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Subtle MOU provision means Rays might play “home” games outside of Tampa Bay area

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A provision of the Memorandum of Understanding approved by City Council Thursday evening means the Rays could eventually play outside of Tropicana Field before they’ve technically abandoned the Dome, but only if they’ve already entered into a termination agreement with the city.

The MOU allowing the team to begin immediately exploring alternative stadium sites outside of St. Petersburg in Pinellas or Hillsborough counties includes a provision allowing the Rays to play up to 10 home games outside of Tropicana Field under a section defining “excused games.”

WTSP Reporter Noah Pransky quoted former Mayor Bill Foster raising the specter that the approved MOU weakens the city’s “original agreement so much that you’re setting a measure of damages allowing them to leave the region prior to 2027.”

Pransky explained Foster’s interpretation was that “the failure to require a long-term commitment from the Rays might open the door for the team to use the 10 “home” games to test the waters of other potential MLB markets while still playing the majority of their games in a temporary location elsewhere in Hillsborough or Pinellas County.”

What’s not mentioned is that the Rays would only be excused from 10 games a season once they entered into a termination agreement with the city. Under that scenario, the Rays playing baseball outside of St. Pete would be imminent.

If they were playing home games above and beyond the 10 excused games at a “temporary” site in Pinellas or Hillsborough, that would mean the Rays would have already vacated Tropicana Field.

The section Foster referenced refers to the period of limbo when the Rays would be preparing to move to a new stadium location, but still playing at Tropicana Field. If they played at an alternative site during that period for what would otherwise be a home game that would count against the 10 excused games.

Although Foster is not the only critic of the latest MOU and the previous versions that weren’t approved, Rick Kriseman and his administration continue to maintain the deal is intended as the best way to ensure the team does stay in St. Pete.

Kriseman and his allies argue forcing the Rays to stick strictly to the current Use Agreement through 2027 is the best way to ensure the team leaves the entire region after the term expires. Instead, they say allowing the team to look outside the city in areas throughout the region will show the Rays there is better value in a St. Pete stadium than elsewhere. And, worst case scenario, they at least stay in the region.

However, critics worry the city is offering too many concessions to the team whose iron-clad contract bars them from considering other stadium sites during its term.

While there are reasonable arguments on either side, the latest controversy over an “excused game” provision appears moot. It would not allow the team to play home games outside of the Trop during its term unless they already entered a termination agreement. That would mean the city would be set to collect the monetary compensation set forth in the MOU of up to $24 million depending on when the team left.

Where Foster’s speculation holds some weight is in his assertion that the team could, under the new contract, payout the $24 million required by contract to begin playing baseball in a temporary location within Pinellas or Hillsborough and then play ten “home” games in other markets. Montreal and Mexico City have been batted around as potential contenders.

What isn’t immediately clear in the MOU and would likely be up for interpretation is whether or not the Rays would be subject to the 2027 timeline and be tied to the region after they leave Tropicana Field. The question would then become — what does a contract look like to play at another site.

What is clear is the Rays are still be contractually obligated to play all home games at Tropicana Field while exploring alternative sites, and if they decided to stay in St Pete through or beyond their contract, the provision would not be applicable.

The Rays play about 80 home games a season.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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