22,700

No, that is not the number of dollars Alex Rodriguez earns per swing of the bat (it is more than that); that figure is the average attendance for Rays home games this year. The defending American League champs – a team that is currently eight games above .500, is 12th in the American League and 26th overall in average attendance ahead of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Oakland, and Florida. To top it off, the Rays are a MLB-best 29-13 at home this season. What does it say for the state of Florida when there are two competitive teams in the state and their combined average attendance is less than the attendance for the Yankees, Phillies, Dodgers, Angels, and Cardinals. The natural reaction is to point at the stadiums for those five clubs as they’re all playing great yards while the Marlins and Rays play in two of the eyesores of baseball.

Yes, Tropicana Field has received quite the facelift since Stu Sternberg took over the reigns from Vince Naimoli but it is still pales in comparison to the other renovated or new ballparks in baseball. I am very appreciative of the cleanup to Tropicana Field as it was a place I was once ashamed of bringing friends and family to. I was not ashamed of the product on the field but the stadium itself was dingy, dirty, and my shoes would stick to the floor just about everywhere I walked. I am sure I was not the only person who worried about picking up some kind of infectious disease while walking around the park playing musical chairs during a game. My other favorite story about Tropicana Field was the time I parked down the street under the 275 overpass and saw the guys in the car next to me applying sunscreen. I get out of the car and ask them what they’re doing and they replied, “we got fried at the last Rays game we went to so we don’t want that to happen again.” Apparently, someone forgot to tell them the Rays do not play at Al Lang Field in June.

While Tropicana Field’s roof and constant 72 degree temperature are welcome features to a lot of fans, the list of pro’s for Tropicana Field does not run much longer. Its biggest con – it’s location. That is why I was quite happy to come home from spending the last two days at Disney World to find this tweet in my inbox from WTSP-TV reporter Noah Pransky:

Only on 10Connects tonight at 11: The launch of a grass-roots campaign to get the #Rays a new stadium…in downtown Tampa.

Pransky has since followed up the tweet with a story at his station’s website.

I don’t know know where the sign-up list is for this movement but I am on board with it. For those who are not familiar with the bay area geography, I have inserted a map of the area and the “A” is where Tropicana Field is located.

As you can see, the options from getting from the mainland to the other side of the bay are quite limited. The traffic in the area – particularly on the north side – is some of the worst in the country. It is so bad, Sirius/XM has a dedicated channel for bay-area traffic and they only do that for the twenty most congested markets in the country. Simply put, you have to want to be at Tropicana Field in order to fight the traffic to get over there. I live in the east part of Orlando and, without traffic, it is a two hour trek from my door to the parking lots. When I have drive from my office in southeast Orlando to games on a weeknight, it has taken three hours to get to the game and that’s with the 30 minute head start from my office. Compare that to my friend who lives in the east part of Tampa where it takes him nearly an hour to get to games for a drive that is about 35 miles. My father lives in Dunedin which is due north of Tropicana Field and it takes us 30-35 minutes to get to a game when I leave from his house and that is without having to fight any of the traffic coming across the bay. When my friends and I left from Disney World for the home opener this year, we left at 4:00 and after fighting traffic on the quick way over (92) and fighting parking, we barely made it to our seats in time to see the lineups introduced by Michael Buffer. Area fans agree as attendance for weekday games is over 10,000 less than what is is on weekend games.

Building the next Rays stadium on the east side of the bay will remove the largest excuse bay area fans have for not showing up to Rays games. The product on the field is much better, the stadium atmosphere is much improved, and the Rays offer incentives such as free parking, bring your own food, Saturday concerts, and many other benefits for fans and yet the attendance is only slightly up from last year’s amazing season. Progress takes awhile to get rolling, but if the product on the field comes back to a .500 level, attendance will be back in the teens unless there is another reason for the fans to show up. In this, the Rays twelfth season of existence, it will be only the fourth time the average attendance figure will eclipse 20,000. If attendance were to slip back down to the 2000-2007 levels, it would give Sternberg and company the perfect excuse to shop the team around the country for a new home to markets like Charlotte and Portland who are all to anxious to get major league baseball teams. Now that the Florida Marlins have a new stadium on the way, the heat of the spotlight will shine even brighter on the stadium situation for the Rays. Since the team pulled the last plan off the table, ownership has been quiet about the stadium situation but no increase in attendance means no increase in budget and with key players on this team approaching profitable arbitration years, funds are very important to the future success of this franchise.

for more on the grass-roots effort, visit BuildItDownTownTampa.

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About Jason Collette

Writer/Analyst
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