Originally published April 30th, 2012
The Tampa Rays are the biggest disappointment in Major League Baseball. Yes, these are the same Rays that are in first place in the American League East (again). They’re the same team that has been a consistent player in the AL East, the team that’s made the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years, and even a World Series in 2008. But the Rays problem isn’t on the field, it’s in the stands.
Monday night, the Tampa Rays had their lowest attendance in over 5 years. Less than 9,500 fans paid to watch a first place team play against a Cy Young award winner. Adding insult to injury, they had more fans Tuesday night (still less than 10,000) to watch the Rays play against a near-rookie pitcher with an ERA over 8.00. The Tampa Rays have a reputation for historically poor fan attendance. This is a team that struggles to sell playoff games and had World Series tickets available against the Phillies in 2008. How is this OK?!
Major League Baseball needs to intervene in Tampa Bay, either by forcing/paying for a move, or contracting the team altogether. I’ve been vocal in past blogs about my frustration with the Oakland Athletics. They were one of 2 teams, the other being the Florida Marlins, to have lower attendance than the Rays in 2011. The Athletics have the 3rd lowest attendance YTD in 2012. Major League Baseball should deal with the Oakland Athletics because they’re a disgrace, but the situation in Tampa is so much different. The Rays principal owner, Stuart Sternberg, has tried to build a winner in Tampa Bay. The team has developed a strong core of young and talented players, and they revitalized their image with their uniform changes in 2008. The team has been a consistent factor in the AL East, and a perennial Cinderella in the post season, but attendance only gets worse.
The issue for the Rays is that they’re locked in the Trop thru 2027. Technically they can’t relocate, and they have zero leverage in city government even with their performance on the field. It’s hard to watch. This team deserves more from their fanbase, which brings me back around to Major League Baseball. MLB needs to do one of two things: 1) Force relocation, by paying to break the team’s lease with the city or 2) Contract the team, and immediately announce expansion with Stuart Sternberg as the team’s principal owner. Yes, the Rays would be gone, and the players would enter a supplemental draft, but Sternberg has shown that he’s an owner that wants to win, and would be willing to invest if fan support was there. (Which was why he was rumored to be interested in purchasing the Mets in 2011.) It’s in Major League Baseball’s best interest to invest in relocating the team. MLB has tried to force the Florida market for years, but it hasn’t worked. Even the new Marlins Stadium is sure to fade as attendance is sure to drop in upcoming seasons. The Florida market has been a disaster. It’s time to move on — but where?
Relocation is a touchy subject. I think that’s part of why the Athletics are still in Oakland. MLB needs to look at the long-term viability in any market they would move too, and with the economy, you have to look at areas that aren’t already saturated by teams (like in NY, Illinois, California, or Texas). There are 3 specific locations MLB should look at:
- North/South Carolina: Take your pick. There’s a history of contending college baseball in both Carolinas. UNC, South Carolina, and Clemson have established a rich baseball culture that could be help MLB explode in the market. There are 5 MiLB teams in the two states, including the Single-A Greenville that attract over 350,000 fans a year. For Single-A. There are another 350,000 fans in Charlotte. The Atlanta Braves have a stranglehold on a market that could use another team. North and South Carolina come out in droves to support college athletics, they would come out to support an MLB franchise. Is it any coincidence that one of the Rays jerseys is baby blue?
- Portland: If this were 5yrs ago, I’d give Portland better odds. They’re one of the larger media markets to only have one major franchise in the Portland Trailblazers. — Oh, wait, sorry. Now they have soccer. The minute that Portland rejected the AAA Beavers for the MLS, their stock dropped. This is also the same city that turned down a local tribe’s offer to build a stadium for them gratis, if they could sponsor it. Unfortunately, I think Portland is clueless, which is too bad because I would drive down there to watch games in a heartbeat. (I wanted the Expos there — How cool would it have been to have the AL Mariners in Seattle and an NL team less than 3hrs south?)
- Vegas: OK, I was in Vegas last week, so it’s on the brain. If there’s a long shot, this would be about the longest shot available. Baseball will never embrace the betting culture like the NFL. You’ll never see the NFL move a team to Vegas either, but with MLB’s history, I just don’t see this happening. An NHL or NBA team on the other hand…
The Tampa Bay Rays need a fresh start, and it’s become increasingly obvious that they need that start somewhere else. The only question now is when will Major League Baseball step in to try and save a franchise that deserves so much more?