The Tampa Bay Rays averaged more than 16,000 fans per game during fan promotion or fan giveaway games. (Photo Credit: X-Rays Spex)

To whom it may concern,

I have attended games since the inaugural season, and have been a season ticket holder since the magical 2011 campaign. Like many others, the Tampa Bay Rays are my team, and I can honestly say we — the fans — have been blessed with a fantastic ball club for 81 home games per season.

Even though attendance has been an issue, the fan base is strong — TV ratings, the number of listeners on the radio side, the number of Rays’ license plates that grace automobiles in the region, as well as the amount of gear that the fans proudly sport, is evidence of that. And while there is more than one factor as to why attendance has lagged, we can thankfully scratch on-field performance, or lack thereof, off that list. Many cite the location of the Trop, or the facility itself, as the reason fans don’t show, but I am of the perspective that other factors are also at play. If those other things were dealt with, attendance would assuredly increase.

I did a little digging into this season’s home attendance numbers and cross-referenced that information with the 18 games that a promotion or fan giveaway was offered. I found an interesting trend: 38% of the total number of tickets sold this season came in the aforementioned 18 games, good for 22% of the season. That includes the last 10-games when $10.00 tickets and $5.00 concessions were offered. Attendance averaged 16,208 in those games (291,742 total fans). However, attendance plummeted to 8,858 during non-promotion/non-giveaway games (300,569 total fans) in the 53 games that followed the COVID restrictions which limited the total number of fans allowed into the Trop. That’s a credit to the marketing department … just think about what the attendance figures could have looked like had fan promotions and giveaways been offered more than 18 times. In short, fans sought value and affordability, and they responded in kind. I can only imagine the number of new fans the team made heading into what promises to be an exciting postseason run! Good marketing not only brings out the casual fans, and the fanatics too, but it also helps grow the fan base in general. The Tampa Bay Lighting is a great example of that. Be that as it may, all that is an aside to why I am writing today.

In 2019, when attendance steadily increased until mid-June when Stu Sternberg shared his perspective on the future of the Rays in the region — at which point the attendance figures began to plummet (and subsequently ended on an inconsistent up/down note). In-kind, just as things began to look up toward the end of the current season, Matt Silverman announced that signage promoting the sister city concept would grace the back wall of the Trop. Not only that but the announcement was made after the September 24 renewal deadline. If I may, that is the exact opposite of good marketing.

Personal feelings about the above-mentioned concept aside, as a fan I felt disrespected. I felt like I was slapped in the face after I faithfully spent thousands of dollars on tickets, concessions, parking, and Rays gear — not to mention all the sweat equity I put into the promotion of the team via this blog, as well as my participation in the Baseball Forever campaign — over the last decade. It’s a poke in the eyes of the fans by a front office that is trying to reach local officials at the expense of the fans, ahead of the St. Petersburg municipal elections.

Mr. Silverman was quoted as saying, “There’s been an encouraging shift among our fans and community and a real openness about the plan,” yet, I see no evidence of that, anecdotal or otherwise. Twitter is full of laments about the sister city concept, as well as the plan to hoist a sign promoting the idea. A cursory hashtag search for #KeepTheRaysInTheBay, #KeepTheRaysInTampa, and #StayInTampa is evidence of that. More than that, though, fans at games, as well as those who call in to make on-air comments on radio stations like WDAE, or those who post in the comment sections of blogs and local publications, or those who write letters to the editors overwhelmingly (bullishly, even) disdain the sister city concept on the whole, including the plan to hoist promotional signage up the back wall of the Trop. In fact, fan’s chants of “Stay in Tampa” were heard very loudly during the final regular-season home game on Sunday.

On top of that, outlets like MLB On Fox (which has +973,000 Twitter followers) and Jomboy Media (which has close to 382,000 followers) both retweeted footage of those chants which, in turn, were retweeted time and again. I’d hardly call that an “encouraging shift among our fans and community.”

Funny thing, as a season ticket holder, I have been a part of many team-led round-table discussions on Rays Radio (which is fantastic), the location of a new stadium, as well as the amenities we’d like to see in a new stadium. However, I don’t recall ever being be courted for a round-table discussion about the sister city concept, or the promotion of the proposal. Because of it, I am truly confused about how the front office determined the idea was gaining favorability. For an organization that prides itself on analytics and data, there doesn’t seem to be much information supporting Mr. Silverman’s assessment of the situation. Put bluntly, the fans are displeased with all this. This includes me, as well as other season ticket holders that have already reached out to you, and those that are planning to do so in the next few days.

I already locked in my non-refundable financial commitment for the 2022 season days before this announcement had been made. Yet, had the announcement been made prior to my decision to spend thousands of dollars with you next season, I cannot assure you I would have pulled the trigger. Furthermore, I’m not certain what the future holds for me as a season ticket holder in 2023 and beyond. If I’m being honest, it’s a difficult decision to financially support an organization that is willing to take my fanaticism and love of the team for granted.

I can certainly tell you that with the decision to pull back the back wall signage, we — the fans — feel a little better about things. We are better able to appreciate the 2021 postseason run without fear of being the laughing stock of the league, or the focal point of every announcer who steps into the Trop and isn’t named Dave Wills or Andy Freed. It also makes my personal decision to continue as a season ticket holder in 2023 (and beyond) a bit easier … and I am sure I’m not alone.

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