Let’s stage a walkout.
The suggestion came from a WDAE-AM 620 listener not long after news broke that the Rays have received permission from Major League Baseball to explore splitting home games with Montreal in future seasons.
And radio host Aaron Jacobson retorted with a quipped that summed up the longstanding problem with baseball in Tampa Bay.
“Would anyone notice if 5,000 people walked out?”
Rays owners have grown frustrated over the years as average attendance has continued to decline since 2015, when it dropped below 16,000 for the first time in franchise history. In the past two seasons, average attendance dipped below 15,000. Since 2014, the Rays have been last in the American League in average attendance.
On May 28 and May 29, the Rays suffered two of its lowest attendance games in history, drawing less than 6,000 fans.
TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: A TWO-CITY SOLUTION?
FAN REACTION: Fans react with anger, sorrow over possibility
FAN REACTION: Fans react with anger and sorrow.
The Rays say the plan would help keep baseball in the Tampa Bay area long term, but the majority of fans rejected the possibility. Early results from a poll on the station asked fans would you rather have the Rays half the season or not at all. Nearly 80 percent said not at all.
“Can they just play baseball and not worry about where they’re playing right now?” asked Chad Mairn, who was sitting with his 8-year-old son Sam at Ford’s Garage in downtown St. Petersburg. “I went to the game on Father’s Day and it was packed.
“They could make the tickets free, but the fact that you go inside and spend $15 on on a beer and $15 on parking, that adds up. When you have three or four kids and want to go to a game, it’s an expensive deal,” Mairn added.
Comments on tampabay.com proved equally critical.
“This is a joke! If they are going to do this then just move. Why would this area spend money for a part time team?” wrote Scott Givens.
“This has got to be one of the dumbest ideas MLB has come up with,” wrote Joel Martin.
Some identified the on-going dispute between where a potential new stadium should be located in Tampa Bay as the source of the issue. Rays officials exercised a three-year option to negotiate with elected officials in Tampa and Hillsborough County for a new stadium, but failed to reach an agreement on a proposed $892 million stadium in Ybor City.
“I don’t know why they just can’t come to Tampa,” said Eddie Titi, the bar manager at the Landing bar in Valrico. “The pressure’s on Tampa, now.”
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He thinks this decision makes the Rays situation even worse because it begs the question why is the team still in St. Petersburg if no one shows up.
Those sentiments echoed on the other side of the bay, with Ford’s Garage bartender Videsh Singh saying, “Go to Tampa. Why go to another country?”
Others on Twitter, including MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, hinted at the possibility of the Rays playing half of their future games in St. Petersburg and half in Tampa.
Multiple fans proposed the Rays should try to split time with Orlando instead of leaving the country.
“It’s time for at least the Rays to come to Orlando.” tweeted Juan Andres. “They’ve been having trouble filling up the stadium for the last couple of years and we both know Orlando would be perfect for a major league level sports teams with the level the city is growing."
Fans on Twitter shared Andres’ sentiment.
The Landing’s general manager Ron VanHall said it’s a bad situation for the franchise, but worries most about those faithful followers who have stuck with the team.
“I feel bad for the true Rays fans, the fans that never miss a game and make it out to the Trop,” he said.
Tiffanie Belcher used the word “awful” when she heard the news about the Rays potentially splitting their home games between St. Petersburg and Montreal.
Belcher was ecstatic when there were rumored talks of the franchise moving to the other side of the bridge. It was a chance for a fresh start on fresh soil with fresh fans.
Now, she’s not sure if those plans will ever see the light of day again. But she’s sure about one thing: Things are getting worse instead of better.
“Fans draw a line,” she said. “And I think they’ll definitely lose some because of this."
Times staff writers Josh Fiallo, Mari Faiello and Ryan Kolakowski contributed to this report.