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Rays' revitalization extends beyond field

The win-loss column isn't the only place where the Tampa Bay Rays are doing well. As the Rays hover around first place, they're also succeeding nicely in sporting goods stores, online and on television.

With slightly more than a quarter of the 2008 Major League Baseball season in the books, sales of Rays merchandise have risen faster than all but one other big league club — the National League champion Colorado Rockies. The Rays have shown a 70 percent increase in sales over last year, but the team still ranks second to last in total market share, ahead of only the Toronto Blue Jays, according to SportScan INFO, which tracks retail sporting goods sales.

Four teams — the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox — account for half of the market share. Ten teams have less than a 1 percent share, including the Rays, who sit at No. 29 out of 30 with a 0.51 percent share.

"They are showing some nice increases," said Matt Powell, a SportScan analyst. "But I seriously doubt they can jump all the way from half of 1 percent of the market to 5 or 10 percent. I'd be astonished if they moved into the top 10.

"It's a great team to watch. But the market is too small."

Still, Rays merchandise is selling far better. Team chief sales officer Mark Fernandez believes that if only retail numbers are used (and stadium sales were excluded), sales of Rays merchandise could fall into the upper third. "That's the message I'm getting from our retailers," Fernandez said.

Fernandez credits a change in the team's name, its uniform design and its performance. And the success has rubbed off. Visits to the team's Web site were up nearly 8 percent in past six weeks, Fernandez said. TV viewership is up about 15 percent.

"Last Saturday, we had 63,000 households in the Tampa Bay area watching the Rays-Cardinals game from St. Louis. And it was a beautiful Saturday afternoon here. That tells me (watching the Rays) has become appointment viewing for a lot of people."

Tom Zucco can be reached at zucco@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8247.

Rays' revitalization extends beyond field 05/20/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 23, 2008 10:43am]
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