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 . . .Excellent question.
. . . 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?
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.