Friday, May 27, 2011

Tampa Bay's Front Offices Keeping Busy

Aside from the craziness that surrounds a Lightning playoff run and the tough decisions that come with a battle for first in the AL East, the front offices of Tampa Bay's pro teams are quite busy with a number of non-personnel moves.

First, with the NFL lockout extending into the summer, the Buccaneers announced a four-day furlough for all front-office employees. The team says more are possible if the lockout extends into the fall, but this could actually work out quite well for employees. If the season gets underway in September (as many experts expect), the employees will be reiumbursed for the furlough, meaning four extra vacation days. Additionally, the Bucs say the move helps avoid layoffs.

And the Rays quietly made another committment to the region, giving the Tampa Bay Partnership free ad space on the left field wall at The Trop. The private group, which the Rays are paid members of, promotes business development across Tampa Bay. While the team has been criticized for its lack of marketing around the region in recent years (possibly tied to attendance efforts?), this shows they're still activly courting business partnerships and plan on remaining in the region in the long-term.

Monday, May 23, 2011

May 23 Attendance Watch

Last week, the Rays did themselves a pair of favors when it comes to attendance numbers. Not only did they draw decent crowds to The Trop for a weekend Orioles series and a pair of weekday Yankees games, but the Rays also helped kill the Marlins' weekend numbers in Miami.

The "Sunshine State Showdown" drew 18,111 on Friday, 21,814 on Saturday, and 15,432 on Sunday. The Marlins' season average actually climbed to 17,180 after the weekend, but they also fell into dead-last in the MLB ranks.

As for the Rays, their 18,020 home average is off quite a bit from last year's numbers, but they still rank 27th in the league. Since most of the league's attendence numbers are down right now, the Rays aren't all that far behind the 22nd-ranked Blue Jays (20,752 average), the 21st-ranked Orioles (21,551), or the 20th-ranked White Sox (22,423).

But as long as Tampa Bay sports fans are still distracted by the NHL playoffs or HD television sets, we can still expect plenty of good seats available at The Trop next homestand.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How the Rays are like Big Oil

Last year, I wrote how the Rays were like Pensacola Beach after the BP oil spill.

Now, I think I can draw comparisons between the Rays and BP itself.

This week, many Democrats scoffed at Republicans' refusal to drop subsidies to BP and other big oil companies. Meanwhile, all the arguing over whether the Rays should get a new stadium has to do with how much the public would have to subsidize.

I don't think many Americans would honestly want the big oil companies to fail (or banks, auto-makers, etc.). Thus, there's support for subsidies to keep their products affordable.

Similarly, most Tampa Bay residents support subsidies (tax breaks, interest-free loans, etc) for businesses that help out the region. That's why the public pays for the stadium that allows the Rays to turn a profit.

The big debate, however, is always over how big is too big of a subsidy? While Democrats argue oil companies are too profitable for subsidies, it's often Republicans making the case that team owners are too rich for stadium subsidies.

There's no right answer, but it's why many sports teams invest in lobbyists to push their political agenda.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Indians Make Rays Look Great

If there's a silver lining in the Rays' uninspiring 2011 attendance numbers so far, it's that the Indians make them look great.

Not only does the Tribe sport a 22-11 record, but its paltry 14,275 attendance average is several thousand behind the Rays for 29th place. Weather has been a factor in Cleveland this year, but remember, fans there once filled Jacobs Field for 455 straight games.

Hard to blame the economy, either, when the NBA's second-worst team, the Cavs, was the third-best draw in the league. They averaged 20,112 fans per game without LeBron James.

Maybe Cleveland fans are protesting Charlie Sheen's ties to the Indians' franchise. Maybe they'd rather watch Anderson Varejao's hair or Baron Davis' beard than a winning team. Maybe the whole city is just a glutton for punishment (insert Cleveland joke here).

Whatever the reason is, don't expect a huge bump in the Indians' attendance numbers this week - the Rays are visiting Tuesday through Thursday.

2011 Rays Attendance Updates

Through six weeks of baseball, the first-place Rays once again have very little to show for their success at the box office. Ranked 29th in the league, the Rays are averaging just 16,311 per game.

That number will climb once kids get off school and some better teams start visiting The Trop, but other teams will fare better too after those brutal April temperatures morph into beautiful summer nights up North.

I don't think the Rays did themselves any favors by moving their April weekday games from 7:10 p.m. to 6:40 p.m. My thought is that for every family that could go to the game because they were spared a late-night drive home, there were business people that wouldn't deal with rush-hour traffic to get to The Trop.

Regardless of whether I'm right, after three straight years of climbing the league standings in average attendance (to 22nd last year), the Rays' are already in serious danger of slipping in 2011.

My thought on the factors contributing this year:

  • A weak April slate that didn't see either the Yankees or Red Sox visit The Trop.

  • The continued preference of fans to watch the Rays on TV - rather than in-person - a problem that's mimicked league-wide.

  • Competition for limited entertainment dollars (and media attention) from the resurgent Tampa Bay Lightning. After the Rays opened the season 1-9 and Evan Longoria hit the disabled list, the Lightning went on a 7-game playoff winning and have dominated local headlines.

  • The Rays may be loved locally, but many marginal baseball fans in Tampa Bay have been disenfranchised by the team's search for a new stadium. It can't be a majority, but in my dealings across the region, people tell me they swore off The Trop last summer after Stu Sternberg upped the ante in the stadium saga.

The good news for the Rays is that they can expect a significant boost in their next homestand when Darius Rucker kicks off their summer concert series on Saturday night and the Yankees come to town Monday and Tuesday.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Promises of "Baseball in Orlando" Empty So Far

It's now been 16 months since former Congressional hopeful Armando Gutierrez promised to bring a Major League Baseball team to Orlando...a promise which eventually evolved into any professional baseball team.

And eight months ago, Gutierrez held a press conference implying the Tampa Yankees were ready to move to a new ballpark he was going to build in Orange County. Months went by with no progress.

Now, Gutierrez is proposing a 5,000-seat stadium next to the Orange County Convention Center (and away from Downtown Orlando). Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Thomas panned the proposal in no uncertain terms:
Former Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry once called us the "low-forehead, nose-picking yahoos of Orlando."

That impression must still exist, because a developer from South Florida is making us an offer that only low-forehead, nose-picking yahoos would accept.


But this is his offer: If we give him a 65-year lease, he will give us 75 cents for each ticket sold. According to the proposal, we will keep getting 75 cents for the next 65 years, no matter how much the tickets go up in price.

The economic-impact study calculates ticket sales will bring in $183,750 a year, based on selling 3,500 tickets for each of the 70 games.

I wonder how many shots of tequila it took to get those numbers.
Of course, when the Orlando Rays (AA) existed, their attendance numbers were nowhere near 3,500 per game.

Right now, in a city similar to Orlando, the Tampa Yankees are right at the league average with 1,634 fans per game. The highest-drawing team in the league is Charlotte with 2,621 fans per game.

Gutierrez says convention-goers in Orlando would help fill the stands. But as Thomas suggested, that idea is drunk on something. I know if I flew in from Scranton, Pa. for the National Paper and Printer Convention, I wouldn't go watch minor-league baseball when I could do it at home.

Thomas continues:
No private landowners on I-Drive would do this deal or anything close to it. That's why Gutierrez isn't bringing it to them.

The odds of finding low-forehead, nose-picking yahoos are much better in government.

Only a yahoo would tie up such a valuable piece of land for 65 years based on phantom revenues. Do you know what that property would be worth if you could put a casino on it? And don't think that day isn't coming.

Gutierrez is using social media to urge fans to write their county commissioners in support of the proposal. And, as Thomas concludes, some good ole'-fashioned political strategies too:
Apparently, former Mayor Rich Crotty blew off the deal, but now Gutierrez is back with current Mayor Teresa Jacobs' campaign manager as his lobbyist.

Talk about inside baseball.

As I pressed him with questions, Gutierrez got flustered.

"It's obvious you're not a baseball fan," he said. "If you were a baseball fan, then you'd understand the honor that it is to have the Yankees in your backyard."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

USF Students Bear Athletic Dept's Growing Pains

By the time the average senior walks across the stage to get his or her diploma this week at USF, he or she will have paid more than $1,600 in fees to help fund the Athletics Department.

With full-time students paying anywhere from $320 to $400+ a year in athletic fees, the university collects $14.5 million of its $34.9 million athletics budget from students. The 42% dependence is more than double any other school in the six major conferences.

Continue reading here.