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Rays attendance is not about fan apathy. It's a structural thing.

Sep 28, 2010, 10:06 AM EDT

I think Bob nailed the Rays attendance hubbub pretty good last night, but I figured I’d add my thoughts.

No one is saying that it’s wonderful that the Rays drew poorly last night (or draw poorly in general), but I think the notion of blaming Rays fans for their apathy or failure to support the team is myopic.

Yes, there was a history of losing there that has been hard to overcome, but there are institutional problems that have always meant for poor attendance and always will make for poor attendance for the club.  The park sucks. It’s separated from the main population center of the Bay Area — Tampa — by a long and annoying bridge. The people that do live in St. Petersburg are not demographically ideal for baseball. Many of them are also likely transplants as well, and have loyalties to other teams.

We’ve heard all of this before, of course, so I’m a bit puzzled at the “why won’t Rays fans support their team!” comments this morning. Not so much from David Price and Evan Longoria — they’re emotional about it, I get that — but from a lot of fans on the web and on Twitter.

For example, one of my friends on the web noted that, like Florida, Philadelphia suffers from 12% unemployment right now, and they’ve sold out hundreds of games in a row.  Well, yeah. But that team has also played baseball in that town for a 127 years, the population of Philadelphia is seriously from Philly, and the park is both beautiful and accessible. It’s a gross understatement to say that those things matter, and it’s an unfair simplification of things to slam Rays fans for failing to support their team.

Buster Olney added a nice bit to this in his column this morning as well: marketing matters. He takes David Price and Evan Longoria’s comments about the attendance and pretends a bagel shop owner said the same thing. It’s understandably silly. Location matters. Marketing matters. Market matters.  In this, the Rays are fighting against the tide (and in some cases, have themselves to blame).

I think the Rays fans that do show up are great fans. But I get why many don’t show up.  It may lead to the team leaving someday. If so, hey, that’s business, and it has always been a possibility with this team. I don’t see it, however, as a reason to cast aspersions on an entire market.

  1. Pueo - Sep 28, 2010 at 12:14 PM

    The fact is, there are no less than nine minor league teams in the Tampa Bay Region, as well as 10 college teams.

  2. 02trublu - Sep 28, 2010 at 12:20 PM

    Hey clancy, once again..economics. As Craig said, the attendance has always been fickle but right now it’s tough everywhere.
    I also agree with DerLange. The public transportation is something that needs major addressing. Our Roads are so congested, and in serious need of repair. It truly becomes a nightmare to traverse great lengths, have your car/truck exposed to the poor road conditions, heavy traffic, long drive, and expensive night out, and for how many times a week?? The Rays organization “MUST” consider a retractable roof, also like previously mentioned to support other venues. The one big mistake they did was take their spring training out of the area. Funny how the Yankees spring training facility has no problems. The Rays just don’t want to invest in the area, and truly don’t want to hear what the fans have to say, or need, just like our political “leaders” It’s all about money and greed, not the genaral good and welfare of the people.

  3. Old Gator - Sep 28, 2010 at 12:27 PM

    I agree – my preference would be a Mickey Mouse head shaped stadium in Celebration. Great access from I-4 and close to Giordano’s Pizza in Kissimmee. And it would always be so clean, and there’d never be a shortage of android housewives to fill the seats. The spirit of Uncle Walt would keep the swastikas and their evil spirits away, too.

  4. Utley's hair - Sep 28, 2010 at 12:34 PM

    The same holds true about Philly. It’s always been a football-centric town. Eagles news takes up far more column/web space from about June through March. To the chagrin of Joe Banner and his cohorts, the Birds haven’t been as successful of late as the Phightins–as well as the Flyers’ lengthy run last year–which has shifted the power more away from the Eagles.

    And, Craig, Atlanta is a football town? With the Falcons? Wow…just wow.

  5. Utley's hair - Sep 28, 2010 at 12:44 PM

    You do realize that if there were more Rays fans showing up, then there would be more of those damn annoying cowbells, right? In that case, I do fear the reaper.

  6. clancy11 - Sep 28, 2010 at 1:20 PM

    I agree that economics does play a part in attendance. But tell me why the Phillies have sold out 121 consecutive games? Is there any other team that can say that? The economy is bad all over. And Atlanta being a football town?? What? Can’t root for more than one team at a time?

  7. Utley's hair - Sep 28, 2010 at 1:36 PM

    Everybody knows that baseball fans are more cerebral and can handle multitasking. But in football towns…well…who knows?

  8. Old Gator - Sep 28, 2010 at 1:37 PM

    You’re right about the transplant issue. Many of the tourists who die in automobile accidents down here often get shipped home a lot more than 21 grams lighter. It’s a scandal that’s waiting to explode.

  9. Jonny5 - Sep 28, 2010 at 1:38 PM

    Those cowbells are probably why no one shows up!! You my friend are a frigging genius!!!

  10. SadPandaRevolt - Sep 28, 2010 at 2:02 PM

    Nah. They’ve got the Bulldogs.

  11. dprat - Sep 28, 2010 at 2:15 PM

    And Georgia Tech.

  12. Old Gator - Sep 28, 2010 at 2:48 PM

    I think probably H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth” pretty well nails the personality of your basic football town. It’s set on the coast of Massachusetts, of course, but it works just as well in the Permian Basin – think Tremors.

  13. Benedick - Sep 28, 2010 at 11:33 PM

    We lived in St. Pete for a year–parts of two seasons. The Trop is not perfect but is not that bad. The field itself could look better, but the seats are comfortable and the food is good. An outdoor stadium without a roof would be a problem with the heat and frequent rain. This is an easily navigated metro area. It’s easy to get from Tampa to the Trop. The Trop is right off the interstate and about 15 miles from Tampa (half of which is a bridge). Lots of people drive a lot farther to a game. Ray James stadium is in the south of Tampa–not that far from the Trop–and it draws fans. Personally, I think the team could do a lot more to make its games more visible, but I think the fans are the main problem. There are a lot of places that would like to have team–any team. Tampa-St.Pete has a GREAT team. The players are right; the fans need to start showing up or they will lose the team.

  14. wesmenno - Sep 29, 2010 at 7:49 AM

    My wife and I are in our sixties and we no longer find it easy to hike up and down endless rows of stairs.
    Lots of potential fans in Ft Lauderdale are as old or older, and face similar issues.
    Maybe the design of the stadium, the physical accessibility of it (for those of us somewhere between spry nimble youth and wheelchairs) is to blame for the low attendance.

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