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Tie score in Legislature could leave Tampa Bay Rays big winners

in The Bay and the 'Burg by

In sports, a tie means no one wins. No one loses, either.

Sometimes, in politics, ties can turn out to be victories.

On Monday, the Florida Senate essentially handed the Tampa Bay Rays a win with a tie, after the Commerce and Tourism Committee voted 3-3 on a bill from Thonotosassa Republican Tom Lee, which prohibited pro sports facilities from using taxpayer funds.

With that, Lee’s bill was officially called out on strikes this Session.

Supporting Lee (who is not on the committee), were Tampa Republican Dana Young, Elkton Republican Travis Hutson, and Miami Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez.

Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala voted against the bill, joined by Tallahassee Democrat Bill Montford and Panama City Republican George Gainer. Montford is committee chair; Gainer is its vice-chair.

Lee calls using state funds for sports facilities a “giveaway program.” He is looking to repeal the Sports Development Program, established in 2014 to help construct or improve structures.

Despite being a state law, the Legislature has yet to appropriate any funds for the program. Lee sought to get rid of a law that, as he sees it, has set aside $394 million for future use.

If Lee’s bill had somehow made it through (or manages to do so next year), the Rays have no choice but to begin looking even harder for a new home outside Florida.

For those claiming “millionaire, billionaire” owners can build their own stadiums, they can one day see how the Rays are doing in Charlotte, Buffalo, Las Vegas or wherever.

Stadiums are funded a penny at a time, not with $700 million checks. On rare occasions, stadiums are built with private funds.

A rare example is the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, where owner Stan Kroenke appears to be going into hock to the tune of $1 billion.

No one in Florida is going to do that for the Rays. No one.

St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater combined cannot come anywhere near the market and TV money flowing in Los Angeles. The Rays, the local community, and the state represent a three-legged stool necessary as a foundation for a new home to keep the team.

Passing Lee’s bill would have removed one the stool’s three legs, as well as any real chance for the Rays to remain in Florida.

Stuart Sternberg and his partners cannot privately fund a new stadium, nor can they continue to operate in a 20th-century facility. It’s that simple.

Monday’s vote keeps alive a chance this team can get a facility that lets them, at a minimum, remain financially competitive with rivals. Pulling the state out of the process sends an unmistakable message to Major League Baseball that Florida’s elected leaders, especially those from Tampa Bay, cares little about baseball in the region.

While the final score was 3-3, there will be no extra innings this year, at least not for this bill. The Rays left the field as big winners.

And the Rays left the field big winners.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at [email protected]

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