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.

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16 Comments

  1. Michael says:

    Well one thing is certain, their commercials are lame and seem to be only on Sunsports, not really getting out to the casual fan.

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  2. Michael says:

    More lame B.S. excuses trying to shift blame away from the real problem.

    Not trying hard enough to sell season tickets? I called the Rays *once* to purchase 50 seats for a group event for my job three years ago. Since then I've been contacted by the Rays sales staff I'd say at least 15 times over the past three years trying to get me to buy some type of season ticket package.

    Not enough advertising on billboards or the radio or whatever? Has the Mayor considered something like diminishing returns? Maybe the Rays have done a cost-benefit analysis and seen that for example an extra $5 million in ads returns significantly less than $5 million in additional revenue? How many people really need a freaking billboard to make them aware of the fact that we have an MLB team playing 81 home games a year in St Pete?

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  3. SeanDubbs says:

    The Rays made the playoffs and couldn't sell out both home games of the series. That has nothing to do with marketing, that's just people not being able to afford tickets.

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    • Steve says:

      Check your facts, the Rays have sold out the last 13 home playoff games. The issue with game 4 of the ALDS was the 2pm start time, I think that had a lot to do with the empty seats that were seen, but its not like it was half empty and the game was officially a sell out. The problem is not enough corporate support in the form of season tickets.

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  4. Gus says:

    The biggest issue for Rays attendance (which is the #2 franchise problem -- well behind their pitiful local broadcasting contract) is season ticket sales. Partial. Full. Whatever. This is the long-term commitment between the team and its customers.

    The Rays have been both unlucky (Sept. 2008 global economic collapse coinciding with their greatest moment) and managing self-inflicted wounds in managing the season ticket base in the years since. They need first to get to a criticial mass (12-15K season ticket equivalents) so that it is rational to buy season tickets. As it stands, I can buy any ticket I want for any game I want. To get to a critical mass, you have to really reward your season ticket holders year in year out. Commitment to winning, not taking years off. Value. The pluarality of these season ticket holders are Pinellas County residents. You need to come to some level of peace with their government and the facility you play in. As long as you are threatening that the team will "vaporize", why invest your heart and soul with that team? It has to start there.

    The recent comments by Maddon and the news about Friedman is the first I can recall of people on the team actually embracing the area. It is the best sports story in American sports in the last 25 years. We should rejoice the little team that could. But for too long, it has been guys who seem to be at a bus stop on their way somewhere else. If Sternberg can do that, figure out a way to say I want a new stadium long term but I plan on nver moving the team away from Tampa Bay, he will see great progress in the marketing. If he doesn't, he is effectively sabatoging any real progress in season tickets and hence attendence overall. It is up to him, not the dopey mayor, or the citizens. He needs to commit. Otherwise this is a relationship with an uncertain future for both sides.

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  5. Andy says:

    Kudos on some very good comments!! One thing that the Rays contend with that no other team in MLB does, except the Marlins, is the challenge of converting local fans to change their initial allegiance to a team from the North to the great Team by the Bay!!! Being originally from Chicago, it took me a few years to convert my allegiances to the White Sox, Bears & Blackhawks to the Rays, Bucs & Lightning. Though I've lived many other places, my favorite teams remained those in Chicago. Finally settling in the Bay area, I didn't start considering a change until the Bucs became so exciting to watch that I couldn't resist rooting for them. Once that ice was broken, the rest followed more easily. As anyone who knows me can attest, I'm now a die-hard Rays fan!!! However, many others have continued to hang on to their initial allegiances :(

    Something that makes this harder is the frequency w/which they can see their preferred teams, if they're from Boston, NY or Toronto (as many are) since we share the same division. A more balanced schedule would help this but I'm not holding my breath for that.

    Another thing is the prevalence of minor league teams w/in a 30 mile radius which feed some of those same big-league preferences. The Tampa Yankees is the most egregious to me b/c they're a division rival & have a stadium in a prime location in the area (where the Rays' home should be, imo!!). But the Clearwater Phillies, Dunedin Blue Jays & Lakeland Tigers are all in the TB area, with the Ft. Myers Twins lurking nearby as well. No other team contends w/this, including the Marlins!!!

    Now, I'm not saying that a minor league game can compete w/a MLB game; not in the least!! But it can serve to feed the original allegiances some have much like the White Sox spring training team in Sarasota once did for me (got to see Michael Jordan play there!!). Some creative marketing directed toward this issue might help the Rays overcome some of these challenges. But, I've not heard anyone bring this up.

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  6. Joe says:

    All good answers and comments. My thing and real problem is that the Rays have INCENTIVE NOT to fill the Trop up. That is the shame of it. And they can use their own lack of marketing (conniving) as a PLUS against their own lease! This is an angle of the story that is being brought up, but let's not beat around the bush here.

    As Jordi said, if the Rays emphasized marketing as their baseball ops department has done, the Rays WOULD NOT HAVE A LEG TO STAND ON WANTING TO LEAVE ST. PETE! I have argued about this, and the Rays are in a catch-22 in trying to disspell that notion. That is part of the reason why I can't stand Stu, at least be HONEST about it! Take the INCENTIVE away and see how he REALLY feels!

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  7. Joe says:

    Another thing within the piece, Rick Vaughn, Mr. Spin for the Rays is quoted that the Rays spend "far in excess" of $500,000 in marketing. Is that a lot of money? To me, that is a drop in the bucket. I don't understand why Mr. Van Sickler didn't question this more? If that number is true, than Jordi is completely correct and there is NO EMPHASIS in marketing the club? There seems to be a semantical game being played here on what "marketing" truly us.

    I fought John Romano tooth and nail on what the "market" for the club is. To me the market is ANYONE who wants to spend their money on the club, merchandise, etc., THAT is the market. If you know you don't have the big corporate donors, then go after the blue collar folks! To me, the Rays are spinning their wheels here, virtually deliberately. It's so bizarre?!

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  8. Steve says:

    Its pretty clear that Sternberg and Selig have an agenda of getting the Rays to Tampa, and I for one am in favor of it. Most of the nation already assumes they play in Tampa. But this idea that the Rays are going to leave the Tampa Bay area or be contracted is just ludicrous.

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  9. Joe says:

    You in favor of making St. Petersburg looking THIS BAD? Here is the thing, I acknowledge that Selig and Sternberg need a dance partner to play off the Rays against another city. But there is nothing out there right now because there is no environment or municipality out there that will foot the bill on a new ballpark and give carte blanche to MLB.

    Be careful what you wish for Steve, there are ramifications and consequences that if the Rays get to Tampa, will they have completely scorched the earth to get there?

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    • Sarah says:

      The "Tampa Bay Rays" are the team for the whole Tampa Bay region. Depending on how you define that region, that can include 5 - 7 counties, including both Hillsborough and Pinellas.

      It makes sense for the team, interested in long-term viability, to play in the location that best serves this region.

      If the mayor of St. Petersburg, and fans like you, choose to frame this effort as "making St. Petersburg look bad" and believe the process will inevitably result in "scorched earth", then you will indeed succeed in making those claims a reality. One could have other attitudes toward this than the "cut the baby in half" approach that Mayor Fosters seems to adopt.

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      • Joe says:

        And with a lease that is prohibitive in nature, tell me again what is the Mayor's options and the City Council's options? If they show weakness as you suggest, then when the Rays do move to Tampa (or anywhere else), what does St. Pete get? The taxpayers get NOTHING, and then the remaining debt and other legal fees will have to be paid for by the backs of the taxpayers.

        So Sarah, I will say this. ENOUGH of the BS! If Stu feels the way he does, let's go to freaking court, sue, and come up with a number and get out of the lease. Enough of the double-entendre and take two steps forward and take a step back attitude about the area.

        Mayor Bill Foster, say what you want, is NOT the enemy. Has he mad missteps, you bet your bottom dollar he has! When you got hundreds of million of dollars in taxpayer money and an institution at stake, he better defend it! He has an obligation to do it, even in the face of criticism of those who tell him he is wrong, he has to, because that lease is an ASSET to the city. If he breaks down on it, then he waives it and then the city is entitled to NOTHING from Stu or MLB.

        You can frame the argument however you want, and I will frame it the way I think I see it. So I am tired of this crap. It won't stop. But I know this. The lease was agreed to by Stu as a condition he bought the club from. If he wants out, then get you lawyers and SUE!! Why won't he sue, because I think he knows he would LOSE! But hey, he could shock me an sue, and maybe they settle for a release number, say $70 million that gives the Rays an out after say, 2015? But it won't happen until Stu goes to court. And tell me why that hasn't happened yet?! Nothing will advance on this story until Stu Sternberg sues St. Petersburg!

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  10. Joe says:

    Let me clarify a little shorter. The Rays and the city would ultimately settle for a number and terms of a shorter lease, but the Rays may have to pay a number in breaking the lease that may not be palatable to their tastes.

    The Rays and their financial numbers and the whole marketing campaign would come under the scrutiny of the Sunshine Law. And that would NOT be flattering to Stu Sternberg, even his most ardent supporters may be shocked at the windfall he has created for himself. Already evidenced, the team is already covering some of their losses by giving some of the numbers back to the other members of Sternberg's limited partnership.

    Point is, the only way to get to the end is litigate. And Stu can't obfuscate from it. We are all in obfuscation if we think there is no lawsuit. And when I talk about a scorched earth, I am talking 10-15 years from now when the Rays are in Tampa, will St. Pete, their chambers of commerce and citizens will they be happy partners of the Rays? This is what I am getting at. Be careful for what you wish for.

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  11. s says:

    let's go back to 2009, attendance was high due to coming off the miracle 2008 season and a bunch of deposits being carried over to season ticket packages from the playoff run.

    our season seat were in 301 lower rows and we were ticket holder since 2007. we were (3) 40 game weekend ticket holders due to it being very family friendly with work and school schedules. after the 2008 season, our section was packed, and a large majority of our section were people that carried over their deposits and got the best value by buying a 20 or 40 game package with their carryover money.

    it appeared that the deposit venture was working and this was a viable way to get people to the games. then at the end of the season, we fully expected the rays to make a huge effort to get these people to retain their season ticket packages. but what happened couldn't have been farther from the truth. the rays had a "captive" audience and should have done every thing in their power to entice these fans to come back and sign up again next year.

    but instead of bending over backwards to get these fans back, they chose to bend the fans over. the rays basically reclassified a majority of the upper level seats (first 11 rows) as a new tier, and the lowered the tarp in sections also. in doing so, they eliminated a bunch of upper level priced seats. the new cost for the exact same seats were 35% more for a 40 game weekend package than they were in 2009.

    so not only did the rays take a huge dump on their diehard upperlevel fans, (the fans on a budget, mostly families and retirees) but they completely dumped on any of the new fans that they hoped to retain. they had people in the seats, no advertising need, that were interested in the rays, and they CHOSE to jack up the prices 35%. very, very few of them renewed, they basically felt like it was a scam.

    in the worst economy since the depression, why did the rays raise ticket prices to the fans that could afford it the least? their answer, was "it's still a good deal", and "when compared to other AL east teams". huh? my tickets now cost me the same for 2 seats as it did for 3 seats the year before, and their best answer was, "well you can move to a different section or we'll give you discounts on our $6 sodas and our overpriced team store".

    i emailed cork about this in 2009. i was perplexed that a team that was constantly concerned about low attendance would completely take a dump on the entire section of their fan base. they basically told the entire upper level, that they didn't deserve these seats and either pay up or move. how in the hell is this supposed to put fans in the seats? entice fans to renew? or for that manner even come back to the trop after getting pissed on?

    and before you start feeling sorry for the non sellout of the alds game 2, take a look at the prices. compare what the exact same upper level alds seat cost in 2008 vs 2011. almost double. has the ecomony gotten better? nope, yet the playoff ticket prices are not even close to the 2008 prices. the rays may have less attendance, but i would imagine that the total revenue was close to the same. they don't care about attendance, it's a money grab on those that do show up, and political leverage for those that don't show up.

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