|Stuart L. Sternberg
THE 2015 SEASON caps a decade of unprecedented achievement for the Rays under Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg. Since he assumed control of the franchise in 2005, the Rays have become one of the greatest turnaround stories in sports and a model of sustainable success in Major League Baseball.
It was no surprise that in January, Sternberg was named to Major League Baseball's Executive Council, an eight-member panel that will advise new Commissioner Rob Manfred on major issues. He also serves as chairman of MLB's Diversity Oversight Committee.
In Sternberg's nine years as owner, the Rays have posted six winning seasons, five 90-win seasons and advanced to the postseason four times. The Rays had the worst record in the majors during their eight seasons before Sternberg, losing 90 games every season.
While the on-field success has been the envy of small and big market teams alike, it only partially defines the Rays progress under Sternberg.
In 2014, Bloomberg Business named the Rays No. 5 in its rankings of the "smartest spenders" among the 122 MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL franchises. The Rays trailed only the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Bruins and New England Patriots.
In its 2014 Ultimate Standings, ESPN the Magazine ranked the Rays as No. 1 in Affordability among the 30 Major League Baseball teams, the fourth time in the past eight years they have earned the top spot. Among all 122 teams, the Rays have finished in the Top 10 in Affordability in each of the past eight years, including No. 1 rankings in 2009 and 2012.
Merchandise sales, radio ratings and brand awareness have all increased dramatically, and the Rays local TV ratings have more than doubled since 2005. Prior to Sternberg's arrival, the Rays had made only four national TV appearances; since then, that number has surpassed 50.
In 2009, the Rays christened a spring training home in Charlotte County that has become a point of pride for staff and players alike-and in 2014, readers of USA Today voted Charlotte Sports Park their favorite spring training destination. It has also served as a centerpiece for one of Sternberg's first directives: to make the Rays a regional franchise reaching across all of Central and Southwest Florida. To this end, the team also played regular season games in Orlando in 2007 and 2008.
It was under Sternberg's direction that the Rays became the first major league team ever to offer free parking (still in place today for fans who carpool on Sundays) and the only major professional sports team in Florida to allow fans to bring food into the ballpark.
Sternberg continues to make investments in the organization both on and off the field. In January 2014, the Rays awarded two of the three largest free agent contracts given by Sternberg's ownership group. The Rays re-signed first baseman James Loney to a three-year, $21 million contract and brought back closer Grant Balfour with a two-year, $12 million pact. It was just one year earlier that the Rays signed Evan Longoria to a $100 million contract extension that could keep the All-Star third baseman in a Rays uniform until 2023, the team's largest ever financial commitment to a player-one who happens to be the first drafted under Sternberg.
Prior to 2014, Sternberg green-lighted a new wave of improvements at Tropicana Field focused on enhancing the fan experience, enhancements that were met with great acclaim. The central features of the renovations are 360-degree pedestrian circulation around the lower seating bowl and a reimagined batter's eye gathering point. These renovations build on the more than $20 million the Rays have invested in Tropicana Field under Sternberg.
Sternberg's commitment to community service is evident in the team's philanthropic investments in Tampa Bay. Soon after he became principal owner, the team established the Rays Baseball Foundation. Focusing primarily on youth and education programs in the region, the Foundation continues to expand its reach and impact. Sternberg and his fellow team owners pledged an initial $1 million and the club also encourages players who sign long-term contracts to support the Foundation. Further, all employees are urged to spend one day a month volunteering in the community.
Through grants and other contributions, the Rays and the Foundation together have invested more than $14 million in the Tampa Bay region over the past seven years. In May 2012, the Foundation and the Helios Education Foundation partnered to provide $1 million in college scholarships over five years for students participating in Take Stock in Children in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Sarasota, Manatee and Pasco counties. Each year, Sternberg and his family sponsor a playground build in partnership with KaBoom! where he, his family and Rays staff construct the playground. Sternberg also serves on the board of advisors of H. Lee Moffitt Cancer and Research Institute.
Under Sternberg, the Rays have built training facilities in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Brazil (the first major league team to do so).
In the fall of 2007, Sternberg initiated a complete organizational rebranding, including a new name, colors, uniforms and icon, a bright yellow sunburst invoking the magnificence of life in the Sunshine State. At that same time, the team, in conjunction with the City of St. Petersburg, proposed a waterfront ballpark in downtown St. Pete.
From playing baseball to watching his first game with his father, Sam, at Shea Stadium, to coaching his sons' Little League teams, Sternberg's passion for baseball runs deep.
Prior to his ownership of the Rays, Sternberg spent 25 years in the financial securities industry, serving as a partner in Spear, Leeds & Kellogg and the Goldman Sachs Group, from which he retired in 2002. Sternberg, his wife and their four children live in Rye, N.Y.