Rays say losses surpass $20M

Team president claims 2 years have been "cash-flow negative."

By AARON SHAROCKMANN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 26, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG - The Rays have lost between $20-million and $30-million since 2005, a team executive revealed Friday as he made the case for a new stadium downtown.

Rays president Matthew Silverman said during a televised luncheon with more than 100 community and civic leaders that the team has lost "between $20-and-$30-million total in cash," over the last two years.

Silverman's sobering financial picture contradicts a report by Forbes, which suggested the team earns about $20-million a year.

But the Forbes projection does not include money still owed to former players or debt payments, Silverman said.

"We're cash-flow negative," he said, meaning the team spent more money than it took in, including revenue sharing.

Rays officials have said before they are losing money but never quantified how much.

The detailing came in response to a question from Cut Taxes Now founder David Mc-Kalip, who asked why the team couldn't pay for a new stadium itself.

In his answer, Silverman also suggested that the team is unlikely to break even if it remains at Tropicana Field through the term of its lease, which expires in 2027.

"The business hasn't been self-sustaining in the past," Silverman said at a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club meeting, shown live on BayNews 9. "... We're getting close to getting back on our feet."

A new stadium, "will help us significantly," he added, but the Rays will not demand one. Nor would Stuart Sternberg, who became principal owner in 2005, sell or move the major-league franchise if a stadium deal cannot be reached, Silverman said.

Silverman and Rays senior vice president Michael Kalt took questions for nearly 20 minutes about the proposed $450-million stadium, as well as the potential redevelopment of Tropicana Field and its adjacent parking lots.

Under the Rays' plan, the team would pay one-third of the stadium construction costs through $10-million-a-year rent payments. The other money would come primarily from property taxes generated by the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site.

"If you pay $1 in property taxes, you're not going to pay $1.02 or $1.01," to fund a new stadium, Kalt said. "And that dollar's still going to be used for the same thing it's always been used for."

Kalt and Silverman used the forum at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club to attempt to allay concerns over both parking and the design of the stadium, which will feature a sail-like retractable cover but won't be air-conditioned.

The Rays executives also tried to dispel a rumor that the stadium plan is simply part of an effort to move the franchise somewhere else.

"This would be a heck of a convoluted ploy if that is what we were planning to do," Kalt said.

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@tampabay.com or 727 892-2273.