This region owes a tip of the cap to Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg and his management team for fielding a storybook team that proved the viability of baseball in West Central Florida.
Or did it?
No matter the rafter-filled crowds at Tropicana Field for the American League Championship Series and the World Series, the Ray's success exposed some hard truths about the region's support - or lack of support - for Major League Baseball.
The Rays were disappointed by fan turnout during the team's pennant-winning season. After 10 straight losing years, it's understandable why fans initially stayed away. But long after this year's players had proven themselves something different, something better, people still didn't flock to the Trop in any significant numbers.
I'll acknowledge at the outset that Tropicana is so terrible a stadium that the Rays would likely need a new place no matter what, but I'm not sure how much you can read into 2008 attendance for policy making purposes.
That's because the biggest surge in ticket sales for a newly-winning team almost always seems to come the year after the new winning. I want to say I've actually seen a study or at least a quasi-study of this somewhere, but I can't seem to find it this morning. Anecdotally speaking, while there was a big jump in Braves' attendance in 1991, it really took off in 1992 and thereafter, as the general acceptance that, hey, this is a winning team now, took a little while to sink in. The 2006-2007 Tigers and 2002-2003 Angels were a lot like that too: a bump in the winning season over previous years, but an even bigger jump in the following year.
This makes sense in that people tend to plan their summer vacations and stuff earlier in the year, and earlier in 2008 there was no real hope that the Rays would be good come August. More importantly, season ticket decisions are made in the offseason. This time last year, the Rays were not a hot ticket. I suspect that is going to be very different heading into 2009, and that season ticket packages will benefit accordingly.
NOTE: If anyone is wondering why I'm posting so much on a Sunday, it's because I threw my freakin' back out yesterday, and the only thing I can do without pain today is sit in a straight-backed chair which, oddly enough, is highly conducive to blogging. Of course, given that I'm usually the primary child-occupier on the weekends, Mrs. Shyster is none too pleased about this development. But hey: extra blogging.