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After last night’s 4-0 loss to the Orioles in which the Rays blew a chance to clinch a playoff spot, Evan Longoria and David Price lashed out at the Rays fanbase. Talking about a sparse crowd of 12,446 for a potential clincher, Price called the situation embarrassing while Longoria referred to it as disheartening. This set off a Twitter war in which many criticized the pair for ripping into a fanbase mired in the throes of an awful recession while others applauded them for noting an obvious problem. Yankees fans, at least the ones that I interacted, tended to be in the first group, lamenting poor attendance for a team that has been competitive for three years now. While I understand that last night’s attendance figure looks atrocious on the surface, I think there are a number of factors that many people critical of the Rays fanbase are missing.

The most important point that I can make is to note that the Rays do very well on television and on the radio. This season, they are 7th in the majors in both television and radio ratings, according to Sports Business Daily (thanks to @capitolavenue for link). This suggests that the fans are far from apathetic, and that there is a strong core group of individuals who follow the Rays on a day-to-day basis. Just from my experience dealing with bloggers on the internet, it is fairly easy to see that there are plenty of passionate, involved Rays fans. The idea that there are no Rays fans is a myth perpetuated by poor attendance numbers. They have the fans, they just cannot get them out to the ballpark. The question then becomes, why not?

There are a number of factors that can explain the lack of fan involvement:

1) Tropicana Field is an ugly ballpark in an awful location. This is the simplest explanation, and in my view, the driving factor for the Rays poor attendance numbers. There are no public transportation options to reach the stadium, and the drive to the ballpark is usually plagued by traffic. Additionally, the park is not actually in the primary population center in the area, separated from Tampa by a bridge. Another problem with the location of the ballpark is that those fans that are very close to the ballpark tend to be elderly or transients, two groups that are not likely to purchase season tickets or purchase many seats on game day. The location of the ballpark makes for a perfect storm that suppresses attendance despite legitimate fan interest.

2) The ailing economy has hit the Tampa/St. Pete area particularly hard, with unemployment numbers in the area exceeding 12%. People without jobs or with less disposable income are likely to stay away from the ballpark and watch the games at home, which is exactly what is going on in Tampa. Remember, the fans did show up for clinching games in 2008, suggesting that something may have changed since then that has impacted the ability of fans to turn up at the ballpark. The current economic climate seems to be one such factor.

3) The Rays were awful for many, many years and have very little positive history on which to draw. It is very difficult to build a season-ticket base in a football state when the team is that bad for that long without ever showing the slightest bit of improvement. As such, while you may build some interest in the club, you are unlikely to get people to invest in the team until they sustain success for an extended period of time. Combine this factor with the fact that they are now contending in the middle of a recession and that the ballpark is difficult to get to and is fairly dingy, and you have a situation where it is unlikely that they will be able to build a significant season ticket base for a while. (Additionally, I am told by @leokitty that their ticket plans are an atrocity, and do not incentivize purchasing tickets).

Last night, I suggested that the Rays need a new ballpark in the Tampa area to survive in that region, and most Rays fans agreed with me. However, the local governments in Tampa are not amenable to building a publicly funded ballpark, and the current owners do not seem likely to build one on their own. The Rays may not be long for Tampa Bay, but it is not due to a lack of fan interest. Rather, it is a structural and economic issue that has limited the team’s ability to draw their fans away from their television sets and radios into the ballpark.

It is very easy to sit back as Yankee fans and criticize the Rays fanbase for its failure to show up to watch a contender. We follow a team that has contended for about 100 years and has a brand new ballpark that is easily reached by various forms of public transportation. There was a time, not too long ago, that the Mets outdrew the Yankees in New York, so the idea that Yankee fans will show up in any circumstances is a myth perpetuated by fans who began following the team in 1996. Fans tend to be fickle, and factors such as stadium accessibility can play a major role in an individual’s decision on whether to go to the ballpark or watch at home. Until the Yankees move their Stadium to an area unreachable by public transportation, it is not our place to judge Rays fans for not going to Tropicana Field, particularly when there are many factors distinct from fan apathy that contribute to the Rays attendance issues.

32 Responses to “Rays’ Attendance Issue More Complicated Than It Seems”

  1. YOU HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD! Thanks from a Rays fan!  (Quote)

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  2. As a loyal and devoted Rays fan from day one, I just want to say thank you for this well-timed, intelligent article. It means so much for those that are outside of the situation to defend Rays fans and their devotion to this wonderful group of guys that make up one of the best teams in baseball.  (Quote)

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  3. Moshe, I call BS!
    Your rationale may explain why as a general rule, the Rays do not draw well. It does not explain why they only had 12000 fans (well below their average attendance) for a potential PO clincher. They are averaging 23K per game (as per BR). I am sure you criticism of the locale are correct, but it also seems that there is a distinct disinterest in the game in the St Pete area.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    While this is a fair point, I would argue that most Rays fans expected the team to clinch well before this point. The Rays, much like the Yankees, have been scuffling lately, which gave this game more import than anyone expected. With a low season ticket base, factors like that which suppress single game ticket sales can lead to low ticket sales. You are not going to draw much advance ticket sales for a weekday game against a last place team that looks like it will be meaningless.

    But Im not sure it explains that gap fully. Anyone else have some thoughts on this?  (Quote)

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    Joe O Reply:

    Average may be skewed based on weekend games or marquee (read Yanks and Redsox) opponents. Mid-week game against Bal on a school night is not an “average” game.  (Quote)

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    Lisa M Reply:

    I agree with Joe. Additionally, I think that the closer the Rays got to clinching a playoff slot, the more individuals who would go to individual games started to save for postseason tickets.  (Quote)

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  4. The Marlins are going through the same problems (except its worse). Florida just needs to get rid of their baseball teams. The state is a bunch of transplants so people come with their own affiliations.

    Yes the stadium is ugly and in an awful location. But like the marlins getting a new stadium isn’t going to all of a sudden pack the stadium.

    The main point you’re missing in your article (in my opinion) is the fact this was the 4th lowest attendance of the entire year. Over 22,000 fans show up on average every night. So why did HALF of that amount show up on a night they could clinch. The economy, stadium, location, etc…were all there this entire season. And that didn’t prevent 22,000 people from showing up on a game by game basis.

    Florida just doesn’t deserve a baseball franchise. Franchises in almost every sport struggle. The Jags and Heat struggle as well. Its not the stadium quality or their location. Its the state.  (Quote)

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  5. I think that the attendance there is low has to do with what you said, but those factors add to the fact that TB isn’t really a baseball town. There are more than one current franchises that are in prefect storm situations like this.
    I do think that easy access is the most important of the factors you listed. Wasn’t that one of the key factors in Montreal, too?
    (Meanwhile, Oakland keeps courting Al Davis, and the A’s have to live on table scraps as far as where they play. If they got a baseball park instead of the joke they now call home, who knows how they’d do.)  (Quote)

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    Donnie Reply:

    How is the Tampa Bay area not a baseball town? We have TB Yankees, Clearwater Threshers(Phils), Dunedin Blue Jays, Bradenton Red, Sarasota Pirates and i’ll even throw the Lakeland Tigers in the mix. All Minor league affiliates and all spring training locations who sell out almost every game. We are a very big baseball area, but like someone said previously, a bunch are transplants who still hold on the glory days in “da bronx” or fenway, which takes away from “local team pride”. When the Rays stadium moves to Tampa( 5 miles NE of Downtown), it will draw crouds from not only Tampa, St pete and Sarasota, but also Lakeland, Orlando and other middle state cities. The stadium location is the main issue and hopefully the people of Tampa and the owners can some to an agreement before they become the New orleans Rays  (Quote)

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  6. I think this is relevant, posted by @leokitty on Twitter. Click on it, its important.
    http://twitpic.com/2subgi  (Quote)

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  7. Agreed! Very well written and thought-out article.

    - Tampa Bay Rays Fan (I’m attending the game tonight BTW lol)  (Quote)

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  8. The argument can still be made for apathy. These reasons are well and good for April, but when its crunch time and your team obviously yearns for fan support, you get your ass to the park. I bet they show up for playoffs…or will they?  (Quote)

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  9. I’m a very casual Rays fan, and it’s definitely apathy as Clint says. I don’t blame the players for being upset, if people don’t go out for a winning team with uber cheap tickets, what’ll happen next year?! Move them to Tampa, and some other excuse will be used. People here are too attached to the baseball team from wherever they come from. People may think they’re making a “statement” about stadium location, but this is a stupid way to do it. If you care about the team, you go, otherwise don’t cry when they end up somewhere else.  (Quote)

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    Eric Reply:

    The idea that Florida is a bunch of transplants will start to fade. The 10 year olds who grew up watching the rays through their teens are now in their early 20′s. The local colleges are swarming with rays fans but most of them cannot afford to drive and pay for a game every night. With a little bit of time, the Rays’ fan base will start to emerge as these kids graduate and start families here. Right now the target market is made up of transplants, but give it a few years and the Rays will have some real home-grown fans to pack the stadium.  (Quote)

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    Clint Reply:

    To be honest…give it a few years and they’ll be gone. Dont get me wrong, I hope this is not the case as the Rays are my best chance to see the Yanks as I live in Tallahassee. I just dont see anything changing, just like with the Marlins.  (Quote)

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    Lisa M Reply:

    I agree, Eric. While I’m a transplant, my boyfriend is a Tampa native. He’s been a die-hard Rays fan since the team started off in 1998, when we were twelve. If you check the tape, you’ll see us in the nosebleeds for over twenty games this season, because it’s all we can afford. Many of our peers can’t afford that, and while we’re done with our schooling, we have several friends that are far out of town or even out of state supporting the Rays on their respective campuses. If the Rays stick around for a couple/few more years, I think that they’ll see a significant increase in attendance as “the originals” come back to the area and find themselves in more comfortable financial situations.  (Quote)

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  10. Thanks for this thoughtful article. I’m from the northeast and now live in St. Pete for family reasons. I love the Rays, but have to agree that the stadium is terrible — it’s this sad grey box, it’s like the opposite of baseball — and the team should move. I hope they’ll try a more populous area in Tampa Bay before leaving completely, but I’ll understand if they relocate and follow them in my heart.

    Check out moshe’s link (comment number six). These statistics explain a lot about why the attendance figures are so low. I don’t think people outside the area understand that there’s nobody here in St. Pete! lol You have to cross very dramatic bridges to get here and travel pretty far. And as for the (comparatively speaking) few folks who do live here, we’ve been pretty much destroyed by the real estate crash. In fact, there was an article in the New Yorker awhile back that featured southwest Florida. It was called “The Ponzi State.” Almost everyone I know lost their home to foreclosure. Jobs are really scare here and what you do find is often minimum wage retail and hotel work. I’m not complaining; I’m just saying, that’s how it is here right now. It’s just hard times down here.

    That area in downtown St. Pete where that hideous stadium is, it’s fairly desolate. They tried opening an open air mall with a multiplex movie theater and I think it’s going bankrupt. And it’s true about the lack of public transportation. Imagine having no rail system at all. And it’s way too far from everything to walk or take a cab. Parking is 20 bucks, and that plus the ticket makes it hard to go to as many games as I’d like. But I watch them religiously on TV and wear my baseball cap!

    Listen, it hurts our feelings when the commentators on ESPN make fun of us Rays fans. They don’t understand how much we love our team and how broke we are. I won’t criticize Longoria or Price for their comments, though. I feel for them, looking up at those empty seats. They deserve better. It’s a darn shame.

    Maybe some people stayed away because they are saving money for a playoff game. As for me, I stayed away because it’s the last week of the month, and I just don’t have the cash to go.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    Thanks for chiming it. It really is a terrible situation, and I cannot imagine how you feel.  (Quote)

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    Pattycupcake Reply:

    Well, you kinda do understand, which is why I’m so grateful you wrote this article. Thank you.  (Quote)

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  11. Fellow Yankee fans, look no further than our backdoor New Jersey Nets. Poor attendance year for years now. Perhaps this new owner may change things once the team goes to Brooklyn, but no one has shown up even when they were good.

    in fact in this past year during their 12-70 campaign, I scored $13 tickets for seats RIGHT behind the basket stanchion. But onyl for the diehards…  (Quote)

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  12. Thank you, thank you, a million times thank you! As a Rays fan in NC, I’m so pleased to see such a well thought out commentary by someone outside the loop of Rays devotees. (And thanks to Cork at Rays Index for linking this.) You are spot on with all of your points. I’m starting to believe the biggest cause of the problem is the transient nature of the area. I know from experience. My uncle has my 9-year-old cousin in Florida cheering for the Yankees. That boy hasn’t been to New York once in his life! And your factoid about the Mets outdrawing the Yankees is much appreciated. Those are the types of Yankee and Red Sox fans that are dealt with in the Tampa area. (Did you see the clip on MLB Network about 10k fans showing up to Ted Williams’ last game in Boston? *sheish* They don’t deserve a team, if you follow some people’s logic!)  (Quote)

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  13. Great write-up! Thanks from a Rays fan. I suggest you check out builditdowntowntampa.org . It is a group of private investors that have grouped together to develop a proposal for a downtown Tampa baseball stadium that is nearly all privately funded by this group and with some help from Rays ownership. It really seems like something that can work if the public gets behind it. Also, it is basically contingent on the light rail system referendum passing this November, because logistics for traffic will never work out if Tampa doesn’t form a cohesive public transportation system.  (Quote)

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  14. they need to build a stadium nearer to orlando and out of st pete.  (Quote)

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  15. Very well said. The media is quick to perpetuate information that is not actually factual, as we have all seen in the past and present.

    I’m glad that someone outside of our market can take an objective approach to viewing the circumstances that surround the attendance at Tropicana Field. Given the facts you pointed out, an average attendance of 22,000 is not bad for this economical climate and for an area with minimal public transport.

    You mentioned that the “ticket plans are an atrocity”… This is an understatement. You never really know what you are going to pay for a ticket when you are walking up to the ticket booth. In addition, the “Four 4 Free” parking has been eliminated and may also have something to do with it (if even a small part).

    Thank you for your comprehensive defense of us Rays Fans… we are here… #RaysFamily.

    Jim Collier
    MFIKY.com  (Quote)

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  16. A note about the TV ratings. Those Sports Business Daily numbers were posted in late July. Since then FS Florida has set several records for ratings during some of the Yankees and Red Sox series of late. I know that other teams will likely experience similar ratings increases as the playoff races heat up; however I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if the Rays are even higher on that chart at season’s end (I’d be lying if I wasn’t excited about the possibility of passing NESN).

    It’s not apathy for the team, it’s apathy for the stadium. I make a point to go to mostly mid-week games against lesser competition mostly because I know it will be easier to get in and out of the stadium (even then I’m usually getting home close to midnight, which is fine for me but not for kids or families with kids). There’s also the factor of the team’s stupid five-tiered pricing structure this season, an underrated factor in attendance issues http://technorati.com/sports/baseball/article/open-letter-to-tampa-bay-rays/). I was thrilled when I saw the last home game was on a Wednesday against the Orioles, which is why I decided to go to the game several days before the 20k giveaway was announced. So it goes.  (Quote)

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  17. Thank you for your thoughtful commentary – nice to hear that view from someone on the outside looking in.
    I love the Rays (ditto that for my husband & son). We have been fans from day one in ’98 (when our kid was just 10 yrs old) and have been to more games than I can count. We watched the game on TV Monday night. Our disposable income is very limited right now, and quite honestly, we would rather attend a few of the playoff games. Just because we CHOSE to not be there Monday night, does not make us lesser fans! I take issue with anyone who suggests otherwise! We love our team, and they will continue to have every ounce of support we can give them – whether it’s from our family room couch or our seats in the upper deck of the Trop! GO RAYS! We are with you all the way!!!
    FYI…I grew up in NY and was a Yankee fan for many, many years – the good years and the lean ones. That allegiance changed when the Rays came to town in 1998. It’s been great to have a “home team” to cheer on for the past 13 seasons. My son grew up with this team, and he loves them.  (Quote)

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  18. Thanks for an awesome article! My mom is a die-hard Rays fan. We live in Lakeland, and she still makes it over every other week or so for a game or two, but it’s definitely difficult. Traffic is terrible and it takes much longer to get from Lakeland to St Pete than it does to get from Lakeland to Tampa. Rays fans have been dealing with so much disrespect for their team, that it is really refreshing to see a non-Rays fan take a thoughtful look at our particular situation. I understand why the players are upset; I would be too. Hopefully their pressure and the fans’ pressure combined can do something to address the problem.  (Quote)

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