Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hooper: Tampa, are we just not a good sports town?

New York Yankees batter Alfonso Soriano hit back-to-back home runs off Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price last week and the crowd roared with approval.

In Tropicana Field.

In St. Petersburg.

In Tampa Bay.

Yes, fans of the visiting Yankees ruled the night. They may not have outnumbered the Rays faithful, but they out-shouted them. It's difficult to conceive such a scene at any other major-league team's home field.

Yet, it didn't come as a surprise. The dominance of out-of-town fans really is nothing new. You find a throng of Red Wings fans at the Tampa Bay Times Forum every time Detroit visits the Tampa Bay Lightning, and you get inundated by Saints followers whenever New Orleans plays the Tampa Bay Bucs at Raymond James Stadium.

And maybe it's more than just an annoyance. Maybe it's symptomatic of a larger characteristic about our area. Maybe it's time to ask a nagging question that few seem to want to face:

Are we a good sports town?

Plenty of Rays lovers who live in Tampa insist the team will draw more fans if a new stadium went up in the Channel District. After wading through 45 minutes of traffic on my way to the Yankees game — just to reach the Hillsborough entrance to the Howard Frankland Bridge — I want to believe a relocation might make a difference.

But would it really?

Maybe the team would struggle on either side of the bay. Maybe attendance lags for the Rays and Bucs because the economic dollars in the community won't stretch far enough to support three major franchises.

Or maybe we just don't care enough to go to every game or even a lot of games.

Usually when our teams contend and compete, we show up in droves. In the Bucs' heyday, seats proved scarce and the team boasted a waiting list. But when ticket prices went up and the economy went down, attendance began to bottom and it still hasn't recovered.

The University of South Florida football team's fortunes followed a similar path. When the Bulls climbed into the nation's Top 10, crowds filled Raymond James. But its tailspin into mediocrity has resulted in embarrassing numbers.

And we won't even talk about USF basketball, another program that draws more visiting fans than hometown supporters — when it's lucky.

In a great sports town, fans show up win or lose, seemingly adhering to the legendary code of letter carriers. In this town, I fear to think what would happen if our spectators had to fight through snow or rain or gloom of night.

A lot of factors unique to this area impact attendance: a transplant-based population, fixed-income retirees, great weather, multiple diversions, lack of corporate headquarters and average salaries. I wouldn't dismiss any of those and I might top the list with lack of convenient public transportation — a factor that helps explain why television ratings are relatively high compared with attendance.

But the one aspect rarely discussed on talk radio and seldom written about on the sports pages is that this area seems to lack an over-the-top fervor you find in more tradition-laden sports towns. It's an intangible that's difficult to define, but fan derives from the word fanatic, and I'm not sure we truly are.

Even more alarming, the one base that embodied that intangible has waned in recent years. Attendance quietly has declined at University of Florida football games and, up until last year's national title season, Florida State endured some turnstile turmoil and still struggles to sell out games against lesser opponents.

I've spent a number of years defending Tampa Bay and the state's sports passion (except for woeful Miami, of course) to out-of-towners. I'll continue to do so. We might do well, however, to embrace a little introspection and gauge our excitement for sports.

I think we're a quart low.

That's all I'm saying.

Hooper: Tampa, are we just not a good sports town? 04/23/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 1:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Car bomb kills 13, injures 24 in Baghdad; Islamic State claims responsibility

    World

    BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded outside a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad just after midnight today, killing 13 people and wounding 24, hospital and police officials said.

  2. Leaping shark floors angler in Australia

    World

    In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway's protagonist battles for three days to pull in his prized catch. For Terry Selwood, it came a little more suddenly.

    A 9-foot shark lies on the deck of a fishing boat at Evans Head, Australia on Sunday. Fisherman Terry Selwood said he was left with a badly bruised and bleeding right arm where the shark struck him with a fin as it landed on him on the deck. [Lance Fountain via AP]
  3. Rays rally twice to beat Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ARLINGTON, Texas — Starting Erasmo Ramirez on Monday after he closed out Sunday's marathon win turned out, despite the Rays' best intentions and rigid insistence, to be a bad idea as he gave up four runs without getting through three innings.

    Erasmo Ramirez, starting a day after closing a 15-inning marathon, struggles against the Rangers and comes out after throwing 43 pitches in 21/3 innings.
  4. Britain investigating missed signals over Manchester bomber

    World

    LONDON — Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5, is investigating its response to warnings from the public about the threat posed by Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people and wounded dozens more in an attack at a crowded Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, last week.

    People gather Monday at St. Ann’s Square in Manchester, England, to view tributes to victims of the suicide bombing that killed 22 on May 22 as a concert by Ariana Grande was concluding.
  5. Trump condemns killing of pair who tried to stop racist rant

    Nation

    The mayor of Portland, Ore., on Monday urged U.S. officials and organizers to cancel a "Trump Free Speech Rally" and other similar events, saying they are inappropriate and could be dangerous after two men were stabbed to death on a train as they tried to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade.

    Coco Douglas, 8, leaves a handmade sign and rocks she painted at a memorial in Portland, Ore., on Saturday for two bystanders who were stabbed to death Friday while trying to stop a man who was yelling anti-Muslim slurs and acting aggressively toward two young women. From left are Coco's brother, Desmond Douglas; her father, Christopher Douglas; and her stepmother, Angel Sauls. [Associated Press]