Five lousy excuses for the Tampa Bay Rays’ struggling attendance

If you’re trying to explain small crowds at Rays games, you need to come up with much better excuses than these.
TAILYR IRVINE   |   TimesFans walk into Tropicana Field for the Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest on Feb. 9, 2019 in Saint Petersburg.
TAILYR IRVINE | TimesFans walk into Tropicana Field for the Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest on Feb. 9, 2019 in Saint Petersburg.
Published May 3

Tampa Bay lacks population

There is no arguing this fact:

Tampa Bay is in the bottom half of Major League Baseball markets when it comes to population.

So, no, the Rays should not be expected to draw crowds on par with population centers such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas or Philadelphia.

But if you’re using population to explain attendance, then how do you reconcile Milwaukee, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Denver and St. Louis? All of those metropolitan areas have smaller populations than Tampa Bay according to census figures.

And yet the Rays have drawn less fans than every one of those markets in every season since 2011.

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A view of the stands at Tropicana Field during the sixth inning of the Rays' Tuesday, April 23, 2019 game against Kansas City.   MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
A view of the stands at Tropicana Field during the sixth inning of the Rays' Tuesday, April 23, 2019 game against Kansas City. MONICA HERNDON | Times

[ RELATED: If we're going to complain about Rays attendance, let's get the story straight ]

Relax, it’s only May

This one is popular with the mom-and-dad crowd.

You know, the kids are still in school. And there are Little League games and travel ball tournaments. Attendance will pick up when summer kicks in and everyone has more time.

Except it doesn’t really work that way around here. At this time last year, the Rays were averaging 14,833 fans per game. They finished the season at 14,259. And that’s after they got hot in August and September.

Plus, kids are still in school in every other city in America. So that doesn’t justify this market having smaller crowds than the rest of the league.

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A few fans sits in the upper level at Oriole Park at Camden Yards during the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics baseball game, Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
A few fans sits in the upper level at Oriole Park at Camden Yards during the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics baseball game, Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)


Attendance is down everywhere

Once again, this is based in fact but lacks context.

It’s true that MLB has seen a fairly significant attendance drop in the past two years. It could be cyclical after so many years of rising attendance, or it could be a backlash to the number of teams that have cut payrolls while rebuilding rosters.

Whatever the reason, 13 teams have seen crowds drop more than five percent from the same time last year, including the Rays. By comparison, only five teams have had an increase greater than five percent.

But the larger point is that Tampa Bay still lags behind.

The Rays have had the smallest cumulative audience for the past 10 years, and it’s not even really close. The Marlins have been the second-worst team and have averaged about 110,000 more fans per year.

And even as attendance drops in other cities, Tampa Bay continues to struggle.

The Rays are currently 28th out of 30 teams.

[ RELATED: Ten reasons why the Rays owned baseball's best record through April ]

Aerial photo of Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in Clearwater. LUIS SANTANA   |   Times
Aerial photo of Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in Clearwater. LUIS SANTANA | Times


We live in a tropical paradise

From Fort DeSoto Park to Honeymoon Island, there are miles and miles of beaches just waiting for you to stretch out and relax. There’s fishing, sailing and skiing to be done in the bay. There are golf courses in every direction. Who wants to sit in a domed stadium with so much beauty all around?

There are just a few flaws with this argument:

The Rocky Mountains, for instance. And La Jolla. And Puget Sound.

In other words, Tampa Bay is not the only market with natural beauty. And one could make the argument there are also a handful of entertainment options in, say, New York and Chicago.

Once again, not a unique argument to explain the issue in Tampa Bay.

[ ROMANO: Rays' stadium situation looks bleak, but it doesn't have to be ]

Rays owner Stu Sternberg is seen in the rotunda just prior to the doors opening for Tampa Bay's home opener against the Houston Astros Thursday, March 28, 2019, at Tropicana Field. DIRK SHADD  |   Times
Rays owner Stu Sternberg is seen in the rotunda just prior to the doors opening for Tampa Bay's home opener against the Houston Astros Thursday, March 28, 2019, at Tropicana Field. DIRK SHADD | Times


Owner Stu Sternberg is unlikeable

This may be the most baffling excuse of all.

You can disagree with him about closing the upper deck, going to a cashless stadium, instituting dynamic pricing and other business decisions. You can even complain that he’s never moved to Tampa Bay.

But the truth is Sternberg is one of the best owners in sports.

He’s hired smart people who have consistently kept the Rays near the top of the standings with cutting-edge strategies that other teams routinely emulate.

While the Rays have been 30th in ticket sales during the last decade, they have been sixth in wins. In other words, the team on the field has far outperformed the market with Sternberg as owner.

Contact John Romano at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow at @romano_tbtimes.

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