(This is the first column I’ve ever written, so bear with me.)
Well, Spring Training is in full swing, and here in Florida, ballparks are buzzing with die-hard fans, autograph seekers and busloads of retirees. Teams are starting to take shape, and it’s always great to see some new faces popping up. But come April 1, teams will have to start impressing their fans. And for those teams who have had little or mediocre success impressing fans, it’s time to reach into a bag of tricks.
The public-relations aspect of sports has always interested me. Many teams have promotions to bring people to the ballpark. Some of them are successful. Autograph sessions and free t-shirts are always popular promotions. And then there have been the infamous disasters. Disco Demolition, anyone?
But what Tampa Bay has done this season is far more than a publicity ploy. For those who haven’t heard, Tampa Bay dropped the “Devil” from their name, making them the Tampa Bay Rays.
This wasn’t just a PR move. It was a move that also involved the team’s ownership. The team is trying to completely change their image in the eyes of baseball fans. And they are serious. Any team personnel who refers to the team as the Devil Rays has to pay a dollar to the Rays Foundation, the team’s charity.
The changes do not just include the name, but also the team colors, uniforms and logos. There is even talk of building a new stadium, and the team’s payroll has increased. The players and the management seem to enjoy the new image.
But the question is: Will this really work?
Obviously, time will tell. My prediction is that it will be helpful, but the Rays definitely need to become more competitive. The name change is definitely a new novelty to die-hard fans, as well as average baseball fans. Initially, it will draw fans to the park. But to an average fan, novelty tends to wear off if there is nothing to back it up. If a team isn’t performing well, then why would they keep spending their money to see it lose?
The management and ownership has been active in making the team more competitive. In addition to increasing their payroll, which makes room for some pricier players, the Rays will likely include No. 1 draft pick David Price on their roster. His presence will bring a powerful left-handed pitcher to the team. The roster will have to prove to be a good match up against powerhouse AL East teams.
All in all, changing the team’s image will be a season-long process. If the Rays experience their first winning season in team history, then the team’s changes will be successful. However, if they don’t, they will come off as the same Tampa Bay team we have been seeing for the past 10 years. And then it will be time to reach into the bag of tricks once again.