Tuesday, September 16, 2008

How Do You Solve A Problem Like The Rays?

Eric Wilbur of the Boston Sports Blog calls out Tampa/St. Pete as a market:

Cinderella story or not, there comes a point when you have to decide that something just doesn't jive in the community. And the Rays certainly are not the right fit for a Tampa area more fixated on football, fishing, and NASCAR. In few cities is the NHL a bigger draw than major league baseball, but that is precisely the case in a city where winter frost is only a sporadic sight. The last-place Tampa Bay Lightning drew an average of 18,693 last season, a 95.9 percent capacity . . .

. . . The Rays still face an uphill battle in their quest for a new ballpark, fighting public pressure that denotes that new parks will only bring an average of 2.2 more wins. But in Tampa Bay's case, this is really less about financial viability for the short-term, and more about its quest to be seen as a sporting institution in the area, something the Rays can't be considered in their sad little dome.

But the question still lingers, is a new ballpark even worth it? Would this team be better off someplace else, even if the cities mentioned once again are old standbys Vegas and Portland? If they're not coming out for this team, at these prices, then who exactly would they come out for?
Excellent question.

We know that attendance bumps from improved play tend to show up the following season, but really, what's happening with the Rays' on-the-field this year is a rare and wondrous thing. While Rays fans can be excused for staying home in April and May, there can be no excuse for such an anemic showing now. I take that back. There's one excuse, and that's that there simply aren't many Rays fans in the first place.

Question: would it make a difference if the stadium was in Tampa instead of St. Pete? I'm honestly asking, because I really don't know if the bridge and the bay serve as a practical barrier to attendance. Tampa is slightly larger than St. Pete and has a slightly higher median household income. The blob of population that comprises the MSA seems to lie more on the Tampa side of things (to the north and somewhat to the east) than it does to the St. Pete side. The teams Wilbur cites as being more popular -- the Buccaneers and the Lightning -- both play in Tampa as opposed to St. Pete. Does the 20 miles or so make a difference?

Either way, it seems that the ultimate proof of Tampa as a market will be in next season's pudding. The 2008 playoffs are all but assured. The players are young and exciting. If they can't draw next season, they probably will never draw, and thus baseball will have to consider what, if anything, to do with the Rays.

11 comments:

Brad said...

It makes a huge difference. As you mentioned, the center of the region's population is in Tampa, and the community really is focused moreso in the downtown and university areas of Tampa, rather than the beaches of St. Petersburg.

I think it's unfair to say that baseball couldn't survive in this market. The level of amateur play in the region is indicative of the passion that exists for the sport, the Rays have just not done a very good job of making their games EVENTS... doesn't help when you're consistently losing 90-100+ games annually, however.

Anonymous said...

APBA Guy-

Despite my current Left Coast address, my family is from Orlando, and I gre up uin part in FL.

My opinion is that the Rays suffer from 3 things:

- poor team image over the past 10 years. This is their first winning season ever, and fans down there haven't internalized it, aren't even used to looking at the box scores for the Rays.
- lousy stadium. More depressing than the Mausoleum, compunded by little parking.
- poor location. The team really ought to be marketed as a West Central team, drawing from Orlando, Tampa and St. Pete. The bridge can be a problem because there are no alternate routes from tampa, and if there are traffic issues, you're stuck. Literally.

But the real issue with location is that the team isn't going to draw from Orlando. The combination of distance, taking a chance on the bridge, then having no parking at the end of the trip, and all for a lousy stadium experience, that's really too much to ask, even for a good team.

If I could wave a magic wand, I'd move the team to West side Orlando (ie near Disney World) in a retractable roof baseball only stadium. You'd get a big bump in attendance form tourists alone. Just look what that audience does for the Giants.

hermitfool said...

Perhaps hard core Florida baseball fans prefer attending games in the winter? Were the Fish able to draw well during their World Series years? Does anyone think a new stadium in Miami will yield huge increases in attendance?

Rather than looking to tenuous small market alternatives, MLB should give San Juan, Puerto Rico(area population of 2.2 million, and Mexico City, area population 200 bazillion, a shot. For Carlos Slim the admission fee would be chump change.

Crowhop said...

Contraction, baby! It's coming!

Peter said...

I'm not saying this is the whole problem, but anybody who's been to Tropicana Field can tell you that it's an awful, awful place to watch a game. We've all been to the old-school crappy stadiums, but this is an entirely different experience -- you are watching baseball in a warehouse.

Tim Kelly said...

I can't speak to the Tampa/St. Pete area in particular but I would guess that location is very important. As a resident of Chicago and frequent visitor of Cleveland, I see how both of these cities are divided into North/South sides & East/West sides respectively.

North & South siders in Chicago rarely cross to the other side of town and the same can be said for East & West siders in Cleveland.

If this stadium is really on the "wrong" side of Tampa/St. Pete, I think it could have a negative effect.

Anonymous said...

It would be nice if they could move it to a location easier for us Red Sox fans to go to. Flying all the way down there just to taunt them is kind of inconvenient.

bigcatasroma said...

brad and anonymous (#1) have it right.

1. Being in St. Pete is NOT tampa. period. It's that simple.

2. In the Tampa area, where it's 99 degrees in Aug/Sept, and 92 degrees in May and October, does NOT make going to see a baseball game conducive, outside or under a dome. Between the football and NASCAR, beach time, and, you know, WORK, there isn't time to do or follow everything, and baseball just isn't towards the top half of life lists for Floridians.

3. A decade of ESPN hilights that hilighted the ineptitude of the team, with jokes, monikers and the like. Wears on a population.

bigcatasroma said...

brad and anonymous (#1) have it right.

1. Being in St. Pete is NOT tampa. period. It's that simple.

2. In the Tampa area, where it's 99 degrees in Aug/Sept, and 92 degrees in May and October, does NOT make going to see a baseball game conducive, outside or under a dome. Between the football and NASCAR, beach time, and, you know, WORK, there isn't time to do or follow everything, and baseball just isn't towards the top half of life lists for Floridians.

3. A decade of ESPN hilights that hilighted the ineptitude of the team, with jokes, monikers and the like. Wears on a population.

Brad said...

I forgot about the Orlando thing, too. A stadium in the area around Raymond James Stadium and Steinbrenner Field would be ideal, as it's a straight shot from the east and west.

I-4 traffic coming west is a breeze in the evening, too. No excuses, Orlando!

I do agree with Anonymous #1, too, in the sense that the more casual fans around here have internalized that the team sucks.... it's not "cool" to go see the Rays, even now that they're winning. That's a whole shift that needs to occur in the community, and I applaud the organization for the steps they've taken over the last 8-12 months to make that change.

And in defense of the Trop... it's MUCH better than it was before. They've done what they could with it, but it'll never be Camden Yards. It is a giant, slanted bubble. What can you do?

Chipmaker said...

I went to one game at the Trop in 2001. It wasn't as bad as Stade Olympique, but it wasn't very impressive, either. Not in a good way.

(Particularly annoying: the Tropicana logo is an orange with a straw stuck in it -- but one could not, then, get a straw for drinking, not even for young children with great spillage potential. Blitheringly stupid decision.)

The planned new park has a retractable roof and is on the waterfront, but it's just a mile to the east from the Trop. Given the access issues of getting to StP, I really cannot envision how that helps at all. They need to move to Tampa proper, though exactly where I can not suggest.