An Open Letter to the Rays—Where Are the Fans?

by Mike on 9/28/2010

in Perpetual Beta : Release, Tampa Bay Rays, The Church of Baseball

Most of all, this message is for Evan Longoria and David Price.

You’ve got the best record in all of baseball the American League, playing in the toughest division in baseball. You’re one game away from clinching the second playoff berth in team history. And yet you’re forced to wonder: where the hell are the fans?

Let me start off by saying this: you have no idea how much this town loves this team. You weren’t around for the dismal years, the green-and-purple years, the basement-fixture years. You want empty seats? Ask Carl Crawford how many fans came to games when he first got here.

But now? We love our Rays. Where are your fans? They’re all around you, if you only had a chance to wander the streets of the Tampa Bay area. You made me a fan, not just of the Rays, but of the sport of baseball. And I, in turn, am passing that on to my sons. Ask my seven-year-old who his favorite player is—the answer is Evan Longoria. Ask my four-year-old who his favorite player is—the answer is David Price. So as for me, and my house, we love the Rays.

What about the rest of the town? Just because they aren’t pressing warm flesh to plastic seats doesn’t mean they aren’t with you. Check the TV ratings—through the roof. Check the merchandising—I’ve never seen more Rays gear on the street than I have this year. Check the game coverage—not from the newspapers or TV, but on blogs and Twitter. Tampa Bay loves the Rays, and you made us love you.

On the field, you guys are holding up your end of the bargain. So why aren’t more of us at the games? I have a few thoughts.

  • The economy

    An excuse? Maybe. But not everyone in the Bay Area is drawing million-dollar salaries on multi-year contracts. Florida in general, and the Tampa area in particular, have suffered worse than just about any area of the country, at least among baseball markets. When I bring my family to a game, we’re lucky to get out of there for less than $150. Most families right now just can’t swing that kind of scratch. Even those of us who are lucky to be keeping our heads above water have to pick and choose which games we go to. A Monday night game against the Orioles, where we might clinch the playoffs, or the playoffs themselves? I’m saving my money for the latter—and frankly, I’m a bit worried how much it’s going to cost me to get to a playoff game. But I’m lucky enough that I can do it.

  • The schedule

    Hey, guys, you play more than a hundred and sixty games a year. That’s a lot of games. Unlike football, which has a mere eight home games a year—and in case you didn’t notice, the Bucs aren’t exactly filling their stadium either—the baseball season offers many opportunities to show up at a game, but also places a heavy demand on the fan base for attendance.

    Also, you may have noticed that some of your games fall on Monday nights, Tuesday nights, and other weekday evenings. Those of us who can afford to attend games have jobs, and we’re working longer hours than ever to keep them. And my kids—the ones I’m raising to take their kids to your games—have school and bedtimes.

    That means we’ll come to a Saturday or Sunday game—and by the way, what’s up with the team on Friday nights?—but Monday nights are a little bit tougher to handle. We’ll settle for watching the game on TV and hope the team makes it money that way.

  • The Trop

    For whatever reason, a lot of people don’t like the dome. The location, the catwalks, the idea of playing baseball inside—whatever. I’m fine with the Trop—I’d rather enjoy a game inside than bake in a 98-degree August game or rain off half the schedule—but a lot of people don’t like it.

To some these sound like excuses. And maybe they are. Is there anything more you can do to get more people at the game? No, I really don’t think so. You’ve held up your end, winning your games and making the playoffs. And you’re in a place now that the Devil Rays of five years ago could never imagine being—in the hearts of your city.

When you make the playoffs—tonight, tomorrow, whenever—you will celebrate, and we will celebrate with you—in our seats, in our homes, and in our hearts.

ETA: Those pictures? I took them. At an actual game.

  • SandyN

    Ditto that…all of it! I couldn’t have said it any better! I think this letter speaks for many of us in the Tampa Bay area. I hope Evan, David, Mark Topkin and anyone else who is woeful and embarrassed over game attendance reads this letter. Maybe it will put things in better perspective for them. Thank you!

  • Mikeb

    I can’t comment on the Trop part. But as far as economy and schedule, it’s the same everywhere. Yet Fenway Park is sold out all year even though they are out of the race.

  • Jnd181818

    One thing I don’t hear a lot of people mention is that, in addition to the poor economy and the inconvenient stadium location, a significant portion of the Tampa Bay population has moved here from up north and those people are continuing to root for their old teams. This is evidenced by the fact that the Trop draws great attendance when the Rays play the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, etc. Until the transplants start rooting for their new home team, it’s going to be hard to fill the stadium (even if it moves to Tampa).

  • http://perpetualbeta.com/release/ mikewas

    1. The economy is NOT the same everywhere. Florida and the Tampa Bay area
    have been hit much harder than just about anywhere else in the country.
    See:
    http://www.businessinsider.com/millionaire-pitcher-complains-broke-fans-arent-coming-to-see-him-throw-balls-2010-9

    2. Fenway may be “sold out”—but how many are showing up? The Rays don’t
    enjoy the decades-old base of season ticket holders that the Red Sox and
    Yankees do.

  • Ise052

    Those are all lame excuses for poor attendance on a night when the Rays could have (if not shoudl have) clinched. If you happened to watch the Nats/Phillies game last night (a night in which the Phillies clinced their 4th straight NL East Division), there were more Phillies fans in attendance than the Rays had last night and the game was in Washington DC for crying out loud.

  • Mikeb

    1. OK so TB may be suffering from a harder economy than some other places but:
    -Ticket prices are a fraction of what they are in Boston or NY so it evens out
    -Cleveland and Detroit are suffering also, and their teams are not in playoff hunts, yet they both average much higher attendance than here.

    2. Fenway is sold out and it is real. There are many who just cannot go to games even though they are out of the race. I understand the Rays don’t have as many season-ticket holders, but when you are in a pennant race and can get a ticket on any night for $15 outside, you should see more than 10K people showing up.

  • 123

    Yawn… just more excuses

  • BillB

    Having recently moved back to PA from the Tampa area, I can attest that the economic situation there is much worse, both in reality AND perception, than most parts of the country. You also have to take many other factors into account when comparing ticket sales in various cities. For example, the Tampa area has a population of roughly 2.7 million, while Philly has 4.6 million and DC and Philly have 5.3 and 5.8 respectively. Also the average household income in the Tampa market is $45K, while Philly is $58K, Boston $67K and DC a whopping $81K. When you have almost twice the population making almost twice as much money, it is no wonder you sell more tickets in DC then you do in Tampa. Simple economics.

  • Kyra

    I COMPLETELY agree with you! You wrote this so beautifully and spoke to many of us that are in the same situation. I can see many people do not buy it but for me it is TRUE! Ignore those people and good for them that they can go to all the games. I am a DIE HARD RAYS FAN SINCE THE BEGINNING. This really touched me. I am so glad someone wrote this. Thank you =)

  • Ray

    If this pattern continues in Tampa, I have to believe the Rays would have to consider moving to another city. As we all should well know, the team is a business and it has the wherewithal to change regions if the citizens of Tampa cannot support them. Simple economics.

    I applaud the Rays management for putting a winning product on the field even with the salary restrictions they have. What’s sad is that the team has already announced publicly that they WILL cut salaries next season. I wonder why that is?

    Once salaries are cut again, the team will lose players and go back to the basement of the AL East. Of course anything can happen, but this is the most likely scenario since the team no longer sucks and can’t expect to get top draft picks any longer.

  • Mrevilm2002

    There are also a lot more people in the bigger cities to the north, as well as the surrounding areas. Much easier to find people willing and able to go.

  • http://perpetualbeta.com/release/ mikewas

    Krya,

    Thanks. I’m glad to have made your day.

    Mike

  • http://perpetualbeta.com/release/ mikewas

    Ray,

    I agree with you that the pattern is concerning, and eventually, business is
    business.

    I’m more optimistic than you about the team’s on-field prospects, though.
    This organization has shown they know how to obtain and develop young,
    less-expensive talent and maximize the potential of that talent. We’re
    probably going to lose Crawford, Peña, and Soriano, and those losses will
    hurt, but we’ve got talent coming up that, as those player mature, may
    contribute collectively in a way that makes the team competitive even on a
    cheap year.

    I’m almost as much a fan of the organization as I am of the players, because
    of they commitment they have shown to winning and they novel approach they
    have taken to achieve it.

    Mike

  • Jsterk

    Most importantly they have a fan base and populous that goes back generations, not one comprised of relocations from the midwest and northeast that already support other teams (especially ones in the same division). I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met in my 6 years in the Bay Area that say “I like the Rays, except when they play my team.” These people may like and watch the Rays on TV but they don’t have enough of a vested interest to spend money on the Rays.

  • Aaronflo77

    I live in Los Angeles and go to a couple dozen Dodger games a year. I tried to apply your reasoning to our situation here in L.A. and it just doesn’t fly. People here drive an hour or so in stop and go traffic to get to the stadium. That drive is why people don’t make it on time or stay for the whole game. But we have more people in the seats during pregame and in the ninth inning for ALL 81 games then your stadium’s max capacity. Your team is better than ours and you still don’t fill your stadium like we do. Most people here don’t make a lot of money contrary to what you’re taught about Los Angeles and people still show up. I don’t know why the citizens of Tampa don’t show up, but your excuses don’t fly. Try again.

  • http://perpetualbeta.com/release/ mikewas

    How many people live in Los Angeles? What percentage of those go to Dodgers
    & Angels games combined? I’ll bet it’s less than the percentage of the Bay
    Area market that come to Rays games.

    As you say… try again.

  • Cheetoh69

    You’re right. We’ll all spend money we don’t have and go to more Rays games. I mean a $230 dollar monthly electric bill (and thats cheap) is the last thing on our minds.

  • Draaga

    I have to agree with you. I went to alot of games in the 2008 season. When the Rays played the Red Sox in the ALCS I saw fans that had rooted and worn their Rays gear throughout the year but when it came time to represent them in the playoffs who’d they support? The Red Sox of course. I am from the midwest, and had always rooted for the White Sox. But in the ALDS I had a bright blue Ray-Hawk and went to every game like that.

    For me its a matter of economics and schedule. I am now making 15k less than I was in 08 thanks to getting laid off and having to take a job that paid less as well as I work 7pm to 6am now instead of 8am to 5pm.

    It sucks. I wish I could go to more games. Sadly I have had to watch most games on MLB.tv this year. I pay my money there, sorry its not enough Rays.

  • JenTurtzo

    Perfectly put. Thank you!

  • http://dbcooper.livejournal.com/ Boomshadow

    This is great analysis. For me, it’s a combination of the location (I live in unincorporated East Hillsborough, so a trip out to the Trop is a nontrivial distance for me), ticket prices (other than free), St. Pete traffic (which honestly isn’t as bad as the Malfunction Junction traffic I grew up with, but still pretty bad with all the one-way streets), parking, and the Trop.

    To be fair, I have never been inside the Trop, but for some reason, I have never gotten my head around the fact that some idiot built catwalks near the roof that can interfere with the game. Also, the location is frankly subpar; I used to volunteer during high school at a homeless shelter, and several other shelters and some other low-income housing was displaced, as I recall, and the city council’s response seemed to be, “Well, those unwashed masses will find some other place.” So yeah, I’m a little bitter about it too.

  • Mikeb

    That’s not true. I am a Boston transplant, I fit the description of “I like the Rays, except when they play my team”, but I go to several games a year that do not involve the Red Sox. I buy beers, food, support the team (and Ferg’s), so I do have a vested interest. I don’t see how wearing a Red Sox hat a couple of times a year does not help the team. The transplants bring a lot of energy and revenues to these games, and most of them are baseball fans and return throughout the year.

  • Gmajor

    Do you think it might have to do with the fact that your city has 12 million people living within an hour’s drive of the stadium and our area has two million? On a per capita basis, we’re out drawing you by a lot. And in spite of what you say about incomes, my bet is that the total number of folks in your area who can afford to go still number in the millions, while here it is a few hundred thousand at best.

  • Jermd47

    any actual data you care to share?

  • Jermd47

    the rays don’t play in tampa, they play in st petersburg.

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