The Rays just signed a 15-year, $1.2 billion TV contract that is backloaded. Sure, they could end up still moving, but there’s a lot of incentive to try to work out a deal, and this is as good of a segue as any to the elephant that every Bring MLB to [insert name of your city] dances around.
There is not currently an MLB-caliber stadium in Raleigh. One would have to be built. Building such a stadium would probably cost at least $600 million. Any ownership group looking to bring a team to Raleigh would almost certainly ask for a very, very sizable taxpayer contribution for that stadium. At the end of the day, all of these movements, including but not limited to Raleigh, are an effort to build support for spending hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to build a baseball stadium. My thoughts on the wisdom of such an expenditure are well known on this forum, so I won’t belabor them here.
There is some evidence, admittedly mixed, that cities are becoming increasingly reluctant to throw money at sports teams the way they were in the 1990s. For this reason, I am much more bearish than anyone at MLB is likely to be that either the Rays are going to move or that MLB is actually going to be able to expand to 32 teams on terms that the league finds palatable.
Both Oakland and Tampa Bay are having tremendous difficulties getting a new stadium built. Miami finally got a new stadium only once they tore down the Orange Bowl. The only other stadiums to open since 2010 have been built in the suburbs. I don’t believe that these are isolated incidents related to these regions. I think this is the new economic reality that MLB is going to face in almost any expansion market.
If Stuart Sternberg decides he wants to relocate the Rays, that’s all well and good, but that still leaves him in the exact same situation he’s in now, scrambling to figure out where a baseball stadium would go and who (certainly not him, of course) would pay for it. There’s a good chance that there’s not actually a better alternative on offer than staying in northern Florida. (I suspect when all is said and done, the A’s will build a new stadium in the parking lot of the old stadium, as many other franchises have done.)
If the Rays do stay, then MLB needs to find two cities willing to put up large taxpayer contributions to stadium construction. It’s entirely possible this does in fact happen. But while expanding to 32 teams is certainly MLB’s plan, there’s absolutely no guarantee that they’re going to be able to make those plans a reality.
If there is a competition between Raleigh and Charlotte for an MLB team, it will not be won with high-minded arguments about market sizes or median incomes, unfortunately. It will be won by offering the largest publicly subsidy to construct a stadium. And it’s hard to see a path by which Raleigh wins that battle.