(Man, this ended up longer than I planned. Be warned, I’m talkative today!)
If you go to a ball game and stay long enough to see the attendance boasted on the video board, you have often looked around and asked, “Where are these people?” Most fans of MLB who go to more than a few games figured out easily enough that the announced attendance and the amount of butts in the seats usually aren’t the same. Back in the day (“the day” being between 2003 and 2005) the figures at Fenway were probably a lot more in sync with each other but anyone can look at the film of last night’s Red Sox/A’s game and see that there certainly weren’t 37,225 people in the park.
The thing that annoys me about announcing the attendance during a game is every team that does it (do they all do it?) does it in the late innings in an effort to try and make the fans think they’re telling you how many people passed through the turnstiles. Technically, MLB makes no secret that the attendance they count is tickets sold but once you get to the park they must think the beer and smell of sausages makes one stupid. In any event, I’m one of so many who couldn’t care less about the Red Sox sell out streak and I get a chuckle at each game I attend when they tell me it’s a sell out. Which isn’t to say it isn’t a sell out. If the tickets got sold it certainly is. Just don’t pretend that not only did you sell out the park – largely to ticket scalpers like Ace and Stub Hub – but that 37,000+ people showed up to watch Felix Doubront pitch to the Oakland A’s in the wind in rain on a Tuesday night. Which is exactly what you try to do when you post that attendance quiz near the end of the game.
I’m thinking of this because while there might not have been a person in every seat in Fenway last night, there were still a heck of a lot more than nine thousand of them. The team is in last place and, as I mentioned, it was a lousy night during the week against a team that doesn’t generate much buzz and still the place looked pretty full for the majority of the game.
While the Red Sox were losing to the A’s in Boston, the Tampa Bay Rays were beating the Seattle Mariners in Florida. The Rays are in first place in the AL East, and went into last night’s game with a 15-8 record. Sure they lost Evan Longoria to the dl for a few days but the team is still fun to watch and over these last few years (as any Red Sox fan can tell you) they went from being the joke of the league to becoming a genuine contending team that earned a World Series appearance in 2008 after beating the Red Sox in a seven game ALCS. If I were a baseball fan living in the area I would be going to see Rays games.
But all the good play of the Rays seems to go for naught. Last night the announced attendance for the Rays/Mariners game (played in, I feel it’s worth mentioning, a covered stadium where weather is never an issue) was 9,972. That doesn’t mean there were 9,972 people at Tropicana Field. That means 9,972 people (including scalpers? Do scalpers buy Rays tickets? Something tells me “no”.) BOUGHT tickets for last night’s game. Apparently, Tropicana’s capacity is 34,078 (during the postseason they remove the tarp on upper deck seats and it brings the capacity to over 41,000). Out of over 34,000 seats not even 10,000 were sold? That blows my mind.
It’s too easy to pick on Rays fans so I’ll be fair and just say I’m told that the park isn’t in the easiest of accessible places like Fenway Park is (I’ve never been) and that there are a lot more retired folks who might not have money to spend on things like baseball tickets or, being in Florida, there are just other things they’d rather be doing. So maybe putting a park like Tropicana where they did wasn’t the best idea? I’ll give the Tampa fans that…but only barely. Because there are plenty of parks in plenty of cities that aren’t all that easy to get to yet fans do it. Rays fans are pretty vocal not only online but at, in my experience, Fenway Park. (I was told once by a friend who has been to both Red Sox/Rays games at Tropicana and Fenway that it seemed like there were more Rays fans at Fenway than there were at Tropicana.) The idea that they can’t get 10,000 seats filled betrays the so-called ardent fan base that I’ve encountered online.
But I didn’t write this to slam on Rays fans as much as I did just to wonder what MLB thinks of the attendance in St. Petersburg. The American League East will be this year, as it is most years, the division to watch. The way the teams are playing the playoffs could really be up for grabs, especially with expanding the playoffs, and one of those teams that will most likely be in the thick of it all season long can’t even sell 10,000 tickets let alone get that many people in the park. How long does MLB let this go on?
To be honest, I have no idea if MLB even has a say. Do they strong arm the Rays owner and tell them “You need to move this team to a place where people will show up? How about New Jersey?” or do they just sit back and watch a good, successful team not make them any money? People love to remind me “baseball is a business”. Well, it isn’t a very good business if it keeps allowing the Rays to play in the black hole of Tropicana.
For some comparisons in the AL East: The Baltimore Orioles played the Yankees at Yankee Stadium last night and the announced attendance was 37,790. The Texas Rangers played in Toronto against the Blue Jays and the attendance there was 18,774 (in fairness to Tampa Bay, the capacity in Toronto is 49,260 so they aren’t doing much better up there but the Jays haven’t seen a World Series since the early 90s…2008 should have bought the Rays much better attendance than it has).
Maybe it’s not as big a deal as I’m making it? At the last Sunday game played at Tropicana Field the paid attendance was 26,507. One month and 11 games at home is definitely a small sample size. Monday night’s win against the Mariners only garnered 9,458 tickets sold, so they actually sold more for the game that brought this to my attention.
I keep going back to the capacity of the park. 34,078. The Rays started their season at home against the Yankees and sold out the first two games. The third game, on a Sunday, had a paid attendance of 30,413. A ten-game road trip followed that series where the Rays went 4-6. They came back to Tropicana to play the Minnesota Twins in a weekend series (where they went 2-1) and on that Friday night the attendance was 18,763. The Saturday and Sunday games improved with 31,774 and 26, 507 tickets sold respectively but the numbers dropped on the next Tuesday for the start of a series against the Angels where the attendance was 14,933, 14,638 and 15, 417. Taking the drop it did this week…is it because of the team the Rays are playing or because after the first couple of weeks of baseball people down there get bored because the novelty of a new season is already over for them?
As a Red Sox fan, I’ll admit, the numbers make me chuckle. But as a baseball fan the numbers make me sad. In that 14,933 paid attendance game against the Angels, David Price threw a complete game shut out. I’ll guess not 10,000 people ended up seeing it. The final game of the series ended with Brandon Allen, in his first at-bat as a Ray, hitting a two-run walk-off homer. People are missing some fine baseball being played in Tampa Bay and it’s only a matter of time before the owners decide to take the team somewhere it’ll be more appreciated.