Had a good discussion last night with a couple of Rays fans in Tampa. Aside from the fact that they swore the team was moving to Channelside in a few years, they made a couple of good points.
One of the fans, who grew up in Tampa Bay, expressed his love for Evan Longoria, David Price, and owner Stu Sternberg for giving him so much to root for in recent years. But he also blamed the trio for recent embarrassment.
He wasn’t talking about the kind of “embarrassment” Evan Longoria experienced after only 12,000 fans showed up on Monday night. He was talking about the repeated bashing of Tampa Bay sports fans by the rest of the country.
When someone like Longoria or Price makes a controversial statement on attendance, columnists and sports-talk hosts nationwide rant about how the fans of Tampa Bay don’t deserve a team. The proud feeling fans get when their team succeeds is then negated by the fact that their counterparts in Boston, Chicago, or Los Angeles still mock the situation.
The fan I met last night also said that since the Rays renovated the Trop, it’s a better baseball experience than some of the newer stadiums. He admitted some of his friends who “hate” the Trop can’t name a single attribute that takes away from the game experience. And the dome ain’t so bad either since climate-controlled baseball is a necessary evil in Florida.
And just as a comment from Longoria can diminish fans’ excitement for the team, the years of “inadequate stadium” talk from Sternberg can build the perception that the baseball experience there is sub-par. I maintain it is top-notch.
Sternberg should also realize no business owner is ENTITLED to a profit on his investment. If the Rays were a guaranteed cash cow, his group never would have been able to buy a controlling stake of the team from Vince Naimoli for $65 million. (Forbes estimates the value has more than doubled since then.)
So just as the Rays need to step up their game on the field to overcome the extreme spending of the Yankees, the Rays executives needs to step up their game to overcome the perception that the stadium is too far for fans to visit. It’s not always easy making green.
Instead of reminding fans of all that’s bad about The Trop and its location, the team needs to do more to market its positive attributes.
I can see next summer’s ad campaign already: “Rainy afternoon? Skip the movie, come to the Trop! Same price and same a/c! Less predictable and less sticky floors!”
For now, lets stick to the "Longo and Price and pray for ice" mantra to get the team through the first round of the playoffs. Go Rays.