[UPDATE: We were just informed by the Rays that MLB’s data was mislabeled. The data was supposed to refer to the home counties of Rays fans in general and not “attendees” of Rays games as indicated on the data. They are in the process of correcting the report]

Stuart Sternberg’s latest comments on the Rays’ attendance struggles have caused quite a stir on both sides of the Bay.

The defenders point out that the comments were accurate and that the Bay is indeed “a big divide.” On the other side, some are offended that Sternberg would joke about Hillsborough County residents and their “willingness to navigate bridges.”

Whether or not the comments were a jab at people east of the Bay, the bigger question is whether or not the comments were waranted, or even accurate.

Here is a look at the residency of Rays fans from Major League Baseball’s own data (thanks Jeff)…

This means that on a typical night at The Trop (22,758 fans in 2010), 7,692 people come from Piniellas County and 6,827 fans are coming across those bridges. That is a difference of just 865 people. And that is not counting Pasco County or the people that must “navigate bridges” on their way from Manatee or Sarasota counties, or what is certainly a big chunk of the “other.”

Still, Tampa is a big town. Maybe Sternberg was hoping Rays fans would be made up of a majority of Hillsborough residents. Let’s compare the population sizes of each of these six counties…

So Hillsborough makes up 31.4 percent of the area population and 30.0 percent of the population at the Trop. If you ask us, it looks like Hillsborough is pulling their weight.

Rather it appears the lack of support may be more dramatic in Piniellas County. While there are over 7,000 fans on the average night driving 45 minutes or more to come from Hillsborough County, only 7,700 fans are coming from the Trop’s own neighborhood.

Water is a big divide. And for a lot of fans it has a huge impact on the number of games they attend. But when it comes to attendance issues, the bigger problem might be in the Rays’ own backyard.

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23 Comments

  1. John Michael says:

    Pinellas County is also difficult to reach from the 3rd most populated county in the region, Polk. It's a relatively untapped market attendance-wise, since Polk only makes up 3.7% of attendance. A move to Tampa would highly increase the attendance of Polk fans. Speaking as a Polk fan, I know I personally would be able to go to at least twice as many games as I go to now.

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    • SeanDubbs says:

      I can guarantee you the majority of those from Polk County are from the Lakeland area. It's just too much to get to Pinellas for the rest of the county but the drive from Lakeland isn't bad as long as you can leave town no later than 4pm. Anything later than that you can forget it. I would like to see how the Bucs attendance breaks down and the percentage breakdown for all counties.

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  2. Tyler says:

    Can you provide a source for your numbers? To my knowledge, those details have never been released.

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  3. Sledge says:

    This is compelling data. It tells me that the average fan is more than willing to drive across the bridge, unless somehow a large percentage of those Hillsborough tickets are sold to businesses. The issue I would personally like to understand better is the expected split of "retail" ticket sales (Joe public buyer) vs. sales to businesses. What do other teams see in terms of percentage of ticket sales from Joe public vs. corporate sales and how do the Rays' stack up?

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  4. Don says:

    I really don't see it as a water (bridge) problem, I see it as a metropolitan demographics problem...Tampa and pinellas are two different places..IF you have ever been to San Fran & Oakland you know what I mean...Its not the Golden gate... its the people...Why would anyone go to Tampa if you don't have to , the Bucs, the slum downtown, don't think so...and the only reason Tampa people come to Pinellas is the beach because they don't have one....hard to sell traveling either way for entertainment

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  5. Ro says:

    Why will no one bother to look at all the other teams struggling with attendance? This is getting so damn old. It's hard times. It's cheaper to watch at home or listen to the radio. This is happening everywhere.

    And what about long distance fans? I don't care where the Rays play, if you listen hard enough, you're going to hear cheering when the Rays score.

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  6. Jordi says:

    Can we get the same breakout for the Lightning and Bucs?

    Also, what about type of tickets sold? 7,000 fans don't bring in much if they are buying the cheap seats. Where are the box seats coming from? Is Dickie V the only lower level buyer from Sarasota Cty?

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  7. Gus says:

    I think the point on where the tickets come from is a little simplistic. If you work in Tampa and live in Pinellas (as many people do) and go to the game on the company tickets, which bracket do you fall into (or if you work for Raymond James and live in South Tampa and go on company tickets)? The whole idea of a regional team is that you draw regionally. The reason the Rays don't draw better is that they screwed their initial season ticket holders with the worst 10 years of expansion baseball ever (combined with shoddy customer service) and then when the got good, everybody in Florida was hurting in a killer real estate depression. Now ownership is threating to move. If I live in Brandon, better to watch them on TV and hope they move to Channelside than buy a partial season ticket. This franchise has always need certainty and stability. 16 years after the franchise award, they still don't have it.

    When people knock the Trop's location, the group nobody ever talks about is the 19% of the crowd who are navigating a far tougher bridge from Bradenton-Sarasota. When you talk abou moving a stadium to Tampa that is going to be more inconvienent to 50% of your attendance (most of Pinellas and Bradenton-Sarasota), then they really better get the folks from Polk County and Hillsborough County to step up en masse to make up for that.

    Stu should challenge the Hillsborough people and say we might move to a more central location, but we won't move to Hillsborough until our support numbers show that support is clearly better there.

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    • Beth says:

      I don't fully understand this argument. You seem to be saying that people from Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk need to start attending games at a stadium that is inconvenient to them to prove that they would be willing to come more often to a stadium that is more convenient to them? How exactly does Hillsborough "prove" that it can generate support if the stadium were moved? The question is hypothetical, since we can't erect an experimental stadium to really assess what the impact would be.

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      • Gus says:

        To Beth and to jeff:

        It will be helpful for Cork to get the right data and I'll want to see that before getting specific, but . . .

        1. 1 mile north and 1/2 mile east of the Channelside location are the two worst slums on the west coast of Florida. Slums surround urban locations in most places (see the Marlins new ballpark site). But Tampa slums are far larger and worse and on more sides of the Channelside site than the Trop and St. Pete's Midtown neighborhood. Not even close.

        2. I think everybody agrees that a Westshore Tampa location would be the most central to the most people (but there is no land there and no money to finance a stadium there). My point on Cork's old data (we'll see what the new data is) is that Bradenton-Sarasota fans have always been forgotten about and the Trop is more central for those people than Tampa would be, and they have higher net worth than Polk and Pasco and shouldn't be forgotten.

        3. Hillsborough Support. There is no doubt that Hillsborough has some more corporate entities than Pinellas, but my point there (on the old data) was: it is not overwhelming the Pinellas support. I would imagine you'd want to demonstrate Tampa corporate support through a Chamber of Commerce effort before you even think about moving there. My view is that Hillsborough (foolishly) chose to support the Yankees and accept the largess of the Steinbrennner family and build them a stadium; they have 15 years more of debt service to pay off the Yankees stadium (hampering any finance efforts on a Rays park) and the Yankees have decent corporate support of their spring training. The Rays have more competition in Tampa for the corporate sports dollar. It isn't a slam dunk. When they paint the police cars with Yankees logos, you've got issues over there.

        4. On balance, I think a cheap stadium in St. Pete is better for the Rays in the near term rather than over-extending on a Tampa location. You'll never get the $15M-$25M annual debt service (from the team) required to partially finance such a stadium back in terms of extra fans, because you'll allienate many of your most loyal customers while picking up whatever new ones you might get.

        5. It isn't a great market, but it is not an apathetic market. People love their teams and their area. It would help if the team owners showed some of that love back.

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        • Michael says:

          Yes. There are slums near Channelside.

          Although I am pretty sure within 1.5 miles of the Trop you can find some pretty nasty places too.

          I walk from the Trop to central and 22nd and pass through at least two blocks that could easily be sets for a new Batman movie.

          Downtown St. Pete is sparking. But there are a lot of places near it that are not so. The same goes for any city, I would guess.

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  8. Jeff says:

    Cork, thanks so much for posting the real data. As you can see from the comments, this always disintegrates into a Hillsborough vs. Pinellas thing. It shouldn't, both areas have positives and negatives (mostly positives, that's why we live here) so let's just stick to the facts. Don, you simply have it backward. Demographically, Hillsborough is younger with more families, wealthier, and more corporate. Slum? Have you driven 2 miles outside of downtown St. Pete lately? (Sorry for the disparaging comment, but it's to the location argument; back to the facts). The Rays have a massive fan base by any measurable metric (TV, radio, merchandise sales, etc.) relative to the population base EXCEPT attendance. Where does that leave you? The stadium is simply inaccessible (on a relative basis) for a majority of the fans that would like to attend. Gus, moving the stadium centrally is moving it closer to at least 1,000,000 more people than its moving farther away from. There is no consumer oriented business that doesn't understand the importance of location. Every decision you make every day has to do with convenience. Ask Starbucks, or your gym, or your Walgreen's, etc. It's a business FACT, in fact it's business 101: making it easier for your customers to attend WILL increase business, usually significantly. Throw in Hillsborough and Pasco having younger demographics, which is what really fills stadiums, and this really isn't an argument anymore. It's not St. Pete it's the location!

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  9. rayalan says:

    Metropolitan Milwaukee population 1,751,316 avg attendance 33,960
    Hillsborough and Pinellas counties 2,089,797 avg attendance 17,954

    % of population within 30 minutes of stadium Milwaukee 70%
    Tampabay 18%

    Nuff said!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  10. Matt says:

    Remember that it is actually quicker and easier to get to the Trop from Tampa than it is from Northern Pinellas (Palm Harbor, Oldsmar, etc.) I think that is the major problem, the Trop is just too far south in Pinellas County. The Rays could and can draw a strong attendance in Pinellas with the right mid county location. If the Rays were in a more central pinellas location they would draw a lot more season ticket holders from the more affluent areas of Northern Pinellas and make the commute much easier for those in Tampa and Hillsborough.

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  11. Michael says:

    It's the wrong approach to make the case that "oh, actually Tampa fans are quite good about attending".

    Nyet. While this may be true, that's not the issue. The issue is that if I want to be in my seat by first pitch without jogging through the parking lot I have to leave my home in South Tampa at 4:50PM on a weekday.

    South Tampa. Not downtown. Not Carrolwood. Not Ybor.

    I could easily afford an 82 game season ticket package, but I don't buy because it is an absolute nightmare to drive to St. Pete in rush hour under anything but perfect circumstances.

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    • Tom says:

      Michael, what route do you take to the Trop? If you take Gandy to 9th street you can get to the Tropin 30-45 minutes from most of South Tampa. How far are you from the Gandy Bridge?

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  12. Jeff says:

    Michael, exactly my point. If someone from South Tampa can't get there, who can? What about Wesley Chapel, Riverview, and Palm Harbor/New Port Richey, where all the young families are? It's not even a thought. And still, Hillsborough people DO account for 1/3 of the attendance. So folks who say moving the stadium will only have a minor impact simply do not understand local business dynamics and do not understand the demographics of this area. Remember when people said the International Mall would fail? Wrong....centrally located in a large metropolitan area with decent disposable income. St. Pete Times Forum, 3rd largest producing arena in the country? Centrally located in a large metropolitan area with decent disposable income. Same for Straz Center, Westshore Mall (wasn't Intl supposed to kill it?). Same entertainment dollar. Put any of those venues at the Trop and watch 30-40% drop in revenue. Ultimately I think the Rays understand this which is why Stu's comments really fired me up today. Embrace the fans, Stu, you know they are behind you. If you do, you will find all the support you need for a new stadium.

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    • Michael says:

      Completely agree.

      New Tampa and Brandon also are big gold mines there... lots of families with money who can foot the bill.

      I think that you don't have to look much farther than the Lightning for "the case to have a stadium in Tampa".

      They play a less popular sport in a smaller building, and their 2010-2011 attendance ended up being higher than what the Rays is currently in 2011

      Because it's actually accessible.

      St. Pete is a nice place. I personally love the downtown area, much more than I like Channelside. But the culture isn't there for it, and the money isn't there for it.

      Move it to Tampa, let the north and east suburbs get in on the action.

      Preferably before 2016.

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  13. JP says:

    I'm telling you, there is a groundswell of young, homegrowm, St. Pete fans that won't show up in any demographic.

    For now, most every ticket we buy, we buy off the street. Because we're younger and our money is stretched thin now. But a lot of us are growing up, advancing in our careers to where we're starting to be able to buy tickets like we're supposed to.

    We're having kids, who are growing up to be the next generation fan. The fanbase is here, in St. Pete. We all read the corporate support the city gave Naimoli, who, well we all know that story.

    We weren't given the opportunity to vote on the proposed stadium. A lot of us are over 18, I really would have liked to see the outcome of that, if we were given the chance to try to campaign for it, social network style.

    Who knows what kind of buzz could have been generated. We'll likely not see a chance to do anything about this either, and that bugs me. I have some phone calls to make.

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    • Beth says:

      JP, do you have actual evidence about this rising tide of young St. Pete residents, or are you just extrapolating from you and 5 of your buddies? Because I haven't seen any evidence that the population of St. Pete is growing, or that there's some strong cohort of young people with increasing spending power there. (In fact, early census figures show a slight decline in the population and increase in its median age).

      Look, I hope you are right, but many of us commit the fallacy of believing that our personal experience is somehow representative of a larger trend, when in fact it is not.

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  14. Jeff says:

    Just saw the update regarding the data. Since I started this might as well make one more comment then let it be. I do believe more people cross the bridges than most think. But honestly it doesn't matter. The overall thesis is still the same. The bridges just represent more miles/minutes of travel time that is exacerbated if there is an accident or severe traffic. I think St. Pete is fantastic and the demographics are probably improving, but again, it really doesn't matter, there will never be enough locals to fill the stadium. Ever been to Wrigley or Yankee Stadium? Wrigley is a Yuppie party. Why? Because 500,000 of them live within walking distance of the stadium. Bronx cheer? You think that's people from Manhattan? Of course not, the vast majority of Yankee attendees are within 5 miles in the Bronx! Anything outside 30 minutes of a pro stadium is supplemental. Look at South FL, a linear traffic nightmare. They have our problem x2 (as there really is no real center) and the result is the same, low and inconsistent attendance. Here, we do have a central region (it just happens to be Tampa). Simply, it's not Tampa vs. St. Pete, it's that in a hub and spoke geography you just can't put a stadium at the end of a spoke.

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  15. tbfan says:

    I goto a majority of the games at the Trop. Albeit work related! Living in the Carrollwood area, I have to leave to get to the Trop about an hour before my scheduled time in. Most days for the first few months at 3:30pm. With that being said, I do my best to avoid the stretch of downtown Tampa to the Frankenstein Bridge at all costs, regardless if it is traffic hour or not. Best preferred route is going Selmon Express to Gandy Bridge route. Still on a good day it will take me about 50minutes. If any jams well over an hour, and this is two hrs before rush hour on either side of the bay. I understand the frustration of the drive, as I tell most people that I have conversations with at the ballpark in regards to attendance and stadium issues I truly and firmly believe what Sternberg said to be truth. Water is a great divide. Look at all major sports and their arenas/stadiums. Tell me one other
    arena/stadium that if you drive 15 minutes in three directions that you smack dead into water. And if you want to take it a step further, how far north does one have to drive before the do not have to cross a bridge. Past Countryside?? As to the contrary, I also work at the Forum, and other than morning rush hour traffic, this stadium is easy to get to without a problem....drive time is 20minutes or less away from the 9am hour.

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