Another Major League baseball season has begun for the Tampa Bay Rays. Through their first nine home dates, the Rays rank 22nd in the league with an average 21,904 fans per game. This is a good start for a team that has been one of the lowest drawing teams in the Majors, despite making the playoffs in 3 of the last 5 seasons. Nationally, this story has been a mere footnote on the back pages of nondescript sports magazines. However, here in the Tampa Bay area, both fans and non-supporters alike wonder aloud if this area can support a Major League Baseball team. The reasons for the poor attendance at Rays games are well-known and legendary in the Tampa Bay area.
"It is too far to get to Tropicana Field." Too far? Twenty-three miles separate downtown Tampa from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. As someone who is used to making a commute like this on a daily basis, the distance is manageable for most residents of the area, especially to see a good baseball game. However, there is a natural barrier that keeps many Rays fans from the Tampa side, on the Tampa side. We call it Tampa Bay. It might as well be as wide as our beloved Gulf of Mexico, because the distance is a major reason why residents on the east side of the bay don't make it to the west side of the bay. Tampa, and many its 350,000 residents have a self-imposed ban on crossing the bay, which leaves them literally cut off from attending many Rays baseball games.
"There is traffic in Tampa Bay that prevents people from traveling to Rays games." Traffic? Newsflash: There is traffic everywhere! Since a lot of us are transplants anyway, we should be used to traffic jams and endless commutes to get to the paces we want to go. We also know that traffic in Tampa Bay is light compared to the inch-by-inch commutes in other parts of the country. Yet Rays fans on both sides of the bay will talk about the traffic that prevents them from attending many games. While traffic getting to and from Tropicana Field can be tough, if you look carefully, you can find local routes to get to and from the stadium. I have driven right up to the front door, thanks to a shortcut up and down 16th street South.
"The economy of the Tampa Bay area is a reason why fans don't show up to Rays games." Is that right? The restaurants, shopping malls, and nightlife of the Tampa Bay area are always turned on. You can shop 'til you drop, drink 'til you drop, and tip 'til you drop (folks in this area know exactly what that means). In my opinion, it's not the economy in Tampa Bay that keeps people away from the Rays games. Instead, it's where and how our residents spend their money. There are plenty of entertainment dollars and even more entertainment options in Tampa Bay. The Rays must find a way to compete for our dollars. The team must contend with the sparkling St. Petersburg beaches and upscale Tampa shopping, and dog racing tracks (yes, dog racing). Unfortunately, the Rays are losing the battle to attract fans from around the Tampa Bay area.
In 2013 I predict more of the same for the Tampa Bay Rays. There are three things you can count on during this baseball season, Rays followers: The team will be just good enough to be in playoff contention, they will be in the bottom third of attendance in Major League baseball, and your fellow fans will be full of excuses why they can't attend a game. Meanwhile, the Rays will keep doing what they have been doing for the last few years. They entertain the fans who dare to cross the bay, sit in a little traffic, and spend their entertainment dollars on the only winning Tampa Bay area pro team.
"Tropicana Field is a terrible place to watch a baseball game." Really? I suppose you'd rather sit in an open air stadium in Florida from June-August.
Come on, Rays fans, get to the games! I hope to see you there. Go Rays!
Published by Gary A McAbee
Gary A. McAbee is an author and motivational speaker. He created programs on goal setting and achievement, credit management, and leadership development. He has been involved in education on the secondary... View profile
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