Rays fans attendanceAt this point we are all used to the national media slamming the Rays and their attendance with the same 2-3 talking points that may be partially or even entirely true, but are lacking in actual substance or deeper research.

But if there is one voice of reason out there it belongs to Howard Bryant of ESPN.com who has always had a better sense of what is really going on.

In his latest column, “Playing Hardball,” Bryant once again nails the true problem with Tropicana Field and why Major League Baseball is to blame.

“When Tampa Bay was granted a franchise, the other owners split up $130 million in expansion fees. The problems the Rays have now — difficult geography, terrible stadium, transplanted fan base with allegiances to other teams — existed from the beginning, but baseball’s leadership paid no mind. The short money was available, and Bud Selig and the owners took it…Their reward for [building a successful franchise on a budget] is being ignored by the commissioner’s office, which has declined to consider a number of inventive options to sustain the Rays economically and competitively.”

Bryant goes on to list two things MLB could do to help:

  • Draft order should be based on revenue: Stuart Sternberg: “There’s one issue that trumps everything, and we’ve been banging the table on it…It’s all about the amateur draft. God bless everybody, but for the Cubs to pick second this year, and the Red Sox to pick sixth? Draft order should be based on revenue. We and others get penalized for success. We’ve had six years of not having a pick in the top 20. I’m not saying we need the No. 1 pick every year, but really?”
  • Move the Rays to the AL Central: “[Sternberg would] much rather leave the AL East, where his team will forever be at a massive payroll disadvantage to the Red Sox ($163 million) and Yankees ($203 million). The solution is staring Selig in the face. With a $162 million payroll (fifth in MLB), Detroit is a big-spending club. Baseball could realign and move the Tigers back to the AL East, where they resided from 1969 to 1997, with the Rays shifting to the AL Central and fighting only one megamarket team, Chicago.”

460_rays_fansBryant previously went into much more depth about the stadium situation and how MLB greed created the problem they are unwilling to help fix now (something Bryant and I were able to chat about briefly during the 2011 World Series). It’s a column that will help any Rays fan restore their faith in the national media.

Bryant also reported in 2010 that Bud Selig had instructed the Rays to stop making “significant financial investments in the area until attendance [improved],” suggesting the team was prepping for a move.

In the two years following that column, there was a lot of grumbling in the area accusing the Rays of not trying to sell tickets and sabotaging attendance. Not coincidentally, those same accusations were leveled against Major League Baseball and the owners of the Montreal Expos, prior to that team relocating.

That the team has launched a more aggressive ticket sales campaign this year in addition to the renovations to The Trop, could be a sign that Major League Baseball is not confident they can find another city willing to build the Rays a stadium.

Of course, in the end, it is not just the Rays that are being screwed, but the fans. But hey, who cares about the fans when there are bottom lines at stake.

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10 Comments

  1. Lane Meyer says:

    More significantly I think the Rays and MLB are conspiring to keep season ticket sales to corporate partners artificially low until a new stadium deal is signed. Most teams sell significantly more season tickets and group sales per game than the Rays. I would guess that if an apples to apples comparison were made between season ticket and individual game sales to non-businesses, the Rays would fall someone around average. This means that the regular fan is doing their part but the local business/corporations and in turn the Rays sales/marketing department is doing a poor job. Let's stop blaming Joe fan and put the blame where it belongs. You don't need to look any further than the TV ratings to see this team is wildly popular in the area.

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    • Rob says:

      I've said it before, but the problem is their marketing. To your point, they don't do a good job of selling their season tickets. I was listening to 620 recently and they had someone on from the Lightning (v.p. maybe - can't remember) and he said that they have sold 10,000 season tickets. That means they are already half way to selling out every game. I can't believe there is a bigger fan base for the Lightning than there is for the Rays, but the Rays are nowhere near 10K season tickets. I get that there are only half the number of hockey games, but still.

      And, not only do they not market season tickets well, but really, where is the incentive to buy them in the first place? Fans can buy any ticket they want to any game they want and basically get any seat they want, so there is no exclusivity for being a season ticket holder (I would rather have Flex Packs than my season tickets actually).

      The only advantage to the season ticket holder is the fact that you get first dibs at playoff tickets. The Rays would argue the 12% discount on the Burst Pass is a perk, but let's be honest, that's just a scheme they use to get people to buy more stuff (admittedly, I have spent 3X more at the games since they instituted those because it doesn't feel like you are spending money as it's already spent when you load it on the card, plus they are convenient).

      I provided the Rays with this feedback a couple of years ago when I got my season ticket survey. I actually suggested they give partial season ticket holders more flexibility in selecting games. It looks like they took that recommendation and came up with Flex Packs, except as a season ticket holder, I can't use my account funds toward Flex Packs. So, while I get to go see the Royals on a Tuesday at the season ticket price, Flex Pack holders can pick any game, including premium and weekend ones, at 50% of the face value. Sure, I can trade-in up to three of my games, but if I trade that Royals game for a premium game, I have to pay an upcharge, which I did recently and it cost me an extra $25 for two tickets. That doesn't seem right to me. I feel like I am getting screwed on this deal. The Rays need to do a better job of taking care of the people who have been supporting them for years.

      The Lightning have figured out how to reach the fans - maybe the Rays should give away a jersey like the Lightning did (not my preference - I don't like wearing jerseys, but maybe it would work).

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      • Kevin says:

        ^^^ Rob is right, they're marketing department (until now) hasn't been very good. The flex packs were a great idea, because you can get premium games for up to 50% off. But as a college student, when I come home for summer I can get a ticket to almost any weekday non-premium game on stub hub for under $15. Essentially all I am buying is someone else's ticket.

        The best marketing ideas from the lightning I believe are:
        1. When they gave jerseys for Season ticket holders. The Forum is filled with lightning jerseys (with STM patches) every time I go.
        2. They offer students with an ID a ticket to the game 30 mins before puck drop best seats left available for $20. On a weekday I've sat 5 rows from the ice for $20

        The Rays need to market towards future generations, student discounts are the way to go, they're are plenty of high school and especially college kids (USF, etc.) that are willing to go to a regular night weekday game (when most adults have work) for a good price. Getting home at 11 doesn't bother young students, and if there is a discount on tickets or maybe food, it gives us an incentive to go.

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  2. Lane Meyer says:

    Also, before moving to Florida, I lived in the NYC and Philly market areas most of my life and rarely had difficulty scoring some sort of free ticket to a game from either the companies I worked for/did business with or the company of a friend. This has never been the case in Florida because the corporate sponsors are much more stingy.

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  3. Dave L says:

    I'd rather swap us with the Marlins and move to the NL East. Im a lifelong AL fan but I think we could compete better in the NL long term.

    Phillies/Mets etc. wouldnt replace Yanks/Sox draw but neither would Tigers/Indians.etc

    And our young pitchers hitting in place of the last 10 hapless rostered payrolled DH's we trotted out there would be cost savings AND an future upgrade to our offensive output.....

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  4. Dave L says:

    I heard Beliveau is heading to join the big club until we need a SP

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  5. Steve says:

    The biggest myth that keeps being perpetuated is that the Rays don't have many fans.

    That is complete B.S. Just look at our tv ratings. They are outstanding. We have more eyeballs on the Rays every night than 2/3 of MLB teams do.

    The issue isn't that we don't have the fanbase. The issue is that they don't attend games as well as other fanbases do. In this age we live in attendance isn't the be all end all. There are a multitude of reasons why we struggle with attendance, but have lots watching on tv. I don't want to delve into that now, but...

    can we please stop furthering the myth that the Rays don't have fans.

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  6. Gus says:

    1. I've always liked Bryant (he speaks truth to power on PEDs), but when he calls it "the short money" it should be noted that we were suing MLB for interfering in the purchase of the Giants and the Florida legislative delegation was threatening to take away the anti-trust exemption. They took the money (upping the expansion fee from 1993 substaintially), and gave the Rays and D-backs horrible expansion terms when it came to draft picks, and made the Rays wait an extra season to get started, all of which took away the buizz the area had for baseball. The new owners were so cash-strapped from the expansion fee, they couldn't put a decent team on the field, doubled down with the Hit Show and got themselves so bad on the field that the entire "honeymoon period" was blown.

    2. The ticket plan, I fear, is designed to make the Rays case that stadium location is the issue. Why Saturday night's ticket was the same price as Tuesday night's ticket defies all natural laws of supply and demand. The "flex packs" aggrgavate that, by allowing partial season ticket holders to group their games on the weekends (when most people would prefer to go).

    3. I've said for years that no Hillsborough company is going to pony up for season tickets when the owner is saying the ballpark is poorly located and we want to move. You can't sell long-term commitments like that. \

    4. The fact that the interstate is a bombed out mess through Westshore in Tampa right now is not an insignificant thing. That is going to aggrgavate people all season long. (Use the Selmon Crosstown if you can).

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  7. Berdj Joseph Rassam says:

    I don't know about this whole idea of Bryant's to select draft order inversely based on revenues, and to move the Rays to the AL Central and move the Tigers to the AL East because of how much each spends on payroll. Attaching any of this stuff to dollars and cents makes no sense.

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  8. Papa says:

    The fact is MOST fans hate the stadium. People love baseball because it means spring as arrived and they love to be outdoors with sun, beer, and dogs. I know all the talking points about why they need to have a roof over their heads.. But seriously! Isn't that what baseball is about?? Fresh cut grass on a hot summer day and an Ice cold beer??? well you don't get that with the rays. I would much rather sit on my deck, grilling out, drinking beer, and watching the game on my 60 inch HD TV. Trust me you build a new stadium with a retractable roof on the east side of Tampa people will come!!! Until they do that we will continue to have this stupid conversation every year!

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