Rays Notes: Breakdown of the Rays’ Meeting With the Pinellas Commission
By Robbie Knopf
After months of silence, the discussion for a new Rays stadium has started to heat up again. After meeting with the Hillsborough County commission last Thursday, the Rays headed to the Pinellas County Council on Tuesday, addressing some of the same points as before but also many divergent points that will help us get a better understanding of the wholes stadium situation. Once again, Noah Pransky of WTSP had the recap via the @StadiumShadow twitter account.
That statement sure caught the public’s eye. Only 300 season tickets sold in the city of St. Petersburg, where Tropicana Field is located?! As St. Pete mayor Bill Foster later pointed out, that’s 300 season ticket ACCOUNTS, which amounts to more like 1000 season tickets, which still seems like a pretty low number. Why is it so low? The Rays aren’t trying to say that St. Pete residents aren’t passionate about the Rays, but just that it’s far from the ideal place for the Rays’ ballclub to be placed. Michael Kalt elaborated on that point later in the meeting.
Obviously there are people in St. Pete for whom buying season tickets should not be an issue if they’re Rays fans with the money to support it, but St. Pete isn’t the population center and is far from it, and as Pransky noted, a big reason why the Rays’ attendance has been so bad according to the ABC Coalition was that businesses weren’t purchasing season tickets like they do in other cities. How can you expect a person or business to purchase season tickets when it’s a hassle to get to the stadium every game because you live across the Howard Franklin Bridge and always treacherous traffic that makes it very hard to go from work to the Rays game too often? (By the way, the Rays starting at 6:40 some nights last season could not have helped that either- every minute counts and losing 20 minutes for each game could have definitely discouraged people from buying season tickets.) For other teams, you don’t have to do to nearly all 81 home games- you could go to as little as 35 or 40 and make your money back on the others and then some by selling your other tickets. For the Rays, there are so many tickets available that selling your tickets for a profit is a nearly implausible proposition and you’ll almost certainly incur a loss when you don’t go to games. The next Rays stadium does not have to be in Downtown Tampa- but it has to be in a place that is more of a business center and easiest for fans, especially those coming to work to get to.
There was a notion in the meeting with the Hillsborough Council that the Rays were purposely tanking their marketing efforts to make them look worse as a team and more desperate for a new stadium. Matthew Silverman tried to refute that entirely and essentially say that the Rays tried as hard they could to market their team, but their efforts were pretty futile because there simply are not enough fans who can make it to the Trop on a regular basis. How can they prove that? Even without exact marketing numbers, you can see how much the Rays’ TV ratings have surged and that clearly would not have happened without significant marketing efforts.
The Rays need a new stadium. But for the near future, that’s not about to happen and the Rays have to make the best of what they have. Even if the Trop is not a long-term solution that can realistically work, making the Trop nicer could only help the Rays’ attendance and could make the next several years more manageable until a stadium is (hopefully built). Instead of shooting for the moon in these talks and refusing to compromise all the time, it’s nice to see the Rays address a realistic possibility that could work for all sides.
The good news is that we’re no in a situation where the Rays want one thing and the community leaders want the exact opposite. There are certainly people who want to compromise and hopefully eventually we’ll see that become more of the norm.
All the Rays want to actually get the ball rolling and make things happen in these talks. Once a site is decided on, the controversy is only going to increase and who knows how long it will take for a new stadium to actually begin being built. But the Rays want to get a feel for the sites in the area and start to understand exactly the battle they’re fighting and what concessions and compromises it will take to make a new stadium break ground. Is that so unrealistic?