Finally, some answers. Thanks to an outpouring of e-mail, I now have a better understanding of what it will take to improve attendance at Tampa Bay Rays games.
First, you want a ballpark in your back yard. It must have free admission, although you're willing to pitch in for beer (domestic) and quality peanut products. Also there should be no roof — but you still need air-conditioning.
Seriously, readers have chimed in with all kinds of suggestions, explanations, accusations and insults. Some of the e-mails were insightful, and some were nutty, but almost all were passionate. Passionate about their devotion to the Rays, or passionate about their reasons for not coming to Tropicana Field.
Here is a small sampling:
The attendance numbers with the Rays confirm what most of America thinks of the Tampa Bay area. Tampa Bay is a second-rate town that wants to believe it's one of the "big boys." It's not, and likely never will be. It might very well be the location of the stadium or the fact that the stadium is a pit, but the Kingdome was pretty awful too, and the Mariners filled that place night after night when they finally found their way in 1995.
A little harsh but historically accurate. At this pace, the Rays would have the worst attendance of any postseason team since the Marlins in 2003.
Please, John, don't condescend to our community with your berating of the Rays' lack of attendance. I go to as many games a year as I can, at least half a dozen. My best friend just bought season tickets, but we're all not the pack of morons you presuppose. The ownership never expected that waterfront stadium to pass, it's all a big ruse for them to relocate the team, not to Tampa, as you naively assume, but right back to New York. That's what they had in mind when they bought the team.
Perhaps this explains why the Rays were looking to draft someone to play the grassy knoll.
The Rays, in fact no team no matter how good or bad, will never draw respectable crowds in Tropicana Field. It was put in one of the most undesirable locations in Pinellas County and the demographics in that general area will never support major-league baseball. Most of the folks, within a 10-mile radius around the Trop, are too old, too poor, or just plain not interested.
The location was cited by more people than any other reason. Considering the lack of development around the Trop in the last decade, it is certainly worth arguing the point.
What more do people in the bay area want? The team has new ownership, they have upgraded the stadium, they have changed the name, they have changed the colors and slogans, they have not raised ticket prices and for crying out loud, THEY ARE THE LEADERS IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST! … People need to wake up and realize that we are going to lose this franchise to a better market if we do not support this team, here and now.
It might be a little premature to sound the alarms about the franchise moving out of the area. A handful of cities are snooping around (Charlotte, Portland, San Antonio and Las Vegas among them) but none is considered slam dunks as major-league baseball markets. And that might be our saving grace.
The stadium was built at the wrong location for residents on this (Hillsborough) side of the bay and apparently there are not enough fans in Pinellas to give the team the support they deserve.
The problem is there are not enough fans on either side of the bay. To be a success in this market, the Rays have to draw heavily from both Pinellas and Hillsborough, with a sprinkling of other counties. There may be a better location than downtown St. Petersburg, but there is no perfect location.
I too am saddened by the lack of attendance and wish I could attend more myself … even though prices weren't raised this year, it is still hard to find the $25-$35 a person to go to a game. Last year, I was in a wheelchair and it cost my wife and I $28 a seat to go to games. We only went to two. This year, the economy is even worse, and fixed incomes rarely have money for baseball.
I got several e-mails similar to this, and my heart ached a little more with each one I read. I have no doubt that attending ball games would be a financial hardship for far too many people in Tampa Bay.
You can blame the economy or you can blame the skyrocketing cost of professional sports, the end result is the same: Too many people have been priced out of the picture, and that is a crying shame.
How many times per month do you shell out $100 on discretional activities that are not subsidized by your profession as a newspaper writer? That would be a good reference point for all of us crummy fans.
A lot of readers seemed to think I was personally criticizing them when I wrote about Tampa Bay's disappointing attendance figures on Thursday. That was far from the point of the column.
The issue is not with individual fans. I have no right — and neither does Stuart Sternberg — to tell anyone how to spend their entertainment dollars.
What is a legitimate issue is Tampa Bay's viability as a baseball market. For 10 years, the lack of support was written off as a byproduct of losing. Now that the Rays are winning, it is worth reassessing how this community responds.
Or fails to respond.
John Romano can be reached at romano @sptimes.com.