The big topic around Rays baseball has been the attendance issue. It isn’t a new problem at all, but seems to be getting much more attention after the conclusion of the 2011 season. A few days ago, Stuart Sternberg basically stated that the attendance was simply inadequate to support a MLB team. Here’s some quotes from his frustration boiling over:
“I am frustrated this year. We’ve replicated last year [on the field] and our attendance numbers were down 15 percent and our ratings were down. The rubber has got to meet the road at some point here. When you go through the season, you control your own destiny, if you win out. We’re getting to the point where we don’t control our own destiny. This is untenable as a model going forward.
“”When you’re sitting here at this point and you lost by a run, you know another X dollars might have changed things. Three or five million wouldn’t have changed things necessarily but 15 to 30 might have. That’s where we were. And for the foreseeable future that’s what we’ve got … Whatever you want to say, there are 29 other teams passing us like we’re going in reverse right now. Except on the field. And at some point that changes.”
The timing for this public statement was terrible, and is starting to irk fans around Rays Republic. He also said: “This is untenable as a model going forward”. If Stu could of just waited a month or two to say this, it wouldn’t have such a negative vibe to it.
At the end of the day, what he said is unfortunately true and is a real issue. This year, the Rays recorded the second-lowest average home attendance than any team in baseball (under 19K). Even down the stretch during the exciting run and in playoff games, the attendance was under-par. Another thing that dipped this year, was the TV and radio ratings. We’re not talking about just any baseball team, we’re talking about probably the most exciting team in baseball for the last four years. This is a team that did the impossible, completing a historical comeback to knock out the Boston Red Sox this year with a $39 million payroll. They’ve made the playoffs three out of past four years, and possess the best young players in the game. So the winning is obviously not a problem with the attendance. The question is, what keeps the fans from showing up to the games? For a start, the Tampa Bay area is one of the worst economic regions in the country. The unemployment rate there is almost 12%. I’m not trying to make an excuse, but rather provide some food for thought. On the contrary to the media and blogging world calling Tropicana Field a lousy stadium, I have to strongly disagree. The stadium itself is not bad, it’s the location that is unacceptable. Tropicana Field is 72 degrees every game, there are no postponements, and getting from point A to B inside the stadium is quite simple. It doesn’t have any foul odors or anything else that has been rumored in the media. But I do believe the St. Pete location prevents a percentage of fans from coming. Most of the fan base is in north of St. Pete (by Tampa). With the traffic and the roads that lead to the stadium, it isn’t a very short trip. So to summarize all that, I think a new stadium in Tampa would definitely help. I’m never going to say that Tropicana Field is a bad stadium, but I will say that a new stadium could be necessary in the future.
A new stadium could attract many tourists, as well as the great fan-base in Tampa. Money is a problem though. It’s a huge investment and the Rays aren’t producing nearly enough revenue right now to pay for something like this. Another reason for the Rays lack of attendance, is the age of the franchise. The (Devil) Rays started just 11 years ago, which many critics fail to mention. By that time, many residents in the area already had a favorite baseball team. Florida consists many elder residents, that are from the Northeast and the Midwest. You can’t expect them to be huge Rays fans if they’ve been rooting for a team their whole life. In opposition to what the media/blogging world says; Tampa Bay fans do deserve the Rays. If you think about it, what other city would produce adequate attendance in America. There’s none that I can think of. So if a MLB team doesn’t work in Tampa Bay, then where will it succeed. That’s why a new (indoor) stadium in Tampa could save the Rays. Progress will be gradual, and it probably will take a few years before serious discussion. I think that the Marlins (who also have low attendance) getting their new ballpark will inspire the franchise to take a step forward. I truly believe that the Rays fans will bounce back next year and prove all the critics wrong. Relocation is not necessary if the fans start showing up, and I am confident they will. Rays Republic is so tired of getting bashed, and will respond next year. The Rays have defied every possible odd; I think they can save their franchise. If you’ve learned anything about the Rays by now, you know to never count them out.