1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Rays

If we’re going to complain about Rays attendance, at least get the story right

Time is running short to figure out Tampa Bay’s baseball stadium problem, so it would help if everyone viewed it realistically.
The future of Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay depends on the Rays and the market figuring out how to solve attendance problems and come up with enough revenues to justify the building of a new ballpark. TAILYR IRVINE | Times
Published May 3
Updated May 3

ST. PETERSBURG — By summer, this endless conversation could turn nasty.

More than a dozen years of fretting, analyzing and debating the lack of attendance at Tampa Bay Rays games may be nearing a breaking point. Three years of stadium talks in Hillsborough went nowhere, and now owner Stu Sternberg will soon decide whether to pursue a new deal in St. Petersburg.

For many fans, it’s beginning to feel personal. As if their loyalty is being questioned.

Meanwhile, Sternberg sees a team that finished April with baseball’s best record and yet had the American League’s worst attendance, and he must wonder if it will ever get better.

One way or another, it’s a problem that must be solved. And that won’t happen until we start looking at the big picture instead of the petty gripes.

RELATED: Five legitimate excuses for the Rays' poor attendance

So is attendance a problem?

Yes, absolutely. Television, digital and merchandise make up a large share of MLB’s revenues, but ticket sales still account for about 30 percent of a team’s incoming money.

And the Rays ticket sales are not just bad, they are historically bad. Some teams finish near the bottom of the league in rebuilding seasons, but the Rays have finished last while making the playoffs.

There is also the problem of degree. The median attendance in baseball last year was about 27,500 per game. The Rays averaged 14,259. That means Tampa Bay would practically have to double its attendance just to be an average team. And that was while winning 90 games.

So are there legitimate reasons for Tampa Bay’s low numbers?

Yes, of course there are.

In fact, every fan has their own reason for not attending. And every reason, taken individually, is valid.

Maybe you get off work too late to make it to the game, or you have to wake up too early during the week. Maybe the stadium is too far away from your home, and traffic is too much of a hassle. Maybe MLB tickets are more than you can afford, or you just prefer to watch on television.

For any person those are legitimate reasons.

But the marketplace has to be better.

RELATED: Five lousy excuses for the Rays' poor attendance

Because, when it comes to the actual problem, that’s what we’re talking about. This isn’t about shaming a family in Brandon that doesn’t want to drive to St. Petersburg. And it’s not about pointing a finger at the business owner in Pinellas Park who can’t fit season tickets or sponsorships in the company budget.

This is about whether Tampa Bay, as a region, has enough money to support three professional sports franchises.

Ultimately, that’s what Sternberg must decide. Right now, his choices are to seek a new stadium in St. Pete, to ask Mayor Rick Kriseman for another shot at Tampa, or to wait until the Tropicana lease runs out in 2027 and look for a deal in some other market.

So will it get done in Tampa Bay?

RELATED: New mayor Jane Castor thinks the Rays belong in Tampa

I think it’s possible, but only if everyone views it logically and fairly. And that means Sternberg and elected officials need to accurately assess how much the team is worth in the marketplace, as well as to the marketplace.

It also means fans need to accept that the team has a valid argument about lack of support. That’s not a slight to any individual, it’s just a fact based on attendance relative to other Major League markets.

With that in mind, here’s a list of legitimate — and not-so-legitimate — arguments that explain why Tampa Bay, as a sports market, has become a punchline for critics and fans around the country.

The road to relocation?

The Rays are one of only four franchises, since World War II, to finish last in MLB in average attendance for at least five consecutive seasons. History was not kind to the three previous markets.

St. Louis Browns (1946-51): Became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954.

Washington Senators (1955-59): Became the Minnesota Twins in 1961.

Montreal Expos (1998-2004): Became the Washington Nationals in 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays (2012-17): To be determined.


Contact John Romano at Follow at @romano_tbtimes.


  1. Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Matt Duffy (5) singles in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the American League Division Series Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Jose De Leon is traded; Vidal Brujan, Jake Cronenworth, Lucius Fox, Ronaldo Hernandez, Kevin Padlo are added to roster.
  2. The home page for the website, launched this week after an announced effort to try to attract a Major League Baseball team to Orlando.
    Longtime sports executive Pat Williams’ pitch to get an MLB team starts with fans showing interest. Stadium, owners ‘"not pertinent right now."
  3. Catcher Ronaldo Hernandez, shown at the 2019 All-Star Futures Game, is one of the Rays top prospects. MARC TOPKIN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Teams have until 8 p.m. Wednesday to decide which prospects are added to 40-man roster and protected from Rule 5 draft.
  4. Pat Williams is the former GM of the Orlando Magic basketball team and was involved in unsuccessful efforts to lure an expansion team in the 1990s. JASON DECROW  |  AP
    Longtime sports exec Pat Williams is holding a news conference Wednesday to talk about getting a team.
  5. Tampa Bay Rays' Carlos Pena hits a sixth-inning solo home run off New York Yankees pitcher Sidney Ponson in their baseball game at Yankee Stadium on July 9, 2008. KATHY WILLENS  |  AP
    Just the other day, Pena’s son asked him about being considered for the Hall.
  6. FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2019, file photo, Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter smiles as he speaks during a news conference in Miami. Derek Jeter is among 18 newcomers on the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot, announced Monday, Nov. 18, 2019, and is likely to be an overwhelming choice to join former New York Yankees teammate Mariano Rivera in Cooperstown after the reliever last year became the first unanimous pick by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File) WILFREDO LEE  |  AP
    Former Rays Carlos Pena and Heath Bell are also among the 18 up for election for the first time.
  7. Long faces dominate some of the remaining Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans during the fourth quarter of the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, November 17, 2019, in Tampa. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: What remaining game will Tampa Bay be favored to win?
  8. The cover of the book Grassroots Baseball: Where Legends Begin Courtesy Jean Fruth
    The 224-page book features a chapter on Tampa, and an essay by Hall of Famer Wade Boggs.
  9. Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) delivers a pitch in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros in Game 5 of the American League Division Series on Oct. 10 in Houston. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Rays Tales: Team execs on Houston’s big problem, a base for winter acquisitions, trophy time and an upcoming owners meeting.
  10. Jameis Winston (3) points to fans after the Bucs' 2017 victory over the New Orleans Saints. Tampa Bay Times
    Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Previewing Bucs-Saints, justice for the Astros, answers for the Lightning.