This weekend John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times raised some eyebrows with a column titled “Has a baseball team ever won so much and drawn so few as the Tampa Bay Rays?

In the piece Romano refers to the Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles as two franchises that had sustained success and poor attendance…

I could actually make a pretty strong argument that baseball has never seen a team win so consistently and draw so poorly as the Rays from 2008-12…The Minnesota Twins in the early 2000s and the Baltimore Orioles in the 1970s had similar runs of sustained success on the field with low numbers at the gate, but neither was as bad as Tampa Bay relative to baseball’s average attendance.

Romano also cites this year’s Indians, but notes they get a pass because “Cleveland is a proven big-league market.”

But are these really the best comparisons? No, the best comparison of the modern era is a team that almost moved to Tropicana Field, the San Francisco Giants.

Prior to the opening of their newest stadium in 2000, the Giants played in Candlestick Park, which like Tropicana Field, was a horrible facility in a terrible location (also on a peninsula, away from bridges to the mainland).

Here is a look at the attendance for each team per win. For the Rays, data represents all 14 completed seasons (1998-2011). For the Giants, data represents the 14 seasons prior to the opening of their new ballpark (1986-1999) as well as all years since their new park opened…

It should be noted that from 1986 through 1999, the Giants went to the playoffs three times and played in the World Series once (losing to the A’s). Sound familiar?

Of course, this doesn’t guarantee a new stadium in Tampa Bay will be as successful as the Giants’ new park. But it does show what a difference a new stadium in a better location can make.

 
 

17 Comments

  1. Gus says:

    So when the next versions of Apple and Google open their doors in Hillsborough County, we’ll be fine?

    It is, and always has been, economics first, team marketing 2nd, and stadium condition/location a distant 3rd.

    The relevant market study is going to be Miami. Need to get some data, but the early returns aren’t exactly great. Roof almost never open, field looks like garbage on TV and lots of empty seats (Miami attendance is down to 28,000 per game after the opening wore off). Kind of like the Trop, except the Trop is almost paid for.

    • Beth says:

      Gus, I usually find you views to be a tad pessimistic, but I’m with you on this one.

      San Francisco is one of the wealthiest and, even in this economy, most economically robust metro areas in our country.

      We should be so lucky as to have their problems.

    • Cork Gaines says:

      Things are better in SF, but they are not great. Unemplyment in 2000 was 3.5%. It peaked at 10.5% in 2010 and is still at 8.5 now. The economy is worse there than when their new stadium opened and yet the attendance is still strong. And nobody is saying the Rays would draw 3 million fans on a consistent basis in Tampa. But we don’t know it will fail either. And there are some similarities between these two markets which suggest it would be better.

      • Gus says:

        Any comp between SF and Tampa Bay markets is illusorry.

        The incremental gain in attendance is wiped out by the cost of building a stadium. Absent a “free” new stadium, the Rays are better off staying put for the time being. See what Miami teaches us. And for the Tampa Bay economy to get better.

      • Michael says:

        Yeah but Cork, there’s something you are missing.

        In San Francisco, you’ve got tens of thousands of people who have six figure salaries all within commuter range.

        Apart from “the stadium sucks”, Tampa’s biggest problem is that people are fuckin’ broke.

        Not true in San Fran, nor was it at any time during the recession. They’ve always had a healthy nucleus.

        • Cork Gaines says:

          so why weren’t all these rich people going to Candlestick? You can make an argument that there were just as many in the 1990s, if not more because of the Dot.com bubble. And yet the stadium was consistently empty and the Giants consistently ranked in the lower-half in attendance.

          But yes, all the rich people help. But in the end, there are enough people with enough money in Tampa-St. Pete. You just need the stadium to be more convenient. Not EVERYBODY is broke.

    • Russ says:

      Gus I would have to the think the early numbers would be good. For April and May last year the average attendance for Miami was 16,218. For April and May this year the average attendance is up to 28,399. I am pretty sure any team would like a boost that big for attendance.

      • Gus says:

        Everybody gets a honeymoon. The Marlins have never had a more compelling team this early in the season, with a new stadium and lots of buzz. 28K is an upgrade, for sure, but with around 30 dates, still a small sample size, and probably not what they were hoping for (lots and lots of expensiv seats down low are empty). After 3 seasons we’ll know more. Does a retractable stadium matter in Fla? Does moving out of the suburbs closer into the City Center move the needle? Or do you replace one fan base with another? Does a new stadium really matter to fans? Or does Florida have a baseball problem? Or does baseball have a Florida problem? Did Castro sink the Marlins by killing their honeymoon? Time will tell.

        Obviously the Marlins and South Florida are different from Tampa Bay and the Rays. But they are an awful lot closer to each other than to any other franchises. Let the Citrus Cup (?) series begin!

  2. Hal says:

    This is not specific to the Rays, but to the stadium experience in general: I’ve just become less and less inclined to go to any stadium anymore. It just seems that the atmosphere in stadiums has become very difficult to even take when I have a perfectly acceptable version available to me for free every night.

    I went to the game on Saturday with my young daughter – we usually go to a few games a year as its tough with kids to go to any game but the Sunday games when you have an hour drive tacked on to each end of the games. This Saturday’s game was ideal with the 4:00 start time, so we went.

    We got stuck with a couple of dudes behind us determined to get as drunk as possible and drop endless f-bombs all game long. They seemed harmless enough and lord knows that I’ve had my share of beers at the game and bullshit with my friends, but man, there was at least 10 small kids around, all with parents squirming around trying to distract their kids from the drunk fellas (Saturday’s game was not the best to hold the attention of kids).

    When I said something they stopped, but the one drunk was saying under his breath that this is why he doesn’t bring his kids to games. Who needs it? Horrible food (and is there anywhere on Earth where food is worse than at the Trop?) at crazy prices, a long drive, and a shitty atmosphere. I’d really rather stay home and listen to DeWayne and BA – and I was at game 162 last year.

    • Beth says:

      Hal, I’m no fan of drunks at games. But you really think it’s gotten worse? Seems to me that the one constant in the 40 + years I’ve been attending is how often game experiences are ruined by the group of drunks in the next row. It was unpleasant in 1968 and it’s unpleasant now.

      Maybe all that’s changed is that back in the day you were the drunk guy, and now you’re the dad trying to protect his kid from the drunk guy.

      • Hal says:

        Maybe so. I don’t know. I too have been going to games for 40 plus years – hell the act of going to games framed my childhood. I love going to games. And you’re right, it may be no different now than it was in the past. I’ve just come to the realization that I no longer love the game experience and I think that this is a problem shared by many. The stadium experience is an overpriced experience where you have a decent likelihood of having a truly unpleasant episode. I choose home more and more – and so do many others.

    • Dave L says:

      Its definitely a different perspective bringing your kids.

      One thing is for certain, if you warn the foul mouths to behave and they continue to drop F-bombs, the personnel at the Trop will back you up, same at Raymond James, best thing is after the second instance of profanity to ask them to watch their language around children and if they continue, just go get security and they will be monitored.

      If the whole section is full of profane drunks which is pretty rare, I just take my kid and go sit somewhere else. Thats only happened to me once i think.

      The Trop is an opera house compared to the old Sombrero back in the ’80′s baking on aluminum bench seats in the blazing sun. i didnt have any children back then and looking back, if i did I wouldnt have taken them to that hell hole.

  3. Jeff says:

    Location is the #1 consideration in ANY consumer oriented business. Does Walgreens really need every corner lot? Well, YES, or they wouldn’t pay the premium. Does Starbucks really need 10,000 stores? Yes. (OK maybe only 8,000). Convenience is a huge, real, and practical issue in every decision you make each day. Do you really need the gym to be closer to your house? You get the idea. Sports fans used flawed analysis when they say “This is different, it’s community pride, blah blah. I live in Wesley Chapel. I go to 5 games a year. I’d go to 20 if it were closer and so would many of my friends. It would mean a 30% increase in attendance IMO.

    • Sarah says:

      Location is key for Starbucks and Publix, because if they are not located right on your corner, you’ll get your coffee and groceries at the place that is on your corner. For those sorts of “convenience” retails outlets location is everything, and they have large groups of employees whose only job is to identify intersections convenient to people with disposable income.

      But other sorts of retailers, or entertainment venues, assume you are willing to travel to get them. A baseball stadium or concert hall can’t possible be on everyone’s corner. Sure, location matters — you want a reasonable number of people to be able to get there easily — but that’s more about “accessibility” than “convenience.”

      In short, I think the comparison to Walgreens or Starbucks is a poor one.

  4. Dave L says:

    The Rays compete with other sports spectator options like virtually no other market this size. Less than 2 decades ago it was Bucs and USF Basketball occasional soccer in this area thats it.

    Now its Rays, Bucs, Lightning, USF Football, and the Magic down the road.

    You can’t look at population. Its consumers with a minimal level of income to participate which alot of this areas people simply dont have compared to other metro areas.

    And our meager Corp support spreads thin amongst all those hungry sports franchises.

    The Rays attendance is just fine for this market anyone’s expectations for 20k average on a monday- thurs nite in this area be it Tampa, St pete, clearwater or in a shining atlantis reborn hovering above Tampa Bay are dreaming.

    Dont worry Rays fans. The Rays arent going anywhere. AF will continue to make millions here dreaming of Yankee money and whining to local sportswriters who lap it up like pablum.

    Nobody else in this country has money to build them a new money factory either so relax and go to the Trop when it fancies you or watch on SunSports if u can afford cable.

  5. Steve says:

    Do the Rays have someone on their team approaching the all-time home run mark? Bonds and a 2002 WS appearance also helped attendance. SF is a fairweather town. See the 9ers this year.

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