It's happening again.
It's about that time of year. About that time when the media writers and fans and players of other teams begin to notice it and proclaim it to everyone they know.
The Rays can't get anyone to go to their games.
At surface level, this appears to be so. The Rays (89-59) own one of the best records in baseball and sit a half game behind the New York Yankees.
A great team combined with an exciting pennant race should produce fannies in the seats, so what's wrong with Tampa Bay? Is it a poor baseball market? Is it a poor sports market? Or is the unemployment rate (nearly 13%) really affecting sports that much?
The simple answer is everyone who questions the Rays attendance is wrong. 100% wrong. Or more like 42% if we want to get technical. Since the beginning of the 2008 season, attendance at Rays games has gone up by 42%. That is double the amount of increase seen by any other ball club in the Major Leagues.
In 2007, the (Devil) Rays averaged 17,148 people per game. In 2008, however, the club averaged 22,259 per game, an increase of over 5,000 per game.
Yes, this increase occurred during the Rays' World Series run, but looking back at the attendance figures from 2003, when the Rays only averaged 13,070 per game, the club has increased attendance by 10,000 in five years.
In the world of sports, especially regarding a fan base, five years is not a long time.
In 2003, when the team was coming off the worst season in franchise history (a dismal 55-106 in 2002), it also recorded the lowest attendance average in the majors. It makes sense: bad team, bad attendance...good team, good attendance.
What most people from other fan bases across the country don't seem to realize is that the Rays have two winning seasons in 12 full years as an organization. That is not enough time to sell corporate season tickets at rates like the Yankees and Red Sox do, teams whose attendance the Rays are often compared to.
So is it even fair to compare a team that has been around for 100 years with one that has only seen three presidents? Of course not, but we live in a right-here, right-now world, and results are expected immediately.
One of the most tired arguments that is used over and over again is how the Rays need a new stadium, and that it needs to be in Tampa.
In 1998, the club's inaugural year, they averaged a little over 30,000 per game. Obviously for those 30 thousand per night crowds, the location of the stadium didn't get in the way and neither did the product (the Devil Rays finished with only 63 wins that year).
Unless something has changed recently, Tropicana Field is still in the same place it was during the 1998 season, so people who use the excuse of "the location is horrible" either need to find a new reason not to go to games or stop calling themselves fans.
If the past two seasons has showed anything, it is that the Rays are a team on the rise. It appears as though they may finally be at full strength in 2010 with much promise to sustain that success for at least a few years.
More success means more ticket sales. More ticket sales means more revenue. More revenue means a whole bunch of things, like the Rays won't move to Charlotte or San Antonio and that the Tampa Bay Area might finally get a new baseball stadium to be proud of.
First things first, however: the residents of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are going to have to prove that they not only deserve a new stadium, but that they deserve the Rays.
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