The Rays like Tampa Bay. Major League Baseball doesn't.

That's the message Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg related Thursday in his most forceful public commentary to date on the long-term outlook for the team, whose attendance has not matched its recent performance on the field.

"Major League Baseball doesn't believe anymore in the Tampa Bay area," Sternberg told Hillsborough County commissioners in a lively morning session that ran twice as long as its scheduled 30 minutes.

Sternberg spoke to Hillsborough commissioners at their invitation. Some commissioners have made little secret they would like the Rays to move to Hillsborough County.

The team has a contract to play at St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field through 2027, and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster has threatened to sue any entities that try to lure the Rays away from the city.

That restricted Hillsborough commissioners from directly asking Thursday what everyone wanted to know: possible locations for a new ballpark, including prospects for relocating the team to Tampa.

Thus hampered, Sternberg and the Rays danced around that central question, with the Rays owner instead spending most of his time talking about how displeased Major League Baseball and other owners were with the Rays' poor attendance. The Rays say they need a new stadium to remain competitive.

Sternberg equated the Rays' attendance impact on baseball's revenue sharing arrangements as a form of "welfare" neither he nor officials from other teams found comfortable.

Late Thursday afternoon, Major League Baseball officials issued a news release from New York headquarters saying Commissioner Bud Selig has had conversations with Sternberg and is disappointed with the current situation in the Tampa Bay market.

"The status quo is simply not sustainable," the release stated. "The Rays have been a model organization, averaging nearly 92 wins per year since 2008 and participating in the postseason three times, including their inaugural World Series in 2008. Their .565 winning percentage over the last five years is second among all American League clubs and third in all of Major League Baseball.