Scouring Tampa Bay for Rays season ticket holders

Published Feb. 10, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG — In baseball, 300 represents batting excellence; in bowling, perfection. Hollywood immortalized 300 martyred Spartans. With a single jab, however, Stuart Sternberg recently gave 300 a black eye in St. Petersburg. The Tampa Bay Rays owner, who wants out of Tropicana Field, let drop that only 300 full season ticket accounts trace back to St. Petersburg addresses. Say what you want about a bad economy, that's shockingly low for a host city — even after Rays officials quickly clarified that it translates to about 800 fans in the seats, because many account holders buy multiple tickets. St. Petersburg officials launched the obvious counteroffensive:

"What does Tampa have? What does Clearwater have? What does Brandon have?" City Council member Bill Dudley complained Thursday. "We are being singled out.''

The Rays won't say. Like other baseball owners, they rarely offer details about season tickets. And after his one brief salvo, Sternberg returned to clam status.

So the Tampa Bay Times started asking around. Who does buy season tickets? Who doesn't?

This limited survey did not begin to answer Dudley's question about Brandon, et. al. But it did yield interesting results.

The city of St. Petersburg has a suite and 10 lower bowl tickets as part of the Trop contract. Officialdom's personal commitment is all over the block.

Dudley does not hold season tickets, nor do most City Council members. Jim Kennedy, a lawyer, has four. Karl Nurse, who employs about 35 people in his label printing business, has two weekend package tickets.

Charlie Gerdes, who wants to let the Rays examine Hillsborough stadium sites, is part of a group with four tickets behind home plate. His law firm has a separate weekend package.

Mayor Bill Foster has two partial season tickets in the upper deck, first base side. Top aides Rick Mussett and Tish Elston are in a group that shares four full season tickets in the lower bowl.

No Pinellas commissioners have season tickets, nor does Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos. Former Mayor Frank Hibbard once shared six tickets behind home plate with three friends. In 2008, he even shaved his head into a mohawk and dyed it Rays' blue.

But like many Tampa Bay residents, Hibbard has given up his tickets since that first winning season. "My schedule got to the point where I couldn't make it down to enough games," he said.

Both Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn say they stand ready to seek a stadium solution on their side of the bay. Neither has season tickets, though Hagan once did before he ran for office.

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce dropped its season tickets three years ago amid recession cost-cutting. And president Bob Rohrlack?

He took over in 2009 and still owns a house in Orlando that he can't sell. He also has "two kids in college and one in private school,'' he said. "With what pennies I have left, I can't buy tickets.''

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Put St. Petersburg chamber president Chris Steinocher into the no ticket column, too. But the Rays give the chamber numerous tickets for business recruitment.

Chamber chairman David Punzak, a lawyer, belongs to a group that shares four tickets in the lower bowl.

The Tampa Bay Partnership — representing regional cooperation — doesn't own any season tickets. Nor does president Stuart Rogel.

Several large St. Petersburg-based employers have tickets, often used for marketing. But Raymond James, whose name graces Tampa's football stadium, declined to comment about whether the company holds even a single season ticket to the Rays.

The owner of a smaller business, Mark Ferguson of Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill near the Trop, said he buys 50 tickets each to four games a year to market game and food packages.

"I try to help boost attendance any way I can," said Ferguson, who also has four personal season tickets in the upper deck.

Duke Energy, a longtime Rays supporter, was busy last week with a nuclear plant shutdown and did not respond.

Tampa Electric had suite tickets from 1998 through 2007. "For whatever reason, we had difficulty consistently finding business guests to attend the games," said spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs. "Because of that, we could no longer justify the expense."

Tampa's Chuck Sykes has been a mini whirlwind on Major League Baseball. He was Tampa's representative on the ABC Coalition, which studied stadium options. When he chaired the Tampa chamber, he organized a task force to study stadium financing. He chairs the Tampa Bay Partnership, which has offered help with regional dialogue if St. Petersburg ever gives the green light.

His company, Sykes Enterprises, has suites for the Bucs and Lightning but not the Rays — in part because the Trop has such poor suite sight lines, Sykes said. The company does have four corporate tickets behind home plate.

Bank of Tampa, which recently broadened its reach into Pinellas County, buys occasional tickets for employee recognition.

That could change.

"We'll take a close look at some type of corporate sponsor as we grow more in Pinellas County," said spokesman Chris Sinton.

Echelon, which last year unveiled a stadium plan for Carillon Business Park, has four corporate tickets. Tampa-based Debartolo Development has Bucs and Lightning suites, but neither a suite nor tickets at the Trop.

Rays' sponsors and advertisers often have suites and tickets as part of broader joint marketing and service arrangements.

Times Publishing Co., owner of the Tampa Bay Times, has a suite with 16 tickets and four seats in the Whitney Bank Club. St. Anthony's Hospital, which provides medical services at the stadium, has eight season tickets and sometimes gets up to 400 for special promotional nights.

Kane's Furniture, the 10-strikeout pizza people, have 12 tickets spread throughout the stadium.

The lowest season ticket price this year is $1,036 for upper deck or tbt* Party Deck seats. That comes to $12.79 per game. Home Plate Club tickets cost $15,571 or $192.23 per game.

Team Marketing Report, which estimates average season ticket prices, ranks Rays' tickets as the fourth least expensive in Major League Baseball.

Times staff writers Dan Sullivan, Anna Phillips, Mike Brassfield, Damian Cristodero, Richard Danielson and Susan Thurston contributed to this report.


This article has been updated to reflect the following correction: The Tampa Bay Times has a suite with 16 tickets and four seats in the Whitney Bank Club. An earlier version incorrectly reported the number of tickets the company holds.