On August 19, the Rays held a “Baseball Forever Night”, a promotion where tickets prices were cut in half. Rays caps were handed out to those who bought the lower-level seats, which were reasonably priced at $25 each. Being a pretty good offer, the Guardian attended and saw the Rays take on the Texas Rangers.
According to the Baseball Forever website, “the Baseball Forever Campaign is an initiative of the City of St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, residents, and fans of the Tampa Bay Rays”. Their stated goal is that “St. Petersburg should be the forever home of the Tampa Bay Rays” [sic].
However, despite heavy marketing and multiple media appearances by backers of”Baseball Forever”, the event was an attendance disappointment. The announced attendance, which is not the same as the number of ticket holders entering Tropicana Field, was only 15,109. This attendance figure is about 1,000 people below the current average attendance of 16,124 per game (attendance through the first 66 home games).
There were many empty seats (see above panorama), and the upper deck was basically empty. Given that the capacity of the Trop is 31,042, a quick visual estimate determined that the actual attendance may not have reached 10,000.
We tried to contact the Rays front office to find out the actual attendance, but their list of over 150 employees does not list any e-mail addresses or phone numbers. It is also unlikely that they would have given us the information we asked for.
The fan experience was also not very good. It began when we went to buy tickets through the Rays website on the day of the game. Only two sections were available: one in the upper deck, and one in the lower deck, and neither of them attractive. We instead bought good tickets in section 119 through StubHub, and wondered how many fans didn’t come to the game because of the poor selection of tickets on the Rays website.
While some might enjoy vendors walking around and bellowing throughout the game, it was a bit much for our taste. One beer vendor came by twice during the 6th and 7th inning yelling “last call”. Apparently, the first last call was in fact not the final last call.
Fans only cheered for the home team when prompted to do so on the scoreboard, but this could have been a result of the Rays playing poorly and being held to no hits until the 6th inning by which time the Rangers led by 5-0. It would be unfair to draw too many conclusions about fan enthusiasm based on a game where the Rays basically did not show up. Rays coach Kevin Cash said that his team was “out-pitched, out-hit and out-defended.”
As a childhood baseball fan, and sometime viewer since, this reporter kept an open mind. However, there is little reason to go see a baseball game at the Trop. The overall atmosphere is dull, there are not enough replays on the big screen (perhaps due to MLB rules), and you truly do have a better experience at home watching the game on your high definition TV. That is: if you care to watch baseball at all.
There are also mental barriers to supporting this team, a team which in the end is a private for-profit corporation:
1/ Does one want to spend money supporting a team that constantly insists on taxpayer funding for a new stadium? The team threatens that if it does not get its petulant way, it will self-deport and decamp from its current home at Tropicana Field. That’s not exactly the team spirit fans want.
2/ The people and groups behind the Baseball Forever “initiative” like to give the impression that it’s a spontaneous grassroots effort. In reality, Baseball Forever appears to be same groups and people that pushed for Greenlight Pinellas and other slush funds. Therefore, it is only prudent to be suspicious of their real motivations.
3/ Baseball is entertainment. In building the Trop 30 years ago, substantial tax dollars were devoted to favoring this one form of entertainment over others. The bonds for that construction were just paid off.
We now know the outcome, and the Rays have by far the worst attendance in Major League Baseball. Is this a taxpayer-funded experiment that should be continued?
For baseball fans less than thrilled with the Rays and all that comes with them, there is another way to enjoy live pro baseball: attend the home games of one of the three area minor league teams. Those teams are the Dunedin Blue Jays, the Clearwater Threshers and the Tampa Yankees. They all play at the Class A level in the Florida State League and they all play outdoors. With an average attendance ranging from 750 to 2,700 per game, they will surely be happy to have you attend their games.
The Guardian trusts that its readers are smart and were able to tell when this article drifted from straight reporting to discussion or perhaps even editorial. The future of the Rays is an important issue, and the arguments made in that regard should be closely examined.
As always, the Guardian reports and the readers decide.