Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re more than likely aware of the contentious war (of sorts) that has been aptly dubbed the stadium saga. Up for debate is where the Rays would be best suited to lay their roots, once their tenure (attenuated or otherwise) at the Trop comes to pass. Some feel the Rays should stay in Pinellas, while others feel that Hillsborough offers the Rays a brighter future. Then there’s the contingent, including MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, that feel the Tampa Bay area may be unfit for a professional baseball franchise, period. If one thing holds true, many have strong opinions on the Rays attendance and revenue woes. And in many cases, the opinions espoused are based on what is being pumped through the local media outlets, regardless of context or objectivity. Enter reporter for WTSP Channel 10 and blogger, Noah Pransky.
Noah Pransky hasn’t positioned himself on one side of the argument like many of his contemporaries; rather he has engaged would be viewers and readers to look at the stadium saga objectively. Furthermore, he challenges us to separate the signal from the noise, and seek out the things left unsaid. After all, those things may be the most telling. We’re honored to have been given the opportunity to interview Noah. Below are a few questions submitted by X-Rays Spex follower Mike McGee and me. I’d encourage each and every one of you to take a peek at this interview. Afterward, mosey on over to his blog, the Shadow of the Stadium, for his insights on the stadium saga.
X-Rays Spex: The Tampa Bay Times, among others, have embedded themselves into the stadium saga, effectively becoming part of the narrative. Because of it, does it ever feel like a David vs. Goliath type of scenario when trying to present an objective argument?
Noah Pransky: Its important to separate the Times’ editorial board with its journalists, who – by and large – have done a great job breaking news and covering the issue fairly. The newspaper may not “run” St. Petersburg like it used to, but it still is a major voice and – as evidenced by the county’s fluoride votes – a major player in deciding which elected officials stick around for additional terms.
X-Rays Spex: St. Petersburg (and Pinellas County in general) is home to many larger companies including Humana, Ditek, Progress Energy, Raymond James, and Valpak, to name a few. Most of the aforementioned companies, along with many others, aren’t current corporate sponsors of the Rays. Meanwhile, the Rays brass have noted on many occasions that they need corporate sponsorship, in some form, in order to remain sustainable in this market. Have there been any indications why a good number of St. Petersburg/Pinellas County companies haven’t been tapped as sponsors?
Noah Pransky: I haven’t had discussions with the corporations, so it’s tough to tell if they are buying tickets or not. It’s also tough to tell the reasons they may not be more vested in sponsorships – it typically comes down to bang-for-the-buck.
X-Rays Spex: There seems to be a common misconception that people in Pinellas County vehemently oppose a Rays move across the bridge. Personally, I’m of the opinion that a move to Tampa could be a solution tho this problem… but then again so could a new facility on this side of the bay. That is to say this situation warrants a discussion on the matter. It’s unfortunately assumed that Tampa is the land of milk and honey, and no discussion of the matter is necessary. In your opinion, why is Pinellas County being shunned in lieu of Hillsborough County?
Noah Pransky: A skeptic sees only one problem right now: the Rays are unhappy. They have yet to provide any data that indicates they are struggling financially. But if you think television revenues and revenue sharing aren’t enough to help the team succeed with the league’s worst attendance mark, then the team may need to cross the bay.
Hard to say why Tampa is “the land of milk and honey,” as you suggested, but the team has more or less dictated the direction of the dialogue, and with no other market in the country able to support a new MLB team right now, the Tampa-versus-St. Pete tug-of-war is a logical one for the team to create leverage.
The Rays have identified one thing – some fans in Hillsborough refuse to cross the Gandy or Howard Frankland bridges. That’s why Hillsborough is the potential “promised land,” even though Downtown Tampa has the same number of people within a 30-minute drive as Carillon/Gateway.
X-Rays Spex: There also seems to be a very vocal contention of people who are whole-heartedly beating the drum for a move across the bay. Of this very vocal contention are a few that wield great influence and sway in the bay area. What, if any, motivation is driving those to be an advocate for the cause without giving credence to the whole argument?
Noah Pransky: Can’t speculate motivations other than a love for baseball and a fear of losing it.
X-Rays Spex: In your opinion, why hasn’t the culpability of the others involved in the stadium saga (besides Mayor Foster) come into question?
Noah Pranky: Tough to say. I wish the rest of the Tampa Bay news media would ask tougher questions, not just of the players in the Stadium Saga, but of anyone in a position of power. The media is the public’s watchdog.
X-Rays Spex: At one point three other properties in Pinellas were designated as potentially suitable sites for a new facility: Gateway, Toy Town, and Derby Lane. Are there any indications why those locations have slipped beneath the radar, in a manner of speaking?
Noah Pransky: “Gateway” is kind of the all-inclusive area, which included Toytown and Derby Lane. Toytown was seen as a great opportunity, but the economy did the developer in there. And Derby Lane was only mentioned because the estimated cost to displace the business was minimal compared to building a new baseball stadium. But Gateway, including Carillon, remains a legit potential site not just because it has as many people within 30 minutes as Downtown Tampa, but also because Pinellas County has more existing funding mechanisms already in place for a stadium.
X-Rays Spex: Has there been anything said or any precedent set that might indicate that MLB would ever pay off the lease on Tropicana Field if a good option presented itself in another part of the Bay area? Since MLB allowed the franchise to be awarded at that location, do you think they would take care of that obstacle?
Noah Pransky: There is no precedent of paying off a city that I know of. The Rays’ use agreement with St. Pete focuses on damages if it is broken and it’s open-ended, so St. Pete could demand a nine-digit payout. And I’m not sure the new revenues from a new stadium would ever break even at that point. But when I asked Stu Sternberg about new revenues from a new stadium, he said the team hadn’t looked into it yet, so we can only guess.
X-Rays Spex: Has anyone ever asked Bill Foster/St Pete why there have never been any major initiatives done to build up the area around Tropicana Field in order to make it a more entertaining/attractive area for sports spectators?
Noah Pransky: I don’t know if the mayor has addressed it specifically, but it took a long time for Downtown St. Pete to really develop into a thriving entertainment/restaurant district, and now the success is growing from the downtown hub. Signs of life are sprouting up all along Central Ave – 1st Ave. North and 1st Ave South too – and they’re growing closer to the Trop. It may never look like Baltimore or Denver around the Trop, but I think Downtown St. Pete’s development is only now growing the way they had hoped 15 years ago.
X-Rays Spex: Many have referenced your work when seeking a counter voice to what can be construed as the dominant opinion. With the casual reader, presumably, not taking the opportunity to delve deeply into all things stadium saga, I was wondering if you could point those readers in the direction of other objective sources?
Noah Pransky: I only aim to provide context and “the big picture.” When we’re talking about hundreds of millions of tax dollars on the line, it’s important the media play the role of the watchdog. It can be very difficult to cut through the noise on the stadium debate – especially since some of the major players are so good at commanding attention – but by paying attention to what’s NOT being said is just as important as paying attention to what WAS said.
X-Rays Spex: On a lighter note, where do you see the Rays finishing in 2013? Do you think they’ll be contenders in an increasingly competitive American League?
Noah Pransky: Division champs.