Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rays' Attendance: Maybe it's Not the Location

Long before Stu Sternberg took to his soapbox, I pointed out the problem with Tropicana Field had nothing to do with the venue, but its location. I'm wondering now if I was a little bit wrong.

As the Rays post sorry attendance numbers for a Yankees series with playoff implications, every writer in Florida is trying to find a new spin on the same old story (as predicted).

But the excuses - the stadium's condition, then the economy, then the location - are growing old.

"I don't want to hear that it's the location," former ABC Coalition member Craig Sher told the Tampa Tribune. "It is what it is. (Tropicana Field is) air conditioned. It's nice. (This week's opponents are) the New York Yankees. I surely hope they sell out. It has to be tremendous walk-up sales."

It wasn't. 22,820 Tuesday after 18,772 Monday. And it can only be explained by the region's attitude toward baseball.

Floridians aren't used to driving 60 minutes for a baseball experience, and as Boston Globe columnist Nick Cafardo pointed out, MLB and Sternberg underestimated Floridians' desires to drive to baseball games.

If you handed someone in Connecticut a free Yankees or Red Sox ticket, there's a good chance they'd travel 90 minutes to the game. If you handed someone in Tampa a free Rays ticket, they probably wouldn't drive 30.

Shifting attitudes of a football-minded fan base takes time. More than the 13 years the Rays have existed.

But shifting attitudes also takes constant reinforcement of the message and the Rays have grown frustrated and impatient.

Sternberg and team president Matt Silveman have committed to putting a winner on the field - and essentially executed to perfection - but they often contradict the message to fans when it comes to marketing. They subtly point the finger at their fans for not drawing like most other MLB teams.

Telling fans baseball won't succeed in Tampa Bay without a new stadium may be a self-fulfilling prophecy for the Rays, but it didn't have to be that way. They could have worked on the attitudes first and gotten the stadium down the road.

1 comment:

  1. Eloquent, sad and true. Great insight and a twist on a solution to a factual attendance problem. I for one, am guilty of exactly this.