Everywhere you turned yesterday, people were dumping on the Tampa Bay area for the lack of attendance at The Trop on Monday night. One example is Dari Nowkhah, a sportscaster for ESPN, who said the following (via Twitter)…

11,000 at last night’s #Rays game. 31 games over .500. Pathetic. Why would Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford re-sign?

Let’s ignore the fact that no player in the history of baseball has based his free agent contract on attendance. But in ripping the attendance, Nowkhah was not alone. Bashing of Rays fans could be heard on “SportsCenter” and on “Baseball Tonight” and many corners of the internet.

First of all, as a commenter (Thad) correctly pointed out, most of the parks in action on Monday night had very small crowds. With schools back in session it is hard to expect big crowds for weeknight games. The difference for the Rays is that they don’t have a large core of season-ticket holders. So when other teams have 10,000 people in the stands, they can still report a bloated attendance number that includes season-ticket holders that did not show up. And those figures don’t have the same emotional impact that ESPN is looking for.

But, none of those other teams have the best record in baseball. So why should the Rays be exempt for this criticism? Because a team’s current record has little to do with how many fans show up to the park.

In Baseball Between the Numbers, edited by Jonah Keri, Nate Silver performed a regression analysis that showed that a team’s record in the current season is only the sixth most important factor in determining attendance.

The complete list…

  1. Stadium quality rating
  2. Market size
  3. Honeymoon affect (age of the stadium)
  4. Games won in previous season
  5. Playoff appearances in the past ten years
  6. Games won in current season
  7. Per-capita income

If we look at the factors more important than the team’s current record, we see where the Rays attendance fails. The Trop is considered one of the worst stadiums in baseball. Outside of the historic parks (e.g. Fenway, Wrigley, etc.) Tropicana Field is one of the oldest in baseball. And the Rays only have one playoff appearance in the last 10 years.

Depending on how one measures market-size, the Rays are either a mid-market or a small-market. Either way, that, and the best record in baseball, is unable to overcome how poorly the Rays rate in the factors that matter most.

The Rays have attendance problems. But thinking that more people should be at the games just because the Rays have the best record in baseball is flawed and misdirected criticism.

 
 

22 Comments

  1. Mike says:

    Agree, except that I maintain that those of us who have actually been to the trop several times do not think it is one of the worst stadiums in baseball. Actually, it is one of the best when you consider the whole experience, including the price, the fan friendly policies, the promotions, the post-game concerts/fireworks, food, beer selection, number of bathrooms, rays tank, air conditioning, etc.

    If only it was 10 years younger and located in Tampa it would be almost perfect. I don’t even really mind the catwalks, which I don’t think are any worse than having a huge wall in left field because your stadium is built next to a highway and isn’t big enough to have a full field.

    • Beth says:

      I agree, Mike, and I do appreciate air conditioning, the very friendly staff, and the fact that we can bring in our food (I disagree with you about the food selection being good, but as long as I can truck in my own sushi I don’t care). If the goal is to have a comfortable place in which baseball can be enjoyed, the Trop is just fine.

      What it lacks is any of the magic of some of the better designed ballparks. No view onto a bay or across a skyline; no sense of being in the heart of a real city with interesting surroundings.

      I’m not saying we can, or should, spend $500 million to get that magic — I’m just saying that the Trop is quite functional but really uninspiring.

      • Adam W says:

        Agree 100%. I was in Baltimore last year and had the pleasure of going to Camden Yards. I appreciated it’s tradition, but I’ll take the Trop with it’s air conditioning, 0% rain-out rate, and liberal food importation policy any day of the week.

        • Carlos says:

          Why can’t we have both? Look at Minute Maid Park, it’s a beautiful venue, with a retractable roof.
          AC can’t be the only positive, it has to be an attractive destination too.
          We have an old tent with AC, yes better than sweating your azzes off but not a beautiful stadium at all. It’s not a “destination”.

  2. Thad says:

    The most unfortunate part for me as a native (now living elsewhere) is how the national media narrative uses the light crowds as an indictment on the Area’s passion for the team. All reports I hear are that the Bay Area is VERY supportive of the Rays in every way BUT attendance (usually only on inconvenient weeknights, BTW). As you point out, passion/support does not always translate immediately into paid attendance b/c of a myriad of other issues. Stadium being most important.

    Can’t wait to see how much the Rays get in next local broadcast rights negotiation with Fox Sports Florida. What are they getting now? Like $13.5 million/year according to the Deadspin docs? That has to go up dramatically next time around. Unfortunately for the Rays, that won’t be until 2016. That will be a truer indication of how much support has gone up in the past five years. Fox Sports Florida is printing money selling ads in heavy, heavy rated Rays programming that they bought at rock bottom prices several years ago.

    Look at all the extra people Fox Sports Florida now employs and full pre-game and post-game shows now, EVERY game in HD now. They are just killing it.

    Here’s an interesting article from a few months ago. Note that the freaking Minnesota Twins only had 11,000 season tixx before Target Field. Now they have almost 25,000. No matter where you put it a new stadium will draw more fans. For awhile at least.

    http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/article1093834.ece

  3. d-money says:

    “The difference for the Rays is that they don’t have a large core of season-ticket holders. So when other teams have 10,000 people in the stands, they can still report a bloated attendance number that includes season-ticket holders that did not show up.”

    I say that the Rays attendance has less to do with the Trop and it’s location and more to do with their sales department. I don’t buy the argument that a Tampa business wont buy season ticket packages because its to far away. Most business whether in Tampa or St Pete cater to clients on both sides of the Bay. If the Rays sales staff was worth their salt they would do a better job of marketing packages to small businesses and corporate clients. Which is really where the other teams have us beat.

    No team is going to be successfull relying merely on walk up sales.

    • Thad says:

      I’m going to go ahead and say you’re wrong about that. Brand new stadium within spitting distance of downtown Tampa and corporate sponsorship would grow exponentially overnight. The Rays know that, they just can’t come out and say it yet.

      Stadium near downtown Tampa: A little business during the day, a few cocktails and some dinner at a premium lounge/restaurant inside a new stadium 10 minutes away, or late dinner at Bern’s and a nightcap in South Tampa and easy cab ride back to your WestShore hotel. It just makes too much sense.

      Current situation at Trop: A little business during the day, 40 minute drive to stadium, beer and burger at Fergs?, 40 minute drive home? Are you kidding? It’s night and day.

      Corporate Tampa will provide for the Rays what Corporate St. Pete (such as it is) cannot.

      • Beth says:

        I don’t disagree with you, Thad, but I do think you are painting too stark a contrast. Downtown St. pete, which is very close to Tropicana Field (certainly as close as Berns is to any proposed Tampa stadium) has fabulous restaurants. And the city’s downtown partnership even provides a shuttle from the Trop to a downtown garage.

        You are right that St. pete has a much smaller employment base, so the “catching a game after work” becomes more challenging for the majority of regional residents. But when it comes things like restaurants, or a nice environment for an evening stroll, I think St. Pete has a much better environment than downtown Tampa.

        • Thad says:

          Yeah, I was referring mainly to what a typical business night out entertaining clients would look like in Tampa with a new stadium versus schlepping to St. Pete and back now with the current stadium. Certainly, St. Pete has its own fabulous restaurants and what have you, but its too far and doesn’t offer enough for a Tampa business to invest money in season tixx. More business activity in Tampa generally speaking and more corp clients would get tixx when they can make an easy night of it and get home/hotel at a reasonable hour at a destination stadium in Tampa.

        • Gus says:

          It is not as if Downtown Tampa is somehow the employment center of the state. As I recall, the Westshore business district has more office square feet than downtown Tampa, and the Carillon District in North St. Pete has more than downtown Tampa also. Obviously, for those in the St. Pete CDB and Carillon, the stadium location is fantastic.

          For every 2 people who are more convienced by a stadium’s new location, 1.7 are going to be more inconvenienced (unless you build it at the hump of the Howard Franklin).

          It takes time to build season tickets after you’ve killed a generation of holders and then timed your success with a god-awful recession. One bad series doesn’t justify a franchise relocation. The Rays won’t paper the house, which is their perogative. Lots of other franchises are going the other direction these days.

          • Thad says:

            One bad series? One….bad…..series??? Gus, are you even paying attention? Not sure I even need to respond to that one.

            New stadium, better location (Tampa) = instant increase in season tixx base. It’s just the way it is. It’s not working in an ancient stadium in Pinellas County. It’s just not. MAYBE a new stadium in Pinellas COULD work. MAYBE. But it’ll never happen. The Rays won’t take that risk.

            Pinellas folks are just going to have to find a way to come to grips with that. If corporate Pinellas or suburban Pinellas or old Pinellas or new Pinellas or borrowed Pinellas or blue Pinellas or any living being in Pinellas within 15 min of the Trop did a better job of getting to the games on a regular basis, the Rays prob wouldn’t have to even think about a new park. But they don’t go and neither do a lot of folks from other counties, so you gotta go new park and different location and try that or move out of town.

      • d-money says:

        Contrary to popular belief every business in Tampa Bay isn’t within 10 minutes of downtown. There are plenty of business in Tampa who have employees and Clients in Pinellas,Pasco,Manatee,Sarasota.

        Coporate sponsers don’t buy tickets to be used for themselves they buy them for their clients as giveaways and perks for their employees.

        While I agree that their would be more opportunity with a stadium in Tampa I refuse to believe that there isn’t more opportunity right now that the Rays are not taking advantage of.

        I live in St pete. I’ve been given tickets to Bucs and Lightning games all from business that are based in St pete and I was happy to drive across the bridge.
        If a Tampa business wanted a good way to promote their business and reward their employees I doubt that people are going to say it’s to far to drive to see a free Game.

  4. Tom says:

    I also think they are hurting themselves by tacking on $3 to the price of a ticket when you buy on the day of a game, the scalpers love that policy though. Does anyone know if that policy is standard throughout the league?

  5. Gus says:

    Thad: To paraphrase Rick Pitino, Camden Yards ain’t walking through that door anytime soon. Tampa/Hillsborough has no ability to finance a new stadium in downtown Tampa (or any other location) for at least 10 years.

    For the next 10 years, the Rays better figure out a way to run their business within the paramaters of their market. I suggest that the Marlins are going to be an excellent guinea pig for the Tampa Bay market. They are moving from a less ideal location that Miami people complained about endlessly. It is a lot harder to get from downtown Miami to the Marlins stadium on a weeknight than it is to get to the Trop from downtown Tampa, as Miami congestion is far worse.

    So we’ll get to see how much location matters; we’ll see if moving to central Miami drives away existing fans from the northern part of the metro area. I’m pretty sure the days of corporate tickets filling your season ticket base are past anyway; every company I know is getting rid of their tickets.

    We’ll also get to see how much a retractable roof is used in Florida. I guess most nights I’m at the Trop, I tend to think I’d rather keep the roof closed. Given the costs, I’m not convinced retractable is worth it in this climate.

    • Beth says:

      As much as I’d love the idea of sitting outdoors in April — and of course October!– you are right that a retractable roof may be a luxury we can’t afford for the 15 -20 games a year it would be used.

      I still think you can, even in a domed stadium, do a MUCH better job with design than they’ve done at the Trop. As I said above, I loving going to watch the Rays and find the Trop to be quite adequate, but I have to admit is sometimes feels as though we are all sitting in someone’s basement. A nice, finished basement….but a basement nonetheless.

      • Gus says:

        But if you go that route, than the analysis becomes: is a new dome in a different location worth $450M to the community and the team? Or is it better to be a low overhead franchise in a less-than ideal stadium and put the money back in the team.

        The Rays (and the community) have a “paid for” stadium after 2016 and the Rays are basically rent-free right now (only if they draw north of 2.5M do they pay any real rent). In a nation that is leveraged to its max and in MLB where 24 of 30 teams are still paying off their existing parks and owners are leveraged, this should be a real competitive advantage.

        My contention is that if the Rays can draw 2.2M at the Trop over an extended span (not just a world series year), they have optimized the market. Becaause it would take 3.0M in Tampa to cover $16M in debt service on the new stadium (the Rays approx. portion), not to mention the significant public cost. (Drawing 3.0 in a dream park in Tampa seems extremely optimistic, but I’m not saying it won’t happen). Is it better for those tax dollars to go into other public investment in the area and make it a prosperous location which then in turn has more $ to support the team. You can always build a new stadium later. This one makes money and exposes the owners to very little economic risk. Empty seats on Monday and Tuesday nights are a bummer. But they are not a reason to declare baseball in Tampa Bay a failure. In contrast, this franchise is a true success story on the field that MLB should be proud of. As Cork notes, attendance is a lagging indicator (really lagging in this case). I suspect that the economy and governmental shortfalls will force patience on us all. It may be a good thing in the long run.

        • Beth says:

          Are you talking logic or are you talking emotion?

          Logically I know it makes no sense to spend half a billion for an architecturally lovely and centrally located stadium that will draw a few more, or even a lot more fans. If you think about how many additional seats would have to be sold to make either the likely public or private contribution to such a project financially sensible it’s clear that it makes little sense. Better for the RFO to invest in players. Better for the cities and counties to invest in schools, public transit, and parks.

          But can ‘t a girl fantasize? In a region that is lacking in noteworthy places, it can be fun to think about team we are proud of playing in a stadium that we look forward to visiting.

          • Gus says:

            I’d rather win at the Trop than be the Pirates with their crown-jewel, flat out.

            Because of our weather, we’ll never have the open-air beer fest feel that the northern parks do. If they’d change the idiotic ground rules at the Trop and figure out a way to fill it up, I’d like it just fine. The fact that the NE sportswriting crowd and ESPN hates it almost makes me like it more. People come to the Trop for the actual sport, not the social scene. Kind of refreshing.

  6. Nick says:

    I have a different take. I think we are missing one very large aspect, Who the hell is Darkie Nokah and Scott Van Pelt to bring up the attendance and provide an opinion on the matter? It is not in their job description to give us their take on attendance and what they think CC and Pena should do. This really pisses me off. They wouldn’t even notice if the Rays were in a different division than the Yanks and Sox. Padres and Braves are in first place and have new stadiums with rich traditions and have trouble drawing as well. Scott Van Pelt on the Sportscenter yesterday: “Way to go Tampa/St. Pete, good job”. This is uncalled for and shouldn’t be part of the broadcast and the TB area shouldn’t be the only ones getting crap for it. Really pissed.

    • Indiana Rays Boy says:

      It seems like the Rays are the primary targets when it comes down to attendance especially when they’re a winning team. Don’t forget Baltimore, Cleveland, San Diego, Arizona, Atlanta, Toronto, Washington, Florida, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are suffering attendance problems like Tampa Bay. The boo-ya network loves to shun the Rays for some reason and the Peter Gammons of the world loves reporting this. Don’t forget the Yankees and Red Sox were irrelevant throughout the 80′s and early 90′s which those two teams drew small crowds.

    • James says:

      They said something along the lines of The Rays and Yankees are tied, and have been for some time. Lets hope for the Rays attendance is not one of the tiebreak factors…

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