The state says the Tampa Bay Rays can advertise its games and events at Tropicana Field, but its sign near Interstate 275 has ads for other businesses. CHRIS URSO/STAFF
BY CHRISTOPHER O'DONNELL Tribune staff
Published: August 19, 2013
Updated: August 20, 2013 at 08:25 AM
ST. PETERSBURG — As if dwindling attendances and poor game-day atmosphere wasn't bad enough, state officials have handed the Tampa Bay Rays another gripe about Tropicana Field.
The Florida Department of Transportation has cried foul over advertisements for other businesses the ball club places on its electronic billboard overlooking Interstate 275.
Under state law, signs that overlook a highway can advertise only stores and businesses at that location, unless specially permitted.
So the Rays, which has never had a permit for the sign, can use the 114-foot high billboard to advertise its ball games, events and concerts at the Trop. It can even advertise Chick-fil-A and other businesses with outlets at the stadium.
Advertisements such as one state transportation officials spotted for a local car dealership are off limits without a special permit, though, state officials say.
In June, FDOT officials sent the Rays a violation notice, saying the sign needed to be removed within 30 days. Officials from the team and the city have postponed any action by working together to file a permit application.
But state officials warn that is likely to be turned down because the Rays' sign is closer than 1,500 feet to another permitted billboard, the minimum distance state regulations allow between signs.
“There would be a spacing conflict with another permitted sign,” said Rob Jessee, FDOT manager of outdoor advertising control. “It predates their sign and would cause a spacing conflict along the interstate.”
That may leave the Rays with a dent in their revenue.
The sign, which was erected in 2005, is in a prime location to capture millions of eyeballs on the interstate.
How long the team has been advertising other businesses on the 34-by-64-foot sign that sits atop an 80-foot pole or how much it charges is unknown. Rays officials declined to comment, except to say they are looking into the issue.
FDOT officials are expected to rule on the Rays' permit application in the near future.