Rays Closing Upper Deck at Tropicana Field to Create 'Intimate' Fan Experience

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2019

Tampa Bay Rays officials and grounds crew talk under emergency lightning after lightning strikes knocked out power inside Tropicana Field before the start of a game with the New York Yankees Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)
Steve Nesius/Associated Press

The Tampa Bay Rays announced Friday that they are eliminating more than 10,000 seats at Tropicana Field.

According to ESPN.comRays president Matt Silverman said the move is being made to improve the fan experience: "These renovations mark our continued commitment to providing a first-rate fan experience at Tropicana Field. Together, in concert with the reduction in seating capacity, these investments will help create a more intimate, entertaining and appealing experience for our fans."

The Rays are going to cease selling upper-deck tickets, which will reduce the capacity of Tropicana Field to between 25,000 and 26,000.

That capacity will be roughly 10,000 seats less than any other venue in Major League Baseball.

The Rays ranked 29th in the league in attendance last season with an average of 14,258 fans per game, which put them ahead of only the Miami Marlins (10,013).

The team's lease at the Trop in St. Petersburg, Florida, expires in 2027, and Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said last month that the organization needs a long-term plan with regard to where the team will play down the line: "We'll continue to look in Tampa Bay, and we'll put our efforts to that. One way or another, we need to figure out a where the team is going to be in 2028, if not sooner. Ideally sooner. But absolutely by 2028."

While the Rays entered the 2018 season with relatively low expectations, they finished third in the American League East behind the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees with a 90-72 record.

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The Rays, who have played at Tropicana throughout their entire 21-year existence, have enjoyed only moderate success since 1998.

Tampa Bay has qualified for the playoffs on four occasions and reached one World Series, losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008. The Rays haven't reached the playoffs since 2013, which likely contributed to low attendance last season.

Although the Rays exceeded expectations in 2018, improving and reaching the playoffs in 2019 will be a tall order given the top-flight level of competition in the AL East.