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The Rays need to get out of Tampa Bay

Jun 23, 2011, 1:36 PM EDT

Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria AP

I don’t know that I know enough myself to make such a judgment, but that’s the judgment of ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume, who writes what I feel to be a fairly accurate and even-handed assessment of the problems facing the Rays in St. Petersburg, concluding thusly:

Again: This is not about assigning blame. Nobody is a bad person for not attending a baseball game. Even with 30 new ballparks one major league team would still have to be last in attendance, and even with a new stadium on the Tampa side, there is nothing to suggest that team wouldn’t be the Rays. The Tampa Bay area is a great place. It just hasn’t been a great place for Major League Baseball to do business.

The most compelling argument against the Rays’ viability in the Tampa Bay area that I’ve heard is the argument that, overall regional population aside, it’s a population that is really spread out in terms of miles from the ballpark. And that’s even before you factor in the bridges and other demographic considerations. At some point, you either feel like you have a ballpark nearby or you don’t, and the bulk of the population in the Tampa Bay Area apparently views the Rays as playing far away from them, in a location that isn’t worth the bother of reaching.

Of course, there are no easy solutions. There are very few if any cities that would be sure-things from a business perspective if the Rays were to relocate. Some would be better than St. Petersburg, but no sure things.

It strikes me that the best bet to ensure the financial viability of the franchise would be to move it into an area that is already part of the claimed territory of an existing team, such as Brooklyn or the New York suburbs. Inland Empire, California. That kind of thing. Such a move would certainly upset apple carts, but it would also reflect the population trends of the past few decades, and those trends are something to which baseball has always, eventually, had to adhere.

  1. Kevin S. - Jun 23, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    Downtown Newark, right next to the Prudential Center. It’s right in the middle of a successful revitalization project, and it’s right next to Penn Station Newark, which connects directly to Trenton, the Jersey shore, the World Trade Center, Penn Station New York, the Hoboken/Jersey City area, and the Raritan Valley. The rest of the New Jersey train lines all run into Secaucus, which is ten minutes up the line and an easy transfer. Probably less threatening to the Mets because it’s not on their side of the woods, and less threatening to the Yankees because it’s not in the city proper. But it could succeed there.

    • kopy - Jun 23, 2011 at 1:50 PM

      I think the money/population are in place, but I wonder how easy it would be to convince the locals to start supporting this new team instead of the Yankees. It could work, but it would have to be done right. I don’t know if it would be better to put the team in AL or NL. Don’t forget, a New Jersey baseball team would potentially detract Phillies fans from the Trenton and Camden areas too. These theories also don’t mention how much the Yanks/Mets/Phils would have to be compensated, Orioles-style, for infringing on the market.

      • Kevin S. - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:05 PM

        I don’t think the Phils get compensated, despite their fans being poached. And I only meant Newark is probably the most palatable location for the Yanks and Mets. They’d still get compensated.

      • Utley's Hair - Jun 23, 2011 at 4:13 PM

        I believe that’s the first time I’ve ever seen “Newark” and “palatable” (or anything with similar meaning) in the same sentence.

    • Jonny 5 - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:21 PM

      Yeah but Newark has been known as a total dump. And there are DYED IN THE WOOL fans in Jersey who would die before changing their rooting interests. It would take a decade or more to convert fans imo. To change the city, I say put them somewhere that has no rooting interests locally. Norfolk VA maybe? VA beach rays???

      • kopy - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:27 PM

        VA Beach and North Carolina were the other two places I thought about. VA Beach has the population, but I don’t know if they have the money/corporations/interest. It’s worth looking into, but then again, it’s probably already been looked into and there may be a reason why they don’t have a pro team. North Carolina seems to be a fast growing place. I would think they would be the favorites, but the NFL’s Panthers are in such a sorry state… that would scare me a lot if I was MLB.

      • bennyblanco1 - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:29 PM

        Diehard fans may not root for a new team (at least not right away) but I think people would still go out to the ballpark. Especially if they built a fan friendly park. Good food, nice atmophere and people will go. I live in Manhattan and wouldnt mind taking a train to NJ to watch a new team.

    • franklapidus316 - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:53 PM

      Definitely could succeed in Newark. Takes forever to get to Citi from NJ burbs, especially long on public transit after night game. And as Mets fan, would love AL team in area not named Yankees. You can get to one of the 2 Newark NJ Transit stations from everywhere in state, also easy to get to from Penn Station NY. Yankees probably wouldn’t care, they’ll still sell tix, but Mets maybe get bit.

  2. kopy - Jun 23, 2011 at 1:45 PM

    With the article of the new book fresh in my mind, I vote Montreal, if they have to move them somewhere. Really, the only reason fan support dwindled is because MLB put the screws on them. Would you go see your favorite team play if they weren’t allowed to call up players, and the team offices had been moved to Miami?

    I don’t think it would happen anytime soon even if MLB wanted to, though. From what I understand, Montreal is yet another city with a budget crunch. Olympic Stadium is a dump, and they can’t even afford to dismantle it. But, I do still think the fan support is there for a team.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jun 23, 2011 at 1:55 PM

      Yeah people forget sometimes when referring to Wrigley as a “dump” that Stad Olympique is the most garbage piece of poo called a stadium in North America. Montreal ain’t a bad idea though. They were robbed of a team.

    • Jay Seaver - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:00 PM

      Co-signed. There would be an instant rivalry with the Blue Jays, fans supported a winner when they had one, and Montreal is probably the largest/wealthiest city in North America that doesn’t have a baseball team.

      Stade Olympique is far from perfect, but it could probably be playable with the newer turf you see in Toronto and Tampa. And, hey, the Rays are already used to playing in a crappy park.

      Plus, it would give me (as a Red Sox fan) more excuses to spend weekends in Montreal, and make Jonah Keri insanely happy.

    • Jonny 5 - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:22 PM

      I like Montreal.

    • Old Gator - Jun 23, 2011 at 3:19 PM

      Montreal is a great idea. Scrooge McLoria has often said that he loved that city, and perhaps with a little encouragement and financial support from MLB he could be encouraged to sell the Feesh to some local businessman, buy the Razed and bring them and his knowledge of the area, and his well-known affection for the sunday morning dim sum at Ruby Foo’s, back to Montreal.

      Then, the Tropicana Dome can be dynamited and replaced with a vast complex of nursing homes.

      Yes, I vote Montreal as well.

      • nikiaf - Jun 28, 2011 at 3:53 PM

        I’m from Montreal, so let me give you guys an inside picture as to the situation right now. The city is not in a budget crisis, but the current mayor is uninterested in sports (he’s obsessed with making the city bicycle friendly, even though the summer is quite short!). He recently said that Montreal is “privileged” with the sports teams we have, because apparently NHL, CFL, and NASL (soccer) is quite impressive. So until private money turns up or a new mayor takes office, it’s going to be tricky. But let me tell you that Olympic Stadium can be a half-decent baseball venue with a little renovations. There is currently a committee looking into installing a new roof that will actually be retractable (!!!). Also with a few upgrades to the interior, it wouldn’t be far off from what the Rogers Centre looks like in Toronto, which is actually quite nice. Realistically, add a new HD video screen combined with a new roof and suddenly you have a viable stadium again. (Keep in mind the stadium was only renovated once: in 1991 and very little was actually done). As for fan support, people seriously miss baseball. The sports radio stations began broadcasting Jays games last season and this year added several games due to popular demand. Season tickets would actually sell, although don’t expect 20000 people lining up. Moving the Rays makes quite a lot of sense since that means a revived Montreal Expos would be in the same division as the Jays, creating a rivalry that used to not mean anything since it was just interleague play.

  3. Old Gator - Jun 23, 2011 at 1:52 PM

    And because our brain-dead right wing corporatist whore of a governor killed the I-4 corridor high speed rail project – assuring that Florida would remain in the transportation middle ages, in acute confluence with his atavistic ideological inclinations – there won’t be any quick, easy way to reach a new Razed stadium situated just west of downtown Tampa where it could draw the Orlando/Lakeland fans as well as the Tampa Bay area fans either.

  4. SmackSaw - Jun 23, 2011 at 1:54 PM

    San Antonio. Move them to the A.L. West. Leave the A.L. East with four teams. It’s really two teams anyway.

  5. 5thbase - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:02 PM

    At some point, between the Rays, Marlins and Jaguars in the NFL, I think you have to wonder if Florida is just not a good place to have the large stadiums needed to support MLB or NFL teams. People there just don’t seem to be that in to going to games.

    • po8crg - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:21 PM

      The Dolphins seem to do OK, though.

      Also, lots of successful college teams.

      • Ryan Smith - Jun 23, 2011 at 4:58 PM

        The Buccaneers had approximatley 10 years of sellouts during 90s-00s. But guess what, Raymond James Stadium is in a very accessible area. The Rays belong in Tampa Bay, just not St. Petersburg.

      • stepsinsc - Jun 23, 2011 at 5:19 PM

        Well, FSU and Florida pull attendance well, but both those cities revolve around those schools, and they both feel like they’re in Georgia or Alabama rather than Florida.

        Miami, however, does terrible.

  6. spudchukar - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    One thing to consider. The Rays TV viewership is growing rapidly, and rates right up there with many other cities. Maybe that indicates, people are too old or unwilling to brace the summer heat to attend games, but maybe that things are achangin’ in the Bay area. It is hard for me to believe the Lightning can be successful on the Sun Coast, and the Rays cannot.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jun 23, 2011 at 5:13 PM

      Didn’t think of that. Hell, I’d watch the Rays daily if I could. I love watching their pitchers, from Shields to Hellickson, and Longoria is just freaking awesome. They really are the team I root for the most in the AL East.

  7. Erik Klemetti - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:07 PM

    So, what is up with Florida fans? When the MLS started, they had two teams in Florida in Tampa and Miami – and both either folded or moved. Soccer and Florida seems like a natural, but instead cities like Columbus and Portland do a lot better with it. I think Florida is just bad for professional sports in general – except maybe football and basketball, which are the “fish in a barrel” sports for fans.

    I say move the Rays to Columbus, Portland or someplace real daring like Boston!

    • bobwsc - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:28 PM

      put them in Boston as an NL team. people got gushy when it was rumored that the Expos would play their home games at Fenway several years ago.

    • Old Gator - Jun 23, 2011 at 3:14 PM

      Backandforthandbackandforthandbackandforthball failed in Florida because we don’t have a long tradition of its symbiotic fellow sport, rioting. Rioting was attempted in 1968 in Macondo but the novelty soon wore off and the promoters packedup and wound up plying their trade someplace else. Until rioting becomes popular in Florida again, a sport as unutterably boring on its own terms as backandforthandbackandforthandbackandforthball cannot succeed here.

  8. yankeesgameday - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:16 PM

    At first I laughed, “boston, yeah right” then I thought “holy crap, move the Rays to Boston and put them in the Nationa League. sox/rays, yanks/mets. There’s room and it would be an amzing rivalry.

    • bobwsc - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:30 PM

      I didn’t see your comment before writing mine – sorry pal. thumbs up.

  9. jdl1325 - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:26 PM

    Old Gator hit on the important point. Virtually no viable public transit in the bay area and the now defunct ability to draw east coast fans via hi-speed rail, all but ruins the chances of a new stadium in Hillsborough county and probably does indeed preclude the need for a move in the near future.

  10. The Baseball Idiot - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:28 PM

    Havana.

    • SmackSaw - Jun 23, 2011 at 3:19 PM

      Havana! That is brilliant. Way to think out of the box. It’s only a matter of time. They could build a domed stadium. The Castro Dome.

      • Old Gator - Jun 23, 2011 at 3:27 PM

        And Elian Gonzalez, in his little red Pioneer scarf, can throw out the first pitch.

      • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jun 23, 2011 at 5:15 PM

        That’s so wrong it’s right! Wooo Havana! Cuban ladies are wonderful so they got that going for them too.

      • Old Gator - Jun 23, 2011 at 6:04 PM

        Yes they are. And they look so much better compared to their little fat boyfriends.

  11. leftywildcat - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:34 PM

    Buffalo would create rivalries with Toronto and Cleveland; Memphis might with St. Louis. Sacramento might be a better idea than Charlotte or San Antonio. It rains too much in Portland, and Indianapolis may be too small. Vancouver fans would be too cranky when the team loses.

    How about New Haven for a 3rd NYC metro area team?

    Maybe the A’s ought to get to San Jose before the Rays do.

  12. dparker713 - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    Attendence is nice. TV ratings are better. Its a market with plenty of tv sets to be viable long term even with a fairly crappy stadium.

  13. flayankee - Jun 23, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    I live in central Florida and the problem is that they are in St. Pete and not Tampa. Everyone here in the area agrees that if they moved closer to where the Bucs play the Rays attendance would double overnight. The travel is awful. They are a little less than 60 miles from where I live and I’ve thought of getting season tix but with traffic it takes me about 2 and 1/2 hours to get to the stadium all the way over in St. Pete. So I disagree, it’s not the lack of fans but the headache of the travel all the way to St. Pete. Move them to Tampa and they would make a hell of a lot more money!

    • Old Gator - Jun 23, 2011 at 3:25 PM

      Agreed.This notion of a “diffused” population is a lot of kibble. Tampa Bay is no different than any number of other small market baseball cachment areas except for the acute isolation of the Tropicana Dump on a doomed sandbar waaaaay across the bay via a trio of traffic-choked causeways. Move it just west of Tampa, put it in a stadium that doesn’t make a toad’s cloaca look like Uma Thurman, throw our ignorant imbecile governor out on his ass and reactivate the high speed rail corridor, and you’ve got the makings of a pretty well attended franchise.

      • spudchukar - Jun 23, 2011 at 3:34 PM

        They would have to change their name, and the Reds is already taken.

  14. spudchukar - Jun 23, 2011 at 3:38 PM

    Gator, I agree completely, but would the stadium be better a little east of Tampa towards Plant City, or would the traffic make access difficult for East suburban Bay Area attendees? It wouldn’t be much further for St. Pete fans, and make it more accessible to Lakeland/Orlando?

    • Old Gator - Jun 23, 2011 at 6:07 PM

      Eh…my geographical dyslexia kicking in. I meant west of Tampa. Thanks for spotting that.

  15. martywinn - Jun 23, 2011 at 3:47 PM

    I call BS on flayankee. There is nowhere you can live 60 miles from the Tropicana dome that takes you 2.5 hours to get there unless you are going by bike or kayak. The traffic is just not that bad. I won’t argue that people are unwilling to make the drive but this is a gross exaggeration. I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual answer is around 90 minutes instead.

    Old Gator: guess what St. Pete is just west of Tampa like you suggest. Unless you actually wanted to put them in the bay itself.

    spudchukar: Not much need to brave the heat when they play indoors.

    I think people exaggerate the Tropicana Dome. It’s a perfectly fine place to watch baseball. Comfortable temperatures, no rain outs. It’s not fancy and people won’t go just to see the stadium like they might in Chicago or Boston but it’s fine. Especially with a down economy no one is paying for a new stadium.

    If they must move it then just on the other side of the bay off 275 like near the Bucs stadium. If they move it east of Tampa you will miss out on all the Pinellas folks who will do the whole too far to drive thing like the Hillsborough folks do now. Secondarily you could just move it to Orlando. I would not do the split the difference and put it near Lakeland so that no one is actually close. Take advantage of the tourist crowds.

    • spudchukar - Jun 23, 2011 at 5:10 PM

      I know they play indoors. I’ve been there. But older Floridians still have to leave the comfort of their homes, and brave the heat to and fro.

    • Old Gator - Jun 23, 2011 at 6:09 PM

      Heh. yeah, on the flummoxed compass reading, see above.

      Although putting them out in the bay and then running a light rail or hydrofoil service to the main gate has a certain charm too. Seems to have worked well enough for Kansai Airport.

      Just don’t make the stadium so ugly this time.

  16. Robert - Jun 23, 2011 at 4:33 PM

    Tampa Bay Rays= Montreal Expos

    • Ryan Smith - Jun 23, 2011 at 5:09 PM

      Besides the Trop being in a horrible location, I don’t recall anyone here discussing how the economy is worse in the Bay Area than in most of the are MLB markets. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. The unemployment rate is on avg higher than most, if not all, the other MLB markets. The foreclosure rate is astronomical. The high rail system is not the reason people don’t go, but in the future that could’ve helped, but that point is moot anyway. There a lot of transiates that live in Tampa Bay that will not give up there allegiance. So there is that too.
      Does this area need help, yes. But relocation is not the answer because it will recover. If Miami, the worst sports market in America, can get a new stadium then the Rays deserve one.

  17. wizahdry - Jun 23, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    I just want to clarify a few things as a Tampa Bay local. This is a viable market for baseball. Unfortunately the Rays: 1) have been one of the worst teams in baseball until 3 years ago. 2) The team finally started playing decent baseball during our worst ever economical crisis 3) Tampa Bay does not mean Tampa – The team plays in St. Petersburg which is like a 3rd world country. The area of St Pete is not even down town it’s the sticks/ghetto area. 4) Geographically St Pete is basically an isolated island that is far away from the majority of the Tampa bay population. Unless you have a good job or live there, you just don’t go out there. This would be the equivalent of the Mets or Yankees locating their stadium in Long Island and then wonder why they get bad attendance.
    Tampa bay is one of the top 20 markets for t.v. and radio broadcasts of Rays games. That means the Rays are making good ad revenue. I’m sorry but we are not gonna spend our day driving to the sticks for a 3 hour game when we live in a Paradise civilization where we have a million other entertainment options in our back yard. The stadium needs to be by downtown Tampa. This is where all the other teams are and they are doing ok.

    • florida76 - Jun 23, 2011 at 6:11 PM

      wizahdry, I agree with you the Tampa Bay market can eventually be a viable one for baseball. This is why tradition is so important, the Tampa Bay area just doesn’t have it when talking about major league baseball, spring training doesn’t count. Too few northern transplants are supporting the Rays, since they didn’t grow up in that area.

      Other teams during this economic downturn are enjoying attendance increases, and those teams aren’t as good as the Rays. The location issue has been overblown, when the team was horrible, and drawing flies, that was rarely discussed as the reason for the poor attendance. Yes, Trop Field is bad, worse than the old cookie cutter stadiums back in the day, but the lack of tradition is killing the Rays.

      Also, the team will be able to wiggle out of the use agreement it has several years from now, so relocation is a real possibility by the end of this decade.

    • raysfan1 - Jun 23, 2011 at 6:48 PM

      Downtown Tampa would be good. So would just north of Raymond James Stadium (ie, Al Lopez Park, which is largely unused except as parking for the football stadium). Very good points about the Trop not being in a good neighborhood–not dangerous, just nothing there really to attract anyone there besides the game. There’s no plethora of sports bars or restaurants, no good tailgating experience or place to keep the party going after the game. Mass transit there is poor. All those things are improved by moving to Tampa.

      I’ve also posted before that, in a way, spring training hurts the Rays–to some casual “fans,” baseball’s old hat by the time the regular season arrives. Plus, there’s a whole lot of loyalty to the Yankees in Tampa (thanks to King George being a favorite son and the Yanks being long-time spring-training residents of Tampa), decreasing those fans desire to go to St Pete to see a rival.

      The Tampa Bay area is more than large enough to support the team (wizahdry is correct about the size of the TV market there). However, the posts about how bad the economy is currently are also true. That will ultimately change. Orlando would also be fine, but they’d have to build a stadium too. Either Tampa or Orlando could save some $ if they built a domed stadium rather than a retractable roof–just don’t make it one that slants or has catwalks that actually come in to play.

      The lease in St Pete must be pretty tight, though, or I’m pretty sure they Rays would have found their way out of it already.

      • florida76 - Jun 23, 2011 at 8:03 PM

        No, the use agreement in St. Pete isn’t very tight at at, that’s why the team will be able to escape by the end of the decade unless a new facility is planned. The local media has already covered this issue, and there will be cities lining up for a shot a a contending team.

  18. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Jun 23, 2011 at 5:22 PM

    If the Rays move to the NL, Chicago would be my choice. A real NL team in Chicago, holy cow!

  19. jaypace - Jun 23, 2011 at 6:29 PM

    I don’t think the location of the trop is the problem. I have lived in new York and drove to Yankee games. You want to talk about a hassle. St Pete is a 15 min drive from Tampa. People who live in Tampa act like it’s 150 miles. St Pete residents drive across the bridge to see the bucs with no problem. The reason for poor attendance is a mixture of things. And how can people complain about traffic if no one is going. I go to games now and then but and I do only live 10 minutes from the trop. I just wish people would stop blaming the location. If you have love for your team you will hop in your car and drive to the game. I do agree with old gator the high speed rail would have helped the team and the state immensely. Fan apathy, economics, distance for some are all contributing factors.

  20. wizahdry - Jun 23, 2011 at 10:56 PM

    I just want to follow up real quick on my last post. I ask every one that reads this to pay attention the next time they watch any team that plays in a new stadium built in the last 10 years or so. All the stadiums are in the middle of downtown and I mean right in the heart. The NY teams are the exception but hey it’s NYC everything is in the middle of action. Seattle, Detroit, St Louis etc. You can literally see the sky scrapers in the outfield. Tampa is no different than those markets. Football is different because it’s once every other week for four months. If a team wants a market to come out for 81 games plus playoffs for more than half the year you had better make it convenient to get there!

    • APBA Guy - Jun 24, 2011 at 12:36 AM

      The corollary to the downtown argument is that baseball is more than ever dependent on corporate buying for revenue: luxury boxes, season tickets, etc.. The Giants, while in the city and near downtown, have a beautiful location right off the train, also draw heavily from tourists, who discover that their “week in SF” is about 3 days too long (or 3 years too short, depending) and go to a game for fun. That’s why I’ve felt that a Rays move closer to Orlando and Kissimmee would benefit the team, getting the tourist draw could be a really good deal for them, even if you didn’t have the downtown skyline benefit, a roller coaster in the background would do just as well.

  21. sawxalicious - Jun 24, 2011 at 6:52 AM

    Puerto Rico…Sellouts every game…

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