Saving the Tampa Bay Rays: Tampa’s Last Chance

Tampa Bay Rays
ST PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 06: An interior view of Tropicana Field prior to the start of the home opener game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles on April 6, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Saving the Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays have continued to show why they are a team to be reckoned with. But disaster is looming up in management, and something needs to change.

On June 25th, Rays owner Stu Sternberg and executives held a press conference to discuss the future of the team. He confirmed what many feared — the Rays would be exploring the option to play in both Montreal and Tampa Bay.

Sternberg told reporters, “As far as getting it done here, we never say never, but after all we’ve been through, and what we’ve learned over the last few years, it’s highly unlikely.” Basically, it’s over.

This is unacceptable. Rays fans should not stand for it and should be ready to do whatever it takes to keep their beloved team. Despite Sternberg’s comments, the Rays are not a lost cause, and it’s certainly not the fans’ fault. This is how the Rays can be saved and why they were put into this position.

How We Got Here

We all know about the Rays attendance problems, as they continuously rank in the bottom of the league in attendance. This is where the Rays issues begin. The MLB Cap is based on how much teams make over a season, so the Rays, being a smaller-market team, have never had a ton of money to spend on star players. Without butts in the seats, the Rays don’t profit. Sternberg has not helped the situation either, as he has failed to invest much back into his team or city. There are plenty of things that could be updated to bring more fans to the Trop. But when he talks about the team, he doesn’t seem to care.

The Problems

There are two main reasons for the attendance woes. First is the location and the second is the stadium.

Location

Simply put, St. Petersburg is not built to support a major franchise. The city, while great, is small and has a much older population than cities like Tampa. There are not enough things that attract tourists regularly for the Rays. The city a team plays in is just as important as the stadium they play in. They have tried to leave St. Pete before but signed a long-term contract that kept them there for way too long. However, through certain loopholes and deals, the Rays might be able to get out of the contract as it nears the end.

The Rays are currently located in downtown St. Pete, across the bay from Tampa, the core of the Tampa Bay Area. This is where the problem starts. The Rays primary audience is located around Tampa, so for most fans, they must travel across the bridge to St. Pete to make it to the game. While this might not sound like a massive issue, for the average fan it can take up to an hour to get there, and this is without traffic.

For other sports, this may not be as big of an issue because there aren’t very many home games in a season. However, for sports like baseball, there are so many games that not every fan will be able attend each game. Because of this, they need fans to be wanting to go to game after game. The average Rays fan is not willing to spend tons of money at game after game when it takes them forever to get there and back.

The Stadium

The second issue lies with the stadium itself. Although local Rays fans call the Trop “Americas Ballpark,” it is not. The Trop is outdated and, most importantly, does not give a true ballpark feel. This is due to the dome that the Rays have covering the Trop. While it is a necessity, it takes away from that baseball experience.

The Trop is an old stadium that was built back in 1990 and has not had major renovations since. The most recent was the new lighting added to the roof of the stadium. This goes back to the point that Sternberg has failed to put money back into the team. While locals might enjoy the ballpark for its few features it does have it is nothing special to tourist or average fans.

Without these unique features and long travel times, the Trop is set up to fail. Something needs to be done, or the Rays won’t be around for much longer.

The Solution

Luckily there is one simple way to fix all of these issues. It’s not to move to a new spot in St. Pete, it’s not to move to Montreal, and it’s certainly not to split home games between two cities.

Move to Tampa

The Rays need to move to Tampa itself. With most of their fans in and around Tampa, this would be the smartest move. By doing so, they would also be pulling from a larger local population. A study done by the ABC Coalition in 2010 showed that by moving to Tampa, the Rays would be within 10 miles for over 900,000 people. That’s over 300,000 more than are within a 30-minute drive of St. Pete! If you were to extend that range just a little bit farther, the Rays could pull from a population of 1.2 million — all of whom are just a short drive away. This alone would be a boost for the Rays, as average fans would be much more inclined to head to a game.

Money

Another big reason why they Rays would be able to pull larger audiences while based in Tampa is money. The average income for citizens in St. Pete is about $45,000. In Tampa, the average income is $52,000 — $7,000 higher than St. Pete. With more money flowing from around Tampa, its population is more likely to purchase baseball tickets.

Success of the Tampa Bay Lightning

This is why other Tampa Bay teams have not run into issues the Rays have. Just look at the Tampa Bay Lightning (Bolts), who are in Tampa itself. The Bolts pull from this larger population, and even though they have fans in St. Pete who travel across the bridge, the majority don’t. The Bolts sell out every home game and have built a huge community around the team.

New Stadium

By moving the team, the Rays would also be building a new stadium, and the original one they had planned was perfect. It had glass windows that surrounded the outfield, giving the stadium that authentic feel while keeping its visitors dry. The new building would also have the traditional upgrades any new ballpark would bring, such as nice food venues, amenities, and more.

Moving Onward with the Plan

As mentioned before, the Rays had a very nice stadium planned, but it ended up falling through because of money issues. However, this should not be an issue with the right people such as Mayor Jane Castor, Stu Sternberg, and Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

Vinik has said himself that he wants to have the Rays in Tampa. He originally wanted them in his Tampa 2020 plan — a plan that hopes to bring new life to the city of Tampa Bay.

Jane Castor is said to be good with her budgeting. It would not be surprising if she can find ways to get more money to fund a stadium, such as bringing in a sponsor for the ballpark’s naming rights.

It’s time for Rays fans to stand up and tell officials to get this team to Tampa. This is not an impossible thing to accomplish. With the move, a new chapter could be on the horizon for the Rays.

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