The truth about the Tampa Bay Rays’ attendance problem

What Stuart Sternberg doesn’t want you to know.

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Seas of empty seats are a common sight at Rays games. Photo provided by finance.yahoo.com

Bennett Carollo, Sports Editor

It’s no secret that the Tampa Bay Rays have poor attendance at Tropicana Field. In the 2019 season, the Rays were twenty-ninth in the MLB out of thirty teams with an average attendance of 14,552. This was especially concerning considering that the Rays performed very well on the field in 2019, compiling a record of 96-66 and advancing to the American League Divisional round of the Postseason. However, the problem is far from a new one. In fact, Tampa Bay has finished with the lowest or second lowest attendance figures in each MLB season since 2011. So, then, what is the reason for these dreadful turnouts from Rays fans? If you were to listen to national media, brainwashed baseball fans who don’t know the first thing about the Tampa Bay area or “The Trop.” or even the words of team owner Stuart Sternberg himself, you would be led to believe that the people of Tampa Bay simply don’t care about the Rays and are too pathetic to support their team by attending games. Unfortunately, you have been lied to. Rays fans exist and they are passionate, and there was no better display of this than the massive and raucous crowds that came to see two playoff wins this past season. If you need further proof, the Rays scored a respectable 3.03 television rating on Fox Sports SUN in 2019, the 16th highest number in the MLB and up 23% from their 2018 ratings, according to Forbes. To find the real reasons for the low attendance, we must dig deeper.

Tropicana Field has bee criticized heavily over the years, and not without justification. The stadium, while not terrible by any means, is outdated and is currently the only MLB venue with a permanent roof. Talon advisor Tara Barbieri stated that she, for one, would go to more Rays games if they built a new stadium with a “retractable roof and better atmosphere.” She is not alone. Tampa Bay resident and respected East Lake baseball player Patrick Roghaar added that he “would go to Rays games if there was a new stadium to see the new atmosphere and the new vibe the Rays are trying to create.” The other major issue with Tropicana Field is its location. While the vastly more successful attendance-wise Tampa Bay Lightning NHL team plays their games in downtown Tampa, the Rays reside in across the bay in St. Petersburg. St. Pete has a much smaller population base than Tampa and is farther away from many other areas of concentrated population. The obvious answer to this problem is to build a new stadium for the Rays in Tampa. Rays fan Brock Maloy would agree with this sentiment, as he stated that “if [the Rays] were in Tampa it would be easier for everybody to commute to the game. Traffic is horrific.” It’s not as if the Rays haven’t tried to get the ball rolling with a possible Tampa stadium, as there was even concept art that came out for an Ybor City plan. However, when it came time to supply his share of the funding for the Ybor stadium, Sternberg backed out, despite the fact that he is a billionaire and has profited supremely as the owner of the team. It seems that Stu already had his sights set on something else.

In June of 2019, Sternberg removed any remaining doubt that he had no interest in what is best for the Rays and their fans in Tampa Bay when he unveiled his Montreal split-season plan. If the idea of having a single professional sports team split their home games between two cities in two different countries sounds absurd to you, you’re not alone. Mrs. Barbieri, who has been a loyal fan of the team since their very first game in 1998, called the news of the plan “disheartening.” “not reasonable,” and suggested what many fear, that it might all be a “ploy to eventually relocate the team.” It is not hard to imagine how a ploy like this would play out. Should the split-season plan ever come to fruition, which would be many years down the line, the crowds in Montreal would be unsurprisingly enormous, as is always the case with a team’s first year in a new city. On the other hand, once-loyal Rays fans, such as Patrick who explained that “having some of the games split in Montreal” would “drive him away.” would see little reason to support an owner that has backstabbed them, and attendance in Tampa Bay would reach an all-time low. It is very possible that it has been Sternberg’s plan all along to deter fans from coming to games at the Trop so that he can abandon passionate and loyal Rays fans in favor of a city that will build him an entirely public-funded stadium.