At 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.”
Bryant 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.