Rays are at the top and the bottom of American League

Everyone is talking about the Rays, they are the hottest team in baseball and poised to make a serious run at the AL East crown.  This is a fun team to watch and nationally broadcasters on Fox, ESPN TBS and the MLB Network are talking World Series for the 2013 edition of the Rays.

Meanwhile, despite the Rays success on the field they are a flop at the gate. Through 53 home games at Tropicana Field, the Rays are averaging just 17,790 per game. That is the worst attendance  figure in the American League and only the Miami Marlins, are drawing less with an average of 17, 673. As of today both Florida teams rank 29th and 30th in baseball in getting fans into their parks

The Rays are a draw away from the Trop as they attract over 29,000 fans per game on the road.

As someone who grew up in Tampa, went to Lutz Elentary School, Buchanan Junior High School and the University of South Florida I know the area. Also, as someone who worked on almost all of the “Bring a baseball team to the Bay Area,” efforts starting back in 1977 I know this area is very passionate about the game.

Before you say: “Hey you live in Washington now how many Rays games do you see? Well the answer is about 20 a year between Baltimore and New York. That has been the case since they entered the league, yes I support the Rays as best I can for someone who lives about 932 miles away from the Trop.

I defend the area when people say that they don’t deserve a baseball team. I know that baseball can and will be a success once there is a new stadium is in place in Tampa. Yes, Tampa that is where it should have been all along. By the way I love St. Petersburg and my first apartment was on the  Snell Isle .

Oh and by the way I own property in Hillborough County, so yes I am a tax payer too.

The dome in St. Petersburg was built as a reaction to the White Sox owner Jerry M. Reinsdorf. Back in 80’s he used the area to get a new ballpark built. There was never any real consideration by the Chicago owner to bring a team to Tampa – St. Pete but really got the ball moving on a new stadium. No team was promised or at the time was willing to move but hey why let logic get in the way of building a stadium that was obsolete before it ever opened its doors.

The fact that both Tampa and St. Petersbug were working as two separate groups and not as one was a huge mistake from day one. Had they worked the Trop never would have been built and baseball would have still have come to the Suncoast.

In July 1986, then Commissioner of Major League Baseball Peter Ueberroth  sent a telegram to former St. Petersburg Mayor Ed Cole days before the stadium vote was to have taken place. Ueberroth told Cole that St. Petersburg was ”not a strong candidate” for a ball team and advised local officials not to build the stadium.

Ueberroth was right and to those who say it was because of the dome that baseball came to town I say that you don’t know how sports business works. As a matter of fact the two teams that had ready to go stadiums, St. Pete and Miami were doomed from the start. Colorado and Phoenix both went on to get a team then build a state of the art stadiums and all is fine with those franchises.

My friend  Andrew Zimbalist, one of America’s pre-eminent sports economists, told the Tampa Bay Times the following when he was asked where a new stadium should be built:

Downtown Tampa. It’s very important in today’s economics that stadiums be located as close to a business district as possible — particularly baseball, that can play six or 7 games a week. It enables the team to attract members of the business community to the stadium at the end of the work day and sell season tickets and premium seating.

Fans are of a higher economic demographic, so signage and corporate sponsorship becomes more valuable. You can create synergies with other businesses. You might have a tax increment financing district or tax abatement for a vibrant entertainment district.

The Trop is a bad facility in a bad location. The market is in the bottom third in Major League Baseball. The team performed over the last five years as well as any team. It has charismatic players, an interesting manager and an intelligent ownership group, and it still has the lowest attendance in baseball.

You are consigning them to be a break-even team without adequate resources to hold on to good players and field a winning team. However brilliant you think Matt Silverman, Stu Sternberg and Andrew Friedman are, there is no way they can keep performing the way they have performed.

Look the Miiami mess is the template on how not to build a stadium. What is needed in Tampa is a solid plan with plenty of private money and some public money involved. The saber rattling of  Mayor Bill Foster is counterproductive and could drive the team out of the state.

Soon you will see Commissioner Bud Selig standing in front of a podium saying:”It is in the best interest of baseball that the Rays be allowed to move to Tampa.” If  St. Pete continues to block the process or Tampa won’t step forward with plan then in say 5 to 10 years the Rays will be headed out of the state.

The region needs to come together to figure out how to work with the Rays to build a new facility. The Tampa Bay Area is a good baseball area but they simply have to be in the right location to prove it.