Blog: A new Rays stadium doesn’t solve fundamental issues

The Tampa Bay Rays need a new stadium, and somewhat badly.

But that won’t solve all the issues the team regularly has with attendance despite having one of the best records since 2008.

Nor should that matter either way.

Let’s first start with what Tampa Bay has, which is a 23-year-old home for a team that’s been around for just more than half of it. Tropicana Field, located in the heart of St. Petersburg, doesn’t have many luxury boxes or any natural light peaking in (I realize the need for a roof in summer), while the sight lines for fans around most of the stadium otherwise are poor to say the least. Why anybody would want to sit in an infield corner that points in no way towards the action is beyond me — I get a stiff neck just thinking about it.

The Trop, however, does have some redeeming qualities about itself. The team tries to make the game a show of sorts, and emcee Rusty Kath does a great job to keep fans entertained. The video games, amusement games and Rays Touch Tank are also great additions that make going to a game more than just watching slow-paced action for three hours.

Its major problem, above all else, is location. When I lived off of 4th Street and Gandy Blvd. in St. Petersburg (just south of the Howard Frankland bridge), it would take me at least 20 minutes to get to the Trop. From Tampa, that means you’re talking 30, but more likely an hour once you figure in rush hour traffic. What if you live in Brandon, which has 100,000 more people? Good luck. From Bradenton across the Sunshine Skyway, it’s another 35 minute drive on a good day, and from Sarasota, you’re talking at least an hour. The fact that there is essentially no public transportation only exacerbates the problem.

Simply put, the only stadium that might have a worse location in its respective city is the Marlins, unless of course you really need to buy some cocaine.

That makes me ask the question, what if you could theoretically transplant Tropicana Field to either side of the Howard Frankland? I think it would do wonders — even if it’s on the St. Pete side. It saves at least 15 minutes for Tampa residents and its surrounding suburbs, attracting a more densely populated area.

But the Rays, who as of Aug. 17 averaged 18,202 fans (lowest in baseball), may not even crack the top 20 still. Would a new stadium help that? Theoretically, yes. But at a half-billion dollars to maybe crack the top 15 in a good year, it’s not worth it.

And what I’m about to tell you next may shock you, but it’s true: the Rays have a good enough fan base to fill it up consistently.

The fan base is also the problem.

Nearly a third of Tampa Bay area residents are age 55 and over. With the aforementioned lack of public transportation, that means that you have seniors on the road driving to 7:10 games every day of the week when, in many cases, that would be past their bedtimes. With a game that doesn’t end until 10 p.m. on a good day, those people aren’t getting home until 10:30 or 11. Now I have a grandma that stays up that late, but I don’t think they’re quite the night owls that good ‘ol Doris Zeck is.

Ultimately what I’m trying to say is that there is no solution to solving the attendance besides lowering the ticket prices to an obscene level where people can’t afford to not go. Why is that still OK?

Go to your local Publix, bar or school function and you’ll see the TB letters or sunburst. The market cares about this franchise, they just decided to tune into their TV’s to show it.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the Tampa Bay television market is 14th in number of household TV sets. In ratings, the Rays have the fifth highest marks, trailing only Los Angeles, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boston and Pittsburgh. From 2011 to 2012, TV ratings went up 28 percent and will likely go up even further this year.

To make matters even better, the Rays’ TV deal with Fox Sports/Sun Sports is nearly up (it expires in 2016). Granted they won’t be getting a billion dollars like the Dodgers or Rangers (nor will they be able to print an endless supply of money like each of their AL East counterparts that own the cable stations they play on), what they do get will dwarf their current deal of $20 million per year.

On a conservative guess, that new deal — which FDR himself would drop his jaw over — would likely more than triple the current amount. The franchise could do a lot with an extra $40 million in its pockets whether it goes directly into player payroll or towards some new digs (with the team already saving up from previous revenue sharing).

The bottom line is that if Tampa Bay can keep putting out a good product, it’ll help their own bottom line… No matter who is there to see it.

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