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Rays, Orioles Get Much Needed Finality on Their Respective Ballparks

MLB owners are expected to vote on the Oakland Athletics proposed move to Las Vegas when they convene in November following the World Series. The A’s relocation saga has been well-documented since the news broke back in April and is undoubtedly an unfortunate situation. Whether you want to place blame on the team or the city of Oakland, the bottom line is that the parties were unable to come to terms on an agreement to build a new ballpark. As a result, the A’s looked elsewhere and found a better deal in Las Vegas.

Two fanbases that don’t have to worry about their team leaving, however, are the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles. Both franchises have agreed to deals with their respective cities to stay in place for the foreseeable future. The Rays announced plans to build a new ballpark in downtown St. Petersburg and the Orioles will continue to call Camden Yards home for the next 30 years. What does this mean for the Rays, Orioles, and MLB as a whole? Let’s discuss each situation.

Last month, the Tampa Bay Rays reached an agreement with the city of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County to build a $1.3 billion new ballpark as part of a redevelopment of the Historic Gas Plant District in downtown St. Petersburg. The Historic Gas Plant District is an 86-acre area where Tropicana Field currently stands.

The new ballpark, which is expected to open in 2028, will have a 30,000-seat capacity, three seating levels, a fixed roof, an artificial turf surface, operable walls, and a pavilion design. It’s great news for the franchise, the city of St. Petersburg, and Rays fans in greater Tampa. Tropicana Field has received a number of upgrades over the years that have improved the in-game atmosphere but was still not a long-term solution for the team moving forward. In addition, there had been rumors that have surfaced over the past few years that the Rays were considering relocation, including an odd arrangement where they would spend part of the season in Tampa and part in Montreal. Therefore, the Rays announcement they were “Here to Stay” had to induce a huge sigh of relief for Rays fans.

The agreement includes nearly 8 million square feet of mixed-use development that will surround the new site of the Rays ballpark. As I’ve written before, there is a growing trend in baseball and the sports industry in general of building entertainment districts surrounding ballparks. Yes, it’s nice to have 81 nights a year where fans commune in the area around the ballpark. However, seeking additional revenue streams, teams want to attract consumers 365 days a year, and these mixed-use developments are a great way of doing so.

Hopefully, the Rays will see an uptick in attendance by building a new ballpark. The Rays attendance issues have been well-documented over the years, highlighted in their recent home loss in the Wild Card round. It’s worth mentioning that this ballpark is being built in St. Petersburg and not in downtown Tampa. Many have claimed that Tropicana Field’s lack of convenience from the majority of Tampa’s population is why the team consistently ranks towards the bottom of attendance. Well, the convenience factor isn’t changing, so hopefully the specter of the new ballpark does lead to some changes. I would highly doubt the Rays are oblivious to that fact and look at the benefits of the additional revenue streams offered by the surrounding amenities more so than the detriment of its proximity to downtown Tampa.

According to the latest drafted agreement obtained by the St. Pete Catalyst, the city and Pinellas County will contribute a total of $600 million toward the stadium development, and the Rays will pick up the remainder of the cost – roughly $700 million, pending multiple needed approvals.

Staying in the American League East, the Baltimore Orioles also won’t be going anywhere any time soon. On the day they clinched their first division title since 2014, the Orioles announced they reached a deal with the state of Maryland and the Maryland Stadium Authority to extend the lease on Camden Yards an additional 30 years.

The current lease was set to expire at the conclusion of 2023, and there was some, albeit far-fetched, speculation that team CEO John Angelos was considering relocation. Earlier this season, Angelos was seeking taxpayer funds to build, well you guessed it, an entertainment district around Camden Yards. However, due to the occupied area around Camden including a parity clause with the Ravens with M&T Bank Stadium nearby, it was seen as an unrealistic ordeal. Add this with the fact that long-time Baltimore sports fans remember when the Colts left for Indianapolis in the middle of the night in 1984 when the city didn’t agree to build a new stadium, and it’s understandable that Orioles fans may have had some nerves. But all of those nerves can go out the door now.

In addition to the lease agreement, the partnership with the state includes a 99-year ground lease for select areas around the ballpark giving way to redevelopment. As mentioned, there isn’t a whole lot of room for development around Camden Yards, but there are plans to upgrade the surrounding area in some way. No specifics were given at this stage and the team is expected to fund such development. Camden Yards is one of the most iconic ballparks in the league, so it’s nice to know it will continue to be one of baseball’s most heralded cathedrals for the next three decades.

While these two developments with the Rays and Orioles are obviously great for those two respective franchises, there are ramifications for the league as a whole. Rob Manfred has often claimed that MLB will not consider expansion until the stadium situations in Tampa Bay and Oakland are sorted out. With the Athletics likely headed to Vegas and the Rays staying in St. Pete with a new ballpark, it looks like we have some finality on the stadium situations. Therefore, expansion talks could be on the horizon soon. With the decline of RSNs likely sapping some teams of local television money in the near future, expansion fees of upwards of $2 billion could be a huge boon for the 30 current MLB owners.

Nashville, Charlotte, Portland, and Salt Lake City are among the cities attempting to land an expansion franchise. In addition, it’s worth mentioning that Oakland could be in position as well. It’s still located in a big media market and has shown it will support a winner over the years. Regardless, it will be interesting development to watch play out when and if MLB expands.

Brendan Bell is a 1L at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. He is also a Master of Sports Law and Business Concurrent Student as well. You can follow him on Twitter @_bbell5

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