December 18, 2014

Pardon me if I don't cry too much for Tampa Bay Rays fans

So, despite city of St. Petersburg staff agreeing to let the low-attendance Tampa Bay Rays look across the bay to the city of Tampa and or Hillsborough County for a new stadium, the St. Pete City Council has voted it down and now, per Hardball Talk, fans are butt-hurt.

Is Tropicana Field ideal for baseball? Erm, no. Is it as horrible as some Rays fans claim? Well, because other Rays fans beg to differ.

And, the bottom line is that the Tampa Bay Lighting — HOCKEY! — outdrew 20 years ago, with a smaller population, what your current population draws for baseball in the same stadium. And did so more consistently. More below. At the same time, previous and current owners apparently thought it less of a white elephant than now. The turf's been upgraded twice since 2000, other changes have been made as well; the Wiki link indicates they've been done by owners, not the city.

See the bottom of this page for more details about that pull quote and why the stupidity issue is that real.

Is it located, as far as center of population, in the ideal part of metropolitan Tampa-St. Petersburg? No, but arguably neither are other stadiums like Busch in St. Louis.

Is its location geographically challenged? I've never been to Tampa-St. Pete, but I've been to the Bay Area plenty of times, and the Giants draw fans from the East Bay, San Jose, Marin County and more. Oh, while the Bay Area overall has good mass transit, BART does NOT go to either Marin County or San Jose. (It's headed to San Jose, but it's not there yet. And, it's not headed at all to Marin County/North Bay.) So, that's a bit of falsehood to claim that mass transit trumps all the Bay Area's geography issues, Rays fans.

If you're in San Jose and don't want to drive all the way to a Giants game, you still have to drive up to Daly City or wherever to catch BART. If you're in Napa or Sonoma, you have to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge into the city, and you probably figure you might as well drive to the game while you're at it.

And, Tampa Bay is no more convoluted than San Francisco Bay, and at 400 square miles, is no bigger than the smallest defined area of San Francisco Bay (excluding San Pablo and other sub-bays).

Otherwise? St. Louis and Cincinnati are both split by major rivers. St. Louis has light rail of moderate impact on the Missouri side only; I don't know if Cincy has light rail at all or just buses. Metro Seattle is made very vertical by Puget Sound, and I've not heard any special praises for its mass transit.

Besides, the sprawl and geographic convolution argument cuts both ways. There's surely St. Pete fans going to the Amalie, today's Lightning location, or the Raymond James for the Bucs. Yes, they may get more fans from the eastward, Lakeland all the way to Orlando, than the Rays. But, the Rays could potentially get more fans from Bradenton and points further south with their current location.

Is TSP a small baseball market? Noooooo.

It's not only a hair larger than mid-market metro St. Louis of my beloved Cardinals, per Wiki, it's larger than several other MLB sites.

Metro Tampa-St. Pete is bigger than:
1. Metro St. Louis
2. Metro Baltimore
3. Metro Denver
4. Metro Pittsburgh
5. Metro Cincinnati
6. Metro Cleveland
7. Metro Kansas City
8. Metro Milwaukee

As for attendance? It had about 2.5 million in its first year, according to Baseball-Reference. It fell a full million the next year, and has never broken 2 million since.  Even in good times and a growing population base, it hasn't broken 1.8 million since 2010, so you can't blame all the attendance woes on the previous ownership group of Vince Naimoli; the team's not drawn a lot better, despite having a better product, under Stuart Sternberg.

Given that the Tampa Bay Lightning also played there, before their current location, and drew well there, while part of the problems might be location, and part of the problems might be a stadium not well designed for baseball, I simply reject the idea that those two issues are the sum total of why baseball doesn't draw well there. 

Indeed, the Lightning drew about 20K a game there, and that's HOCKEY. And it was there in "poor sister" St. Pete. (The team draws even better in Tampa.) In other words, Rays fans, the hockey team outdrew most years of your baseball team, in the same location. And, year after year. Even when the expansion team didn't do that well right away.

As Rays fans getting more butt-hurt claim that I don't know what I'm talking about, or that I'm confusing the Lightning's current location and attendance with other things, you start to sound more and more like you're doing some special pleading.

No, I've never been there. But, I have plenty of statistics in hand. I've already covered attendance (and attendance vs. the Lightning), the reality of geography of Tampa Bay vs. San Francisco Bay, the reality of mass transit elsewhere and more.

And, to have some fans indicate I'm clueless, or that I'm getting things mixed up, or that I'm like George W. Bush invading Iraq and then clueless as to the fighting?

Sorry, but you're not winning your argument.

Meanwhile, back to that case at hand.

The Lightning draw even better now, in Tampa, with a better team, but that leads to something else.

This gets back to something I've said before. Some areas, while they support some sports well, don't others. And maybe, Rays fans, South Florida (TSP, on true lines of longitude, is as close or closer to Miami than it is to Jacksonville, so I'm calling it South Florida) just isn't major league baseball territory.

Accept it!

St. Louis hasn't had an NBA team since the Hawks, with Sweet Lou Hudson and Lenny Wilkins, left 45 years ago. After the ABA Spirits, with Bad News Marvin Barnes, Moses Malone, Maurice Lucas and M.L. Carr, failed to make the NBA cut, it's never gotten a whiff of mention as a possible NBA expansion or relocation site.

The Rams and Raiders have been gone from Los Angeles for 20 years, and even with the Rams winning one Super Bowl and making a second, don't seem to be too missed.

So, maybe Evan Longoria, David Price and other players don't draw fans that well, either. And, that may be true with the Miami Marlins and Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton.

That said, on the traffic and geography side, and why the Trop was built in St. Pete, I'm also beginning to suspect that part of this may be a unique regional issue, namely that Tampa-side people don't want to necessarily play so nice with St. Pete. To the degree that's involved, that's wholly your problem and stop blaming anybody or anything else.

Meanwhile, on to the business side.

Jeff Loria shook down Miami-Dade County taxpayers for big bucks for his shiny new stadium. Even if the Sternbergs, or new owners, could get out of the St. Pete side of the area, Tampa/Hillsborough County residents would surely crucify their elected officials for blowing taxpayer money on a stadium. That's especially true because Florida was one of the states hardest hit by the housing bubble. I don't think the Tampa or St. Petersburg economies are doing fantastic, either one.

Beyond that, on the St. Pete side? The current city council isn't the problem.

The one dumb enough to build a "spec" stadium without a guaranteed tenant is the dumb one. The current owner, knowing he'd bought a team occupying a spec stadium is a close second. Economic development directors who have brains will tell you (as multiple ones have told me before) that building a facility for speculative purposes, whether a sports facility, a small office park, a logistics facility (I've seen both of those built as spec buildings and sit vacant for years too) is one of the "best" ways to get yourself fired.

They're often built into pre-conceived ideas that are pretty inflexible, and because economic development corporations are adjuncts of local governments, they're also built on the cheap. The Trop "pleads guilty" on both counts.

Only other business angle I can think of off the top of my head is maybe Naimoli figured he'd be able to find a sucker eager municipal government on the Tampa side of the metro after a couple of years. Well, he failed.

Oh, and baseball fans? Beyond traffic, and on viewing experience, this can't be as bad as old Tiger Stadium, or current Wrigley, for that matter.

To be somewhat charitable, and honor emotions and other things, while still focusing on the facts, I'll concede that as much as 50 percent of this may be due to location and/or stadium.

But no more than that.

Rays fans, will you concede that the other 50 percent may be baseball support struggles?

I expect crickets, but if you want to do differently, you can.


MountainDeac said...

As to your comments about the Rams NOT apparently being missed from LA, there's a good chance they'll be back in LA in two years, per news the past few days. Otherwise, I'd have to just say good rant, except as someone who's been to Tampa St Pete, been to the baseball stadium and been to a dozen other MLB stadiums, iTropicana is the worst pro venue I've been to, both aesthetically speaking as well as per accessibility and just overall suitability. I'd also have to say that your comparison of the Bay Area w Tampa Bay is irrelevant: while I'm sure some fans make the trek from the east bay and San Jose and elsewhere, the size of the markets are way off. It's like arguing that fans in jersey and Connecticut go to Yankees games. Yeah sure, but the team doesn't need them to. That just happens to be the most attractive team for those people to go see, while the team can draw well just w the ppl in heir backyard, ie San Fran. The Rays actually NEED Tampans to make the trek to draw well, and crossing that bridge is a pain and not something I'd be apt to do on a regular basis. Apparently neither do they. And while I'm sure there's a modicum of regional pride and rivalry btwn the cities, I don't think the average Joe or Sue wanting to take their family for an enjoyable outing are going to willingly deprive themselves of MLB action just to 'stick it' to St. Pete.

Gadfly said...

Deac, you're probably right, or at least somewhat right on nuancing my traffic comments and stadium ones.

You're right as rain on the Rams. And the Chargers, even!