In a recent letter to Stuart Sternberg, our very own Jordi Scrubbings expressed concern that the Rays are not doing enough to get fans to the ballpark. And now comes word that mayor Bill Foster may have accused the Rays of intentionally sabotaging attendance to better their position for a new stadium.
In a piece penned by David DeCamp and Michael Van Sickler of the St. Pete Times, the Pinellas County Commission Chairwoman recalled a conversation she had with Mayor Foster:
” ‘I believe that they are deliberately trying to hurt the team financially by not promoting it adequately,’” Latvala recalled Foster telling her.
Foster denied this allegation calling it “stupid” and “ludicrous.” However, he does acknowledge telling the Chairwoman that “he’s not seeing enough marketing by the Rays.”
But are the Rays intentionally sabotaging attendance? Probably not. But there is also evidence that they could be doing more to help.
Remember, a year ago we heard from Howard Bryant that Bud Selig “instructed Rays management not to make significant financial investments in the area until attendance indicators improve.” Marketing of the team would be one form of “investment in the area.”
This doesn’t mean the Rays are sabotaging attendance, but there are some that believe Major League Baseball has done this before. In another column by Bryant (a must read for any Rays fan), Bryant says MLB may have done the same thing with the Montreal Expos.
Talk to the people in Montreal who witnessed a careful succession of curious decisions that led to the depression and ultimate relocation of the Expos to Washington. Listen to the stories of how ownership did not market the club, how the team went as far as not providing street signage and directions to the ballpark in English as a way of discouraging attendance — an indirect strategy designed to facilitate a departure from town.
With the Rays, there is strange ticket pricing at Tropicana Field such as walk-up surcharges, complex tiered pricing, and stories of season-ticket holders being priced out of their seats despite a lack of demand.
But at the same time, the Rays may have the most extensive promotional schedule in Major League Baseball with giveaways and post-game concerts. And the team is still one of the most affordable in all of pro sports.
Like many things involving the Rays, you can probably find evidence on both sides of the issue if you look hard enough. So we will let you guys draw your own conclusions. But if the Rays are making decisions that hurt attendance, it means they are either incompetent or conniving. And it is hard to believe the Rays are ever incompetent.