Rays' attendance making news in other cities
As St. Petersburg Times baseball writer Marc Topkin pointed out Sunday, respected Chicago Tribune baseball writer Phil Rogers took some shots at Rays fans because of the low attendance. In a column, Rogers called the low numbers "ridiculous'' and wrote, "While fans in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles endure nasty commutes to go to games, Tampa residents act like a $100 tariff is required to cross the Howard Frankland Bridge to get to Tropicana Field. Here's some unsolicited advice -- get over it.''
This isn't meant to defend or make excuses for the Rays attendance because it is an issue. But is anyone else tired of other markets and national shows wagging their fingers at Tampa Bay, while forgetting other teams in big markets haven't always been the hot ticket in those towns? The Rays averaged 22,259 during the 2008 World Series season and 23,147 last season. This season, the average is 23,301. And, let's not forget, this is a franchise that has been around only since 1998. While people in most major-league cities have teams that their fathers and grandfathers rooted for, the only people in transient Tampa Bay who can call the Rays their childhood team are, at most, 12 years old. Not one kid in town has a parent who grew up cheering for the Rays.
When the White Sox won their division in 1983 after being around for 82 years, know what the average attendance was? A little more than 26,000. The White Sox typically drew fewer than 20,000 during the 1970s and 1980s. The Red Sox, which started in 1901, averaged 21,857 during their World Series run in 1975. The Cubs'attendance during the 1970s was often in the 12,000 range. In 1986 -- two years after the Cubs came within a game of the World Series -- their average attendance was 23,239. That's almost identical to what the Rays are averaging now, two years removed from their World Series appearance.
Still, in the end, attendance is a problem in Tampa Bay, and there are as many theories as to why as there are empty seats. Sadly, when you have the smallest crowd in the majors two nights in a row while having the game's best record, maybe you deserve ridicule from other cities. But it doesn't make it any easier to swallow.