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Q & A

Vince Naimoli, managing general partner of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, talked to Times staff writer Marc Topkin last week about the team's early attendance. Some excerpts:

Q. Do you think Devil Rays games will become "the thing to do" in Tampa Bay?

A. "The more people learn and watch and hear, the more I think it's getting to be the thing to do.

"Once they come here and experience this place and experience the fun, you've kind of got 'em. Because the whole product _ the stadium and the food and the team _ really kind of sells itself. Like everything else, you've got to try it once."

Q. Are you looking for attendance to pick up as the season goes on?

A. "Advance sales for upcoming games with Baltimore next week and other top opponents such as Boston, Cleveland, New York, Seattle and the Braves, should all be 40,000-plus.

"We're looking at games which we fully believe will be sellouts in . . . May."

Q. What are some of the things the team is doing to improve ticket sales?

A. "We're making a much bigger push with group sales. Now we're up to 60 groups per game, but here's the deal _ our 60 groups are maybe 70 to 80 people (in each group). We should be hitting the groups where there's 1,200 or 1,500, and we've got a couple of those in mind.

"(Our sales staff) has got huge mailing lists, they're making presentations to human resources departments, they're out talking to population centers like Sun City and Top of the World, but they just started all this. They're also working on county days and school system days."

Q. Many people thought this would be a good market for walk-up sales on game days. But the biggest walk-up total has been about 5,000. Why hasn't that total been higher, or at least more consistent?

A. "Two things. First, I'm not sure many people identify with these (opposing) teams we've played so far. And secondly, I'm not sure people didn't get scared off when we had those massive lines outside. Now we have new ticket windows (on the east side of the stadium), so people have to learn that we have a tremendous number of windows."

Q. With teams like the Orioles and Yankees coming to town, many people will come to cheer for the opposing team. Is that okay by you?

A. "That's the fun of being there. The way I look at it, a person who buys a ticket has the right to come in and wear whatever team jersey they want and cheer for whatever team they want. That's what makes it competition."

Q. Is it bad for a first-year franchise to have to rely on visiting teams and players to boost attendance?

A. "I don't think so. I think we'll get them out for the visiting team and start to change their loyalties. We've seen a bunch of that already."

Q. Are ticket prices too high?

A. "I don't think the tickets are at all. Someone can come here and buy $1.50 and $3 tickets. I don't think tickets are any concern whatsoever, because you can get any price tickets you want."

Q. What about concessions?

A. "Yes, people pay more for food than if they go to the neighborhood fast-food restaurant. But it's a function of being in the ballpark. People who go to Tampa Stadium or the Ice Palace, our prices don't bother them at all."

Q. Of the Rays' 81 home games, 59 are on TV. Does that hurt attendance?

A. "I think games on TV help because they educate the market. It's fun to watch it on TV but it's not like being there, so I think it whets people's appetites."

Q. Do you think your original estimate of 3-million to 3.2-million fans this season is possible?

A. "I think so. At this point in time I wouldn't change that."