Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tampa Bay Rays: Why Aren't Fans Watching AL's Top Team?

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-Digger's Daily-

Tampa Bay Rays own the AL's best record (93-63).
Tampa Bay Rays offense has scored third most runs in the American League (788).
Tampa Bay Rays pitchers have compiled the second best AL team ERA (3.85) and tied for AL lowest batting average against (.245).
Tampa Bay Rays are playing to earn their second trip to the World Series in three seasons.

Rays All Star 3B Ray Longoria wants to know "Where are the fans?" (ESPN.com article, 9/28/10). He raises a good question. Tampa Bay has problems drawing fans. Not only at home, but, on the road too. Tampa ranks 24th of 30 teams in percentage of seats sold averaging 52.3% (22,913/game). Usually fans flock to watch home teams fighting for playoff births. A large noisy crowd can often help home teams in critical game situations. Teams in the playoff hunt are usually a hot draw on the road too. Not for these Rays ranking tied for last in capacity filled stadiums (60.6%).

The Rays are an exciting team to watch. They hit, run, score, play solid defense, pitch, colorful manager and bow down to no one. Longoria has been a team leader and one of Tampa's most popular players. He's admittedly a bit frustrated by lack of fan support at the ticket booth.
"We've been playing great baseball all year. Since I've been here in [2006], the fans have wanted a good baseball team. They've wanted to watch a contender," Longoria told reporters. "And for us to play good baseball for three years now, and for us to be in a spot to clinch again and go to the playoffs, we're all confused as to why it's only 15,000 to 20,000 in the building."
He has a point. Here's one of baseball best budgeted teams. Tampa's opening day team payroll ranked 21st in MLB. Only Texas and San Diego represent playoff bound teams with lower salary allocations (San Diego hasn't clinched playoffs yet). Tampa is so desperate to fill seats during the final week of regular season games management has decided to give away 25,000 seats for free. That's right, free tickets.

The Rays financial constraints may very well crimp their chances of re-signing LF Carl Crawford or slugging defensive specialist 1B Carlos Pena. Tampa will also be limited in finding replacements for key cogs in their winning formula.

Who can blame Rays players for wondering why local fans aren't showing up in droves? Especially during a pennant race vs rival NY Yankees. It's almost inconceivable to see so many empty seats when a home team is playing for their place in baseball history.

Hopefully, there will not be any backlash against the Rays most popular player (Longoria). All he's trying to do is rally the troops. Trying to light a fire under fans to get their butts into Tropicana Field for support. He's also been very careful to state how this isn't a slap at fans. It's more of a wake-up call or rallying cry.

Either way, it's time for Tampa fans to step up. Tampa has drawn 30,000 or more fans only once in nearly 2 months. Something's gotta give. Hey Rays fans... keep this thought in mind. Would you like a new stadium? Lack of attendance isn't going to help build a new ballpark. Who wants to spend hundreds of millions if no one comes. Tampa is one of the exceptions to the rule of "if you build it, they will come."

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