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Beyond the ballfield

Beyond the ballfield After years of reshaping the Tampa Bay Rays into a major league competitor and rebuilding the Rays name into a respectable brand, the team's business executives want to spread their corporate wings. Their goal: pursue additional businesses via a new corporate subsidiary.

We've already seen the first sign of this expansion strategy when the Rays' recently took a minority stake in the Florida Tuskers, the Orlando football franchise of the fledgling United Football League.

But Rays executives are also eager to funnel more concerts, exhibitions, NCAA playoff games, Cirque du Soleil and charity events, and even Tuskers games at Tropicana Field. All through the new subsidiary.

The subsidiary is called Sunburst Entertainment Group LLC.

Tampa Bay Rays president Matt Silverman says Sunburst's goal is to become "the go-to source for sports and entertainment consulting, investment and event management - regionally at first, with an eye toward an even broader reach in the future."

After so many years watching and waiting for Rays owners to come up with a viable Baseball franchise, Sunburst Entertainment may sound almost revolutionary. But among Major League Baseball franchises, Sunburst is really a natural evolution.

This is exactly what the Boston Red Sox did in 2004 when Fenway Sports Group was created to expand the holding company for the Red Sox, as team owners said, "beyond Major League Baseball."

Many other teams, from the San Francisco Giants to (of course) the New York Yankees, operate subsidiaries to hold their diversified businesses.

The Rays are just catching up with the rest of the Major League. Again.

The Rays quietly established Sunburst Entertainment in July. They intended to unveil the subsidiary last month at the same time the Tuskers deal was announced. But the United Football League was in a hurry to unveil the Orlando franchise.

Instead, the Rays announced Sunburst and their expansion strategy days this week - after the trade of Rays starting pitcher Scott Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels, and amid a key Boston Red Sox series at the Trop.

Why talk about pursuing new businesses at such a critical point in the Rays' pursuit of a playoff berth?

Because the Rays business team - president Silverman, along with senior vice president of development and business affairs Michael Kalt, sales senior vice president Mark Fernandez and senior vice president of business operations Brian Auld - says the time is ripe.

The old Tampa Bay Devil Rays , Baseball's Rodney Dangerfield of little respect but lots of laughs, are gone. The new Tampa Bay Rays , 2008 World Series contenders and American League champions, are now a legitimate franchise.

The team's "turnaround" - their word - is complete. The business quartet say it's time to leverage the Rays brand and business expertise behind it.

"Sunburst indicates how far things have come," Fernandez says. "A lot needed to change to reinvent the ( Rays ) brand and reputation in this community. Now people are coming to us and asking, 'How did you do that?'?"

Adds the Rays' Auld: "We've always wanted to be more than a sports team."

Robert Trigaux can be reached at

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Author:Fox Sports
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Added: September 4, 2009

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