In the wake of star players David Price and Evan Longoria calling out Rays fans -- or more accurately -- calling more Tampa Bay area people to become Rays fans, let's take a quick look at the Rays' home attendance situation.
Tampa, currently leading the American League in winning percentage and having made it to the World Series just two years ago, is ninth in the American League in average home attendance. That kind of stinks for a team that's been so successful the past three years. However, it's three spots better than the team drew in its World Series season. So, while the raw number of fans coming into Tropicana Field may not be much higher this year than in 2008, (23,025 to 22,370), the Rays have done better holding on to the fans that do come than some of the other AL teams. Blame the economy for that. Other problems for the Rays have been that they have been horrible almost all their stay in St. Petersburg, the field isn't really that close to the bulk of the population (across the bay in tampa) and they found contaminated soil on the property.
Now, while the contamination may have been cleaned up, these factors can make it difficult for a team to build a large, rabid fan base. Not to mention that Florida is a big retiree area, and how many of those retirees have had their Social Security checks' buying power whittled away in recent years?
Heading into the past three years, the Rays were last in the A.L. in attendance each of the previous seven years, as the honeymoon of the new team in town wore off. Most of that most likely had to do with the putrid records. But the other factors didn't help.
Where are we at now? Well, attendance has been rising for this team, albeit not very quickly. There is a movement to build a new stadium, perhaps in Tampa, that could generate more dollars for the club and more attendance. Will it be enough that Tampa will be able to keep most of the homegrown young talent that is close to going free agent? Who knows. Is it worth the risk? If you build this stadium and attendance doesn't increase over the long haul (we're expecting it will for a few years at least just due to the newness of the ballpark), then what?
Or is it time for the Rays to find a new home?
Similarly, the Florida Marlins, downstate in Miami, have had an awful time trying to draw fans. The Marlins have been last in the National league in average home attendance each of the past five years and have been 13th or worse out of 16 N.L. clubs each year since 1998. And that includes a World Series victory in 2003. Extenuating circumstances could include the Marlins dumping player salaries both times it won the Series (including 1997). But this club has been above .500 four of the past seven seasons, including 87 wins just a year ago. And attendance still fails to climb relative to other National League clubs.
Maybe Florida just doesn't want to support Major League Baseball other than in spring training. That's fine. There's no law that says they have to go see Major League regular-season games.
There are other places to try. Places like Portland, Ore., Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, Louisville, Charlotte, San Antonio. I think one or two of those cities might support a Major League Baseball team. One place I think Major League Baseball will eventually have a team is in Havana, Cuba. You don't think Cubans would love to have a Major League team? Their stars right now have to defect to play in America. The tide is starting to turn ever so slightly in Cuba. One day, things will be much different, more like it was before Castro took over.
Maybe the Rays or Marlins will end up there. Who knows. All I know is that those clubs aren't being supported very well where they are at right now. Maybe that will change. But there are alternatives if it doesn't.