Unloved Rays want fan support

Baseball is a funny sport in Florida. Even though big
crowds flock to American football and basketball games, hardly any fans turn
out to watch action on the diamond.

The Florida Marlins think they have
a solution in a new downtown, retractable-roof ballpark in Miami that will open in 2012. The Tampa Bay Rays
however don’t have a clue.

It is simply a bad scene for the
Rays who are the best and most exciting team in baseball. Names like Evan
Longoria, Carl Crawford and Matt Garza come to mind.

Longoria leads the team in batting
average (.326), home runs (eight) and (29) RBIs. Crawford paces the side in
stolen bases (nine) while batting .316. Garza has a team-best 5-1 mark with a
2.49 ERA.

The Rays are also blessed with a
creative front office and progressive ownership. Their problem is Tropicana
Field, the wrong kind of stadium (a dome) in the wrong part of the Tampa Bay
region (St. Petersburg).

An examination of the fan-base in
the area reveals the issues. Less than one-fifth of the area’s population is
within a 30-minute drive of the park, by far the lowest percentage of any
major-league club.

The Rays’ season-ticket base,
believed to be in the range of 8,000 to 9,000, is only one-third corporate,
while the typical major-league club’s base is two-thirds corporate.

After reaching the World Series in
2008, the Rays increased their average home attendance by only 83 fans per game
in 2009. Most teams, when coming off championship-calibre seasons, generate far
larger increases.

So far the numbers are not much
better for Tampa Bay. The Rays’ average home attendance
is 23,064, a figure that ranks 20th in the majors.

Nevertheless players like Longoria
prefer to look at the positives, which are strictly on the field.

“We’re really hitting on all
cylinders right now,” Longoria said. “We know we’re going to have
highs and lows. Right now, when we’re on this hot streak, we’ve got to try to
ride it out as long as we can.”

One solution management planned was
a move to Tampa.
The advantages would include a greater corporate base and a larger population centre.
However the region is overly provincial and the current Tropicana Field lease
runs through 2027.