The Tampa Bay Rays attendance, or lack thereof, has been a continual topic of discussion. Despite being 106 games over .500 for the last five years, despite winning the American League pennant in 2008 and making the playoffs in 2010 and 2011, and despite having star players such as Evan Longoria and David Price, the Rays have typically ranked in the lower third of the American League in attendance. Over the past five years, when the Rays have turned into a legitimate contender virtually every season, they have only averaged approximately 21,335 fans per game. In each of the past two seasons, that number has been under 20,000 fans.
Of course, there are certain issues that surround their paltry attendance totals. Playing in Tropicana Field, a stadium that has been antiquated even before the Rays were even a possibility, does not help. Nor does the fact that the Trop is difficult to get to and far away from the city. Yet, the Rays have been generally playing an exciting brand of contending baseball over the past few years, so it would seem as though the fans should be coming out. People usually go out to watch winning teams, right?
Yet, that has not been the case for the Rays, and it seems as though the frustrations are beginning to reach critical mass, to the point where the Rays future may be in jeopardy. The other day, in a meeting with the Hillsborough County Commissioners, Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg stated what has long been suspected, that “Major League Baseball, at this point, doesn’t believe any more in the Tampa Bay area.” These words, a brutally honest assessment of how the Commissioner’s Office views the situation, may actually speak even louder than they already do. That quote may be the first sign that relocation may be considered an answer to the stalemate over getting the Rays a new stadium.
Another interesting note to come from the meeting is that the potential of contraction, or ‘consolidation,’ is being bandied about again. While it is exceedingly unlikely that such a drastic measure would be undertaken, just the concept being on the radar is a bit disconcerting. It also seemingly underlines the quote above, and may imply that the Rays long term future might not be in the Tampa – St. Pete area.
While the stadium impasse is likely considered the foremost obstacle for the Rays long term viability in Florida, there may be other factors. A region that is seemingly apathetic towards attending games certainly does not help. And the debacle that has been the Miami Marlins offseason likely has not engendered any trust that the Rays would not do something similar.
The Rays are in the midst of a solid run of success, and appear to be in the process of building a tradition of playing competitive, exciting baseball. Unfortunately, that tradition may not be calling Tampa home for much longer.