The Tampa Bay Rays may be fighting low game attendance, and the team's future stadium location remains fuzzy. But team executives remain optimistic that, once again, the Rays will be serious contenders in a 2014 season that kicks off in a few weeks.
Fans of plenty of other major-league baseball teams simply can't be as confident this season, says Brian Auld, Rays senior vice president of business operations.
Hence this year's new advertising campaign and slogan: "Rays Up." The team launches the ad campaign this weekend and next week with print, radio and TV ads, billboards, and an increasing dose of social media marketing via Twitter and Facebook.
"Rays Up" is a clever play about an aspiring team that's had 90-plus wins in each of the past four seasons, its first Cy Young winner (David Price) in 2012, and three Rookie of the Year winners (Evan Longoria, Jeremy Hellickson and Wil Myers) since 2008.
"Rays Up" also is a call to arms. The franchise hopes fans will rise up to support a quality team by attending more games. The Rays suffered the lowest attendance of any MLB team the past two seasons.
"The slogan celebrates the excitement, high energy and passion for the team on the field and in the community," says Rays senior vice president Mark Fernandez.
In an interview Wednesday, Auld and Fernandez elaborated on why the Rays feel so upbeat.
• The team has sold nearly 10,000 "Flex Pack" ticket packages, which start at three games (no blackouts) for $49 and go up to a pack of nine games with better seating options for $199. The tickets come in the form of a Rays Card (formerly called a Burst Pass) that users can also use to buy concessions and merchandise at a discount. Some "Rays Up" ads will focus on promoting the Flex Pack, which gets fans to commit to more than one game at the season's start.
• The Rays are famous for using statistical analysis or "sabermetrics" to find innovative ways to compete against high-payroll teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Small wonder the Rays are improving their fan database to offer more individualized promotions based on a fan's history of attending specific games or buying specific food, drink or Rays gear.
"We'd like to have as many fans as possible on the Rays Card," Auld says.
• The organization is working hard to finish a 360-degree walkway around the stadium's lower bowl from which fans can socialize and get a different perspective on the field. It will sweep behind the outfield, run across the former Batter's Eye space beyond centerfield and pass by the popular rays tank in right-centerfield.
• Once again, the Rays expect to sell out their season opener, scheduled this year for March 31 against the Toronto Blue Jays. That will make nine sold-out openers in a row.
• The 2014 promotional giveaways — always a challenge to stay fresh — range from a Joe Maddon Mr. Potato Head (Aug. 2), DJ Kitty plush hat (May 10) and a Myers bobblehead (April 5) to a Desmond Jennings "baseball buddy" doll and James Loney barbecue grill set (June 8).
Will "Rays Up" fill Tropicana's cavernous stadium, propel the Rays to a World Series win and assure Tampa Bay of a red-hot major-league franchise for years to come?
That would be a marketing grand slam. But this may be a more far-reaching measure of success:
At dozens upon dozens of Little Leagues around the Tampa Bay area, Fernandez says, there's heated competition over which team gets to call itself the Rays.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at email@example.com.