Rays Lose ALDS, San Antonio Dreams the Pipedream

They say, the grass is greener on the other side. Day in and day out, it’s easy to say it’s better elsewhere. I could have a better job… a better home… a better life.

It’s easy to say, but as that other cliché goes, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.

Into this steps the Tampa Bay Rays, a club that after years of futility have been contenders on the field 2 of the past 3 seasons while seeing their season end in Game 5 of the ALDS against the Rangers. With all those years of losing, fans have not kept pace with the Rays’ winning ways. On a Monday when the Rays could have clinched a postseason berth, the Rays drew 12,446, which led to comments by David Price on Twitter chastising fans not turning out followed by the Rays giving away 20,000 free tickets to the final game of the regular season.

And while Game 5 of the ALDS finally kicked the fan base into gear (the Rays released 5,000 seats for sale for the rest of their postseason that ended when the Rangers won 5-1. With the season over, questions remain as to whether the Rays will be able to stay in the Tampa Bay area, long-term. TBS showed fans leaving the Trop in droves before the game ended, a microcosm of how fans reacted to the team all season.

San Antonio and, specifically, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff has longed to bring Major League Baseball to the market. In 2006, Wolff chased another Florida club (the Marlins) who were – as is the case with the Rays now – chasing a stadium deal in South Florida. At that time, the plan was extending hotel and car-rental taxes to pull in approx. $200 million. The problem was that the estimated cost for the stadium was $310 million. The assumption was that the Marlins would pick up the rest of the tab. Knowing now how the Marlins operate (see: pulled $29 million in profits the year they asked for hundreds of millions to pay for their new stadium set to open in 2012), it was no surprise that they never moved on San Antonio’s bid. Besides, it was likely nothing more than a leveraging ploy as the Marlins also took to visiting Portland at one point.

Now, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, along with Judge Wolff, is looking into bringing another pro sports franchise to the market through an initiative called “SA2020”. Within this long-term look at how to grow San Antonio’s profile, the city is doling out approx. $50,000 for a feasibility study for pro sports. With the efforts made prior in 2006, fans and media have begun connecting the dots and saying, “Can San Antonio support Major League Baseball?”

First off, short of asking whether $50,000 should be spent on a feasibility study, a fully-vetted look at your market is a wise decision. As someone that worked directly on such a civic project (Portland’s effort in the early 2000s when the Montreal Expos were up for relocation), I saw the benefits of what such a study can do. Vague “ra-ra” efforts give way to hard numbers with which to build from.

SA has some advantages over the last time they dreamed of MLB. The population has grown steadily since then, which is one step in the right direction, but its media market rankings stands at just 37th

Even if you ignore that fact, or any steps that might give boosters perchance to say, “We have a real chance at luring an MLB club”, the reality is chances are slim to none that it occurs. Or, at least anytime between now and 2020.

And, it’s not the “SA2020” date that is driving this cold slap but rather the recent television contract extension between FSN Southwest and the Texas Rangers.

Local television deals are relocation or expansion’s kryptonite in MLB. For the Rangers and Astros, who share television territories, it means they count all of Texas and Louisiana as just theirs. They also share Oklahoma and Arkansas with the Royals and Cardinals, as well as the far east side of New Mexico with the Diamondbacks. Dropping a club into San Antonio throws all that into chaos. “How do we slice up the TV market?” “How does this impact the Rangers (and Astros) local television deals?”

Rangers/Astros TV territory(Click the image to see MLB’s television territorial map)

To say that the television issue is a small matter is to ignore the enormity of the Rangers deal. The extension, which runs through to 2020. While the Rangers will not say what the deal is worth a report by  Bob Nightengale of USA Today pegged its total worth at over $3 billion. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News brought the figure into more realistic terms by saying there is an up-front cash component to the deal which makes it worth more like $1.5-$1.6 billion or approx. $75 million to $80 million a year. Regardless of which figures you select, it’s a considerable sum that the Rangers would clearly look to protect. The size of their television territory is a massive factor in how those figures are reached. Start to slice it up with a club in San Antonio, and…

So, while the Rays are stuck in a bad position, their options are really limited to their home region. San Antonio, or any other market looking to land a MLB club, have to deal with issues that are more than your population, DMA, number of Fortune 500 companies, and number of competing pro franchises vying for corporate sponsors and season ticket buyers. It’s a matter of indemnifying the club or clubs that control the television territory in which the prospective relo or expansion market resides. It happened with the relocation of the Expos, and it would be the case with San Antonio. SA, conduct your study, but even if there was some miracle were to happen and you had stadium funding all lined up for a prospective club, you can bet there would be a battle royal to keep them out of San Antonio. Such is territorial pissings, television style in Major League Baseball.

We hoped you liked reading Rays Lose ALDS, San Antonio Dreams the Pipedream by Maury Brown!

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Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, as well as a contributor to FanGraphs and Forbes SportsMoney. He is available for freelance and looks forward to your comments.

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Good read, Maury. Thank you.