The Tampa Bay Rays, deadlocked with the City of St. Petersburg over where the baseball club may build its future home, donated more than $31,500 in January to the re-election effort of Mayor Rick Kriseman.
Kriseman is running for a second term as mayor of the Sunshine City. Voters will decide his fate later this year, with a primary election slated for August and a general election set for November.
Last week, Kriseman told supporters he had crossed the $200,000 raised mark for his re-election campaign. This includes money donated to his campaign, which caps donations at $1,000, and contributions made to allied political committees, which can accept donations of any amount.
At the end of January, Rays owners Stuart Sternberg, Randy Frankel, and Tim Mullen each donated $9,000 to Sunrise PAC, a political committee managed by Tom Alte, a Democratic campaign consultant who is quarterbacking Kriseman’s re-election campaign. In addition to those contributions, team owners Ander Cader ($1,000), Gary Goldring ($1,500) and Stephen Levick ($2,000) all made contributions to the committee.
“St. Petersburg is a city going through a renaissance,” said Brian Auld, president of the Rays and a himself a financial supporter of Kriseman’s campaign. “We see a progressive city that encourages development and growth, and we want to see that continue.”
A cursory review of campaign finance records shows that the Rays ownership has never donated at this level to an individual candidate.
Last February, the city launched its Baseball Forever campaign, an initiative of the city of St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, residents, and fans of the Tampa Bay Rays. The goal of the campaign is to convince the Tampa Bay Rays that their current site, reimagined and redeveloped, remains the best location for Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay.
In January, Kriseman met with Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to discuss the future viability of MLB and the Rays in the St. Petersburg area.
As Janelle Irwin reported in the Tampa Bay Business Journal, Kriseman traveled to New York City, joined by Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin and Chief of Staff Kevin King for an hourlong meeting with the commissioner. What was not mentioned, however, was St. Pete’s “funding advantage in the region.”
To fund a new stadium, Pinellas County will expect use additional bed taxes, something the team will probably demand as a condition for staying.
“I am thankful for Commissioner Manfred’s time and share his desire for the Rays’ success,” Kriseman told reporters afterward. “I am confident that the team’s regional search will make clear that their current site, re-imagined and redeveloped, remains their best option.”
Confounding the entire situation is the Rays’ lackluster attendance record, which, for the fifth straight season in a row, was dead last in the league for 2016. The team averaged about 16,000 fans per game during the 2016 season. — nearly half of the attendance the team sees during away games.
Even more challenging is finding a location in St. Pete/Pinellas County region — as opposed to a stadium in downtown Tampa — with demographics suitable enough to support the franchise in the long-term, although, as the Tampa Bay Times optimistically noted, attendance did rise just under 4 percent in 2016, despite the Rays’ losing season.
As the Times’ John Romano wrote in October, the slight bump in attendance, and relative consistency in numbers, shows that the Rays may not be leaving the market anytime soon: “Leases, TV ratings and territorial rights are still in the bay area’s favor.”
“But the clock is ticking louder in St. Pete,” Romano added. “St. Pete needs to up its game if it doesn’t want to lose the Rays to Tampa.”
And a boost to Kriseman’s re-election coffers just might help.