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Thursday, 19 May 2011

Endangered Species: Should The Rays Stay in Tampa?

Over the past 8 years I've had the chance to go to St. Petersburg three times to see the Rays play. Eight years ago on my honeymoon I saw the, then Devil Rays, just starting out with their young up and coming core of players. Led by rookie, Rocco Baldelli, they were perennial AL East doormats, stockpiled with young talent. The stands were half full at best, with the Yankees in town to boot. Last year again I went to a game to see the new Rays, now an unlikely AL East power, against all odds led by all-world 3B Evan Longoria. They were an exciting team loaded with young, incredibly talented players competing against (and beating) teams with 4 times their payroll. A real compelling story. Again, fans in the stands were sparse. This year I had the chance to take in a game in late April, fresh off the Manny Ramirez fallout. The Rays had been playing poorly, Manny was gone, Longo was on the DL, but still they were a pretty decent team with some exciting new players (Sam Fuld anyone?). Again the fans in the stands were sparse.




Here we have a team who couldn't put butts in the seats when they were a basement dwelling clearinghouse for aging vets like the Crime Dog and Wade Boggs. And they can't even fill the stands with competitive teams full of young superstars like Carl Crawford and David Price. Last year they were 26th in league attendance, averaging around 18,00 fans or about 52% capacity. What gives? What's it gonna take? How can this team survive in the St. Petersburg/Tampa Bay area? And should they stay?

Personally I don't think they can survive in Tampa, and I don't think they should stick around to find out.

There was a push for a new stadium in the area in recent years, an outdoor stadium, baseball played the way it's meant to be. But having been to a game outdoors in Miami as well, I'll tell you I far prefer the air conditioned 72 degree climate of the Trop versus the 95 degree sun outside for 3 hours. Sure, a new stadium might create some initial buzz, that would quickly evaporate in the Florida heat. What the Rays need to do is pack their bags and move two hours East on I4 to Orlando.

People are quick to blame the Rays lack of attendance to the demographics of the Tampa Bay area. "It's a retirement mecca!" they're quick to point out, and while that's somewhat true I was surprised to find that about 60% of the area's population was under the age of 45, while only 17.5% where over 65. Compare that to Orlando where about 70% of the population is under 45 and the mean age is only 33. Factor in the fact that the greater Orlando population is about 5 times that of the Tampa Bay/St. Pete's area and it's easy to see that your potential audience of affluent young families with entertainment budgets is going to be much larger. That's not even factoring the massive number of tourists that flock to Disney World every year.

Those are the tourists that have been flocking to Disney's Wide World of Sports each spring, packing the park to see the Atlanta Braves spring training games. The Braves' pre-season games in Orlando draw an average of approximately 8,000 fans (about 85% capacity, much higher than Tampa Bay).

I'm no expert and it's just an idea, but I really think the Rays would stand a better chance of survival if they were to move to Orlando. They have a much larger and younger population base with a steady flow of tourists. Hopefully it would give Longoria and crew someone to play for, as I'm afraid most of St. Pete's is too busy lazing on the beach to catch a ball game. And those who actually go to the games there could always take the short drive to Orlando for a few games every year. Who knows maybe next time I head down to Florida the Rays will be in Orlando. I'm pretty sure of one thing though, they won't be in Tampa.

4 comments:

  1. great post. Makes you wonder why they put the team in St. Pete to begin with? Orlando makes much more sense, especially with tourists and the younger demographic.

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  2. A point I failed to make is geographic sport preferences. People up here in Canada tend to favour hockey, people in Florida seem to skew more towards football fans...that has to play a role in the low attendance as well. College football and the NFL draw huge crowds in FL. Maybe it's just a case of people liking football better?

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  3. Really cool and informative post. Collage football fans like to know the incoming events of NFL. Great Teams will be playing.. :)

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  4. I think they're better off in Orlando

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