Manfred discusses stadium in Rays' camp visit

Manfred discusses stadium in Rays' camp visit

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Rob Manfred visited the Rays' camp on Thursday, first meeting with players prior to the media. Fielding questions about the Rays' stadium issue proved to be the order of the day for Major League Baseball's new Commissioner.

Manfred first noted that he talks regularly to Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg.

"I think the good news for fans in Tampa and St. Petersburg is Stuart remains commited to the idea that the Rays should be here," Manfred said. "I think that's a great undertaking. A great mindset for him.

"From our perspective, it is very difficult to get a new stadium done without cooperation, help, assistance from local government. We're hoping that Stuart gets that kind of help, so that they can get a facility that will keep the Rays here and competitive for the long term."

Sternberg recently told reporters that he has more patience with the situation than his partners at Major League Baseball. Manfred addressed Sternberg's comment.

"Fundamentally, stadium issues are local issues," Manfred said. "My approach on stadiums is, you have to follow the lead of local ownership because they understand the market. They understand the local government the best, and I am going to follow Stuart's lead on this.

"But, you know, look, obviously, there's 30 teams. It's in everyone's best interest to have 30 strong franchises. And our markets have to participate in making sure that we have Major League quality facilities everywhere."

Manfred added that there was "no firm timetable" for when something has to get done.

The Rays ranked last in the Major Leagues in attendance in 2014, averaging 17,858 per game, a fact of which Manfred is well aware.

"It's always a concern when we have a franchise that doesn't have the support in terms of attendance, sponsorship, all of the revenue streams that are necessary to keep the team competitive," Manfred said. "We want all 30 teams to be competitive franchises. Obviously, local support is the key to that. It's a big concern for us."

Manfred believes getting the stadium issue resolved would go a long way toward solving most of the Rays' problems.

"You have to conclude that the stadium issue is the key issue," Manfred said. "The Rays have put a good product on the field consistently for a long period of time. It's not a situation where you can blame the lack of support on the fact that you don't have a good product.

"Matt [Silverman], Stu, the whole Rays team has done a fantastic job in really difficult circumstances putting a competitive product on the field."

Manfred labeled the Athletics' and Rays' stadium issues as 1 and 1A in his book.

"It's the two markets where we really need to get something done," he said. "And I believe we're going to get them both done."

Manfred noted that Major League Baseball has a "massive subsidy for new stadium construction embedded in its revenue sharing plan," so that would be of assistance to the Rays' financial situation should a new stadium come to fruition.

The subsidy is "complicated and people don't understand how it works, but essentially it's a tax deduction that works to the benefit of a club that builds a new stadium and is in fact a massive subsidy from the league that already exists," Manfred said.

Manfred did shy away from the idea that pressure is added to an area when another viable market is available for a possible relocation.

"Any negotiation, the alternatives that either side have [will] determine how strong their bargaining position is," Manfred said. "There's a whole theory about what your best alternative to a negotiated agreement is what determines your leverage. And, obviously having a market that wants baseball and can support it provides leverage to a team that is trying to get something done somewhere."

In regard to the question of whether the Cubs tampered in their pursuit of manager Joe Maddon, Manfred allowed that Major League Baseball was optimistic the case will be resolved by Opening Day.

Manfred said his principal purpose in meeting with the players was "just to give them the opportunity to see who I am and how I think outside of a context of any particular crisis or issue."

"We did talk about some of the issues that are important to me," Manfred said. "We talked a little bit about pace of game. Talked about the marketing of what I regard to be a great group of new players that we have coming along in Major League Baseball."

Manfred called the Rays' players a great group who asked a bunch of questions.

"The back and forth like that gives them an opportunity to see how I think about the game," he said. "...All sorts of questions about the game. Different topics. Obviously different guys had different things on their minds. Which was great. They were really an engaging group."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.