Rays cede cheap seats to local Minor League Baseball

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(Been a while. Not sure if I will post as regularly or just on occasion. But there has been a lot of baseball news in Tampa Bay this offseason. Some of which has been covered very well. For now, when I see an angle that I don’t think is being covered, I’ll discuss it here.)

As most baseball fans in the Tampa Bay area are now aware, last week the Rays announced they are closing off seating in the 300 level, reducing the total capacity in Tropicana Field from 31,042 to somewhere between 25,000-26,000.

Of course, the jury is still out on what the Rays are doing to the space those seats used to occupy. As par for the course, the Rays front office used words like “intimate” and “better fan experience”. Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky rebuked those claims well in his article.

“Intimate,” that buzzword used by every team that moves to a smaller stadium, or renovates its existing one to have a smaller capacity—or just dreams of doing so. It’s about the “fan experience,” you see. Unless the fan experience you’re looking for is buying the cheapest ticket possible because sometimes it’s fun to go to a ballgame and sit in the nosebleeds and eat a dang hotdog.

For now, the Rays claim there will still be cheap ticket options at Tropicana Field. But the Rays still use dynamic pricing so fans only know how much a ticket will cost when tickets are set before the season. By driving up scarcity, and letting the dynamic pricing model take hold as the season progresses, the price of seats goes up according to demand, not by tier. As well, games against the Yankees and Red Sox will always be more expensive, despite attendance against each of those teams decreasing drastically since 2010.

 

The bigger question remains: Does MLB in Tampa Bay and beyond need cheap ticket options? There are few inexpensive options for NHL, NBA, and NFL games, so why should there be in baseball? Are fans married to the Norman Rockwell myth of knothole gangs looking through wooden fences in the 1940s? Are those myths as outdated as speedy lead-off men and starting pitchers?

There will always be inexpensive baseball options in America, and especially in the Tampa Bay area. Despite a 7% decrease from 2016*, Tampa Bay’s four Minor League teams – the Threshers, Marauders, Tarpons, and Blue Jays – combined drew over 350,000 fans for the 8th year in a row in 2018.

(2017 featured Tebow Mania.)

 

Local Minor League Baseball has always been in competition with the Rays, especially in the spring months of April and May. They market to casual baseball fans with cheaper ticket options, no dynamic pricing, and the same, if not better, “intimacy and fan experience”. There is a reason the Rays worst attended month (May) is typically the local Minor League teams’ best. Tampa Bay area Minor League teams are more conveniently located to most Tampa Bay baseball fans and the teams play outdoors, feature fireworks, and often have the same food and beer options as the Rays.

All for ticket and parking prices far cheaper than Tropicana Field – sometimes as low as $1.

Unlike nearly every other Major League team, the Rays never had a monopoly on low price point baseball in their region. Fans have always had cheaper and more convenient baseball options. And as long as there is Spring Training in Tampa Bay, there will be Florida State League baseball in Tampa Bay.

With their announcement last week, the Rays focused on their niche – dedicated fans who will travel to Tropicana Field to buy tickets to see Major League Baseball. That number will be between 1.1 million and 2.1 million in 2019. Even as the 100-loss Devil Rays, the Rays never drew less than 1 million, so don’t expect attendance to drop that low. And if the current maximum seating is 26,000 per game, the Rays can only max 2.1 million in 81 games.

It will be curious to see if Minor League Baseball in the Tampa Bay area will capitalize on the Rays decision and increase their marketing to casual fans looking for lower price point baseball options.

(It’s good to be back.)

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