistic about progress in talks about a new stadium, although there have been no recent meetings with St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster.

"I think the ball is rolling,'' Sternberg said Friday as a sellout crowd trickled into the Trop. "It's a huge boulder, but it's moving. The nice thing is it's not static, it's not going backwards, and you've got people on both sides of the Bay, business people, working on it. The political people, they come, they go. I'm into my second (Tampa) mayor now. Business people on both sides recognize they need to get involved a little bit. We'll keep doing our part.''

Despite advancing to the postseason three times in the past four years, the Rays have struggled at the gate, averaging 18,879 fans at home games during the 2011 season.

"The M.O. up to this point in our sport and every other sport is that winning cures the ills,'' Sternberg said. "We're in brave new ground, where winning hasn't cured the ills, so to speak. If people don't come out, I need to know the reason why not.''

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has repeatedly stated the Rays need a new facility to compete financially with rival franchises. Two days before Tampa Bay's season opener, the Miami Marlins unveiled a new $634 million stadium with a retractable roof.

"It's beautiful,'' Sternberg said of Miami's lavish ballpark. "It helps them. They're able to go out and do what they need to do. Nobody would say they're not in much better shape than they were eight days ago. The numbers (attendance) there were really putrid. Over time, it's going to bring in many millions more people.''

Sternberg said the Rays have done their best to enhance Tropicana Field, which opened in 1990.

"I like my stadium,'' he said. "We put $30 million bucks into this place. I love the place. I would challenge anyone to come in here and say it's not a great experience. It's not an ideal experience, but something is keeping people from coming in.''

Sternberg praised Rays fans for their passion and issued another plea for more corporate support, downplaying speculation major-league baseball officials will move the franchise if the stadium issue remains unresolved.

"They are getting less tolerant as time goes by, but I don't think so,'' Sternberg said, referring to the possibility of relocation. "It could turn out that way, but I don't envision it that way. A lot of it comes down to business. We have some great corporate supporters, but we don't have enough corporate support.

"We have a good amount of individual support and our core fans are tremendous. We're not even in the ballpark, relative to what's necessary corporate-wise to support this franchise.''

The Rays and Buccaneers are struggling to fill seats in a depressed Florida economy.

"It's a factor, but I don't think it's a major factor,'' Sternberg said. "There hasn't been a huge bump, but it's a bit better. It's got a long way to go to get to a level where employment is where it should be, where housing prices need to be and businesses need to know they can open their doors and make a buck. But when that happens, it's not like all of a sudden an extra million people are going to show up at my door.''

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