John Romano looks at the recent attendance struggles for the three local professional sports franchises and wonders if Tampa and St. Pete are capable of supporting pro sports.
At various points every calendar year, I am reminded of Tampa Bay’s struggles as a sports market. It could be when the Rays are playing the Phillies in a rematch of the World Series and draw a smaller crowd than the Pirates-Indians or Padres-Mariners on the same night. It could be when I take my son to a Lightning game and find groups of scalpers with tickets in their hands and panicked expressions on their faces. Or it could be when the Bucs have to fudge ticket sales to keep their games from being blacked out on local television.
This topic is certainly not new. I’ve written about the market’s shortcomings before, and it always seems to trigger a fair amount of angry reactions. Folks point out the economy stinks. And it does. They point out local ownership groups do not spend extravagantly. And that’s true. They point out won-loss records, parking prices, stadium locations and crappy $8 nachos. And I can’t argue with any of that.
But here’s the point I keep coming back to:
Those same complaints exist in a lot of markets across the nation, and yet Tampa Bay still seems to lag behind most communities when it comes to pro ticket sales. The Rays? They were 23rd in Major League Baseball in attendance in ’09. The Bucs? They were 27th. The Lightning? It is currently 22nd in the NHL for the ’09-10 season. And it’s only getting worse.
Is he right? No.
Romano says that this is “an observation that seems to reinforce itself every season in Tampa Bay.” He seems to think “every season” consists of 2009 and…well, that’s it.
Facts: The Rays once drew 2.5 million fans in a season (1998). And despite the economy, attendance at Rays games has risen each of the past four seasons and the 2009 attendance was 64.2% higher than the year before Stuart Sternberg and Co., took control of the team.
And Romano conveniently forgets that the Bucs once had a season ticket waiting list greater than 100,000. And he fails to mention that the Lightning were in the top 10 in attendance as recently as 2008 and were second in NHL attendance in 2006 and third in 2007.
Even if these periods of strong attendance were brief, Romano can’t just pretend like they didn’t happen. So while Romano wonders if Tampa and St. Pete can support professional sports, the real question is will they support professional sports. And maybe more importantly, when will they.