Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said baseball commissioner Bud Selig and the owners of the 29 other teams have turned up the volume this offseason concerning the club's stadium issue.
"There was a lot to deal with (this offseason) with Major League Baseball questioning how we're going about things here; not so much running it but just what the future holds," Sternberg said. "And I anticipated that to be an issue."
During a radio interview in October, Selig had this to say about the Rays' attendance: "They are a wonderful organization, produced a terrific team this year and finished last in the American League in attendance.
"I'll let you draw your own conclusion. That's bad."
When asked by host Chris Russo if the prospect of the Rays getting a new stadium in the Bay area was a "lost cause," Selig replied, "I can't answer that yet, but I'm usually an optimist, and I don't have any reason to be too optimistic."
Sternberg said he remains optimistic.
Sternberg took time from his chores Saturday while he and an army of volunteers from the Rays and the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA built a playground at Layla's House, an early childhood and parent community learning center in Sulfur Springs, to talk about his Jan. 17 meeting with St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, the prospects of getting a new stadium and the concerns of Selig and his fellow owners.
"There's a lot going on. They're wondering. What do we do?" Sternberg said.
And what can Sternberg do?
"We're going to keep winning baseball games, and we've got a lot fans who love what we do and follow us," he said.
Sternberg mentioned the results of a report from Scarborough Research, which measured television and radio ratings and attendance of each of the major sports teams in all markets and determined the Rays are the most popular team in Tampa Bay. The report concluded the Rays had 1.5 million fans, the Buccaneers had 1.49 million and the Lightning had 700,000.
"And it's only in a handful of markets where baseball is ahead of football and all the other sports, and we're one of them," Sternberg said. "So it heartens me to keep going forward and do everything I can to put the best organization together and the best product out on the field and just have confidence and faith that we're going to keep moving the ball forward."
The ball could possibly move forward when Sternberg and Foster meet next week. Sternberg said the meeting was arranged in December when Foster called to see when Sternberg would be in town.
With the Marlins set to play in a new stadium and the A's moving out of Oakland, the Rays are the last team looking for a new stadium.
"I'm going to talk to him, and if he's got something to chat about other than normal chatting that would be great. If not, it will still be fine," Sternberg said. "It's always good to communicate."
Foster has said he will not allow the Rays out of their Tropicana Field lease, which runs through 2027, unless the Rays select a location in St. Petersburg or Pinellas County for a new stadium. Sternberg would like the opportunity to investigate possible sites in Hillsborough County.
"I'll look everywhere as long as I can look anywhere," Sternberg said.
In November 2007, Sternberg proposed an open-air stadium with a sail-like retractable roof on the site of Al Lang Field along the waterfront in downtown St. Petersburg. Sternberg said he was startled by the lack of support from the business community.
"Nobody seemed to care about it," Sternberg said. "It was the sort of crickets that we were hearing out there from the business community, in particular. The fans, everybody was excited to see what was going to be coming of it. And obviously, fans just want to see a good product on the field, a great place to see a ballgame and an exciting team to watch, and we're giving them all that. We just have to build on it."
Sternberg said he is pleased to see business and community leaders on both sides of Tampa Bay talking about the stadium issue, but to satisfy Selig and his fellow owners, there has to be more than talk.
"I don't sense anything has changed," Sternberg said. "I don't think the mayor is taking a hard-line approach. We're going to chat and see if something has moved at all."