Dear Stu,

You might not know me. My name is Michael Lortz (aka Jordi Scrubbings) and I write here occasionally. I have also shared a season ticket package with friends or owned my own season ticket package every year since 2008. I’ve probably been to approximately 100 Rays games since 2008 and consider Game 162 of the 2011 season as one of the greatest moments of my life as a baseball fan. You and your operations people have done a fantastic job of transforming the on-the-field product since you came aboard and I commend you for that.

But I am not writing you to talk about baseball. I am writing you in regards to your connection with the fan base. I’m writing you because as a concerned fan it appears not enough people enjoy your product like I do. I believe you and the Tampa Bay Rays organization are not capturing the hearts and minds of the Tampa Bay area as well as you should.

Before I begin, let me address the elephant in the room and the inspiration for this letter. I know you are often asked by members of the media about the lack of attendance. Few writers in the mainstream can talk about the Rays without talking about us, the fan base, and those comments and questions eventually reach you. That they repeatedly ask doesn’t bother me. What bothers me are your answers. You have often spoken in a detached manner about us. Maybe enough of us haven’t met your expectations. But that doesn’t mean those who do go to the games, who do buy the merchandise, who do watch telecasts regularly deserve to be lumped in with those whose hearts you haven’t yet won over.

How about telling the media that the Rays have “the greatest fans in the world”, even if you don’t think it’s true? Like a woman, we respond well to compliments. Hearing from you that not enough of us go to games and that you might eventually move the team if we don’t get our collective butts to the ballpark is like telling your wife her dress actually does makes her look fat. It might be true, but you shouldn’t say it.

Although I am not privy to your behind-the-scenes discussions with players, coaches, and other personnel, I doubt you talk about them in the manner you discuss us. Have you ever said publicly that if BJ Upton or Evan Longoria or even James Shields don’t perform up to your expectations they will be moved out of the Tampa Bay area? If you don’t talk about your employees like that, please don’t make those comments about those who are supposed to buy your product. You don’t attract bees with vinegar, Stu.

Second, I would like to talk to you about “Moneyball”.  As a baseball person, I’m sure you are familiar with the story and now movie of Billy Bean and the state of the Oakland A’s after the departure of Jason Giambi, our own Johnny Damon, and brief Rays pitcher Jason Isringhausen. I’m sure many of your baseball operations staff are also familiar with the story as well.

In Moneyball, the A’s front office realizes that regardless of where the runs come from, the goal is a cumulative amount of runs scored and to allow no greater than a lesser amount. Your goal, as I see it, is to make money. That is your bottomline, whether those dollars come from tickets, hot dogs, t-shirts, corporate funding, or advertising. According to Deadspin.com, in 2008 you needed 168 million in total operating costs. I am going to guess your bottomline goal in 2012 is close to, if not slightly over 175 million dollars. I am also going to guess it doesn’t matter where that money comes from. You could have 175 million fans paying one dollar or one fan who paid 175 million for an exclusive season.

This year you competed and won with a payroll at least 50% below average in your division. That is outstanding. Yet your attendance lagged in the bottom of the league. I’m sure you know the gory details, but over the last five years, the Rays have ranked 14th, 12th, 11th, 9th, and 13th in attendance in the American League. If you match those positions with the equivalent losses in the American League, that would be 96 (TB), 88 (Det), 87 (Tor), 81 (Det), and 95 (Sea). The average in the standings are equivalent to a team that loses 89 games a season.

Stu, I would think if the team was losing 90 games a season, you would look at and re-evaluate your baseball operations staff, and of course you did that. Now with you not wholly satisfied and the fan base not performing to your expectations, have you taken a deep look to see if your marketing staff is doing all it can? I know the Rays strive for that extra 2% on the ballfield, but unfortunately you are losing 19% in the stands. Your franchise preaches finding another way on the field, yet when it comes to marketing and promotions, you seem to run business as usual.

Although I am as much of a Marketing Expert as I am a Baseball Operations Expert, which is to say not much, I see the Rays applying different techniques in Player Development but seemingly employing the same tried techniques of Fan Development that all other teams do. I do not think with your current situation you can market the Rays as you would market the Yankees, the Dodgers, or the Cubs. Because of the Rays demographic environment, you can’t rely on the same methodology those teams rely on to attract fans. If you can win the AL Wild Card with a 50 million dollar budget, then you can also make your financial goals of a successful Major League Team with the obstacles in place in Tampa Bay. You just have to think differently.

I know baseball is baseball and that alone should be enough to draw fans. You are in the business of selling baseball entertainment and we are the buyers. The bottom line, however, is that you are not only in the business of putting a good team on the field and winning games, and while here in Tampa Bay you are also in the business of entertaining people. And to do that you must understand what is entertainment means to a Floridian.

Curious, I took a look at your Front Office page on the Rays website. There are at least 40 names in your baseball operations staff, yet there are only 10 in your Marketing and Community Relations. Ten. While you have several “baseball research and development” personnel, you have no “market and demographic analysis” folks in your marketing department. That strikes me as odd, considering your franchise’s current struggles.

While being a fan is not something you can measure statistically and hence use the same methodology of your baseball operations staff, I would like to see the Rays do more to increase passion in the team in 2012. While it is true you have done some creative individual promotions and you have captured a loyal and dedicated social media fanbase, I don’t think you have done everything possible to win the hearts and minds of Tampa Bay. Most importantly, you haven’t emphasized pride in being a Rays fan. You haven’t created a “Rays Family”.

You need to involve fans more in 2012 than you ever have. May I offer a few suggestions?

One: You could have a youtube-based contest for Biggest Rays Fan and Best Rays Family. Many talent shows on television do this and they are wildly successful. Maybe you could offer the winner some sort of season ticket package.

Second: You could capture .gifs of scoreboard shots and upload them on a Tumblr page. If you are not familiar with these web terms, I’m sure your marketing team is. Fans already enjoy seeing themselves on the scoreboard, why not let them download those short video captures to their personal blogs, website, Facebook, or Tumblrs?

Third: You could have a Ladies Night. Ladies Nights are familiar and successful in bars throughout the area and there is no reason why you couldn’t use the same idea. Perhaps ladies can buy walk up tickets for half off one Friday per month and can get half off alcohol and food until the fifth inning. Of course, there would be a two drink limit per customer per purchase.

Fourth: You could also experiment with more free nights. I know you had a ticket give-away night in 2010 that was very well attended. How about using that same strategy for a Tuesday game against a traditionally less-competitive opponent in the middle of July? The only stipulation is that all food or drink must be purchased at the stadium – fans are not allowed to bring in food or drink. If the goal is to make a certain amount of money per game, does it matter if the income comes from tickets or concessions? You might even do a lottery for free lower level seats.

Fifth: You could do more with other local entertainment venues. How about a Dali night with uniforms designed by a famous Dali-inspired artist recommended by the Dali Museum? I think it would be very interesting to see Dali-inspired scoreboard videos and player introductions.

You might also look at cross-promotion with Busch Gardens. Maybe even bring an elephant and a giraffe through Gate 6 and into centerfield after a game. You could do this on a Sunday along with a kids’ day. In turn, you could have some of the Rays players promote Busch Gardens.

Sixth: More cowbell. The cowbell has been sadly marginalized as a symbol of the Rays since 2009. While other teams are still waving their victory towels, the sound of cowbells has been decreasing in recent years. The cowbell made us original. It gave us a unique sound – something to rally around. And best of all, it drove the fan bases of other teams insane.

More than anything, we need to create a community of Rays fans. We need to celebrate the people that go to Tropicana Field, whether it’s everyday or once a year. We need to promote and rally around the characters of the Trop, whether they be the “Left, Right, Left, Right” folks far above home plate, the Cowbell Kid, or anyone else who wants to step to the plate to represent the Rays fanbase. Whereas we used to have “The Johnnies” for Johnny Gomes and the bare-chested Kazmir fans, we need to foster the creation of new characters. Maybe even discounted tickets for costumed fans.

In conclusion, Mr. Sternberg, I love your product. I love the Rays and I love going to the Trop. It is the home park for our local team and will be so for 2012 and in the immediate future. I want everyone else to love the Rays as much as I do. But I can’t do it myself. I need your help.

Thank you, best of luck this offseason, and see you in April,

Michael Lortz

Aka Jordi Scrubbings

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27 Comments

  1. Remy says:

    I think Mr. Lortz has pretty much encompassed the feelings of every Rays fan. Well done sir. Well done.

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  2. Gus says:

    Before he hires one person (and you are correct, they need to make a greater effort here, as lack of season tickets is the No. 2 reason Rays revenues aren't above average (bad local tv contract in by far the No. 1 reason)), he needs to be straight and say: our lease is our lease, we aren't going anywhere in the near term and we want to win the World Series with this team at the Trop. If he does that, people will come in greater numbers if the product is otherwise properly marketed and fairly priced. If he keeps playing the BS game pitting Tampa Bay communities against each other, he'll continue to struggle to sell season tickets. Why should anyone make a commitment to someone who won't make a commitment to them back.

    Human Relationships 101.

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  3. billy says:

    If I view Mr. Lortz' comments as a cover letter, it is one of the best I have ever seen. Don't be surprised if the Rays offer him employment.

    As far as the content goes, I disagree with one key point. I think the Rays have bent over backwards to accomodate and bring in fans. Free parking for several years--and limited free parking now, allowing food into the stadium, concerts, etc.

    There are a few big items out there that may or may not ever be resolved. One, is the scarcity of large companies headquartered here. It is difficult to get a big season-ticket base without large blocks of tickets going to various (and many) big companies. The second issue is that it takes time--decades or longer--to build an individual fan base. Based on the first (major-league) Rays' game being played in 1998, the oldest "born a Rays' fan" fans are 13 years old. Compare that to lifelong Yankees, Phillies, Bosox, Cardinals, etc. fans who are in their 60s, 70s, and 80s...

    I have also seen firsthand the generosity of the Rays' organization towards a cause near and dear to my heart. The people I have worked with inside the Rays' organization have been truly a pleasure to work with.

    Nobody knows how everything will ultimately be resolved, and what will happen with our beloved Rays. And, yes it is frustrating to hear some of the things that have been said. But, I disagree with the the assessment of Mr. Lortz, that not enough is being done in the marketing and community relations areas. The Rays have not only put a great product on the field, but they have also made great progress in making it a great fan experience--and they have been a wonderful community partner by helping schools, little leagues, and various other worthwhile causes.

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  4. zenny says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Jordi's premise. Stu's comments about attendance over the past few seasons (especially the ones right after the Rays were knocked out of the playoffs this year) have caused much resentment among die-hard Rays fans. Dismissing / insulting your fans is NOT a good way to keep them coming back, much less put more butts in the seats.

    However, I gotta say that Jordi's promotion ideas.... need a little work. Let's leave it at that.

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  5. KPM says:

    AMEN! A friend sent this to me saying, "I thought that you had written this article!" I have been saying this for two years now! Awesome letter, spot on!

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  6. Beth says:

    1 vote for ladies' night! Although I've always wondered about the legality of those promotions.....

    Gus, I got to disagree with you here. Keep the marketing conversations and the lease negotiating conversations separate.

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    • Gus says:

      Other MLB organizations do Ladies Nights and Guys Nights Out. Usually on Mondays and Tuesdays. Totally legal.

      When is comes to season ticket packages -- these are huge $ commitments from fans -- there is no way to seperate the lease/stadium discussions. The majority of the rays season ticket holders live in Pinellas County. It is natural for them to like the place they live. If Sternberg declares their hometown unfit for baseball, eventually they'll tell him to screw off. This has been his strategy for the last 2 seasons. There is no rational explantion for the timing, tone and substance of his comments in 2010-11 if you are a man who wants to sell season tickets in the near term. He has to know that blaming the fans for the Rangers series loss is (a) a cheap shot, considering his crappy TV package v. the Rangers awesome TV package and (b) salt in the wounds of real people who were really hurting. It was, in my view, the worst piece of ownership behavior we've seen in Tampa Bay in a long time.

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  7. Michael says:

    What a load of crap. Nothing but more excuses, it's always someone else's fault. Bottom line: this is not a very good area for Major League Baseball at this time.

    I don't blame Stu one bit for wanting to get the heck out of here. This place sucks.

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  8. William says:

    [comment removed at request of author]

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    • Beth says:

      William, you say "we are in the community almost every day of the year." So should we assume you actually work with the Rays marketing department?

      If not, it's an odd use of the word "we."

      If so, I really do fear for the future of our franchise.

      It's fine for you to point out that some of the marketing strategies here would be hard to pull off.

      But to use an anonymous post to denigrate the fans who are your marketing targets is very unproductive and even destructive. Also, if you are indeed a Rays marketing person, I'm dismayed to see how poorly you write. I would hope the Rays' marketing department could do a lot better than this.

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    • MarkE says:

      William (aka Stu), Mike Lortz mentions one particular very good, very productive and very "free" marketing suggestion: the owner should cease and desist his divisive banter to the national media about the lousy Tampa Bay area and its fans. That, and that alone, in my opinion, is responsible for the majority of drop in attendance these past two years.

      You make it sound like you work in the marketing team for the Rays. If you do, I share Beth's same fears. It would appear that, like with Longo and Price's comments in 2010, the owner's negativity about his own fans has trickled down to the employees.

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    • Tom says:

      "A lot of the fans in this area just aren’t great fans, you can’t really change people like that. I was at game 162, it was amazing I stayed for the whole thing. But it was absolutely pathetic how many people left that game early. "

      I was at the game and was surprised how many fans stayed. I remember in the 5th game of the ALCS when the Red Sox made an amazing comeback against the Rays and they were showing all the "faithful" Red Sox fans streaming out of Fenway when the Rays had a huge lead. I would also be willing to bet that most of the fans who left during game 162 were Yankee fans.

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      • Sarah says:

        Good point! On the rare occasions I got to the Trop to see the Yankees play the Rays, the stadium is about 30% or more filled with Yankees fans (and by the way, I don't see that as a sign of the lousy Rays fans -- we Rays fans are unlikely to pay double for the privilege of watching the Yankees -- we are just as happy to come the next day and pay a more reasonable price to watch the Rays vs the Orioles). I was there for game 162, and indeed I saw many Jeter jerseys heading to the exits by the 7th inning. I don't even blame them -- their team was comfortably ahead and the game meant nothing to them.

        But even if some Rays fans left, I still don't appreciate "William's" suggestion that this means we are all "bad fans." Nearly 30,000 came out on a weeknight and paid prime prices. That game took forever -- Girardi was changing pitchers after every 2 batters -- so if I recall even in the 7th inning it was already about 10pm. Heck, I would have left at that point but I was too depressed to move.

        First William is unhappy that fans aren't willing to pay to attend a game; then he berates people who paid prime rates but left before midnight.

        If William really works for the Rays, we're all in trouble. Imagine having a marketing staff that scornful of their customers?

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      • krewezer says:

        Tom. I was at game 162 as well, and from my perspective, most of the fans who left early were Yankee fans. There was also an obnoxious and foul-mouthed Bosox fan who left, spouting drunken obscenities, just before (!) the 6 run rally. Early in the game, there was a lot of cheering when NY scored, but at the end, it looked like everyone left were Rays fans. And I agree with Jordi, it was the greatest sports experience I have ever attended!

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    • KPM says:

      William,

      Excuses are for LOSERS!!!! It's not working; go back to the drawing board. It's easy to put your guard up and say, "we are doing all we can!" You can do less and be more successful. Don't take this as a shot, take it as Rays fans trying to help!

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  9. Rg says:

    William is a work!

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  10. Ro says:

    The games against the Yankees cost more? Yikes. I was going to try and Fly out from AZ for opening weekend, but not if those tickets will cost more since it's the Yankees.

    If I ever move from AZ, I'm moving to wherever the Rays are.

    As usual, great piece! I hope Stu reads.

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  11. Rome says:

    Nice read. I would suggest that the Rays offered coupons to school kids. Have Raymond appear at local elementary and middle schools. Build from within. Try BOGO coupons or something to that effect.

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  12. Raysfan137 says:

    The content can be debated, but the overall message to Stu is spot on. I have full season tickets for my family and miss less than 10 games a year. But I feel disconnected and alienated by constant comments from Stu, the media, and MLB. I just re-read "The Extra 2%" and it struck me that currently Stu is being very Naimoli like in dealing with the attendance issue. Of course I'm not comparing the two. But the bottom line is, Stu and Rays management are not giving me a reason to spread my passion for attending Rays games to others in the community like a virus other than threatening to move. I would be sad if that happened, but someone else in the community will get my $20K+ in revenue and I will move on.

    We have a core, albeit small, group of passionate and dedicated fans. Stu needs to figure out how to make the passion spread like a virus. Threatening to move and complaining every time a mic is in front of your face merely suppresses that passion, for me at least. I draw it in and want protect myself from getting hurt, just as I would if I was afraid a girl didn't like me in middle school. I'm certainly not going to where my passion on my sleeve and attempt to spread it around if all I hear is pessimism around me.

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  13. Sarah says:

    I agree very much with Raysfan137, above. (Although in fairness to Stu and co: they did invest $$ to upgrade the Trop several years ago -- I've been thinking about this because Vinik has been getting such great press for spending $30 million on the Forum, but I believe the Rays spent closet to that, also their own money, renovating Tropicana Field either in 2007 or 2008, and that seems to have been forgotten).

    Now, this is off topic but I don't know where else to post it: Did anyone else notice all the cheering for the Cardinals at Rangers stadium last night? I had read someplace that many older residents have remained Cardinals fans since the days before there was a DFW baseball team. But somehow the Fox broadcasters saw no need to comment on this or point their cameras at clusters of Cardinals fans in a way that cast aspersions on the dedication of Rangers fans.

    Now imagine that had been a playoff game at the Trop and there was similarly loud support for the Yankees? Wouldn't we be hearing yet another round of conversation about the weak Rays' fan base?

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  14. Don says:

    I have said since the beginning of time, a big part of the Rays attendance problem is the Rays themselves ,they do not know how to take their product to (this ) market...marketing & sales is the answer to their problem...for example....
    Let Indian casino people, which is really professional gambling (Las VEgas marketing people) build a casino and entertainment complex at the trop location and it will be filled every night.. the baseball stadium included...
    WHy is that??? How can they do that? Think about it Stuie how is that possible?

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  15. Cas says:

    Sorry but you are riding the wrong horse. You need to levy the charge to the St Pete mayor and the rest of the tampa bay political leadership.
    Stu has done his part in putting a quality baseball team and management staff on the field. The local political and community leadership need to do the same and get the people to the park. The local leadership needs to get the corporate support and put a decent field enviornment and facility where it can attract and accomodate the community. . . or else they will lose it to somewhere that is willing to do that. Believe me, if they don't do that soon you will all be rooting for the Yankees or the Red Sox on TV.

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  16. Danny says:

    MY GOD, NO COWBELL

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