BY OWEN SANBORN
The Tampa Bay Rays are regarded as one of the most well-run organizations in baseball due to their strong organizational culture, abundance of young hurlers, astute front office, and unique adaptability. Before plateauing over the past two seasons, they were the only team in baseball to win 90 games for four straight seasons. Yet despite their string of success, the Rays haven’t ranked better than second to last in the American League in attendance numbers since 2010 when they rose all the way to 9th out of 14. Woo!
According to stationindex.com, the Tampa – St. Petersburg area is the 13th-biggest media market in the nation, nestling comfortably between Phoenix and Seattle. That presents tremendous economic opportunity for a franchise that routinely pulls the second-or-third-highest local primetime TV numbers nightly, per forbes.com.
Point is, people do care.
So, why does Tampa Bay continually churn out abysmal attendance numbers? Your guess is as good as mine. Let’s try to fix it anyway.
Location, Location, Location
This is the big elephant in the room. Everybody knows that the Rays want out of Tropicana Field, out of St. Petersburg and into the friendly confines of downtown Tampa where the Tampa Bay Lightning are welcoming near full capacity into the Amalie Arena nightly to watch hockey of all things. Imagine what the Rays could do with attendance given their following, and a state of the art stadium equipped with all of the city skylines one could ever need. They could easily make their own version of Petco Park (located in the heart of downtown San Diego) here in Tampa.
The main issue with Tropicana Field is the fact that it is not centrally-located. Rays nation stretches from St. Petersburg to the Sarasota area for the most part (Sarasota is about 70 miles south of Tampa). This means that Rays fans living in the Sarasota area have to drive an hour to get to the Trop without the influence of traffic. I would much rather watch the game on television too.
Moving the location of the stadium near Amalie Arena and getting attendance similar to that of the Lightning is much more plausible.
Reaching New Demographics
A downtown location would present a domino effect of getting the Rays closer to college students at both UT, as well as USF, making a “Student Rush” initiative (similar to that of the Lightning) a lucrative pursuit.
A brief summary on Student Rush: 30 minutes before each home game, college students with valid student I.D.s can buy a $20 ticket for the best available seat at the time of purchase. Through my experiences working at Amalie Arena, I have witnessed peers score seats near center ice through this program. Talk about incentive for a college kid to come out to a ball game.
For a sports team, most of the revenue generated by a stadium is produced once a fan passes through the entrance gates due to the laughable increase in cost of concessions, souvenirs and parking. The straightest path to economic success for the Rays is to get as many people into the ballpark and the rest will take care of itself.
Better Benefits For Season Ticket Holders
Currently, the benefits of being a Rays season ticket holder, per raysbaseball.com, are: establishing postseason priority, ability to exchange future games and special parking advantages. Premium season ticket holders are given the privilege of gaining access to one of the two clubs at the stadium. One located behind home plate, and one along the first base line.
Those incentives are not enough to solicit a strong clientele. I hate to harp on what the Lightning are doing once again, but they are seen as one of the best for a reason.
Each Lightning season ticket holder is given a jersey of a player of their choice (some even have their own name and number on the back). Located on the front of the jersey is a patch that says STM (season ticket member), thus giving them an immediate sense of importance and entitlement.
Inside the left sleeve of the jersey is a microchip that can be swiped at any concession stand or team store. Whenever the chip is scanned, the consumer receives 25% off of their purchase.
Anyone else want to go in with me on a season ticket plan just for the perks?
There is your incentive. I love this idea because it creates a brand relationship with the season ticket member. In order to receive their 25% perk, fans have to wear their custom jersey. And if they are wearing their custom jersey, then they are wearing the home team’s colors. And when everyone is wearing the home team’s colors, a world-class atmosphere for a sports venue is created.
Unfortunately for the Rays, fixing this attendance conundrum may only be feasible once ground breaks on a new “state-of-the-art” stadium. Hold your breath that the future complex resides within “Vinik-ville” in downtown Tampa and not elsewhere .