In an interview last week Matt Silverman said the following

“If you took us out of the American League East, I think we’d be the favorite in any other division.”

He might be right, but what is interesting about this quote, is that on several occasions in the past the Rays have been adamant about how they prefer competing against the best in the AL East.

So why would the Rays prefer the AL East where they are almost guaranteed to win less often over playing in the NL East or a mythical NL Southeast (Braves, Marlins, Astros, Rangers)?

Two reasons.

The first is reduced expectations. What if the Rays won 84 games last year in another division? There would have been a  lot more talk from the national media about how poorly the Rays played and what a disappointing season 2009 was. Instead, the Rays get a pass in the AL East because nobody expects them to win every year or even very often.

The second, and most important reason is simply money. The Rays are a cash-strapped team. And in the AL East, the Rays get 18 or 19 games every year at home against the two biggest road draws in baseball. There is no chance that Stuart Sternberg would trade in 18 near-sellouts against the Yankees and Red Sox for 18 games against the Braves and Marlins.

Also consider the exposure the Rays get in the New York television market. The Rays are on TV approximately 60 hours a year in New York City. And the Rays receive even more exposure during discussions as one of the Yankees rivals. For a team trying to build a brand, that is exposure they cannot put a dollar value on.

Actually, knowing Sternberg, he probably has put a dollar value on it, and it is certainly a large one.

DEVIL DOGS WEBTOPIA

  • Roger Mooney looks at three of the Rays top prospects and when they might make an impact for the Rays. Mooney also has a money-quote from Matt Silverman on this year’s payroll: “We extended last year, we’re over-extended heading into this year…We’ll see the effect of this in the future. But for now we’re focused on what Rafael can add to us in 2010.” [Tampa Tribune]
  • Marc Topkin has all the spring training details including the five biggest story lines to pay watch for. [St. Pete Times]
  • Roger Mooney says the Rays have some questions this spring, but the Rays already have the answers. It is just a matter of deciding which answers they prefer. [Tampa Tribune]
  • 5 Rays to watch this spring. [Tampa Tribune]
  • Joe Dillon will get some reps this spring behind the plate. [St. Pete Times]
  • Wade Davis and his new bride “The Marlboro Girl” (which apparently has nothing to do with cigarettes) spent some time with some school kids from his hometown. [The Lake Wales News]

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3 Comments

  1. Dave says:

    How are reduced expectations a value? How does that translate into more ticket sales, more advertising, or more money? Perhaps I’m underestimating the market for sports franchises that don’t compete?

    18 home games that sell out because of your opponent seems a myopic advantage at best. What about the other 63 home games? What economic sense does it make to give up a strong showing for 78% of your chances to sell tickets just so you can point to a handful of games where your competitor is more profitable and say, “Hey, look, I made a buck even though I suck!” If waiting for the Yankees or Red Sox to come to town makes sense as a business model, then why pay anyone on the Rays over league minimum? Did you study sports economics from Hugh Culverhouse?

    And what exactly do you think the exposure in the NY televison market gives the Rays? The Rays don’t make a penny off of YES or NESN broadcasts. Out of the 15+ million viewers in those markets, how many do you think purchase a ticket to a Rays game, or buy a Rays shirt, or Rays hat? 100? I wouldn’t be willing to go much higher than that. There is no advantage to the Rays being exposed to anyone in the Yankee or Red Sox market. The idea is absurd.

    Now, if you’re talking about a Rays blogger that lives in NY, and wishes he was blogging for a bigger market, maybe the argument of lower expectations and exposure in the Northeast makes sense, but not so much for the Rays.

    Maybe Silverman publicly states he likes being the AL East because, 1. He realizes he has no choice, and 2. He doesn’t want to come off like a jackass.

    • “How are reduced expectations a value?”

      Less negative attitudes towards the team. Losing in the AL East is not nearly as damaging as losing in a division the Rays are supposed to win. This front office hates anything negative. That is why they dropped “Devil” from the name, because some people in a survey reacted more negatively towards Devil Rays than they did towards Rays.

      “What economic sense does it make to give up a strong showing for 78% of your chances to sell tickets”

      Because some sell-outs are better than no sell-outs even for the other games. A casual fan will see sell-outs and think it is something they should be doing. It is the same reason some companies produce far fewer of a product than they know they will sell. And it is the same reason a club will keep guests waiting in line outside even though it is empty inside. People driving/walking by will think that is where everybody is going, I should go there.

      “And what exactly do you think the exposure in the NY televison market gives the Rays?”

      Merchandising. There are a LOT of casual sports/baseball fans that dont have a favorite team. Maybe they will become fans of the Rays or maybe they will just like the colors. Either way, being on TV in big markets, especially the biggest market (NYC) means more eyes are on the TV and more people are looking at the Rays brand. And yes, that means a lot more sales. A LOT. It is the same reason that Best Buy and Home Depot finally opened stores in Manhattan even though the profit margins there are non-existent and revenues from those stores cant keep pace with the cost of the property. In the end, both companies realized, that the exposure of being in New York City far outweighed the loss of revenues from those 3 or 4 stores. It is the ultimate product exposure and advertisement. The exposure in NYC is just too great and something any brand would covet. And the Rays get it for the low, low cost of playing in a tough division.

      “if you’re talking about a Rays blogger that lives in NY, and wishes he was blogging for a bigger market”

      You think I blog about the Rays because I have to? If I were blogging about the Yankees I would be making a hell of a lot more money than I do now.

      In the end, you have to realize that these are not baseball people running the Rays. They are business people that like baseball.

      Some think you that in order to make money in baseball you have to win. And to win you have to spend. Others think you have to win first to make money which can then be put back into the product on the field. The Rays are trying a middle approach. But they also do not want to lose money. That means maximizing revenues as best as possible in any means possible. Playing in the AL East is good for the bottom line.

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