I started this post as a comment to the fantastic work that Schmitty started, but it started getting pretty long so I moved it into a new post. If you haven’t read his post from 10/15 revealing the survey results, please do that first.
I know that I post relatively infrequently, and I’m also aware that most of my posts are either random hopeful moments or commonplace jackassery, but I’ve been impressed by Schmitty’s dedication to this issue of fan attandance and so felt the need to add to the conversation. To anyone who reads this, please pass it along to anyone and everyone that you can convince to read it and chime in also. The local and national media have their own platforms, and the Rays administration has views and struggles of their own, but we can use this as a public forum to build into the discussion from the fans’ points of view. Please join in. The attendance issue, regardless of reason or fault, is worth addressing if we hope to protect the future of the Rays in the Tampa Bay market.
So here goes (for what it’s worth):
1. Many of the comments dealt (in one way or another) with the current brass being greedy, cold, wall-street types who don’t care for the community. I won’t criticize that opinion without knowing how it was formed, and obviously (at least I assume) something created that impression. On the other hand, while I’ve never met Stu personally, I have met and had conversations on a few occasions with Andrew Friedman and Matt Silverman, and unless I’m a far worse judge of character than I think I am, I hold the exact opposite opinion. I’ve found both of them to be very personable, community-interested, genuine and open guys. I expect them to be business men and to be business minded. Aside from that, I think that they understand the importance of the team to the community and vice-versa. One comment said “Stu has delivered, fans have not” and I agree, kind of…….
2. I did a little more research (by little, I mean 5 minutes on Google) and found something else pretty interesting that I though was worth introducing: http://www.bizofbaseball.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5459:mlb-ballpark-location-and-the-population-around-it-can-greatly-influence-attendance&catid=26:editorials&Itemid=39 and http://www.bizofbaseball.com/PopulationtoMLBBallparks.htm. There’s plenty of info in there, but here are a couple of the highlights I was able to extract: The Rays average attandance was just shy of 19,000 per game in 2011, which puts us in a virtual tie with the likes of the Marlins and Athletics, and just a hair under The Nationals, The Royals, and a handful of others near the bottom. On the other end of the spectrum are the Yankees, Phillies and Giants with averages more than double those on our end, and 6 others at about double. In a slightly deeper analysis, comparing attendance with population, I chose to do the analysis at the “45-minute from the ballpark” mark just for this example. For the Rays to put 19,000 in the seats, that’s about 1 out of every 68 people within 45 minutes of the park. In comparison, the Mets average closer to 30,000 per game, but that’s only 1 out of every 375 for them to achieve that. In these terms, the Rays are in about 6th place in the league! For a truly inspirational club, though, take a look at the Milwaukee Brewers (average of 38,000, which is 1 in 38!!). I’m no economist, and I understand that we could add in half a dozen adjusters to glean more perfect numbers (such as park sellouts where attendance limit is capped) and so on, but the point here is that, all else equal (and it’s not), purely due to population it is a bigger challenge for the Tampa Bay area to fill a stadium than it is for many other areas, in fact only Kansas City and Milwaukee have smaller populations in that 45 minute range than the Rays do. In terms of pure numbers, though, 30,000 tickets sold is better for business than 19,000 tickets sold, regardless of surrounding population. The Brewers example leads me to another point, though…..
3. There are an awful lot of teams in the MLB with long, multi-generational histories (and fanbases). The Rays are not one of them. Additionally, Florida in general and Tampa Bay in particular are full of transplants from other areas. How many of us can say that we grew up in Tampa Bay and have a long-standing sense of local pride? I know I can’t. But somewhere like Boston or Philidelphia does have generational fans. Hell, even those who grew up in Tampa Bay didn’t grow up with the Rays since they weren’t here. That sort of loyal fan base does not crop up overnight, or even over a decade. Which plays in to……
4. Some of the resopnses in the poll seemed to take offense to the fact that Rays attendance is being questioned, even feeling like they were personally attacked, especially since they had attended so many games. But those that attend even a few games are not the problem. Those that don’t attend any games are where the real question lies. Think of it this way (all numbers are completely fabricated and for illustrative purposes only). Say the goal is to raise average attendance to 30,000. And 5,000 of those seats are already filled by the die-hard, season ticket types that attend 80 or 50 or 40 games per year. Then another 10,000 are filled with fans who watch most every game on tv and are able to turn out a few times a year, maybe 10 or 12 games. Another 5,000 are filled with casual fans who may have an idea how the season is going and they make it to a couple games per year, usually when a friend has an extra ticket or their office is all going together or something like that. That leaves us about where we’re at now. So the goal is to reach another 10,000 people per game out of over 1.5 million people (in the 45 minute zone). Say half of those people went to just 1 game per year, that would be an additional 750,000 total attendance, or 10,000 additional at each of 75 (out of 81) home games. Not too bad! It doesn’t seem that tough, so what’s the answer?
5. And finally (for now)….. There was a common recurring response which linked low attendance to the high price of concessions, and I concur. Unfortunately, though, there also seemed to be a misconception that the high concession prices were somehow linked to those greedy, no-good owners, and there’s a major flaw in that logic…but I’ll get back to that. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to attend a good many games for free due to some very happy circumstances. Here is how my night went in most of those instances: Leave work about 5:15 or 5:30, fight traffic from North of Tampa all the way to my home which was close to the Trop; Arrive home about 6:45 or 7, change clothes, and head out the door for my 10 minute wlak to the Trop (no time for dinner if I hope to make first pitch); Grab a sandwich and chips and bottle of water on my way to my seats ($12); Finish “dinner” about the end of the first and grab a beer ($9), then another sometime later in the game ($9). So far the night has cost $30 and I didn’t pay for a ticket or parking, or have a date or kid with me. Granted, I could bring my own food, and no one forced me to buy a couple beers, but that’s all part of being there and part of what most people expect to be part of the experience of going to the park. Concessions are expensive anywhere you go, though. But just because a $9 beer at the Trop is cheaper that a $10 beer at the Forum (or Wrigley Field, or Yankee Stadium) doesn’t make it any easier, just like 30,000 tickets sold are better than 19,000 tickets sold regardless of the population. And to address the other point (and once again, I understand that this still does not make the concessions any less expensive), few people realize that the Rays organization makes next to nothing on concessions. As I understand it, the Rays are trapped in a horribly one-sided contract with CenterPlate, the concessions company that holds the Trop hostage. The Rays do not set the prices and only earn a tiny fraction of the revenue. And the contract extends for some ungodly amount of time as long as the Rays are in the Trop…..let me say that last part again….as long as the Rays are in the Trop. Think this might be another benefit of a new stadium? In fact, the greedy, no-good ownership allows outside food and beverage specifically to make it easier on fans wallets and because they don’t really see the money either way.
Anyway…..it’s late and I’m finished for now. Please forgive the dozens of typos that I’m guessing are back up there but I’m too tired to go looking for. Surely I’ve not solved anything here, just wanted to add my two cents to the discussion. Again, please please please do the same with the comments sections, or email us and we can repost some in “best-of” segments. Really, it’s worth figuring out…