Stu Sternberg comments on Tampa Bay baseball market

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Last Thursday, Rays owner Stu Sternberg answered questions to the media in what SunCoast Sports Now called a “State of the Stunion” address. Sternberg discussed the many front-office and on-the-field changes the Rays made this offseason, as well as fan expectations, payroll, speeding up the game, the St. Pete City Council stadium vote, and most importantly for this website, attendance, ticket sales, and his thoughts on the Tampa Bay market.

According to the Tampa Bay Times,

On the market, Sternberg was quite positive.

“I’ve been very adamant and clear that I want to find the pinpoint perfect spot in the Tampa Bay region,” he said. “I still believe in the area, more so than the people in baseball, more so certainly than national media. I believe in it and I want to make it work. But it’s got to be in the right spot. Those who follow the game and follow the way attendance goes at sporting events, we more than any other market need to be pinpoint perfect in where our next facility is going to be, whenever that happens to be.” (bold emphasis mine)

Check out the bold statement. Maybe, just maybe, Sternberg or someone else in the front office is reading this site. Maybe they read my work on other sites. That would be great.

But besides the humblebrag, Sternberg is exactly correct. As a small market without mass transit, stadium location is essential in order to guarantee the Rays’ success in the Tampa Bay area. My eventual goal is to determine that location, so stay tuned.

Sternberg also considers the stadium situation a problem in winning fans. According to him, the drama hanging over the stadium has prevented fans from going all-in and throwing their hearts and minds to the Rays.

Again, via the Tampa Bay Times,

“At some point or another we’re going to get this right. And I want it to happen sooner for the benefit of the citizens of St. Petersburg, for the benefit of our fans throughout the region, for the benefit of Major League Baseball, and really so we can take the focus off for my organization so we can do 100 percent of what we need to do which is build a fan base, not have to answer these questions, build a fan base and not have to have people scared and worried, build a fan base and know we’re going to be here for 50-60 years.”

These are interesting comments. Do the Rays not think they have built an adequate fanbase? Do they think there is room to grow in the market? What area of the market do they think they are not reaching to their expectations? Do they believe the Rays would be more popular in the area with a new stadium? If that is the case, the stadium has a role in marketing, which is interesting.

Speaking of marketing, Sternberg also commented that there might be a problem with his corporate sales department. We have known for years that the Rays corporate tickets sales were low. Now they are even lower.

Via SunCoast Sports Now,

Sponsorships there have been a couple of issues with a couple of companies for whatever reason have chosen not to. … At the end of the day our success really does fall on the growth and support we get from local business. It’s so much lower than any other major league team. Season tickets sales are lower, but in line with some others. Individual game sales are lower, but not that far off. Corporate sponsorships and the suite and season-ticket level are really where the dramatic issue is.

Corporate sales should not vary as much as individual ticket sales. Individual sales vary from everything from opponent to whether it is raining outside or not. Corporate sponsorships should be stable throughout the season. Perhaps this will change with a new TV contract, but Cork Gaines is right, this is not good. However, I disagree with Cork that lack of corporate sales will cause a drop in attendance.

We have to think Stu Sternberg has turned to Darcy Raymond, the Rays VP of Marketing and Entertainment and Brian Richeson, VP of Sales and Services, and asked three questions. The first would be “why?”. The second would be which sponsors dropped and for how much. The third question would be what companies have they targeted for new sponsorships.

With the Tampa Bay economy getting better, it’s not as if companies are losing money and hence have to pull back sponsorships. Perhaps they are not receiving the right return on investment. That’s not good. The Rays front office and sales office need to find out why sponsors left and possibly change their process to ensure they don’t lose any other sponsors. Perhaps they need to allot more people to maintaining their corporate relationships or perhaps more people to seeking new corporate relationships.

As important as it is that local businesses support baseball, it should be a mutual relationship. The Rays always need to ask themselves what they can do better. Why are they behind other teams? Are sponsors or corporate season ticket buyers not getting adequate bang for buck? Do the Rays need to offer more benefits than other teams to get the same amount of sponsorship?

Another question is are there corporations who are hedging their bets and spreading their sponsorships across other sports teams in the area? The Rays shouldn’t expect to be the sole recipient of all sponsorships, but if a corporation would rather sponsor the Bucs, Lightning, and even the Minor League teams, the Rays need to know why.

The Rays want us to look at corporate sponsors as not doing enough. Perhaps we need to focus on the other side of the relationship.

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