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Rays owner Sternberg: Attendance will affect payroll

Empty seats have outnumbered fans in many games this season for the Rays, who are 30th out of 30 major-league teams in home attendance.
Published Sep. 25, 2013

NEW YORK — As bad as the Rays attendance has been, principal owner Stuart Sternberg didn't expect it to be worst among the 30 major-league teams and said it will have an impact on next season's budget.

"I'm a little shocked, I'm a little surprised," Sternberg said in response to questions before Tuesday's game. "My goals sometimes are pretty reasonable. I wanted to be league average after '08, and I felt (this year) we would be 28th, maybe with a shot at 27th."

Sternberg did, however, say he would expect them to sell out a potential Oct. 2 wild-card game, and he was "pretty certain" any subsequent playoff games at Tropicana Field also would sell out.

He also took issue with the current Major League Baseball unbalanced scheduling format, calling it an "abomination" to have teams playing vastly different schedules competing for the same wild-card playoff spots.

The Rays drew 1,510,300 for their 81 home games, their lowest total since 2007 (before the run of six straight winning seasons), and giving them a major league-low average of 18,646. The Marlins average 19,260 but have a lower total, of 1,483,085, though with four games remaining.

"We budget for certain numbers and we're extraordinarily conservative when it comes to expectations and budgeting, but it was below our expectations," Sternberg said, noting that the combination of the team over-performing on the field and under-performing at the gate "is not ideal."

Without getting into specifics, Sternberg said there would be an impact on next season's budget, although a long postseason run could make up for the revenue shortfall. The Rays ranked 28th this season with an opening day payroll of about $58 million.

"It's not helpful," he said. "We have to change our sights for next year now. But there's still a lot of baseball to be played and it could be helped by what happens the rest of this year, it could be helped to see what happens in the offseason as far as pre-sales and season tickets and things like that."

Sternberg said it was not fair for the Rays, who play 76 games against the other rugged AL East teams, to be battling with the Indians and Rangers, who each benefit from having two of the league's worst teams in their divisions.

"We have one hand tied behind our back," he said. "There needs to be a more balanced schedule. It doesn't need to be completely balanced but it's got to be somewhat balanced if you're going to have two wild-card teams. We're competing with two teams that basically have had two to three to four extra games in the bag on us."

PRICE CHECK: LHP David Price takes the mound tonight having gone five starts and a month without a win, and he hasn't pitched particularly well, posting a 4.05 ERA and allowing 35 hits in 331/3 innings for a .278 average without a win.

Price said there's nothing wrong physically or mechanically, he just needs to "have some good stuff happen." Manager Joe Maddon said he believes Price's issues have been the result of his approach in certain situations.

PITCHING IN: With RHP Jake Odorizzi working in relief Tuesday (and getting his first big-league save), RHP Jeremy Hellickson will start Friday in Toronto, Maddon confirmed. … The Rays logged their team-record 16th shutout of the season.

MISCELLANY: Maddon said there was no update on CF Desmond Jennings, sidelined with a mild left hamstring strain. … The Rays improved to 10-7 vs. the Yankees, the fourth time they've won a season series from them. … Though Saturday's game was picked up by Fox as part of its national TV package, Rays broadcaster Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson are scheduled to man the mikes.

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