ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays, coming off their first-ever playoff appearance and World Series berth, have slightly raised individual ticket prices for the 2009 season.
Rays president Matt Silverman said Monday that about 70 percent of tickets for regular games will increase by $1 (for example, upper deck goes from $9 to $10).
But to bolster the season ticket base — the "lifeblood" of any baseball team — Silverman said the club is increasing the discount for season ticket holders to as high as 35 percent for some seats, which equates to the entire 81-game home schedule for the cost of 53 games.
"We haven't raised prices in the last couple of years, to any significant degree," Silverman said. "In order to keep up with the rest of Major League Baseball, we're going to have to shrink the revenue gap some. Even with these changes, we're still one of the most affordable ballparks, if not the most affordable, in all of baseball."
Last season, the Rays' average ticket price of $17.23 was fourth cheapest in the majors, according to Team Marketing Report Inc., which listed the Rays' fan cost index (based on a family of four) as the lowest in the majors ($136.91). Silverman said two big parts of that affordability — free parking for cars with four or more passengers and the ability to bring in food and drink — will remain in place.
There are, however, several changes:
• The club added a "marquee" pricing category that includes 11 Saturday games, which will feature a postgame concert or premium giveaway. The pricing for those is between the regular and "prime" pricing (games with the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies).
• Vehicles with fewer than four passengers will be charged $15 to park in the main Trop lot, $10 for the remote lots.
• There will be an increase in the surcharge for those tickets bought within five hours of game time (now $3-$5).
"Even if they were to raise mine a little bit, I wouldn't have had an issue with it, knowing that they're going to make the investment in the team," said season ticket holder Ryan Lund, 31, a Tampa resident. "As a fan, if I thought they were going to pocket the profit and let the free agents go, I'd have a problem. But knowing they're investing to give us a better product … I'm okay with it."
The Rays posted losing seasons in their first 10 years but made a huge turnaround in 2008, racking up 97 victories, winning the American League East and advancing to the World Series, where they lost in five games to the Phillies. The Rays increased their payroll to around $44-million in 2008 and signed several players to long-term deals.
The Rays sold out eight home playoff games within minutes, and attendance increased 30 percent, the largest spike in the majors. Although the Rays shared baseball's second-best record, they finished 26th out of 30 teams in tickets sold.
Silverman didn't offer the club's goal for an increase in season tickets sold, which was thought to be around 8,000 last year. He said another indicator of a successful club is the number of tickets sold before opening day. Silverman said the Rays have a goal of 1-million before the start of this season, which he said would be more than a 25 percent increase.
Said Silverman: "It'd put us in the right direction."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.