Tampa Bay Rays Need a New Stadium
I read an interesting post on mlbtraderumors.com today about the Rays’ attendance woes. Apparently, the Rays are contractually locked in to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg through 2027, but there is doubt whether the team will actually remain there that long given the way the park is killing their attendance.
Despite 90 or more win seasons the last two years, making the playoffs in 2011 and just missing last year, the Rays were 29th and 30th in per game attendance. Since becoming a consistent winner starting with the 2008 season, the Rays’ average attendance rose to 26th, then 23rd and 22nd, before falling back to the bottom despite continuing to win.
The Rays’ drawing problem clearly has nothing to do with the market. Wikipedia lists Tampa Bay as the 18th largest metropolitan area in the country, and the team’s TV ratings last year were right in the middle of the MLB pack. Given that some MLB teams play in very small markets like Kansas City, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Cincinnati, not to mention the Rays’ recent run of success, the team should be drawing at least in the top 15, if not higher.
The problem is obviously the ball park, not only because it is non-retractable dome but also because its location within the Tampa Bay region is not ideal.
Tropicana Field was completed in 1990, before the first of the modern (yet retro-styled) ballparks was built (the Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards opened in 1992), and it seemingly has more in common with the deservedly maligned Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodrome in Minneapolis than any of the next/current generation of baseball parks despite being a baseball-only stadium. Perhaps a bigger problem is that the team should be playing closer to Tampa, the center of population for the region.
My guess is that the Rays will remain trapped in Tropicana Field well into the 2020’s, if not all the way until the lease runs in 2027. Aside from the fact it would take time to build a new stadium, there is the age-old question regarding who would pay for it.
I can’t see the State of Florida or either the cities of Tampa or St. Petersburg paying for a new, baseball only stadium, not when there is an existing stadium in place less than 40 years old. The Rays had a plan for a new stadium elsewhere in St. Petersburg but that was abandoned as a result of substantial opposition in 2009.
The City of St. Petersburg says it intends to hold the Rays to their lease and will only consider allowing the Rays out of their lease in favor of another ball park built inside the city, but, of course, St. Pete and its residents aren’t likely to want to pay for a new ballpark. If the Rays are going to have to contribute to the cost of a new stadium, they are going to want a park north of the city closer to where the population is.