The Rays have an attendance problem. Most people outside of the Bay Area blame that problem on a lack of fan support. However, there has been some speculation recently that the Rays attendance numbers would look much better if they received the same amount of corporate support that other teams receive.

The case goes like this: In their final report, The ABC Coalition noted that for every two season-tickets the Rays sell to regular fans, they sell one season-ticket to a business. However, the average in Major League Baseball is actually four corporate season-tickets for every two season-tickets sold to fans.

In other words, one-third of all Rays season tickets are sold to businesses while the MLB average is two-thirds.

Toby David of 1010 Sports speculated that the Rays have a season-ticket base of 9,000. That would mean 6,000 season-tickets are purchased by fans and 3,000 purchased by businesses. If the Rays were selling the typical amount of tickets to corporations (twice as many as fans), the Rays should actually be selling 12,000 season-tickets to businesses, or 9,000 more tickets per game than what they are selling now.

In other words, if the Rays continued to receive the same support from fans, but the corporate support was the same as what other teams receive, Rays attendance would be about 29,000 per game. That would be 15th in Major League Baseball, and all of a sudden the talking heads no longer have anything to bitch about.

John Romano of TampaBay.com used a lower number, speculating that the season-ticket base is actually 6,000 (4,000 fans, 2,000 corporate). Using his numbers, businesses should actually be buying 8,000 season-tickets, or 6,000 more than they are now. That would make the Rays attendance about 26,000 per game, 18th in baseball. Still pretty good.

The arguments are sound. But there might be a problem. First of all, we don’t know what the season-ticket sales look like now. The Rays have never released the numbers. But more importantly, we may be placing too much trust in the numbers from The ABC Coalition.

The ABC group was tantalizingly vague when they presented their research…

Typically, two-thirds of MLB season tickets are purchased by corporations and one-third by individuals…However, only one-third of the Rays’ current season ticket holders are corporate, in reverse proportion to the typical MLB team. If the rays total season-ticket base were at MLB average levels, ticket revenue would not be a significant problem.

First of all, where did this information come from? Considering the Rays have never released their season-ticket sales figures, the ABC group either went seat-to-seat at the Trop, or they got the numbers from the Rays or Major League Baseball. That raises a red flag.

But more importantly, what are the actual numbers, and how were they compiled?

In the above statement, the ABC group uses the word “typically” and later says “average.” Those two things are not necessarily the same. In fact, we would be surprised if they were the same.

Hypothetically, let’s say the ABC group weren’t just told this by somebody in Major League Baseball (the lack of actual data suggest they were). Let’s say they had the actual hard data. The data are going to be heavily influenced by the big-market teams whose season-tickets, and corporate support, dwarf other teams. Teams like the Yankees and Mets. Their numbers may be so high, that the average is actually much higher than what is “typical.”

And if the numbers are indeed skewed towards the big-market clubs, then “typical” corporate support for small- and mid-market teams might actually be much less than the 2-to-1 ratio of support presented by the ABC Coalition.

So let’s split the two figures proposed earlier and say the Rays have a season-ticket base of 7,500. That would be 5,000 tickets purchased by fans and 2,500 by businesses. Now let’s guess that the typical ratio in a non-big-market city is 1-to-1. That means the Rays should be selling 2,500 more tickets, which would raise their average attendance to 22,500, 25th in baseball.

And all of a sudden it doesn’t seem like that big of a difference.

This doesn’t mean David or Romano are wrong, or that our numbers are any better. And we can all agree that the Rays lack of corporate support does hurt attendance.

Our point is only that we don’t know how much better attendance would be, because the ABC group was very vague with their presentation. And we have a feeling that the ABC group was vague because the people who gave them the information were also vague.

It is our experience that when people are vague it is either because they think their audience is dumb, or they are hiding something. Take your pick.

 
 

31 Comments

  1. Matt says:

    I think they probably just guessed on the numbers.

    But what you neglected to talk about it the value in dollars of said tickets. While an average fan’s ticket is likely to be on the lower-end dollar-wise, the average corporate ticket is likely going to a a more expensive club-level ticket.

    In today’s sports world, corporations buying up the club-level tickets is really what drives team’s revenue. That’s why every new stadium built has more club-level tickets than the one it replaced.

    The Rays do have a HUGE problem getting corporate sponsorships, and a big part of that is that most of the large corporations in the area are in Tampa and only about half of the remaining ones in Pinellas county are actually in St. Pete.

    The fact of the matter is that when a corporation looks to buy tickets they likely think:
    1) Bucs, because football is king
    2) Lightning, because it’s right in downtown Tampa
    3) Rays

    Moving to Tampa will at least get the Rays on the level of the Lightning, and perhaps make them able to compete a little with the Bucs.

    I agree that the article quoted is weak because of a lack of solid numbers, but I still think the overall point of the article stands: the Rays do suffer because of their low corporate sponsorship.

    • Cork Gaines says:

      I think you are absolutely right, and so was the ABC Coalition. It certainly wasn’t my intention to downplay the importance of corporate support. My point was just to address the attendance number which is the only thing the national media sees and that the attendance problem is just as much a corporate problem as much as it is a fan problem. maybe moreso.

      • Matt says:

        Understood, and I agree.

        And to Mike’s comment below, no, there is no way a corporate bump would bring in 9,000 a night. But it might bring in half that, with those tickets costing as much as 9,000 ‘regular’ seats might cost.

        Add in an extra 4,500/night corporate seats and 4,500/night regular fan seats (because of a Tampa location) and then you’re talking about a good attendance situation.

        • Pablo says:

          Cut the present attendance in half, down to 4,500, add in your 9,000 and you have 13,500, not really that much of a gain, certainly not enough to warrant spending $150,000,000.00 for a new stadium.

  2. Mike Moore says:

    interesting. This is only a guess, but as a season-ticket holder and as a local business owner, I would say that your guess is the low end and TD’s guess is the high end and that the real number is somewhere in the middle. Without a doubt there would be a bump in Tampa. I’m just not sure the bump would be on the level of 9000 tickets a night.

  3. Jordi says:

    And this is of course economics driven. A depressed economy will lower corporate ability to buy season tickets. And location. Companies in Brandon won’t buy tickets to a Rays game. It’s too far away. Maybe moving to Tampa might limit the Bradenton market though?

    I wonder what the Rays numbers are on one-time corporate outings as well.

  4. Sledge says:

    I have always believed that the lack of business support was the issue and that it would prove significantly better in Tampa. No offense to St. Pete residents is intended, as this is actually a statement that says the regular fan IS supporting the team enough. However, what troubles me is that the Rays management knows these numbers inside and out yet continue to complain about lack of fan support. If they know that their support from business was upside down compared to the rest of MLB, why would they complain about fan support?

    • Matt says:

      Because local fan support isn’t great as well. The fact of the matter is that there are a much larger percentage of people who can financially afford to attend the Rays game in Tampa as opposed to St. Pete. St. Pete isn’t exactly the richest community in the area.

      • Gus says:

        The fact of the matter is you don’t know what you are talking about.

        http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/12/12057.html

        Per Capita income in Pinellas County (I couldn’t find census data by cities) is $28,872 v. Hillsborough’s $27,252. Poverty rate is 13.3% in Pinellas v. 15.2% in Hillsborough. So it isn’t a “much larger percentage” of people who can financially afford a Rays game in greater Tampa over greater St. Pete. The two sides are more similar than they are different, despite perceptions.

        Over the past 15 years the Rays have been well-supported by the people of St. Petersburg, Pinellas County and Bradenton. It is the rest of the area that has decided to watch them on TV (nothing wrong with that, of course).

        Hillsborough is slightly larger and has a slightly larger corporate base (albeit one that is already supporting the Buccaneers and the Lightning). Any move there would see a bump in support but a corresponding dip in support from the loyal folks in Pinellas who have supported a sub-standard product for the vast majority of the franchise’s existence and would justifiably feel wronged by the Rays ditching a valid contract.

        • Matt says:

          Damn, way to take it personally. Maybe I didn’t state it correctly.

          There aren’t a ton of wealthy people in either St. Pete or Tampa, true. However, in Tampa, you’re going to be drawing from a much larger base. Plus, if it’s downtown Tampa, there are going to be a larger number of professionals who can work, have a bite to eat, and head to the game. Downtown St. Pete has much less of this.

          The more affluent population in Pinellas county is in Clearwater, Countryside, and Palm Harbor. And there is no good way to quickly travel from Countryside (for example) down to the Trop: it’s no closer than a majority of Tampa because you’re stuck on U.S. 19.

          Of course you’re right, moving to Tampa will decrease a lot of the Pinellas support. But it will be more than made up by the new Hillsborough fan support.

          • Sarah says:

            And I would add to that — we’re talking about finding a location that is convenient to strong markets for years to come, not just today. Pinellas county is almost entirely built out — while there could be some modest population growth as older areas are redeveloped more intensively, realistically the region’s population growth will be outside of Pinellas. So the current location may be even more removed from population centers and centers of strong buying power 10 – 20 years from now.

        • Matt says:

          One more note: I’m not a Tampa fan boy. I live in St. Pete. It’s much more convenient FOR ME if they stay where they are. I’m just being realistic.

          Absolutely the ONLY location in Pinellas that makes sense is right by I-275 near the bridge. That would allow those from Tampa to make a short trip over as well as those from North Pinellas County. Unfortunately, the road infrastructure would have to be much improved to make this viable.

  5. Michael says:

    I think this corporate thing is a smart analysis and missing link for the Rays. No idea what the problem is or the answer is though.

  6. Bobby Fenton says:

    Gotta make sure we don’t lose that precious Bradenton “market”! /sarcasm

    • Beth says:

      I chuckled at that, too.

      • Gus says:

        Giggle at Bradenton all you want, but the No. 1 corporate sponsor of the Rays (Tropicana) is from Bradenton and the No. 1 fan (Vitale) is from Bradenton and there is lots of money down there and they much prefer having something to spend their $ on, and the Trop is just in their range (whereas Tampa is just more of a haul). Plus, the Bradenton paper covers the crap out of the Rays (Rays beat writer Roger Mooney had lots more space to write with when he wrote for the Bradenton Herald than he does now with the Tampa Tribune). Good fans there.

  7. Pablo says:

    There is one point everyone seems to be missing, and that is that, if the Rays move to Tampa, they will probably lose 50%, or more, of the season/corporate ticket holders they now have, and at least 50% of the single seat sales they now enjoy. True, Tampa/Hillsborough probably has a larger population, and bigger and wealthier corporate base, as well as being closer to the Lakeland and other outlying areas, but the loss of Pinellas fans would make any overall gain negligible. Let’s face it, people from Pinellas won’t drive to Tampa in any great numbers, and Hillsborough residents won’t drive to the Trop in downtown St. Pete, never have, never will. We kid ourselves that we are one, single market but in reality, that bay is like a huge brick wall seperating us, with only a couple of small doors to get through.

    A winning team will garner them attendance, and only a winning team. You could build them the greatest, plushest, snazzest, best located stadium on the west coast of Florida, and no one would go there to watch them lose. If they produced a winning team for the next 20 – 30 years, that would fill the Trop consistantly, even in an occasional off year. By then they would have proved they need, and deserve, a new stadium, and the Trop would be totally worn out anyway. The Rays management has the cart before the horse. They want to get paid first (a new stadium), and perform (?????) later. Wish I could get a job like that!

    • Beth says:

      Many Hillsborough residents currently drive to Tropicana Field to see games, and many Pinellas County residents will drive to a stadium in Tampa to see games. To suggest this is an entirely zero-sum equation is ridiculous.

      Also, the problem with the Trop’s location isn’t just that it is in Pinellas, but it’s on the southern tip of Pinellas. Some of the alternative locations discussed are in Pinellas (e.g. the Carrilon (sp?) area near the Frankland Bridge) would be more central than St. Pete; moreover I would imagine that people in Safety Harbor or Tarpon Springs would find a Westshore or downtown Tampa location about as convenient as they find the southern tip of Pinellas.

      I think this “Pinellas vs. Hillsborough” face-off gets exaggerated by political leaders and perpetuated by very impassioned advocates on blogs like these. I think most fans are less invested in this argument. The idea that droves of St. Pete residents will boycott games played elsewhere just out of spite is probably 1. false, and 2. irrelevant.

      • Gus says:

        Boycott is too strong a word. But they will lose attendance from Pinellas and gain some from Hillsborough just by natural proximity (Lightning experienced it when they moved), but it is at the margins, so it isn’t the answer to the ticket revenue “problem”. In exchange for Polk County increases, you probably would lose almost all of your Bradenton-Sarasota support (I doubt anybody in Hillsborough writes a check to the Rays bigger than Vitale for season tickets, and I know that my season ticket section had several folks from south of the Bay over the years; I can’t recall meeting a Hillsborough season ticket holder although I am sure they were around).

        The location is a red herring. The location was fine 3 years ago when the 2% crowd wanted a new stadium at Al Lang. The thing that frosts most of us long-timers is that they are using the stadium issue in bad faith to drive a wedge into the area — the threat to move to Tampa to get a new stadium from Pinellas — and that is an old wound we should be past. The stadium isn’t the real reason they aren’t drawing. The economy, the horrible, cheaply-run franchise that the D-Rays/Rays have been for most of their existence, the Yankees footprint in Tampa. These are all major reasons that it took years for the Rays to take root. As Pablo says, these guys want to get $500M stadium for free off of one trip to the World Series. Prove it over a period of time, let the Trop pay off its debts and you’ll get your new stadium. By then you’ll have more growth (hopefully) in the area, and you can locate in the best possible location (which may well be the Trop parking lot).

        In the interim, this is all garbage. Field a major league team with some kind of reasonable payroll, you cheapskates wasting the primes of Longoria-Price-Zobrist should be a baseball felony. They use the stadium stuff to blame the people for their ridiculous profit-taxing and explotation of MLB revenue-sharing. It is the old okey-dokey, as Obama likes to say.

        We as a fan base — even folks who live in Tampa — shouldn’t fall for it. It is wrong and immoral to walk out on the team’s lease with the people. Moreover, having a low-cost stadium should allow them to plow revenue back into the payroll and improve the team, and not finance increased costs associated with a new stadium. I’d much rather have been a Rays fan the last 5 years going to games at the Trop than be a Nationals or Pirates fan in fancy new ballparks where the prodcut is terrible. Saddled with new stadium costs would make this team even worrse.

        • Beth says:

          Your points are all well taken, and I’d agree with you if baseball were a civic function. Then accountability to your fan base would be imperative, walking away from a lease would indeed be “immoral”, and we could vote the bums out if we didn’t like their performance (the ownership’s that is). But baseball is a business in the worst possible way. Owners get to profit, but don’t face the real pressures of competition — if we want to have local major league baseball at all we are stuck with whoever MLB throws our way (or left with no team at all). It’s sort of the worst of capitalism and the worst of communism all rolled together.

          So, if you want to start a movement to make baseball teams into municipal or civic assets (Green Bay Packers style), I’m with you. But if it’s just “I’m shocked, shocked to learn that our ownership group only cares about profits” then I’m just going to shrug. It’s part of the entertainment business – if you are entertained then go to games, if you are not entertained stay home.

          • Ryan says:

            @Gus Well said, thank you.

            @Beth I agree with you, except their expensive hobby is paid for on the backs of taxpayers. They signed a contract, they have to honor it. Slinging mud at their fans, the ballpark they financed and the city that hosts it all isn’t a good strategy for getting people to ball games. I live minutes away and work mere blocks from the stadium, I talk to the fans and I talk to the local fixtures. None of whom are impressed in the least by the continued posturing of the ownership. Fewer and fewer of them want to waste their money on it. Sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy Sternberg has created for himself.

            If they want to go build their own stadium, then more power to them. But they don’t. They want us to build them one. Well, they’ve got one already which, despite ESPN’s tiresome lack of professionalism and integrity, is just fine.

          • Gus says:

            I agree, and that’s why attendance is an ownership problem, not a government problem. Get fans in the seats. Supply and demand. Their job. Not Bob Buckhorn’s or Bill Foster’s job to do that.

            Businesses dealings the world over are based on contracts. We the taxpayers have performed our end of the bargain. MLB needs to fullfill their end. If that means 30 years of a team with the lowest payroll in the league, than that is baseball failing our market, not our market failing baseball as Cork was quoting the other day.

            Never — not one day — as a Rays fan have I not had to worry about ownership wanting to be competitive and having the resources to compete. It has been a cheap organization from the day the City gave the Naimoli group $85M to outfit the stadium and it was squandered/misspent/stolen by the team. That was our money that wasn’t spent correctly. Sternberg inherited all of that, but he had instant equity buying the team that was in MLB’s version of a foreclosure, so that is both a blessing and a curse.

  8. Michelob says:

    Many of you have very good perspectives on the Rays issues. I believe that these are of significant importance:

    1. The owners of the Rays have put the “cart before the horse,” in that they want fans to support the product on the field NO MATTER what it is. They bought this team thinking they were going to make money, no matter what type of product they provided? Time and time again, it has been shown that fans will come when they have a winner to watch. Yes, I understand the Rays have been winning lately, but, we spent a whole year last season hearing how the team would be blown up after the season, and many popular players would be gone. Who wants to support a team whose owners clearly do not care what the fans want? The current owners need to spend the money to pay for the players who will insure we have a chance to go to the playoffs every season, and to also insure we keep those players around. Then, attendance will never be an issue. Look at the Bucs and Lightning — once they were consistent winners, tickets were scarce.
    2. The current owners seem to think that fans should provide major league support to what amounts to be a mainly AAA team. And, then they criticize the very fans they need.
    3. Moving the Rays to a new stadium in Tampa will have mixed results. The reasons for that are: 1) Many St. Petersburg fans will not travel over there. 2) There are too many people from New York, New England, Chicago, etc., who take advantage of and enjoy all the benefits our state offers, but who will not spend a dime in this community to support our local teams. My God, just go to any bagel shop and listen to people from New York who complain about everything here and then say how “everything is better in New York.” I have got news for all you New Yorkers: life in New York SUCKS. It is horrible to live there, and that is why all of you are HERE. If everything is so great in New York, GO BACK. We don’t want you or need you here.
    4. It is absolutely outrageous and disgusting that there is a sign on I-4 as you come into Tampa that says, “Welcome to Tampa, Spring Home of The New York Yankees.” Tampa needs to get rid of the Yankees, who are no longer welcome anywhere in this area.

    • Don says:

      What you cowboys (don’t like to be called morons) don’t understand the Rays are NOT welcome in Tampa, you think the local Hillsb. politicians are going to give up Steinbrenner family and the Yankees you are stupid..
      If you don’t believe me ask PAM Irio..about the “‘support” over the years…they have got from Geo., THere is NO money in that County for the RAYS……NO MATTER WHAT bUCKY SAYS IN PUBLIC….PERIOD

  9. Amanda says:

    1010′s a bit late to the party if this is the first time they’re talking about the lack of corporate season tickets a cause for poor attendance. Here’s the Trib talking about corporate season tickts last year:

    http://beta2.tbo.com/sports/breaking-news-sports/2010/apr/26/attendance-still-under-microscope-winning-rays-ar-48612/

    “We’ve written a lot in The Tampa Tribune and on TBO.com about the lack of corporate season tickets for the Rays, and that’s huge. The Rays actually do reasonably well with walk-up crowds, but they fall far behind in the corporate area. ”

    And I’ve heard all of the guys (morning and evening) on 620 talking about corporate season tickets all this season.

  10. Kelsey says:

    I think we would have more corporate support if a stadium was in Tampa. There is def money in Tampa. Of course not the kind of money like in NY but compared to majority of the other stadium locations there is. Take the lightning for example, being in downtown they get lots of corporations buying tickets and boxes then giving them to clients and what not. Going to lightning games you can see that a lot of people there just came from working downtown and buy some over priced beer and dinner then half watch some hockey and socialize. Not saying I would enjoy having a bunch of people who do not even know whats going on to be at the Rays games but I have already seen that in St Pete. Lets face it, a good majority of people going to sporting events do not even really know whats going on or watch regularly. That being said whatever we can do to get more people to come to the games would be good. I believe being close to downtown a lot more corporations would buy season tickets and boxes. Boxes are where a lot of the revenue comes from and thats a big thing the Rays are lacking. I also think there are other factors having to do with some of the Rays issues but this is just what I think would help :)

  11. Conchefritter says:

    I’ve been in FL 25 years, so I’m a quasi-cracker, have lived in Tampa and now St Pete for over 15 years. My take (former business writer, love baseball):
    1-The Rays were cynically used by baseball owners when our area was jockeying for a MLB team in the 70s (and rivalry between St Pete and Tampa). The Rays, before they existed, built two new ballparks, in Arlington TX and Chicago’s South Side–both teams were slated to move down here. SP beat Tampa, building a (now-derided) publicly-financed, enclosed ballpark. No expansion team, by the way, was awarded until 3 years after it was built.
    2-The Tampa Bay MSA, although 13th largest in the USA, is weirdly large and in area with a big bay in the middle of it (Imagine SF-Oakland as one market). And. These are not traditional “cities”: Tampa grew up as a somewhat corrupt port city and rail center; SP is even weirder in that its first 75 years were essentially swindling winter visitors with land “deals”. Neither were ever robust financial services/manufacturing centers. Both are obviously more diverse today, but TBay doesn’t have generations of fans who grew up with a home team and its history in a ballpark a la NYC, Chicago, StL, even KC, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, others. We’re not even into generation two–and generation one of baseball fans grew up cheering for another team (and remember how bad the Devil Rays were before the past 5 years).
    3-TBay lacks the large, well-entrenched corporate base with a long record in the area. Corporate season ticket-buying ratio for baseball is more typically 2-1, Corp-individual. It’s the reverse in Tampa Bay (flip that ratio, with the current base of individual buyers, and average “paid” attendance is over 25,000–not great, but not a joke). No reason to believe this changes, new ballpark or not, regardless of where it’s built.
    4-No way Tampa/Hillsborough County devote significant taxpayer dollars to a new stadium. They are already sitting on what many believe the absolute worst publicly-funded stadium deal ever–Raymond James for the Bucs. Not only do the Glaziers take virtually all revenue (including non-NFL), they secured development rights around the stadium. It was the biggest capital project in Hillsborough County history; it’s unlikely they’ll get swindled again. And. Don’t forget: despite the glossy stuff from owners/”consultants”–the real economic impact of a professional sports team in a community is … roughly equivalent to that of a new medium-size strip mall (adds little for jobs/expansion; mostly just shifts discretionary spending to sports from something else people like to do). Build it if you like sports and want to subsidize it but … it ain’t no engine of economic growth. Never has been.

    Last: It will never happen, but Sternberg, while a shrewd owner (and with one of the best top-to-bottom baseball organizations) should sue MLB over the anti-trust exemption from congress. It’s a stupid relic from a corrupt era. Then he’d, say, move the Rays to … . Brooklyn! Re-name it the Rogers. He’d draw 3 million year one. Where else will he move the team if even he could escape a pretty lock-down deal with Tropicana Field? Charlotte? Portland? Las Vegas? Nah. I’d miss the Rays but … NYC with half the population of today once supported three teams. If the Rays have to go … piss off the Yankees and Mets. That would be the only cool outcome … I’ll miss ‘em …

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