We know we shouldn’t take anything Rick Reilly says too seriously. His legend is still cashing checks that he can’t live up to. But this is not the first time we have heard somebody say the “Rays are bad for baseball.”
The Four-Letter’s $3 million a year poaching, Rick Reilly, subbed for Tony Kornheiser on PTI yesterday, via satellite from Denver with Michael Wilbon in-studio in D.C., and parroted what I’m fairly sure may be a common impulse among a certain segment of sportswriters regarding the current state of the baseball playoffs: he stated his preference for a Red Sox-Dodgers World Series, proclaiming the Tampa Bay Rays “bad for baseball.”
Often times we hear the same sentiment in the form of “if you could get Bud Selig off the record I bet he is rooting against the Rays.” Even Signal To Noise says an LA-Boston World Series is one “Bud Selig would love to see.”
Signal To Noise points out that a “worst-to-first” story is “not only good for the sport, but also compelling.” However, they agree with Reilly when they consider the business of the sport.
However, if you look at Reilly’s comment in the business sense, it fits. Tampa was 12th out of 14 AL teams in attendance this year, not helped by the reported shittiness of Tropicana Field, and locals are right to ignore a lousy team in a bad park for a while.
This is exactly why the Rays in the World Series is very good for the sport and it is good for the business of baseball.
The Tampa/St. Pete area is still an untapped market. While attendance improved this season and is likely to increase greatly next season, it is still lagging behind many ball clubs. The only way that the Rays and baseball will attract crowds is to give them a team worth supporting.
If the Rays go on to win the World Series, the RAYSHEAD ARMY will grow exponentially. More fans means more tickets sold, more merchandise purchased and more eyes watching on TV. How is that bad for baseball?
Consider another Red Sox World Series. Certainly this would be preferred by FOX, with larger ratings. But there is no benefit to baseball in terms of growth of the sport. Red Sox Nation has already reached saturation*. How many more fans can jump on that bandwagon? Will the Red Sox sell more tickets next season? Will they sell more jerseys and pink hats?
And certainly we cannot ignore the increased TV ratings that would be generated by a Red Sox World Series. The ratings impact how much revenue is generated the next time baseball sells the TV rights. But in the grand scheme of things, we think baseball will find a way to survive. As long as owners are still handing out $100 million contracts to players that will never even sniff the Hall of Fame without an admission ticket, the sport will be just fine.
In the end it is a simple question of what is more important to the health of the sport. A few more million dollars on the next TV contract? Or bringing more fans to the ballparks and more eyes to the TV sets. Anybody that thinks it is the former is just not thinking that one through.
*The part-time ecologist in us kinda wants Red Sox Nation to grow past what we call “carrying capacity”. Because when that happens chaos breaks out, starvation ensues, they start eating their young and destroying crops. And we all know what happens then. The hunters come.