Tampa Bay Rays: Why the Rays Deserve a New Stadium
Courtesy to MLBlogs Network
So the Tampa Bay Rays are about to begin talks on a new stadium.
Well, building a new stadium is no walk in the park. A location must be agreed upon, a design needs to be contrived, massive funds must be raised and the construction can take over a year.
Playing at Tropicana Field since their inaugural season in 1998, the Rays and their fanbase have become weary of the only non-retractable domed stadium in the Majors.
Four-and-a-half hours south in Miami, the Marlins opened their new stadium in 2012. Full of contemporary designs and fan amenities, Marlins Park is a success even if their team is not.
Do the Rays deserve a new stadium?
You bet they do.
Courtesy of Eastbay.com
Again in 2012, the Rays are in the thick of things in the AL East.
Two games back of the New York Yankees in the division and one game back in the Wild Card race, the Rays are on the path to their third straight playoff berth.
They are doing everything right.
During a critical homestand, the Rays won two of three games against both the Yankees and the Texas Rangers. Certain players are turning on the jets late in the season, such as B.J. Upton, who clobbered three home runs on Sunday night and has 14 since the All-Star break.
The Rays have the fifth-best record in the stacked American League at 77-63, which may not sound like much, but is quite impressive.
Oh, right. They also have the worst attendance numbers in baseball.
Tropicana Field has a capacity of 43,772. Now, prepare yourself for this next number.
The Rays' 2012 average home attendance is 19,956, dead last in the majors.
Where are the fans to support a team that has won 90-plus games in three of the last four seasons? Is there any loyalty at all?
Of course, it is a challenge to create a dedicated fanbase with an expansion team, especially when the team reaches 70 wins just once in its first 10 seasons.
Success in recent years has brought on bandwagon fans, but where are they now?
The Rays have always struggled to fill the seats in Tampa. The average attendance is actually up over 1,000 seats from last season. They saw better numbers from 2008-2010, hovering around 23,000 fans per game, but all previous seasons were pitiful.
In an article by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, he asks commissioner Bud Selig about the attendance woes in St. Petersburg.
Selig called it "inexcusable" and "disappointing".
We've been playing great baseball all year. Since I've been here in , the fans have wanted a good baseball team. They've wanted to watch a contender. And for us to play good baseball for three years now, and for us to be in a spot to clinch again and go to the playoffs, we're all confused as to why it's only 15,000 to 20,000 in the building.
It's not that ticket prices are out of anyone's price range, either.
In fact, the Fan Cost Index, which calculates how much an average family of four would spend at the ballpark, at Tropicana Field is the fourth-lowest in the majors at 153.30.
Building a new stadium with a lower seating capacity would greatly improve attendance rates and team morale.
Criticisms of Tropicana Field
Courtesy of Chicago Sun Times
Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL finished construction in 1990. Needless to say, the stadium is out of date.
It has generated much wear and tear from hosting multiple sporting events over the years, including college football bowl games and college basketball tournaments.
It is also the only stadium in history to host full seasons of professional baseball, football, hockey and arena football.
The most talked-about criticism of the stadium is its catwalks.
The roof of the stadium is supported by cables and slants downwards towards the outfield at a 6.5-degree angle beginning at second base. The height at second base is 225 feet compared to 85 feet at the center field wall.
This causes the catwalks to come into play when high fly balls are hit. There are specific rules garnered towards each of the four rings of catwalks that circle the roof, A through D. Ultimately, they are simply obstructions and have caused controversy in the past.
The bullpens are one of the few left in the majors that are in play of a batted ball. Stationed along the left and right field lines, this design used to be popular in baseball, but most bullpens now lie beyond the outfield wall.
The bullpen pitchers, catchers and coaches must be alert at all times, and a ball boy is placed in front for their protection.
Finally, the interior of the stadium has been described as drab. There have been improvements by the owners, including video boards and a 10,000 gallon touch-tank featuring cownose rays, but none to make the stadium truly prolific.
Should They Leave St. Pete?
Rays have been in St. Petersburg since 1998
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
The newest development in the Rays' search for a new park is the St. Petersburg City Council's decision to allow a private contractor to pitch his idea for a new park.
Darryl LeClair, a real estate developer with CityScape, owns a 12-acre Carillon business park and gained the approval of the mayor and the council to present his idea.
The city also sent a formal letter to the Tampa Bay Rays inviting them to the private meeting even if they were not interested in hearing it.
The city and the team have been in constant negotiation regarding a new stadium: the city wanting the Rays to stay in the St. Petersburg vicinity and the Rays wanting to explore all options in the Tampa Bay area.
Even with the formal letter sent to the Rays, the team has claimed they "are not interested in talking about new stadium sites unless the city frees them to pursue sites anywhere in the Tampa Bay area."
The Rays released plans for a new ballpark in 2007 that would be located on the waterfront and seat 34,000 fans. It would cost $450 million and be located near their spring training home, Al Lang Field. The plans never got off its feet.
Without proper fan support, however, the Rays could contemplate a full-throttle shift. Only being in Tampa Bay for 14 years, the thought is a long shot, but not completely unrealistic.
Possible relocations for the team could be Portland, OR, Charlotte, NC or Las Vegas, NV, the former two being more likely.
Portland and Charlotte are both large enough to sustain a professional baseball team and have plenty of baseball interest based on the number of minor league affiliate teams there. Both have witnessed success hosting professional basketball teams.
Relocation for the Rays is doubtful, but nonetheless on the table.
Who Would Pay for It?
Sternberg will be relied upon to front big money for a new staidum
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
One of the largest questions upon building a new stadium is the financing.
After all, it is no small investment to build a professional sports stadium for hundreds of millions of dollars.
With the economy in a rough spot and social change on many people's minds, citizens of Florida, and the Tampa region specifically, may not want their tax dollars easing the payment on a multi-million dollar sports franchise.
However, since Tampa isn't a large city by U.S. standards (it ranks 56th and St. Petersburg ranks 71st based on population), taxation to finance a new stadium may be unavoidable.
Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced that the team would front $150 million in 2007 for a waterfront stadium. That would only cover one-third of the cost.
Raising ticket prices is also an option to generate income, but as we already know, attendance this season extremely low.
Donations from wealthy individuals in the area is another possibility yet unlikely to make much of an impact.
We'll know more after September 28, when the city of St. Petersburg meets with LeClair to discuss his proposal.
Until then, the Rays will focus on their impending playoff run.