The latest from our senior afrologist Jordi Scrubbings…

They don’t play baseball on the beach. And for good reason. It is incredibly tough to run on the beach. And ground balls don’t roll very well in the sand.

But beaches in Florida are quite popular. Outside of the prolific House of the Mouse, I’d guess beaches are the number one tourist destination in Florida. People come from all over the world to the beaches of Florida, and specifically to our local beaches such as Clearwater Beach, St. Pete Beach, and Siesta Key.

Beaches are interesting places. They have to be well-kept, lest you have litter on your landscape. They predominantly have to be kid-friendly, as you don’t want creepers and hoodlums ruining the experience. And beaches need good press, as local areas want to see their beaches listed at the top of any possible category, from most beautiful to best sand to most beautiful bodies. Being a top beach brings a sense of pride, good reputation, and most importantly, it brings visitors and money.

But beaches have an Achilles heel. No matterhow well-kept, no matter how popular, and no matter how great the sunset, hardly any one goes to the beach when it rains.

Baseball in Tampa Bay and Florida in general reminds me a lot of the beach.

For whatever reason, Floridians only swarm to baseball games when the conditions are perfect. As a matter of fact, that may be the case with all sporting events. We are not ones to go to a stadium where the home team might lose just as much as we avoid a rainy beach. It doesn’t matter if it is the Rays, the Marlins, the Magic, the Bucs, the Lightning, or the Heat, when teams start losing fans avoid them like the plague.

I think the reason is because Floridians don’t like losers. Florida is supposed to be a place for happiness, a place where people to go to retire, to forget about their worries, to be optimistic, and shed those things that don’t bring joy.

At least for the foreseeable future, Florida will never be a place where people flock to places that have been around for generations. They won’t pile into the rickety bleachers of an old stadium a la Chicagoans in Wrigley Field. They won’t gather en mass to a place that needs repairs to see losers just to say they were there.

And why should they?

As I said a few months ago, we live in a society of upgrades. Places in Florida should be new, exciting, and bright. Why commit to love an old stadium when they know there is a new one on the horizon? We like our culture to be exciting. As Kurt Cobain said, “Here we are now, entertain us”. If our sports teams don’t give us the exciting “newness”, perhaps we will find it elsewhere. Perhaps there is a new roller coaster or giraffe at Busch Gardens or maybe a new adorable baby penguin at the Florida Aquarium.

And that is the dilemma the Rays find themselves in right now.

They are just not interesting enough to spark the interest of the masses.

The Rays are a good team, no doubt about it. To argue differently is foolish. They have some of the best young talent in the American League, if not in all of baseball. They have Cy Young candidates, MVP candidates, exciting rookies, heartfelt stories, gutsy role players, and enough sabermetric Keebler elves to start a local chapter of Lambda Lambda Lambda (I kid!).

But the Rays aren’t exciting enough to win over the hearts, minds, and dollars of the people of Tampa Bay. I think the general assumption is that people know how the story of 2011 will end. The Rays will win 85-88 games, probably trade a veteran, play a handful of rookies, win some close ones, and lose some heartbreakers. Overall, the Rays will be, in the words of former Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Dennis Green, what we thought they were.

Unfortunately, the Rays have also had to battle public perception beyond the quality of their main product. And that hurts. As they maintain a stable, if not glorious product on the field, the things beyond the control of the players continue to outshout the buzz the organization is trying to build.

For all those who choose to talk about the Rays, let me spell this out as clearly as possible:

We are tired of hearing complaints about our stadium.

We know.

We are tired of hearing about how we are in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox.

We know.

We are tired of hearing about how the Rays would be better off in another location.

We know.

But yet these topics bubble to the top when there is nothing else to talk about. These are the clichés hack sportswriters and shallow national analysts lean on and what they discuss when the team is on track for a 3rd place finish, floors above the Blue Jays and Orioles, but not quite in the penthouse with the Yankees and Red Sox.

And this is all we see. Again and again and again.

It is bad enough our culture waits for perfect by instinct. But when all we get are reports of how much rain falls on our sand, how many cans and bottles litter our land, or how people are not packed in hand over hand, it’s tough to know when to take a chance and go back to the beach.

Then again, I’m weird. Sometimes, even though it might be cloudy, even though there might not be anyone nearby, and even though there might be a can of Budweiser or a Big Mac box on a nearby dune, there are fewer things I enjoy more than a day spent sitting by the water, sipping a Corona or a margarita, listening to waves crash into the shore.

Who’s with me?

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

Tags

 
 

16 Comments

  1. Mark E says:

    Precise. Insightful. You are exactly right about the media clichés. The Rays bore the outside baseball world to death. They don't bother to do their homework on the team, so they rest on the "Rays clichés". Hey, potential domain name there?

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  2. David D says:

    Great read

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  3. Michael says:

    It's not because floridians don't like losers.

    It's the state has 10% unemployment, 8% underemployment, and the people that actually do work are well below the national average for income.

    Didn't they have like 30k people show up for a weekend day game against the Marlins, and similarly for the Cardinals?

    I don't see any pattern between the perception of winning and attendance. I see a pattern of "people don't have any fucking money in this state so they pick and choose the games they end up going to". That has more to do with attendance than team perception.

    It's not perception. They charge 8.25 for Class A Yankees games on Dale Mabry. I assume someone buys these. The cheapest Rays tickets are nine bucks. What's the perception of low grade minor league baseball?

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  4. Ryan says:

    Agree heartily, the economy seems to be the most overlooked factor in the attendance debate.

    It's, of course, compounded by the fact that so many of the folks inhabiting this area are transients or transplants. Look at all of the Reds fans who showed up for that series. It was worse than a Saturday game against the YankSox. And of course we're not posting big attendance numbers when the national media, the owner, the manager, and the players spend their time dumping on the stadium, its location, and its fans and nobody who's actually local has any money or time to go to games.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
    • Beth says:

      I know that we often hear the transplant argument, but is that really an explanation for poor attendance? First, many transplants DO go to games -- it's just that they go to root for the Indians or the Red Sox. But we still get their money. Secondly, wouldn't this be as much a factor for hockey and football? Do those teams have similar attendance issues? Finally, we'd need to see whether other areas with similar % of transplants also face these issues. Look at other fast-growing Sunbelt regions where today's adult residents often grew up somewhere else -- Phoenix maybe? Do they have similar problems generating interest and butts in seats?

      Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
      • Michael says:

        It's not an issue for football or hockey because their stadiums are built in a location that makes even a tiny amount of sense. Hockey is very very very cheap here compared to league average, and the Bucs popularity (if you can call it that) is spurred by the regions intense love of college football.

        Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
      • Gus says:

        The Diamondbacks are struggling to draw as well this year despite a fine team and a red-hot Upton brother.

        It all comes down to season tickets, because who else will go on a Monday night if they have a job or kids in school? Just go on the weekend.

        The Rays season-ticket sales efforts are almost impossible: to the Hillsborough fan, why buy season tickets if by holding out for another year or two, you may provoke a move to be closer to you (or so the media would have you believe)? Just go on the weekends.

        To the Pinellas fan, why support an owner who intends to break a contract with you despite your taxes going to support a building where he makes lots of money at very little personal risk due to revenue sharing? The guy first wants more of your tax dollars and to fill in your harbor with Sailboat Stadium, now he says your town and your county stink and are unfit for his team and he needs a new place. He is obviously not on your side.

        That is the definition of a tough sell.

        Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
        • Sarah says:

          Gus, I see your points but I think you are really overstating your case. So the ONLY reason the Rays have trouble drawing is that Hillsborough fans are holding out to move the team (and really, given how long it takes to plan and build a stadium they won't get to see a game for 5 + years even if a new stadium were agreed on today)? And that Pinellas fans would be lining up for the privilege of attending if only Stu and co weren't such meanies? You can't really believe these factors really determine Rays attendance.

          Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
          • Ryan says:

            I know a lot of my Pinellas-county friends and acquiantences are tired of the ownership, the players and the manager dumping on the stadium and its location at every available opportunity and have reduced (or in some cases eliminated) their ticket purchasing.

            Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
          • Gus says:

            I do believe that. Sports is an emotional thing. We want something to believe in. If the franchise doesn't believe in us (Pinellas County residents), then why commit to season tickets (which is what I'm talking about)? I'll go, but I'm not all in if the ownership isn't all in with me.

            I totally understand Hillsborough people going on the weekends and not on Mondays; right now, with no certainty over its location, why buy a season ticket?

            Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  5. Jordi says:

    The economy is actually overrated in this case. If the area was filled with baseball fans who were looking for a cheaper alternative, then why don't the Tampa Yankees draw? Tickets were 6 (are they 8.25 this season?) and parking is free. And you are talking about the 2 time defending FSL Champs in a town with a decent Yankee fan base.

    The TYanks don't draw.

    Neither do the Dunedin Blue Jays. Clearwater draws on Thirsty Thursday, because beer is cheap.

    If it is all about the economy, then why didn't the Hit Show draw? Why didn't the Marlins draw? Not every fan is a fan of somewhere else. There are 2.5 million people in the Tampa Bay area. Say 40% are fans of other teams. That leaves appx 1.5 million who could be fans of the Rays. The Rays drew 1.9 million last year. That means each fan went less than 1.25 times each - assuming they are all Rays fans, which they aren't.

    That 40% should also decrease every year as the Rays win over new fans. Or more people should declare themselves Rays fans. Maybe in 2006 it was 40% outside/20% DRays/40% not fans. Maybe now it is 40/40 and 20% are not baseball fans.

    Florida fan apathy towards losers has gone on long before 2008. It is a way of life here.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  6. Don says:

    Look morons .

    Look Morons..HOw many "Floridians" do you know???? Nobody is "from Here"..they are not "transplants", but current Florida residents born elsewhere..who they root for in sports... who gives a damn??
    Unemployed bums do not go to sporting events..people with money do..
    what 50% of the poplation... the rest live in poverty.. weekly very weakly!

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
    • Jordi says:

      Don, then explain to me why concerts frequently come to the Tampa Bay area? Why does the Hard Rock Casino do so well?

      Some people have money here. Not many, but some.

      Instead of spending 60 to see a rock concert, why aren't those people buying 3 or 4 Rays game tickets?

      And by the way, I was born in NY, but have lived here for 20 years. I am a Floridian.

      And I don't appreciate being called a moron.

      Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  7. Jason says:

    Im vice-versa, I was born in Women's Hospital in Tampa 31 glorious years ago, my parents moved me away from Florida when I was 8 years old, but I was a Bucs fan already, and with every new expansion team the area got, I got on board... Id love to go to the Rays 20 times a year, sadly, I live just miles from Hazleton, PA and drivepast "Joe Maddon Field" at Hazleton Area High School every morning on my way to work. I am still a Floridian in my heart, Tampa Bay is in my soul, and I will be among the saddest if the team picks up and leaves. But I have made myself this solemn vow, that when the Rays finally agree to build a knew Park... I will come... If you build it, I will come, opening day, $10.00 beer in hand....

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
    • Don says:

      Jason do me a favor and see if Maddon really was the smartest guy in Hazleton....wanta see the the city's IQ really is...
      If the Rays do build a new stadium you not only will have a$10 beer, but you will have a $35.00 seat on the 4th floor because on the 1st floor they will be $150. and you will be stuck in traffic for 2 hrs going in and 2hrs coming out...but 2 yrs after it is built you'll be ok because NO one will be there.....just check out the bucs beloved fans.(all Floridians)

      Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  8. Bill says:

    Jordi,
    Nice article! I think there are several factors in play here: the economy, fan base, location, as well as the other entertainment options available. So, I don't think there is just one answer, it is a combination.
    I live in Tampa, but am not from Florida, yet I enjoy going to a few games a year. I am also not a Rays fan, but will definitely go to games to cheer against the Yankees and Red Sox when they are in town and see my beloved but woebegone Orioles.
    The drive from Tampa to the Trop is not that bad, and parking is not too hard to find; those are just excuses. The Trop is not perfect, far from it, but it is not a dump either. I like going to the climate controlled confines of the Trop for a game. It sure beats sitting in the baking heat and humidity of an open air stadium, or worrying about rainouts. A dome is the only way to go here and the stadium staff are helpful and friendly.
    So my suggestion to people who read this is: don't take my word, or anyone else's, go to a game at the Trop and see for yourself. I believe if you go to a game, you'll want to go back, I have never regretted going out to a ballgame.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

Leave a Comment