The Rays averaged 28,852 fans (80.0% capacity) for their 10 September home dates, including two sellouts in their final two home games of the season. And yet, as recently as four days ago, Mitch Stacy of the Associated Press, wrote a story that was carried in many papers across the country titled, “Question for 1st-place Rays: Where are the fans?”.
But the team is still playing to small crowds at Tropicana Field, a situation that’s starting to give fans a bit of national black eye. The lack of buzz has some commentators questioning whether the Tampa Bay area even deserves to have the team.
These stories continue to be written as if the Rays and their fans are a blight on baseball. The implication is that any other team in a pennant race would be selling out every game, with fans spilling into the aisles.
One of our good friends, a die hard New York Mets fan, alerted us that this is not the case.
The above picture was taken at Shea Stadium on September 14. It was a Sunday afternoon game against the Atlanta Braves. At the time of the game, the Mets had a 1 game lead in the NL East.
The attendance for the game was announced as 56,041, about 300 short of capacity. Take a closer look at the image (a larger version can be found HERE. An even larger version can be found HERE). It is easy to spot the empty seats. In the lower deck they are orange, in the middle deck they are blue and the upper deck they are green. Also note that this photo was taken during the 3rd inning (see scoreboard) with the score tied 1-1.
So where is the criticism of the Mets and their fans? A Sunday afternoon, on a beautiful day, in the middle of a late-season pennant race against the team’s biggest rival, in the biggest baseball town in the country…and it looks like they don’t have anymore than 35,000 in the stands (~70% capacity).
Our friend assures us that the above picture is typical of a Mets crowd for the last few weeks, and yet the Mets continue to announce crowd sizes of 50,000+.
And what about Baltimore? Last night the announced crowd was 12,489. That is at least twice the actual crowd. We wondered aloud if this was the first road game in Rays history with more Rays fans than home fans. A “Tampa…Bay” chant could even be heard on the TV broadcast. Yes, the O’s are 26 games back, but supposedly this is one of the great baseball towns in this country and they have one of the icon stadiums in the sport. And yet, two of the knocks against the Rays are that Tropicana Field is terrible and Bay Area fans care more about football.
Why is there no criticism of other teams like the Mets and Orioles? Because those teams bloat their attendance figures and their fans are fair-weather.
At times the Rays attendance has been disappointing, but our stance is that nobody should expect sellouts to occur overnight. At the beginning of the season, when fans make season-ticket purchases and corporations enter partnerships with the team, many still believed this was a losing franchise. All fans need something to root for. Now that the Bay Area has a team worth rooting for, the crowds will grow. And once they do, they will be loyal.
In the mean time, the only way the Rays and their fans will avoid criticism is to take a cue from the Mets and just lie.
Question for 1st-place Rays: Where are the fans? [Associated Press]