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A push to rename Tampa Bay Rays as St. Petersburg Rays sparks debate

Exterior of Tropicana Field
Daylina Miller
Formerly known as the Florida Suncoast Dome, the Tropicana Field has been home to the Tampa Bay Rays since 1998.

City Council members will discuss the possibility of renaming the franchise as part of the deal to build the Rays’ new stadium during their meeting Dec. 14.

A push to rename the Tampa Bay Rays baseball franchise as the "St. Petersburg Rays" is attracting public interest — but also raising concerns.

Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker pitched the idea last week to some city council members individually.

He claimed that the change should come as part of the deal for the Rays’ new stadium, which will be partially funded by St. Petersburg city public dollars.

City Council Member Gina Driscoll met with Baker to talk about the possibility. Although the idea is coming in the late innings, she is excited to take the discussion to other council members at their meeting on December 14.

“I really look forward to hearing what my colleagues have to say,” Driscoll said. “Judging from the public comments on social media posts about this, I think the public wants us to have that conversation.”

Driscoll believes that it's fair that the St. Pete administration takes this debate to the Rays as part of their negotiations.

“The Rays have already agreed to use 'St. Petersburg Rays' jerseys for one game out of that season. If they can do it one day, how about every day?” said Gina Driscoll.

Rick Baker served as St. Petersburg mayor from 2001 to 2010. He had already advocated for a Rays’ name change before the 2007 season.

Last week, he shared his thoughts on the new stadium deal with The Ray Tampa Podcast, a weekly show on 99 Jams WUJM radio hosted by Ray Tampa, a past president of the NAACP St. Petersburg branch.

“That land (in the Historic Gas Plant District) is worth a boatload of money and if we're going to put up that, as a city, we ought to get the name. I don't even understand what a good argument against that is,” Baker said.

He argued that a name change could benefit St. Petersburg in areas like civic pride, marketing, and tourism.

“One of the greatest benefits to a community for a professional sports team is the brand,” he said. “We get none of the brand with the “Tampa Bay Rays". The rest of the world sees Tampa Bay and Tampa as the same thing, but I think St Pete's a great city too.”

Renderings of the new ballpark and redeveloped Tropicana Field site in St. Petersburg.
Tampa Bay Rays
Renderings of the new ballpark and redeveloped Tropicana Field site in St. Petersburg proposed by Rays and Hines.

The idea is tied to the agreement between the city and the Rays, which was announced in September, to build a new roofed stadium near their current ballpark, Tropicana Field.

The 30,000-seat facility will include three seating levels, artificial turf, and operable walls. It is expected to be open in time for the 2028 season.

"As part of the deal that's on the table right now, the Rays have already agreed to use "St. Petersburg Rays" jerseys for one game out of that season," said Driscoll. "If they can do it one day, how about everyday?"

The estimated cost for the new stadium’s project is $1.3 billion, which will be split three ways. The Rays will pay $700 million, St. Petersburg $287.5 million and Pinellas County will pay the rest, $312.5 million.

The public dollars will be covered by the city through bonds and Pinellas County through its tourist development tax, which is a hotel bed tax for tourism-related projects.

João Victor Pina is the WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for fall of 2023.