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View from the other side: Rays questions for Michael Lortz of Tampa Bay Baseball Market

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Would you want to watch a game here?
Would you want to watch a game here?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With the Rays in town, I sent off some questions to Michael Lortz, of Tampa Bay Baseball Market, about the state of attendance for the Rays.

Well, I guess the obvious one is "how is attendance this season?" Are the Rays up or down? Any ideas why?

Rays attendance is a super popular topic lately. I guess because it was so bad last year. But the good news is Rays attendance is up this year. Through Game 20 in 2015, Rays average attendance was 15,567. By Game 20 in 2016, Rays average attendance is 16,757. This is an increase of 7.6%. And at Game 20, the Rays played the same amount of weekday and weekend games (11 and 9) as they did in 2015. That's the good news

The bad news is they are still on a pace to only draw 1.3 million. Which is less than they drew from 2011-2013 and far less than attendance in 2008-2010.

The easiest explanation is that the Rays marketing department has flooded the market with ticket deals. I interviewed their Chief Business Officer before the season started and he admitted to having multiple marketing strategies in the queue. Every day at the Trop has a different discount. That, combined with better promotions and increased offers to season ticket holders has given fans a little more incentive to go to the ballpark.

I'll admit to being a fan of Chris Archer, he seems to be a good guy. Does his starts have any effect on attendance? Is there any pitcher in the team's history that has had?

How can you not be a fan of Chris Archer? The guy is awesome. Great personality, great pitcher, and a great face for the franchise.

However, normally over the course of a season, starting pitchers don't make much difference in attendance. There are only a few exceptions to this: Jose Fernandez in Miami, Matt Harvey in New York, and maybe Felix Hernandez in Seattle. That said, Archer's starts last year did draw 1,400 people over the Rays average attendance. But was that because of Archer or did he pitch more weekend games or games with great promotions? There is some regression analysis waiting to be done there. Unfortunately, my knowledge of regression analysis is limited to knowing what regression analysis is, not how to do it.

In the Rays history, I would guess David Price and Scott Kazmir would probably have had the biggest effect. But again was that because they pitched in the biggest games against biggest opponents in prime time?

Where are the Rays stadium talks at? Is there any real chance that they will find a new home in the Tampa area? I'd have to think that having an open air stadium would help attendance. Isn't the best part about Florida being outside in the sun?

Right now in the stadium saga, the Rays are attempting to narrow down locations in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties. Both counties want the Rays in their county, but funding and space is an issue. Pinellas has more funds, but they don't have the population. And the mayor of St. Pete thinks the Trop location is the best spot for the team. Which is absolutely illogical.

I think they will find a home in the area. My money is either on downtown Tampa or near the bridges connecting the counties.

Although the sun does shine bright in Florida, an open air park would be a terrible idea. In the summer in Tampa, it rains every day. The local Florida State League teams (to include the Dunedin Blue Jays) average three rain outs a year. That's a lot of doubleheaders for a Major League team to reschedule. So a dome would be best. Hopefully something light can shine through.

How much longer can they keep going if they have to continue playing at Tropicana? Is there anything they could do to make attendance better, while being in that rather terrible park?

The use agreement between the team and the City of St Pete is until 2027, so the team could have to play in the Trop until then. That would be the worst case scenario. I really hope that is not the case. One can only take so much baseball in a warehouse.

The best thing the Rays could do in their current location to boost attendance would be to play all their games on Saturday and Sunday. But I don't think Major League Baseball would be ok with that. Weekdays are their biggest problem. This year, for example, they are averaging 23,688 on Saturday and Sunday (excluding Opening Day) and only 12,965 Monday through Friday. Getting people to the ballpark on the weekdays in their number one problem.

Do the Rays get any boost from having the Jays in town? Our broadcasters tell us how great Blue Jays fan travel and they show Jays fans in all road games, but, personally, Tropicana isn't a park that's on my must see list. Which teams do draw best?

Last year, average attendance at the Trop in games against the Blue Jays was 16,054, about 600 more than the Rays average attendance. However, six of the nine games against the Jays were on the weekend, and two of the six weekend games had giveaways. So again, without doing a regression analysis, it's tough to tell.

The Yankees and Red Sox used to draw well. But starting in 2012, the Red Sox stopped drawing visiting fans. Then after Jeter retired, the Yankees fans stopped going to the Trop. Last year, for example, average attendance for games against the Yankees was below the Rays average attendance. That wasn't even the case when the Devil Rays were losing 100 games a year.

On a different note, how are the Dunedin Blue Jays doing attendance wise?

Through Game 20, Dunedin Blue Jays attendance is down approximately 200 fans per game. However - and this is huge - they have not yet had their school day promotion, where the stands are filled with kids from Dunedin area elementary schools. That game usually draws thousands and bumps their average up considerably.

Removing the school day promotion attendance from 2015, Dunedin Blue Jays attendance is down only about 50 people per game. That's not significant at all. One decent turnout and 2016 attendance will be above 2015's.

The biggest question is how long will the Jays stay in Dunedin. They only have one more year left on the lease with the City of Dunedin. Personally, I am not optimistic. Florida Auto Exchange Stadium is small - less than 6,000. It is wedged between a city library, a street, and a neighborhood. There isn't much room to expand. And I don't think Pinellas County will ante up the funds to the City of Dunedin when they have to worry about funding a new Rays stadium. Of course, I also don't expect the Blue Jays to contribute much to renovation or construction costs, because we all know teams don't pay, taxpayers do.

So with a few open locations throughout Florida (Fort Myers, Viera/Melbourne, Kissimmee, and Vero Beach, etc) I will be very surprised if the Blue Jays stay in Dunedin past 2017. If the Dodgers could leave Vero Beach Dodgertown after nearly 60 years, the Jays could very well leave Dunedin after 40.

Finish this sentence....In five years the Rays will be playing in ........ (please say Montreal).

Tampa Bay.

Wasn't the answer I wanted, but thanks for this Michael.

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