Contrary to popular belief, Catholic guilt won’t fill the stands. Marc Topkin and John Romano (Tampa Bay Times), the drive-time hosts of any given show on WDAE, and the principal owner of the Tampa Bay Rays, Stu Sternberg – who, time and again, has made oblique comments at the expense of Rays’ fans – can attest to that. Yet, they continue to pour it on for whatever reason. It has become a mantra that has been picked up by sports writers and fans all over the country. Thanks a lot, Twitter.
Whatever their motivation, shining a light on the plight of this small market ball club’s ability to draw a steady crowd, sans a critical data-based analysis of the nuts and bolts driving the situation, has become raison d’être of the aforementioned parties. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a little. Either way, that is by design: it gives those within the market a villain (the Trop and/or the folks that don’t attend games) and a savior (those who want to build the Rays a new stadium to improve the attendance figures).
Let me be clear, I’m not suggesting that the Rays shouldn’t play in a new facility (the team should), nor am I saying that attendance is not important (it is). Rather, the manner by which they are doing so, Catholic guilt if you will, is not productive in the least, nor is it constructive. This blatant attempt to build leverage by way of saber rattling is tone deaf and childish at best. It is divisive by nature, and those complicit seek to divide the fan base into categories: those who are truly fanatical, those who are casual observers, and those who don’t care about the team.
Noah Pransky called this belittling cycle a self-fulfilling prophecy way back in 2010:
Why else would so many people dislike the Trop but have trouble explaining why? It’s like politics. The more the issue is discussed on talk radio and on the evening news, the more people will believe it. Perception is reality.
Of course the stadium has issues, but why such a drastic mid-season drop in attendance when the team is doing well? The Rays were 17th in the league a few months ago and have since fallen to 24th.
This theory may be far-fetched to some, but it’s similar to the situation playing itself out in Oakland right now where A’s owner Lew Wolff has continuously bashed his stadium and city.
And it’s also a situation playing itself out on the Florida Gulf Coast. Gov. Charlie Crist spent several weeks in May talking about Florida’s nightmare scenario…before oil even washed ashore.– Noah Pransky
Even though Florida beaches were perfectly clean at the time, the tourism numbers took a devastating hit from the perception. Remember, perception is reality. Crist took to the airwaves again to try and promote Florida vacations, but the damage had been done.
The Trop is merely Stu Sternberg’s version of Pensacola beaches. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s one that may be made worse in the short-term by reinforcing negative perceptions to the public.
Pouring Catholic guilt on a beleaguered and maligned fan base does nothing to strengthen it, nor does it nurture a community that is critical to the Rays future in the area. In fact, it has the opposite effect. Perhaps it is time to move past that tactic, and highlight the folks who work toward fostering the community and making it a more fan-centric place?
Here’s to those you who write for blogs that support the team – DraysBay, The Process Report, Tampa Bay Baseball Market, Rays Colored Glasses, and this site to name a few – most of which are written by volunteers that pour countless hours into their craft. Then, there are people that go out of their way to work with bars, breweries, and restaurants to host watch parties when the Rays are out of town…not to mention those businesses that have opened their doors for these watch parties. I’m looking at you Golden Dinosaurs Vegan Deli, Green Bench Brewing Company, the Hanger Restaurant and Flight Lounge, Ferg’s Sports Bar, and Urban Brew and BBQ, all of which have been hospitable to X-Rays Spex and Baseball Forever over the years. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge folks like Brett Morgan and those that worked with Baseball Forever, whose respective group outings continue to bring in thousands of fans and supporters.
But I cannot forget you, dear fan. You know the players and their stats inside and out. You purchase team gear and watch all the games – be them at home, at the Trop, or on the road. You maintain your fandom even though you are tagged as a lazy or bad fan by those in the local media who, ironically, may be too lazy to dig any deeper than the superficial team-generated narrative.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Pransky was right, this does appear to have been made worse by “reinforcing negative perceptions to the public.”
And so it goes.