For years, Major League Baseball (MLB)’s Tampa Bay Rays have drawn sparse crowds. Many in the Bay area have questioned the local support for the team and the Rays as an organization have apparently concluded that the team can not survive in its current St. Petersburg home at Tropicana Field.
The non-profit group Tampa Bay Rays 2020 (TBR2020), however, is working quickly to show the Rays that things will be different if the team moves to Tampa, by organizing community and business support for the Rays’ possible future move to Ybor City.
TBR2020 has enlisted the help of the North Tampa Bay (formerly Wesley Chapel) Chamber (NTBC), which was the first Chamber of Commerce to pledge its support.
“It was very strategic on their part,” says NTBC CEO Hope Allen. “They sought us out, they came to us, they knew we were a vital key to the whole corridor. A chamber like ours that represents Pasco County can help them.”
Having the NTBC sign on was just the beginning for TBR2020.
“Just in the last couple of weeks here, we’ve had four chambers sign on formally to support this initiative,” said Mike Griffin, senior managing director at Savills Studley Occupier Services and the immediate past chair of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. “The exciting thing about that was the first one that got behind us was the North Tampa/Wesley Chapel group. The excitement we’re seeing outside of downtown and outside of the city is really, really important. It’s good getting folks that normally aren’t at the table for major regional issues.”
Founded by Chuck Sykes, CEO of Sykes Enterprises, and Ron Christaldi, a partner at the law firm of Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick, the TBR2020 group held a standing room-only press conference last month at the Tampa Baseball Museum in historic Ybor City to announce its plans. Also last month, Jason Woody, the President/CEO of the Lions Eye Institute for Transplant & Research, Inc, and a member of the Advisory Board of Tampa Bay Rays 2020, was the featured speaker at the NTBC’s April 3 Business Breakfast.
The goal of TBR2020 is to help keep the Rays in the Bay area, by raising awareness and rounding up local community and businesses willing to pledge their support to the team’s proposed move to Ybor City, where the selected 14-acre stadium site is expected to breathe new life into that area, as well as into what is becoming a lifeless baseball franchise.
TBR2020 also announced the Rays 100, a select group of businesses and corporations willing to pledge financial support in the form of corporate boxes and sponsorships.
“This has opened up a dialogue,” Griffin said. “The biggest questions we hear now are what’s next and how can we help. The ultimate goal is to have a very diverse and vast coalition of supporters that ultimately leads to a conversation about sponsorships and tickets. It’s tough to get there, though, if we don’t know and haven’t identified our supporters.”
Rumors have swirled for years about the Rays possibly moving to a city that might offer more support. Allen is one of those who thinks that such a move would be devastating to the Tampa Bay area.
“My opinion is we need to fight hard to keep them here in the region,” Allen said. “Major league sports franchises have a huge economic impact on a region. Very significant. You don’t want to lose that.”
One issue that TBR2020 won’t be addressing, just yet anyway, is the thorniest – how to pay for a new stadium. The price of a new stadium could range anywhere from $600-800 million, though it is hard to zero in on a figure without a design. The Rays owners have pledged $150 million to the project.
“Right now, we are all about building engagement, awareness and excitement,” Griffin said. “If we couldn’t fill the Rays 100, if we couldn’t get the local organizations to endorse, it would be a totally different conversation with the county and the team. The reality is, we’ve been able to demonstrate it is the complete opposite.”
Those willing to participate can sign the online petition at TampaBayRays2020.com.