Before last Saturday’s game, the Rays held a ceremony dedicating a seat at Tropicana Field to missing Prisoners of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) military members. This tribute to the troops was attended by several Rays personnel and military members from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
The seat dedication made me wonder about the Rays relationship with MacDill Air Force Base and the military in general. Can more be done, should less be done, or is the relationship exactly what it should be?
According to Wikipedia, MacDill AFB is located approximately 4 miles from downtown Tampa, making it one of the closest bases to a metropolitan center in the US. The base is approximately 19 miles from Tropicana Field, making it also one of the closest military bases to a Major League ballpark
Again according to Wikipedia, 14,000 people work on MacDill Air Force Base. I am not sure if this only military personnel, or includes government personnel and contractors, of which there are thousands on the base. According to Tampa Bay Partnership.com, there are 4,000 civilians working on the base – again, not sure if this is part of the 14,000 or not.
According to an October 2014 study on LinkedIn, “Military” is the biggest individual skill for Tampa-St. Pete LinkedIn users.
Other baseball areas with a high amount of military LinkedIn users include:
- Washington, DC – 2nd biggest skill
- Baltimore – 2nd biggest skill
- San Diego – 3rd biggest skill
(Note: in this measurement, the Top Skill Category includes all career paths in the field. LinkedIn does not sub-categorize “Military” as it does other corporate career paths such as Real Estate or Finance.)
According to SunCoastEmployers.com, in 2011, MacDill Air Force was the second biggest employer in Hillsborough Country, behind only the county school district.
There is a big difference, however, between the school district employees and MacDill AFB workers: school district employees are scattered throughout the county while those on MacDill AFB are in one general area, one that even with the worst traffic, is less than an hour away from Tropicana Field.
One last fact: according to the Air Force’s personnel demographic webpage, the average Air Force member is a 48-year old white male. That’s baseball’s demographic.
With all these positive signs, maybe the Rays should look at the base as a greater source of potential fans. Perhaps they should increase their marketing efforts on the base.
Currently, the Rays work with the military on several efforts. They often recognize returning and deployed service members and their families, and provide numerous tickets to base organizations.
Maybe the Rays should give more ticket discounts. Maybe they should have more players visit the base. Or maybe organize a shuttle bus or even a ferry from the base to Downtown St Pete and Tropicana Field.
Before they do any of these ideas, however, there are several reasons why the Rays should NOT increase marketing efforts on the base.
While the demographic might look great, the average 48-year old male service member on MacDill AFB is probably not from the Tampa Bay area nor is he staying for very long. Service members are typically stationed at MacDill AFB for a brief time in their military career. And they probably brought their fandom with them from their home of origin. If they are from Texas, they might be longtime Rangers or Astros fans. If they are from Missouri, they might be Cardinals or Royals fans, etc.
Additionally, most military duty orders are for one to three years. Meaning the service member who came from somewhere will be leaving to somewhere else within 36 months. The odds they will be won over by the Rays in this time is slim. They can enjoy themselves, enjoy the experience, but they probably won’t become more than casual fans. Even if they are in the typical baseball demographic.
With the area’s second biggest employer too fluid to establish long-term fans, the Rays should not invest too much of their marketing budget on the MacDill AFB relationship. They should maintain the healthy partnership they have, but understand the reward for their efforts comes more from organizational goodwill than long-term relationships with individual fans. This is the opposite of working with local schools or youth organizations, where building life-long fans is the goal.
14,000 people and their families are a lot to write off. Especially in a small market. If each MacDill AFB worker/employee/service member has one significant other or child, that is nearly 30,000 people. Or 1% of the total metro population of the Tampa Bay area.
In a region with a high percentage of non-native residents, MacDill AFB is perhaps the area with the highest concentration of people who cannot be expected to become long-term, life-long Tampa Bay Rays fans.
That’s the reality.
(Disclaimer: I was a contractor on MacDill AFB from 2006-2011. I had a partial season ticket package and worked with government employees with a full season ticket packages.)