Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rays Wrap Regular-Season Home Schedule

With tonight's freebie-influenced full house at Tropicana Field, the Rays will finish the season averaging about 23,000 fans per game, good enough for 22nd in the majors. That's a 1 percent drop from last year's 23,147 average, but their best finish in the MLB since their inagural year, 1998.

There's no definite answer why the Rays - and other good teams - are having trouble drawing fans this year, but the New York Times postulates:
But baseball officials and analysts say that many fans are still pinching pennies, even if economists have declared the recession officially over. With more games broadcast in high definition and the price of flat-panel televisions declining, more fans are content to watch their teams at home and perhaps save money for playoff tickets.

“It’s still a hangover from previous years when everyone was worried about the economy,” said Jon Greenberg, executive editor of the Team Marketing Report, which publishes the Fan Cost Index. “People realize they can do without as many games.”
“We might be a lot better baseball market than people realize, but we don’t have the history,” said Philip Porter, an economics professor at the University of South Florida, who said that the Rays were seventh in attendance when adjusting for the region’s population. “There are so many things to do in Florida. We get outside, go to the beach, so we’re not as easily seduced by baseball as somewhere else.”
Here are some other good takes on the Rays' attendance issues this week:

Darren Rovell, CNBC: Free Tickets For Rays Fans Is A Bad Idea
Cork Gaines, Rays Index: Player Comments On Attendance Were Premeditated
Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports: MLB Shares Blame for Rays' "Support"
Joe Henderson, Tampa Tribune: Maybe Tampa Bay Really is a Lousy Baseball Market
Ray Ratto, Blame the Team, Not the Fans
Eric Glasser, 10 News: Free Rays Tickets Gone in 90 Minutes
Michael Van Sickler, St. Petersburg Times: Mayor Foster waits - and waits - for call from Rays

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Not All Sympathetic Toward Rays' Cause

ESPN's Buster Olney compared the Rays' attendance problems to a bagel shop owner complaining about his lack of sales:
Can you imagine if the owner of a bagel store -- and I worked as a baker in bagel stores in West Lebanon, N.H., and in Nashville during my college years -- in St. Petersburg were to talk like Longoria?

"You know, I've never made bagels as well as I'm making them now," the bagel man would say. "The lineup of sesame seed, cinnamon raisin and pumpernickel is the deepest I've ever had. We have more speed in our counter service than ever before, and the bakers -- that is a group that has been clutch all summer.

"For us to go a full season of baking great bagels, it's kind of like, what else do we have to do to draw customers into this place? It's actually embarrassing for us."
A bagel-store owner who says something like that would be laughed out of town. Folks who run a business -- any business -- put a product up for sale, and would-be patrons have the right to decide whether they want to buy the product. Nobody is obligated to buy the product, just as the Rays are not obligated to commit to staying in St. Petersburg forever.
And NBC Sports columnist Bob Harkins writes there are plenty of good reasons why fans didn't go to last night's game at The Trop:
1) It was a Monday night game against the Orioles, and there was football on TV!
2) Unemployment in the state of Florida rose to 11.7 percent in August. People just don't have as much expendable cash as they used to.
3) The Trop, by all accounts, sucks.
4) The Rays are almost certain to be in the playoffs anyway. So if you're going to spend your hard-earned dollars on baseball, why not save up and spring for playoff tickets?

Rays' Attendance Reason to Celebrate

Bear with me here...

After listing the reasons yesterday why the Rays may not want to go too crazy with their playoff-clinching celebrations when the Yankees are just a half game out of first, I'm beginning to understand why the team would want to break out the champagne.

Even though the team could end up popping the corks twice in one week, only one of those celebrations could possibly come at The Trop. And if yesterday's comments from Evan Longoria and tweet from David Price are any indicator, the players have noticed the fans may need more than first-place baseball to get them to the stadium.

So why not give them a little party the day they clinch a playoff berth? Why not play it up in the locker room for the cameras to remind folks how exciting October 2008 was?

The celebration the team has tonight (or tomorrow or whenever) they clinch won't be as much for the players as it will be for the fans.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Rays Playoffs: To Shower or Not To Shower (in Champagne)

Is it just me or does a locker-room champagne-fest to celebrate a playoff berth seem a little silly when the fate of the pennant is still very much in limbo?

The Rays lead the defending World Series champs by half a game in the A.L. East, but can clinch a playoff berth with a win over Baltimore tonight. The team is preparing for another champagne-soaked celebration like the kind the team enjoyed after clinching a playoff berth, then the division, then the ALDS, then the ALCS in 2008.

But as thrilling as it was for players, fans, and even us reporters - it seemed a tiny bit repetitive after the fourth time. Some people in my newsroom wondered out-loud if the ALCS celebration wasn't as special since the team had already celebrated in the exact same way so many times. A World Series title would have meant a fifth champagne shower.

I don't have any strong feelings on this, but I'm curious what fans think. Should the Rays celebrate clinching at least 2nd place? Should they celebrate with champagne if they clinch via a Red Sox loss instead of a Rays win? Will the second-place Yankees celebrate with champagne when they clinch a playoff spot or will they be focused on first?

Just some food for thought...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Rays Payroll Dropping, Repeats Sternberg

It's a chorus he first sang last December, but Rays' principal owner Stu Sternberg repeated Tuesday that the team's payroll will drop below $70 million next season, regardless of their playoff outcome this year. He also told the St. Petersburg Times that the team "won't come close to turning a profit this year," a statement that will face a little bit of extra scrutiny coming on the heels of a Times editorial urging the team to reveal its full financials in good faith in stadium discussions.

But while the comment boards rail Sternberg for adding more fuel to the fire in the stadium saga, Times columnist John Romano writes that Sternberg showed a bit of humility when asked about his decision to cut payroll next year:
"(Being less competitive and impressive hurts me) worse than it hurts anybody else," he said. "It's who we are; it's who we have to be. We took every shot we could at not having to have this happen. Along with the great fortune in 2008, along with what looks to be great fortune this year, we put everything in place to have it happen, to put us in a position so we'd be able to keep adding, keep signing, (doing) more long-term deals, stuff like that. It wasn't meant to be."
In other news, make sure to follow Shadow of the Stadium on Twitter as well as becoming a fan of it on Facebook.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Few Can't-Miss Links

I'm on the road this week, so passing along some can't-miss links from the sports vs. news world:

Didn't need to tell Rays or Red Sox fans this, but apparently, criminals like to wear Yankees hats. In the words of Rays fan and 10 News Producer Matt Sinn after Derek Jeter's phantom hit-by-pitch Wednesday night, "cheaters and steroid users wear them." ZING!

And an aspiring Ph.D. candidate in New York penned a paper that indicates crowded stadiums help a team score more, and thus win more. I don't think I believe it, but the author said a 48 percent increase in attendance means an extra run per game for the home team. So an entire season of sellouts would have helped the Rays win an extra four games. Discuss amongst yourselves.

And I've said before the Bucs wouldn't have attendance problems if their fans cared as much as fans of Manchester United, the Glazer family's other team. Here's a view of the Bucs situation from across the pond (hint: it's pessimistic).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rays Attendance Problem Mimicked in San Diego

Looks like the Rays aren't alone...

The first-place San Diego Padres - with their state-of-the-art Downtown ballpark - are having the same problem the Rays have encountered: a fantastic season has resulted in soaring TV ratings, but not soaring ticket sales:
"This is ridiculous,"” said Isaac de la Fuente, a Dodgers fan who attended Tuesday’s 2-1 Padres win against L.A. “You’re in a pennant race, (playing) against your most hated rival and you can’t come close to filling your stadium.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune suggests the economy may be the biggest culprit, but it also suggests a problem not only the Rays but also NFL teams are encountering across the country:
Why pay for tickets that cost as much as $61, plus $8 beers, $5 hot dogs and $10 for parking when you can watch the games on your big-screen, high-definition TV with your feet propped up in the comfort of your living room?
The Padres are still averaging 26,038 fans per game - good enough for 19th in the league. The Rays, meanwhile, have sagged to a 22,679/game average - 23rd in the league and the worst of any playoff contender.

At this point, it is reasonable to conclude the Rays are battling the (first-place-for-now) Bucs for the few expendable entertainment dollars available in Tampa Bay.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sen. Brown Sends Letter to NFL on Blackouts

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown sent this letter to (hat tip to the Sports Fans Coalition).

He urges Commissioner Goddell to reconsider the NFL's blackout policy, citing "the average price of an NFL game ticket is $77 - nearly ten times the hourly minimum wage."

The letter focuses on the Ohio teams - Cincinnati and Cleveland - but probably applies to half the teams in the league (especially the Bucs) as they struggle with ticket sales.

Another thing to keep in the back of your mind...I believe every NFL team plays in a stadium partially- or entirely-subsidized by public dollars. It doesn't necessarily give taxpayers the right to watch the games inside, but it could be a leverage point politicians bring up if they decide to get as involved in the blackout debate as they did in the steroid scandals.

Bucs Blackout Confirmed; Other Thursday Tidbits

Just got a press release from the Bucs regarding their first regular season blackout of the season:
In accordance with NFL guidelines, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers home game against the Cleveland Browns this Sunday, September 12, will not be televised in a 75-mile radius of the Tampa metropolitan area. NFL rules require host teams to declare their sellout status no later than 72 hours prior to kickoff, at which time the public is notified that a television blackout will occur if remaining tickets have not been sold.
This will be the third blackout of the season if you include the team's two preseason games, but indications are its next game - at home against Pittsburgh on Sept. 25 - is selling better.

In other news, Tim Tebow's first 24 hours on Twitter netted more than 22 thousand new followers. For those of you who don't tweet, that's an astonishing amount (especially for a third-string QB). It's also an astonishing amount of marketing value.

And since George Steinbrenner's passing, Derek Jeter remains the most influencial member of the Yankees residing in Tampa. Now, it seems he's ready to move full-time. His NYC bachelor pad is on the market for a whopping $20 million. That should help pay for the Great Wall of Jeter going up on Tampa's Davis Islands.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bucs Blackout Likely Again

We should know in the next day or two if the Bucs' season-opener will be blacked out in the Tampa Bay area... is reporting the game won't be sold out, meaning the opener will be the first of (likely) many blackouts over the course of this season.

This should come as no surprise to the area, neglected in some respects by both the economy and the Bucs' on-field product in recent years, but it remains a disappointment nonetheless.

Here's to hoping sales pick up in the next day or so. Either way, you can watch me on our 10 News season-opening special at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tropicana Field Catwalks Off Joe Maddon's Bad List

The Tropicana Field catwalks are no longer Public Enemy No. 1 of Rays' manager Joe Maddon. After winning last night's game on a fly ball that came somewhat close to the catwalks - much like the ball that cost them the game a few weeks ago - Maddon took some of the credit (via Roger Mooney):
"Since then I've made amends with the building. I promised to not whine again, and I think because of that, that ball missed something, because it was going to hit something. But it missed. I think I actually saw the catwalk move several inches to avoid that ball."

Maddon joked that he's left roses on the catwalks and sent worker up to wash the roof.
I don't know about cleaning the roof, but I can attest - from my story on the catwalks last month - Maddon didn't send any roses up there. He did, however, post on Twitter the following:
"most recent whine was my getting on Trop roof, have since apologized to said roof and r now on much better terms, maybe best ever..."

Tampa Yankees to Orlando? The Story with Endless Punchlines

I'm kind of hoping Orlando businessman Armando Gutierrez, who promised to bring MLB to Orlando, hangs a giant "Mission Accomplished" banner today when he holds a press conference announcing negotiations with the Yankees to buy half their Florida State League (FSL) team.

Mission Accomplished

The Yankees say the deal isn't done; Gutierrez says it basically is. Regardless, one baseball insider told me any deal that convinces the Yankees to move their FSL team out of Tampa will be a bad one for the investors.

FSL teams traditionally play in spring training parks because their sparse crowds don't warrant stadiums of their own. Simply put, FSL baseball is amazing baseball that nobody watches because Florida's summer weather is just miserable.

The same insider said the $25 million Gutierrez promises for a new stadium "won't go very far," but "good luck."

Gutierrez quit his bid for Congress earlier this year (which was failing because of his "carpetbagger" reputation) to focus on bringing Major League Baseball to Orlando. Then he realized he was in over his head and focused on bringing ANY baseball to Orlando. But he's once again showing he's just a rookie in Central Florida:

"Until (Major League Baseball's) ready to send us a franchise," Gutierrez told the Tampa Tribune, "minor league will satisfy the sports fans."

Think Gutierrez knew Orlando had minor league baseball for more than 30 years before the Rays pulled their Double-A affiliate out after the 2003 season (poor attendance)? Or that the area has had the Gulf Coast Braves (which nobody watches) for a number of years?

I wish Gutierrez the best of luck in negotiating with the Yankees, but he may want to give Scott Boras a call. It's the only way he might make out in the deal.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Baseball-to-Orlando Guy's Back; Settles for Consolation Prize?

After getting laughed at publicly by several MLB teams for suggesting he might be able to lure the Brewers or Rays to Orlando, one-time politician Armando Gutierrez is back. Although it seems he has given up on his MLB-to-Orlando crusade and is willing to settle for ANY baseball team there.

WFTV in Orlando first reported that Gutierrez and Orange County were ready to make a major announcement regarding a relocation of the Tampa Yankees, the high-A affiliate of the big club.

The Yankees say things are very preliminary and a new stadium would be required, but Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty told WFTV that he could see building a $15 to $25 million stadium for the team. One baseball insider told me, "$25 million would be a pretty small stadium in Orlando."

WFTV also went a little too far by asking:
Another big question is, if the minor league team moves to Orange County, will the New York Yankees come to Orlando for spring training?
Not only did the Yankees scoff at that notion, but all logic (and the team's current lease with Hillsborough County) indicates that won't be happening this decade.

The big question WFTV may have missed is, "why would Gutierrez or Orange County want to bring the Tampa Yankees to Orlando?" The team is fifth in the Florida State League right now with 1,519 fans per game. While they might be able to fare better in Orlando, Gutierrez may be more satisfied with the potential Yankees fanfare than the financial windfall.

UPDATE: The Yankees released a statement that read, "Reports today that the New York Yankees are considering moving the spring training facility from Tampa are completely erroneous. The Yankees are in very preliminary discussions regarding the possibility of a partial sale of their Single-A Tampa minor league affiliate to a potential group of Orange County, Fla., investors. The investors will make an announcement tomorrow."