February 17, 2011
Sternberg's Non-Threat Threat
Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has been mostly quiet about his campaign for a new stadium of late, but he broke that silence in an interview in today's St. Petersburg Times in which he promises that he has no intention of moving the team out of Florida:
Now there's an ironclad promise! One that Rays fans can feel good about—that is, until four paragraphs later:
I could now say something snarky about the hypocrisy of promising your fans you won't leave town in one breath while threatening to go in the next—in fact, I already have. But really, this is just the kind of behavior that we should by now have come to expect from sports owners. Way back in the first edition of Field of Schemes, Joanna Cagan and I coined the term "non-threat threat" to describe the textbook gambit of obliquely raising the possibility of relocation without actually saying the words. As we wrote then:
Instead, I'd like to focus today on Sternberg's enabler: Times sports columnist Gary Shelton, who either didn't notice Sternberg's abrupt turnabout, or just didn't think it was worth mentioning. Either way, that's a serious abdication of a reporter's job, which is to report: i.e., to help readers understand the meaning of the things people say and do. There was nothing stopping Shelton—who is a columnist, mind you, and so specifically authorized to go beyond just-the-facts-ma'am—from at least noting that Sternberg had, um, slightly switched gears. To do otherwise isn't journalism, it's stenography.
Okay, soapbox off. As for what this means for the actual Rays stadium fight—currently locked in legal limbo over Sternberg's desire to shop around in Tampa or further north in Pinellas County while St. Pete officials hold to their lease clause prohibiting the team from even thinking of such a thing—probably not a whole heck of a lot, beyond that Sternberg is hoping to light a fire under the stalled talks by injecting some fears of a move. But again, that's nothing new; and we've seen how well these these threats have worked in the past.