ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have slightly increased individual ticket prices for their more attractive games in 2010.
But they plan to maintain their 2009 title as ESPN the Magazine's "most affordable team in professional sports," pointing to the 40 percent of games in which prices are at or below last year (mostly weekday games). And fans can still bring in food and enjoy free parking (although in a more limited fashion).
The five-category pricing structure released Thursday includes increases for games against the Yankees and Red Sox as well as weekend games, which often include postgame concerts or premium giveaways. Senior vice president Mark Fernandez said the prices are "consistent with the value being offered."
"We were the defending American League champs, and we were the most affordable team in all of professional sports," he said. "So even with this moderate increase to some sections, we're actually taking tickets in some places and lowering them."
Fernandez said there will be an expanded concert series, with more dates and more attractive acts, and the surcharge for walk-up tickets bought within five hours of game time ($3 to $5) will remain.
There will, however, be some changes:
• Instead of three pricing categories — prime, marquee and regular — there will be five: diamond, platinum, gold, silver and bronze. Diamond and platinum prices are higher than last year's prime and marquee. But gold, silver and bronze prices are as low as $12, $10 and $8, respectively.
• Vehicles with four or more passengers can park for free for bronze and Sunday games. For all others, the first 100 cars with four or more are free up to an hour before game time. The lots cost $10 to $20.
• Rays president Matt Silverman said they will try to make Friday games, which he said "lagged the most" last season, more attractive through promotions.
Fernandez said the Rays enjoyed a "healthy jump" in season-ticket holders last season. Buoyed by the 2008 World Series berth, attendance was 1,874,962 (average of 23,148), second to the inaugural 1998 season (2,506,023) and 3.5 percent more than 2008 (1,811,986).
But they fell well short of their goal of the league average (30,218).
"In these times and looking across Major League Baseball, the attendance gain we had is not something to take lightly," Silverman said. "But it still underperformed our expectations. The trend is positive. And we're hopeful that … will grow into next year and, hopefully, for many more years."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.