Opening day focuses on future Rays stadium

- Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred opened up about the future of the Tampa Bay Rays stadium Sunday, as he spent Opening Day at Tropicana Field.

Before the first pitch, Manfred, who became the first ever commissioner to spend the season's first day in Tampa Bay, fielded questions about what's next for the Rays.

"This is a market that is very important to Major League Baseball," he said. "We have a great owner and ownership group here in Tampa Bay and we look forward to great success in this market going forward."

The Rays began looking at sites for a new stadium in January, after the St. Petersburg City Council gave the team permission to search in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties; owner Stu Sternberg has said the team is keeping all options open.

Although the Rays' first game was a sell-out, the team typically ends up at-or-near the bottom of the league in attendance and Manfred hinted he thinks a move across the Bay would help put more fans in the seats.

"I think that the location of a stadium always can make a difference in terms of attendance," he said. "I think the geography here would suggest that it's possible to have a stadium that's more centrally  located for the overall Tampa Bay metropolitan area."

Sternberg, meanwhile, reaffirmed that finding additional corporate support will be key in determining where the team will go.

The owner has previously said the corporate sector usually make up about one-third of the team's attendance and that many other professional sports teams are able to fill two-thirds of their seats with businesses.

"We're going to be meeting with a ton of business leaders on both sides of the Bay, see what it is  they'd like to have in a new stadium, where it should be and why," Sternberg said before Sunday's game, which the Rays lost 5-3 to the Toronto Blue Jays. "I would expect that, by year-end, we're going to have a lot of that known."

While Sternberg has said he hopes to have a lot of decisions made by the end of 2017, the commissioner would not put a timetable on the search efforts.

"I think that deadlines in the context of an issue like this are not particularly productive," Manfred said.

Leaders in both Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties are expected to make strong pushes to convince Rays' executives that their respective county is the right place for the team.

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