Prior to the first pitch on Opening Day, several members of the news media caught up with Rays owner Stu Sternberg and asked him about the market and the team.
Posted on Facebook by WTSP Chris Fischer on Sunday, April 3, 2016
Sternberg starts his comments by discussing corporate support. The Rays are making a big deal of corporate support this year. According to certain reports, it has either gone down or not gone up since 2010. That’s not good. As I wrote a few weeks ago, the incentive might not be there, especially with all the other sports in the area. Why work with the team located on the fringes of the region when you can work with the Bucs, Lightning, Storm, Yankees, Threshers, or Rowdies?
I do find Sternberg’s comments a bit hypocritical. He wants businesses to invest in his business. However, he doesn’t live in Tampa Bay and may still be an owner of Mets season tickets. So as I have asked before, if Tampa Bay is not good enough for Stu Sternberg, why should the Rays be good enough for Tampa Bay businesses?
I’m not expecting Stu Sternberg to be Jeff Vinik, but compare Sternberg asking for support with Vinik on CNBC a few months ago:
Vinik: “This area is an undiscovered gem. The quality of life here is fantastic. The weather is good. The beaches are good. The people are friendly. Traffic is acceptable. Water. It has all you want. It is like a value stock. It really hasn’t been discovered. Right now, business is really starting to take off in the area. I think we are in the beginning of a bull market in Tampa that will last for many years to come.”
Years ago, I wrote a blog post to Sternberg with the old adage “you get more bees with honey than vinegar”. Perhaps instead of saying how corporations don’t see the value in the Rays, he could have said:
“Well, our local economy is on the rise and we have some great growing businesses in the area. We look forward to engaging them to see if they want to be partners with the Tampa Bay Rays.”
Stu Sternberg has never been a master of public relations.
In another cringe-worthy moment, Sternberg then is asked about the feelings of other owners about the Tampa Bay baseball market. He claims other owners think Major League Baseball won’t work in the area. Sternberg’s defense is to put the burden on the shoulders of the fans and their travel times to the ballpark.
Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.
First of all, if Tampa Bay is such a horrible market for baseball, then why do four teams spring train here? Why is it ok for the Yankees, Phillies, Blue Jays, and Pirates to train and have Minor League affiliates in the region if it is not a good area for baseball?
Second, how many fans actually do travel 2, 5, 10, 12 hours for a game? During the week, probably very few. Sternberg cites the Cardinals, Royals, and Pirates as teams that draw well.
There are so many differences between the established fanbases in those cities and the nascent fanbase in Tampa Bay. First and foremost is the amount of fans living near the stadiums. Each of the teams Sternberg mentions have more than double the amount of fans living within 30 minutes of their stadium than live near Tropicana Field.
- Cardinals: 1.59 million
- Royals: 1.25 million
- Pirates: 1.18 million
- Rays: 675,000
Also, Pittsburgh has not always been a model for attendance. As I wrote in December:
Prior to the team improvement, the Pirates finished last or second to last in the NL in attendance every year from 2004 to 2012. Going back even further, in the 1980s there were several rumors of relocation, despite the fact that the Pirates had been in Pittsburgh since the 1880s.
Then the Pirates got a shiny new downtown ballpark and a winning team and all is well.
Claiming fan travel “is what we are trying to figure out” means there is something wrong with the behavior of the fans. I would hypothesize that Tampa Bay fans travel the same distances to games as other cities (removing outlying tourists to St Louis, NY, Chicago, and Boston where baseball parks are an attraction). What the Rays are lacking is the size of the local fanbase. If the Rays have a million fans, and 1% travel an hour to a game, that’s 1,000 fans. If the Cardinals have 5 millions fans, and 1% travel an hour to a game, that’s 5,000 fans. Travel time is irrelevant if you have enough fans.
It would be wonderful if one day the owner of the Rays talked about how great the team’s fans are, how great the area is, and how positivity will win the day. Instead we again hear how frustrated he is and how he is less optimistic in the team than previous years.