1. Rays

Wall Street Journal: Baseball in Florida ‘has been a disaster’

The Rays and Miami Marlins 'are at a moment of reckoning' after years of low attendance and a forgettable offseason.
Empty seats outnumbered fans in Section 132 during a 2013 Rays game against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
Published Apr. 20, 2018

The Rays and Miami Marlins "are at a moment of reckoning" after histories of low attendance and an offseason in which they sold off many of their top players and were singled out by the MLB Players Association for failing to spend revenue-sharing money, according to a story published Thursday by the Wall Street Journal.

Now, some are calling into question the experiment 25 years ago to bring Major League Baseball to Florida, which has hosted spring training for decades and has a wellspring of local talent as well as a large population of Latin Americans.

"Let's call it for what it is," one person familiar with the union's thinking is quoted as saying. "Baseball in Florida has been a disaster for Major League Baseball."

The Marlins have been among the worst five teams in average attendance 18 of the past 19 seasons. The Rays have ranked last in six straight seasons.

And, apart from the Marlins' two World Series titles in 1997 and 2003 and a stretch of six Rays' winning seasons from 2008-13, there was been more losing than winning.

Following offseasons in which the Marlins unloaded Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and others and the Rays shipped off Evan Longoria, Corey Dickerson, Steven Souza Jr. and Jake Odorizzi, the teams have come under fire for their spending habits, as well.

The players association in February filed a grievance against the Rays, Marlins, Pirates and A's, accusing them of failing to spend their revenue-sharing money to improve the on-field product as laid out in the collective bargaining agreement.

There are fundamental problems inherent in both markets. Tampa/St. Petersburg and Miami/Fort Lauderdale are populated by transplants whose loyalties lie elsewhere. Seasonal residents are gone during the summer.

The Marlins have a new stadium with a retractable roof, but it hasn't offset the market issues. Tropicana Field has been an albatross around the Rays' necks since the beginning.

"Outdated before the Rays even started playing," team president Matt Silverman is quoted as saying.

The Rays, who want to build a ballpark in Tampa's Ybor City, believe stadium location to be their biggest problem, according to the story, pointing to strong television ratings as an indicator of interest in the team.

Attracting sponsors in a market that lacks a large base of corporate headquarters is the key, according to team officials.

"It's a pivotal point for our franchise," Silverman is quoted as saying. "This new stadium effort is a fresh opportunity for the community to show that it values a baseball team."