Advertisement
  1. Business

Rays unveil weekday game discounts, season ticket perks to boost low attendance

Renderings show the Draft Room Season Ticket Club, which will be at the club level along the third-base line and will be exclusively for season ticket holders.
Published Feb. 9, 2016

On multiple fronts, the Tampa Bay Rays are making key progress.

Political permission to start looking at potential new stadium sites in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties? Check. Some sharp-eyed trades in the offseason to beef up the Rays' lean lineup with bigger bats? Check.

What else could the Rays ask for?

How about more derrieres planted firmly in too-empty seats at Tropicana Field?

The team finished the 2015 season with homefield attendance averaging 15,403 per game, lowest among 30 Major League Baseball franchises. That's 2,403 fewer fans per game then the 29th-place Cleveland Indians and one-third the game attendance enjoyed by the No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers.

In an interview Monday with the Tampa Bay Times, a trio of senior Rays executives outlined plans to make it more tempting to attend games — especially on weekdays when work and school schedules make it tougher for more people to watch the Rays at the Trop.

The Rays are pushing aggressive promotions and discounts this year, offering those in the military and veterans free admission on Mondays, while cutting kids' ticket prices to $2 on Tuesdays and charging just $2 for hot dogs every Wednesday. Seniors can get $15 tickets for games on Thursday. Students get the same deal on Fridays.

In addition, the Rays are deepening their relationship in two ways with their season ticket holders, the fan base that Rays president Brian Auld calls "the lifeblood" of the MLB organization. First, the Rays are building a large, swank hangout dubbed the Draft Room at the club level of the Trop along the third-base line, exclusively for season ticket fans. Second, the Rays are starting a rewards program using a points system similar to American Airlines and Marriott.

Jeff Cogen was recently hired by the Rays and given the sweeping title of chief business officer. He explains that the franchise has had lots of good marketing ideas, but needed to sharpen them so that it was clear what their value was to Rays fans — and potential fans. The new marketing plan lets the Rays target specific slices of the team's fan base more effectively.

Cogen envisions a marketing scenario that can draw first-timers to the Trop, persuade more casual fans to become more frequent attendees, and more regulars to become season ticket holders.

The new rewards program, he says, can influence behavior, for example, by giving a fan 2,000 points for attending a Tuesday game but only 500 points for a Saturday game. He also sees points being redeemed not only for free food or drink, but increasingly in exchange for one-of-a-kind experiences with the Rays.

One example: Cashing in points to let your 12-year-old watch batting practice right on the field. Or join the Rays on a community project.

"A season ticket holder can build his own sundae, if you will," Cogen suggests. He characterizes the Rays' low attendance at the Trop not as a problem but "an opportunity" — especially with the strong fan base that watches Rays games on TV.

Cogen may prove to be a compelling addition to the Rays business mix. He formerly served as CEO of the Nashville Predators hockey team, and from 2004-07 was the Texas Rangers' president.

He says his marketing career has come full circle — he started in St. Petersburg with the Ringling Bros. circus. He calls baseball his "true love."

My sit-downs with Rays executives every February traditionally focus on what new advertising campaign the team will unveil at the start of the season. This year, the Rays are sticking with their last and, frankly, superior ad campaign: Rays Up. Auld says it will be refreshed with new music but otherwise stay largely the same.

Auld, Cogen and Rays marketing vice president Brian Richeson point to an expanding crop of Rays players who are enjoying broad appeal to fans. In addition to Evan Longoria, a core player used in Rays marketing for years, the executives point to starting pitcher Chris Archer, centerfielder (and fan heartthrob) Kevin Kiermaier, team MVP Logan Forsythe and pitcher Alex Cobb (coming off rehab) as emerging public faces that can strengthen the team brand.

Auld refuses to call the Rays' current effort to start looking for a new stadium site a distraction. The Rays have been open about their intentions, he says. The team wants to remain a Tampa Bay team for many years to come, whether in Hillsborough or Pinellas.

But near term, can the new marketing focus help claw the Rays' attendance out of last place? The Rays, after all, will be playing at the Trop for some years yet. And they have suffered the lowest attendance in baseball four years in a row.

Auld is optimistic. Look at the team stats, he says.

The Rays have won the third-most number of games in the major leagues since 2008. And they have done that with one of the lowest payrolls.

Says Auld: "The Rays are this region's team."

Contract Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The main exhibit center at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa once stirred the imagination with dinosaurs and stars. Now, it's empty, but on the verge of rebirth as a movie studio.
    The County Commission has set aside $2 million for the project as the Film Commission studies the demand for it.
  2. Snack-focused delivery app GoPuff launched in Tampa in February. It serves the area surrounding the University of South Florida. GoPuff
    Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or Funyuns? GoPuff says it has the data for which snack Floridians love the most.
  3. "House Hunters," shot at a home in the Bayshore Beautiful area.  (Times | 2007) Tampa Tribune
    Whang, 57, was also a comedian and actress.
  4. The city is accepting applications for its Commercial Revitalization Program. The city has allocated $175,000 for the program this year.
  5. The Walmart supercenter at 990 Missouri Ave. faced fines in December for these storage containers in the parking lot. City officials are debating whether to make a short-term arrangement with the city two’s Largo stores this year so they can store their holiday inventory. City of Largo
    In the end, city commissioners say yes, with some reservations.
  6. More construction is on the way to St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, thanks to $19.75 million in Federal Aviation Administration grants to rehabilitate the airport’s runway. (Times file photo)
    The work is expected to be complete by spring 2021.
  7. Job applicants seek information about temporary positions available with the 2020 Census, during a job fair in Miami on Wednesday designed for people fifty years or older. LYNNE SLADKY  |  AP
    The state added 22,500 jobs in August.
  8. Homeowner Cheryl Murdoch, 59, explains the workings of the Philips Smart Mirror in her bathroom. Murdoch and her husband live in the Epperson neighborhood in Wesley Chapel, home of the Crystal Lagoon, where some residents are piloting new health technologies inside their homes. SCOTT KEELER  |   Times
    In Pasco’s Crystal Lagoon community, AdventHealth and Metro Development Group are testing in-home technology aimed at keeping people away from the hospital.
  9. A company called Flock Safety is selling automatic license plate readers to neighborhood associations to cut down on crime, and Tampa neighborhood Paddock Oaks is one of their customers. Pictured is a Flock camera on Paddock Oaks Dr. | [Luis Santana | Times] LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Atlanta-based Flock Safety has provided 14 area communities with high-speed, high-definition cameras for surveillance.
  10. An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft approaches Miami International Airport for landing in March. Bloomberg
    The 60-year-old veteran airline employee told investigators he was upset that union contract negotiations had stalled.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement