USATSI_7440452_154511044_lowresWe recently took a look at the Rays’ upcoming television contract and how it could be worth $80-100 million based on the Rays’ strong local TV ratings and the deals recently signed by other teams.

Considering the Rays are only taking in about $20 million per year on their current deal, that would be a huge boost to the team’s revenue without having to do much more than hiring a few lawyers to negotiate the deal.

With all that extra revenue, it is easy to dismiss the Rays’ attendance woes since the revenue they are losing at the gate and concessions is small compared to the revenue they are gaining from TV. But like many things, it is a bit more complicated than that.

Bottom line, attendance is still very important and ticket sales are only a small part of the problem.

When the national media talks about the Rays, what is the one thing they always bring up? Attendance.

When fans of other teams talk about the Rays, what is the one thing they always bring up? Attendance.

When broadcasters of other teams come to town, what is the one thing they always bring up? Attendance.

Yes, the Rays have a lot of fans based on the TV numbers. But it is not nearly as easy to grasp that because we can’t see it in action.

We can see the empty seats at the stadium and at the end of the day, those empty seats are hurting the Rays brand. It looks like nobody cares about what is a good team. The Rays look like they are unpopular.

And let’s face it, 90% of all fans are bandwagon fans to some extent, whether they live in the area or not. When you watch a regular season game in San Francisco and you see a sold out stadium and fans going nuts, that looks like something you want to be a part of.

The Giants are a cool team.

The Rays are the nerds. Sure they are doing well. Yes, they are doing things the right way. But nobody is hanging out with the Rays and when people see that, they don’t want to hang out with the Rays either.

TV ratings are important. The Rays’ brand is more important and attendance is killing the Rays’ brand.

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10 Comments

  1. Gus says:

    I always remember the end of the season in 2011 or 2012 where the Rays had a Wednesday night that mattered against and they gave away tickets -- and the place was at capacity. Besides that one day, this ownership group has never gone the route that most every other baseball team do and heavily discount their tickets for weeknight games, group sales, etc. They have never worked the demand curve effectively. No more "Two for Tuesdays" or "Website Wednesdays". There are some reasons for that -- they pay more in rent for every person through the turnstiles and as you get north fo 2.0M fans, that can be some money. But I think they've always been on the gambit that it was the stadium that was the issue. Then when St. Pete wouldn't give them a new stadium at Al Lang, it was the stadium itself AND the location that were the issue. In fact, it is their ability to seel tickets at prices too high for the market that is the issue.

    But with 8 years of bad-mouthing their own stadium, it becomes a self-fullfilling prophecy. But for those of us old enough to remember, the Lightning had an entirely different philosophy when they played in the same building (it was half finsihed then so substantially worse in terms of amenities)-- they made tickets very cheap, and they finished 2nd in the NHL in attendance (19K at the Trop for hockey 20 years ago over 40 dates when the Tampa Bay area was much smaller looks very impressive now):

    http://www.hockeydb.com/nhl-attendance/att_graph_season.php?lid=NHL1927&sid=1994

    These guys want a new stadium and want the taxpayers of Tampa Bay to pay for it, even through they have 14 years more to go on their current lease. All the tales about empty seats and crummy ballpark is their angle to make themselves richer at your expense. I suppose it is up to folks in Tampa to make that political and economic decision. But this has always been about the empty seats to embarass the market (or another market) into giving them a new stadium.

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    • Dave L says:

      When Stu bought the team the old pro team sports North American business model of shaming a community into giving him a new stadium or using the or else move were sure fire 100% successful in every city north of Mexico.

      After that the Miami fiasco and the 2006 to 2008 US economic meltdown and from his insulated Manhatten residence he and his financial advisors did not see the the total devastation of Florida and gauged our market foolishly. The Glazers did the same by raising ticket prices in an economic downturn by following the old Pro franchise model. Now Tampa stadium is half full for NFL games.

      These out of market zillionaires have zero feel for the economics of the fanbase. The shame/threat model does not work.

      North American Major Pro team sports is the only business in the world which opening publicly denigrates its own product to its own potential customer base. Why? In order to get free subsidies from the public coffers.

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  2. Alex says:

    I'm pretty sure the Rays are the cheapest option in sports when it comes to tickets. How much cheaper can they possibly go?

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    • Gus says:

      Answer: Lower prices until supply equals demand.

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    • Jim says:

      BS on what a great deal.

      You can get a VIP outfield ticket in Dodger Stadium for $15 a game/season ticket price. That is a ALL YOU CAN EAT ticket. the regular outfield ticket is $11.

      Show me that deal in the Trop, show me that payroll, even better, show me anywhere near that deal in a new stadium. If we get a new stadium, is the product of the field going to improve greatly? Is payroll going up? hell no.

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  3. Jim says:

    Honest questions Cork and everyone, give me you best guesses. Please don’t answer with “I don’t have a clue”

    So when the new wears off the new stadium and it’s five years old, how many more people do you think it will draw over the 18.5K we are averaging the past few years? Do you think it will draw 5K per night average more? 4K per night avg? What’s your best guess for 5 years after the stadium is built.

    I believe that 5K more is the max once the dust has settled. I truly believe that it will be around 3k or 4k, pushing us to around 22K a night avg in 5 years.

    So if that’s the case, we’ll be still be in the lower quarter of the league in attendance. And let’s not talk about what the Jays or Mariners will draw in our new stadium on a Tuesday night? It will be in the low teens at best. So none of this will shift the talk of attendance, the talk will still be there. Only now it will be “wow, the Rays can’t draw flies, even in a new stadium”.

    A new stadium will only put a band aid on the attendance talk. If you think that after a new stadium is five years old and the Ray are going to draw anywhere near the league average of around 30K, basically adding 10,000 a night, then you are delusional. It’s what Stu and company have been seeking forever and even a new stadium isn’t going to achieve that.

    You’d have to give away tickets(or beer) in 5 years in order to draw 30K per night, I honestly don’t care where it’s built.

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    • Gus says:

      You are correct that the "new car" smell wears off quickly and attendance patterns return to prior norms. Miami and Minnesota tell us that. The new stadium in Tampa Bay won't move the needle very much in terms of people in the seats (the numbers may improve because presumably you'll have more corporate season tickets, and even if they are unusued they count in the attendance -- see Yankee Stadium's empty seats). But these are incremental gains.

      Any gain from a new location within Tampa Bay will also be off-set by national downward trends in live sporting attendance and a loss of some of the teams most loyal customers from close to the Trop who will feel naturally spurned and watch on TV.

      We will look back in 20 years and be amazed that any baseball team drew 3.5M people.

      The stadium is a TV studio. And Cork is correct -- your brand needs to have people in the stands. But eventually, the team will figure it out that the unsold seat at the Trop never becomes a fan, never buys a beer, never comes back for another game.

      If Stu would listen to me, I'd tell him:

      1. Give up the stadium crusade for 5 years, market your product for the market you are in and stop bashing your own stadium.

      2. Learn from the Marlins mistakes and from the emerging technology for stadiums in very hot climates (in particular, the outdoor cooling being tested in Qatar for the FIFA world cup). Build your next stadium small, fund and affordable for people who live in Florida.

      3. Figure out where you can get your best deal for the next stadium when in comes on line in mid-2020s. Keep Pinellas County a viable option, as the most important thing is to keep your costs down so you can spend on players.

      4. Get the best TV contract you can now (and commit to that partner that you aren't going anywhere).That, not the stadium, is what matters most.

      5. Never say vaporize again. Nothing hurts your brand worse than by idle threats to take it away from the people who love and support it. They are your Golden Goose.

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  4. Greg says:

    Marlins average attendance:
    2011:19,007
    2012:27,400 (1st year in new stadium)
    2013:19,584
    2014:21,386

    A nice uptick for the first year and then a modest gain in year 3. I think Miami has a better opportunity for business-supported season tickets but this might be a good proxy for what the Rays would see attendance-wise.

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  5. Greg says:

    Also, none of the things addressed in this post affect the bottom-line directly. These are appearances. I understand the point but I still find actual stadium attendance to only be a part of the business model that is not as critical as MLB tries to imply. This ground has been covered here numerous times so no rehash.

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    • Jim says:

      It will improve the bottom line and make more money, the boxes and high end ticket sales will increase due to corporate involvement, and ticket prices/parking will increase.

      So yes, ticket sales will increase the bottom line, but this entire article is about how butts in the seat are important on a different level. I completely disagree and my point is that a new stadium is only going to put a band-aid on all of the reasons that Cork mentioned.

      The most important thing that the Rays should worry about is getting good value out of the new TV deal. Butts in the seats in a new stadium will have little to no effect on the TV deal long term. If anything, it will hurt. Sure people may tune in to see the new stadium early on, but if “x” amount more people show up at the game, then that’s “x” amount that won’t be tuning it. And when the new wears off the stadium, then we are right back where we are now as far as TV audience also. Basically the same people that are watching are the same people you are looking to draw into a new stadium.

      The only thing a new stadium solves is if guarantees that the team won’t move thus increasing the value of a TV deal.

      The stigma that surrounds Rays attendance will only be lifted for a few years with building a new stadium. We’ve already proven that even going to a WS doesn’t provide a real bump, the ONLY reason you saw elevated numbers the following year was that you had to buy some sort of package(09’) to ensure playoff tickets(08’). That will not and has not happened again. The fans aren’t going to be willing to buy in advance for any playoff run again.

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