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Rays play up title memories to sell season tickets

The Tampa Bay Rays today launch the first TV commercials in an aggressive television, print, Web and radio campaign. The Rays franchise has one goal in mind: use the 2008 Cinderella season to boost season tickets sales, which ranked among the league's lowest last year at roughly 10,000.

Major league teams average about 15,000 season ticket holders, so the Rays have their work cut out for them. That's why the team is committing 40 percent of its advertising budget before the regular season even begins, to pitch the benefits and perks of becoming a season ticket holder.

With a worst-to-first 2008 season as American League champions and a first trip to the World Series to work with, the Rays' marketing team is the envy of almost every other baseball team. Spend time jawing with the Rays' front office guys. They still can hardly believe what happened last year.

The new ads will not hurt the Rays' quest. They are built around six players who are the core of the team: Outfielders Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton, pitchers James Shields and Scott Kazmir, and infielder-power hitters Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena.

Print ads began this past weekend with Carl Crawford about to tell us about Rays season tickets, only he's busy burning up the base paths. Monday's ad shows Evan Longoria at third base ready to talk season tickets, but he's "getting ready to devour" every ball hit his way.

The TV ads offer an extra treat: The voice of Rays manager Joe Maddon. This guy is smooth.

And when Maddon mentions the player in each ad by nickname — Shields becomes Shieldsy, Kazmir is Kaz, Longoria is Longo and Pena is Los — it works because Maddon himself named them.

The ads were a collaborative effort between the Rays marketing staff and the team's ad agency, Tampa's Pyper Paul and Kenney.

When the Tampa Bay Devil Rays debuted in 1998, an impressive 22,000 people paid to be inaugural season ticket holders. That number — with good representation from both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties — dwindled over the next decade as the Rays struggled, routinely finishing in last place. Most remaining season ticket holders live in Pinellas.

The Rays are keen to change that trend. "Rebuilding season tickets is our No. 1 priority," says Rays senior vice president Mark Fernandez. The goal is to draw more ticket buyers regionally. The Rays are pumped up because their new spring training stadium in Port Charlotte — 90 minutes south of St. Petersburg by car — already has captured 3,500 season ticket holders.

Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, where the Rays had played during spring training, boasted just 300 season ticket holders.

Fernandez would be delighted if the Rays could attract close to 15,000 regular season ticket holders. With 81 homes games, that would mean a guaranteed attendance of 1.2 million — before any single-game tickets are sold. Last year, the Rays drew 1.8 million during the regular season, and fewer than 1.4 million in 2007.

At the home opener on April 13, the Rays will raise American League Championship banners at Tropicana Field, just before they take on the New York Yankees.

Now that's a marketing moment.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Rays play up title memories to sell season tickets 02/02/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 6, 2009 7:16am]

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