We are going at 'View from the other side' from a different angle this time. Instead of asking about the Rays team, I asked some questions of Michael Lortz of Tampa Bay Baseball Market about attendance at Tropicana Field and factors that affect that, as well as a couple of questions about Dunedin.
How is the Rays attendance this year? The Rays have had an up and down season, does hot streaks/cold streak effect attendance?
Rays attendance this year is down. It is down about 15-20% from 2014, and at its worst since the Devil Rays were annual 100-game losers. The impact of the Tampa Bay Lightning playoff run had a huge effect on the Rays.
I don't think winning streaks affect attendance as much as losing streaks hurt attendance. But however, with the AL East as competitive as it is this year, no one is completely out of it. And being in contention means more to attendance than any streak.
What do you think, is the location or the ballpark the main reason people don't come out to games, or are there other factors? If there magically was a park in or near downtown Tampa, with a retractable roof, would the Rays get league average crowds?
Location plays a huge role in the Rays attendance problem. Without a doubt. If I had to put numbers to the struggle, I would say location is 45% of the problem. 35% is the facility itself, 10% is market saturation, and 10% is the demographics of Tampa Bay.
In regards to location, I had a post on Fangraphs during the offseason that looked at population within 30-minutes of every ballpark and the difference between weekday and weekend attendance. Meaning, the fans that live close are the fans that will go to more games during the week and those far away are more liking to go on the weekends where there is less traffic. From the research, it seems the magic numbers were 2 million people and 20%. If a team had 2 million people local to the ballpark, they had less than a 20% difference between average between weekend and weekday attendance.
Last year, the Rays came in dead last with only 750,000 people near Tropicana Field and an over 50% difference between weekdays (14,000) and weekends (21,000). Unfortunately, I could only find population data for US cities, so unsure how the Blue Jays fared.
Building a stadium in downtown Tampa would be better centrally located within the area. Right now, I am not sure by how much, but there would an increase in local population. That might bring the Rays close to 18,000 on weekdays and 25,000 on weeknights. Which might get them closer, if not over, that magical 2 million total attendance.
Do you think there is any chance the Rays can get out of their lease and get a new stadium in Tampa? I'd imagine it might be tough for the Rays to talk the tax payers of Central Florida to build them a new park? Is there a suitable location?
The 500 million dollar question. Right now, the Rays are biding their time. They are not negotiating with the City of St Petersburg during the season. I believe there is an election in the offseason, so we might see some new personalities on the city council. The politics of letting the Rays look outside of Pinellas County (home of St Pete) is the biggest hold up. Once that gets worked out, then possible locations, then we'll look at funding, which the Marlins debacle in Miami did not make an easy sell.
There are several locations I think could work. I am a fan of the downtown Tampa idea, but land is at a premium there. There are a few other locations throughout the Tampa Bay area that may not be as central, but will be far more central than Tropicana Field.
Any chance the Rays move to Montreal?
AL East teams in general tend to draw better than AL Central and AL West teams, but that is primarily due to the Yankees. The Red Sox are interesting, as they weren't much of a draw in 2013 and 2014, but in 2015 it has picked back up. But the Jays and Orioles usually draw average for that day of the week.
What do you think of the Jays spring training home of Dunedin? Should they be looking for somewhere else to be their spring home?
I'm not sure the Blue Jays will stay in Dunedin. I wouldn't be surprised if they moved to where the Nationals are currently, since the Nationals are expected to move from Viera, Florida to West Palm Beach in the next few years. That, to me, makes the most sense. Although the problem then would be what to do with the Brevard County Manatees, who are not a Nationals minor league team, but a Brewers team. If the Manatees follow the Nationals to West Palm, I can see the Jays moving across the state to the East Coast.
How do the Dunedin Jays draw? What are factors in their attendance? Is the park a problem?
This is another tough question for me. I love Minor League Baseball. Whenever I visit a city, I always try to check out the local ballpark. I also got my start writing about Tampa Bay area Minor League Baseball on several blogs.
But that said, the Dunedin Blue Jays are again at the bottom of the Florida State League with less than 900 a game. Their park is outdated and sparsely attended. Yet, unlike the Rays, no one talks about moving them. As a matter of fact, there are "secret negotiations" between the City of Dunedin and the Jays to extend the relationship beyond 2017. The problem is, however, Florida Auto Exchange Stadium is wedged between houses and other local buildings. They really can't upgrade it too much. If tradition is the only thing holding the Jays to Dunedin, they might want to explore their options.
Another factor in the Rays attendance problems is that the Rays face an incredible amount of competition from other local professional baseball ticket sales. There are four Minor League stadiums within 30 minutes of Tropicana Field. They might not outdraw the Rays, but being more centrally located to pockets of people, they are more convenient as well as cheaper.
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