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A New Stadium Won’t Suddenly Make the Rays Popular

The Tampa Bay Rays can’t draw fans, so why is the team asking the city to help pay for a new stadium?

Baseball doesn’t work in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.

In the Tampa Bay Rays‘ 26-year history, they’ve averaged more than 20,000 fans per game just four times and never since 2010, despite six consecutive winning seasons. The 17,781 fans they averaged this year is their highest total since 2014 — an indictment of how poorly the team draws fans.

The Rays’ inability to get fans to games is no secret in baseball, but their struggles were highlighted by the 19,704 fans who showed up to an embarrassing 4-0 loss to Texas in Tuesday’s Wild Card round opener. it was the lowest attendance mark for a postseason MLB game since 1919. The 3 p.m. local start time is no excuse considering on the same day at essentially the same local time, 38,450 fans packed Target Field in Minneapolis to see the Twins finally end their 18-game playoff losing streak.

The Rays’ no-show both on the field and in the stands comes two weeks after the team and St. Petersburg announced plans for a new $1.3 billion stadium slated to open in 2028 near their current stadium site. The city hasn’t supported this team in its entire history, and we expect that to change with a new, shiny ballpark that also includes $600 million in public funding? This team needs to move to a city that will actually support professional baseball.

While any new ballpark would be a massive upgrade over the decrepit Trop, the current site has been bashed for being prohibitively far away from downtown Tampa, where many of the fans live or work, with poor parking and little to no mass transit options. That makes it all the more frustrating that not only are the Rays staying in Tampa and not moving to a city like Nashville, Charlotte, Portland, or Montreal that would better support a team, but they’re building a new stadium in an area known for decades as ill-suited to attract fans.

And they’re asking for public money to do it. Make it make sense.

The proposed 30,000-seat domed stadium would be part of a $6 billion redevelopment of the area that would include new residential, retail, entertainment, and cultural amenities along with 14,000 new parking spots. With rules changes sparking new interest, 29,295 fans attended the average MLB game during the 2023 regular season. The Rays would have to virtually sell out every game to get to that average in the proposed ballpark when we have 25-plus years of data indicating fans just don’t show up.

The Colorado Rockies lost 103 games this season, yet their lowest attended game was 18,511 despite playing in a ballpark just five years younger than the Trop. Despite a hugely disappointing season, the San Diego Padres drew more than 40,000 fans per game. If the Rays tried building in a location closer to their fan base, that would at least make a little more sense. How MLB would allow something that would cause the same problems over and over again for decades makes no sense at all and is a blight on what’s largely been a successful 2023.

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The Rays being one of baseball’s most consistent and well-run winners over the last decade hasn’t made fans come to the ballpark. A new stadium near the same location as Tropicana Field is not the answer. It’s time for Major League Baseball, the city of St. Pete, or Pinellas County to step in, show some common sense, and get this team to a city that will support pro baseball before it’s too late.

Baseball doesn’t work in Tampa-St. Pete. Now is the time to find a sensible solution for a well-run organization like the Rays before they’re locked into decades of subpar support for a team that deserves far better.

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About The Author
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.