New MLB Commissioner comments on Tampa Bay baseball market

New MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred visited the Rays yesterday at their Spring Training home in Port Charlotte. Besides talking to the players, Manfred also spent some time talking to the media about the Rays ballpark and attendance situations.

As always, Josh Vitale of SunCoast Sports has the transcript of Manfred’s comments.

On Rays stadium situation:
“I talk to (Rays owner Stuart Sternberg) regularly. As a matter of fact, I talked to Stu yesterday. I think the good news for fans in Tampa and St. Petersburg is that Stuart remains committed to the idea that the Rays should be here. That’s a great undertaking, a great mindset for him. From our perspective, it’s very difficult to get a new stadium done without cooperation, help, assistance from local government. And we’re hoping that Stuart gets that kind of help so they can get a facility that will keep the Rays here and keep the competitive in the long term.”

Nothing new here. Sternberg has been adamant that he wants to stay in the Tampa Bay area. We can debate whether that is for legit financial reasons, good PR, he is seeing the success of Jeff Vinik and wants a piece of that pie, or he has a favorite restaurant here he likes citing as a “business expense”. But hearing Manfred echo the Sternberg sentiments is a good thing.

On concern about Rays’ low attendance:
“It’s always a concern when we have a franchise that doesn’t have the support in terms of the attendance, sponsorship, all the revenue streams that are necessary to keep a team competitive. We want all 30 teams to be competitive franchises, and obviously local support is the key to that. So I think it’s a big concern for us.”

I believe the first two sentences but I look at the third in regards to the first two. If that sounds confusing, let me explain. It is not a concern for Major League Baseball that the Rays attendance isn’t at an “acceptable” level, whatever that might be. They don’t care how many butts are in the seats. It is only a concern that the Rays don’t receive as much ticket revenue from fans and corporate sales as other teams. But if I wanted to buy every ticket to every Rays game and be the only one in Tropicana Field, MLB would not care. As long as the Rays make their money.

On whether a new stadium is key to increasing attendance:
“You have to conclude that the stadium issue is the key issue, because the Rays have put a great product on the field consistently for a really long period of time. It’s not a situation where you can blame a lack of support on the fact that you don’t have a good product. Matt, Stu, the whole Rays team has done a fantastic job, under really difficult circumstances, to put a competitive product on the field.”

While I agree that the stadium location is a major factor in low attendance, I shake my head at Manfred using the “winning = attendance” theory. As we have proven on this website, there is a weak link between winning and attendance in Tampa Bay. Attending games (especially during the week, when the Rays really have problems) has to be convenient to a significant portion of the population. There are behavioral norms that fans tend to adhere to. Small percentages drive over an hour to a game Monday through Thursday. For the majority, the stadium has to be convenient.

There is a lot of other good points in Manfred’s comments. Definitely worth checking out and again, big thanks to Josh Vitale for transcribing.

However, I do question the Rays reporters for not thinking regionally. Where are the questions on the status of Spring Training in the Tampa Bay area? Where are the questions on Minor League Baseball in Tampa Bay? Where are Manfred’s opinions on whether these goods have any affect on the Rays? What about pointing out to him that Tampa Bay has more baseball than any other market? Manfred has shown to be smart on the marketing side, why not see what he says?

Reporters don’t get many opportunities to talk to the top person in Major League Baseball. But if they are myopic, and focus only on one element of the overall market, they miss opportunities to make their readers smarter.

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