OUR POSITION: Pathetic attendance numbers at Tropicana Field bode again point to trouble for local Major League Baseball franchise.
Last week the Tampa Bay Rays were racing through the final games of the regular season. They were a game ahead in the race for a post-season playoff spot. They were playing nail-biters at their home field.
And the hot take out of Tampa?
Same as ever:
Where the heck was everybody?
"Shame," was the lead sentence by Amy Hollyfield, the senior deputy editor for news at Tampa Bay Times, in a column the Times and reprinted in the Sun.
That summed it up, but, of course, Hollyfield went on to describe her impressions attending a Rays/Red Sox game. The announced attendance was a paltry 8,799. "But looking around," she said, "it felt like I could count the fans."
And, "Walking around, it was empty. Bleak. Grim."
So goes another season in St. Petersburg. Another exciting group of players. Another chance to make the playoffs, even to win the American League pennant and play in the World Series.
And another night in Tropicana Field tin can that was so empty you could hear Canadians shout:
The dismal fan support in Tampa/St. Pete will only bring more urgency to the Rays pathetic situation.
Our home team—about an hour's drive from North Port—is next to last in the major leagues in attendance. (Only the Marlins—with a swanky new ballpark in Miami—trail them. And the Marlins have a god-awful team.)
Total annual attendance for 80 home games in St. Pete topped 1 million this year, but only 1,178,735. By comparison, the Los Angeles Dodgers drew passed 3 million again.
On a positive note, Rays per-game attendance was up over last year, but only to 14,734 from 2018's 14,259. (The Marlins, by comparison, attracted a measly 10,016. And bragging rights over the Marlins are nothing to brag about.)
One more positive note: The Tampa Bay Times reported that television ratings were up 15 percent this year on the Fox Sports Sun network. That, supporters argue, indicates locals like the Rays, but just won't drive to see them in person in Tropicana Field.
Maybe so. But it's hard to see a way out of this situation, except for an exodus north across the Canadian border.
Earlier this year, Rays officials floated a plan to split the team's home games between Tampa-St. Pete and Montreal. Bizarre. Split the ailing baby in half. And that balloon now seems flattened for good.
So are proposals to build a new stadium closer to the central population in Tampa. The shameful attendance numbers will revive alternative stadium discussions, but don't hold you breath until 2027, when the Rays' lease at Tropicana ends.
New stadium or not, stay or go, positive news for us came in a report from Sun staff writer Betsy Calvert. The Rays have signed a commitment to spend $2.5 million in coming years for improvements to Charlotte Sports Park, where the Rays hold spring training.
Good for us.
Among the improvements split between Charlotte County and the Rays are new seats and cushions, boardwalk umbrellas, an awning, an indoor training space and renovated clubhouse.
The Rays have been a solid benefit to Charlotte County for 12 years now, and we hope to support them and enjoy them for another 12.
But who knows? Maybe before long we'll welcome an influx of new Canadian fans drawn by their hometown ex-Rays. Tres bien!