TheStreet.com writer hypothesizes possible Rays relocation, misses key facts

As a member of the Tampa Bay sports blogosphere, I would love if all I had to do was cover my little niche of Tampa Bay baseball. I’d write about facts, figures, and trends of attendance, economics, and demographics. My job would be fun and easy.

But because our area is one of the most misunderstood professional sports areas in the US, myself and other Tampa Bay writers often have to rebut misleading or misinformed articles. More times than not, these articles lack facts, whether purposefully or due to lack of research.

The latest of these articles is TheStreet.com‘s 5 Biggest TV Markets Without Major League Baseball Teams by Portland-based writer Jason Notte. TheStreet.com is a big site, citing itself as “an organization founded in 1996 by celebrated author and former hedge fund manager Jim Cramer“. Jim Cramer, of course, is on CNBC and is a widely-known investment guru. So TheStreet.com is a big deal.

Notte’s article begins by immediately discussing the Rays. He discusses how Major League baseball used relocation to St. Pete as leverage to get a new stadium for the White Sox, Mariners, and Giants. Although he said the expansion franchise was put in “Tampa” not St. Pete or even “Tampa Bay”, I’ll let that go. Most people get that wrong.

After his brief history, and without even mentioning the Rays’ TV ratings (remember the title was about TV markets?), Notte dives right into the Rays attendance problem.

Since 1998, the Tampa Bay Rays/Devil Rays have averaged 30,000 fans per game only once: In 1998 when they saw 2.5 million fans come through the turnstiles. Since then, they’ve ranked at or near the bottom of the American League in attendance. Despite making the playoffs four times in the past seven years and making it to the World Series in 2008, the Rays haven’t averaged more than 20,000 fans per game since 2010, when their attendance ranked a team-best ninth out of 14 AL teams.

But I thought the article was about the TV market. If it was, Notte could have cited the Rays’ gains in TV ratings. From the Aug 12, 2013 Tampa Bay Business Journal:

The Rays are on pace to finish in the top third of all MLB markets for TV viewership, Bay News 9 said. The Tampa Bay-Sarasota metropolitan region is the nation’s 14th largest television market and the area’s viewers tune in to watch baseball at higher-than-average rates.

From Rays Index, October 2, 2013:

The Tampa Bay Rays finished the season with an average rating of 4.93 per broadcast on Sun Sports, according to Fox Sports. …

The 4.93 rating is up slightly from last year when the Rays posted a 4.9 rating. …

A rating of 4.9 is typically in the neighborhood of ninth or tenth among all teams, but certainly in the upper-half.

Another problem with Notte’s discussion of Rays attendance is his lack of relating attendance to market size. The Rays will not draw as many people as the Yankees. It won’t happen. Ever. The Tampa Bay metro area has 2.8 million people. New York City has over 10 million. We’ve compared the Rays fanbase to the Yankees. If Yankees fans in New York City went to the ballpark as often as Rays fans, the Yankees would draw well over 4.6 million.

Notte then discusses the Oakland A’s and their stadium problems and how the debacle with the Marlins stadium has soured public opinion on public funding. As far as I know, this part is true.

Then Notte gets to the meat and potatoes of his article, listing in reverse order the top 5 TV markets without Major League Baseball as defined by Nielsen. However, he not once mentioned the size of the Tampa Bay or Oakland markets. So let’s do that:

Oakland/San Francisco/San Jose: (2013) 2,502,030 / (2014) 2,518,900

Tampa/St. Petersburg/Sarasota: (2013) 1,806,560 / (2014) 1,827,510

Notte’s list begins with Indianapolis. While he states Indianapolis currently has a Triple-A team, he concludes that if “Indy were to get an MLB team, it would be one of the smallest three-sport towns in the U.S.”. To compare, the metro population of Indianapolis is 1.95 million and the TV market is 1.08 million.

That’s 900,000 less people than Tampa Bay and a TV market difference of 800,000.

Number 4 on Notte’s list is Charlotte. Notte uses ambiguous terms such as “baseball acumen thanks to minor league and Atlantic Coast Conference teams” as a reason why MLB should consider Charlotte. I am not sure what that means. I am not sure how the college teams in Charlotte draw versus the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa, but Tampa Bay hosts 4 minor league teams. Charlotte hosts one.

Notte also states Major League Baseball would be successful because “This town clearly cares enough about baseball to dump $54 million into a new stadium for the Knights”. Sorry, but that’s only 10-20% of what would be needed for a Major League Baseball stadium. As comparison, Legends Field in Tampa is valued at $45 million.

Next.

Number 3: Portland. The author’s city. Maury Brown of Biz of Baseball has already covered the possibility of MLB in Portland and since I have never been there, his opinion rules here. To be honest, Notte doesn’t seem optimistic baseball would work in Portland either.

Number 2: Sacramento. Of course, this is about the possible relocation of the A’s, so I am reserving comment. But Notte does state “the hassle of landing the A’s seems like a burden this town is unwilling to bear“.

But Notte’s Number 1 I will comment on. According to Notte’s research, the number one TV market without Major League Baseball is Orlando, Florida. By Nielsen, Orlando’s TV market size is (2013) 1,453,170 and (2014) 1,490,380. By metro population, Orlando is 26th in the US at 2.2 million.

Notte cites the history of the Magic and the growth of a Major League soccer franchise in Orlando as evidence Orlando might be able to handle a Major League Baseball team. But he fails to mention the history of baseball in Orlando. From OrlandoRays.com:

The Orlando Rays’ last season at Tinker Field was 1999. From 2000 to 2003, the Orlando Rays played in Kissimmee, Florida,  Despite the fact that the team played in a state-of-the-art stadium that was built in 1997 and used during spring training by the Atlanta Braves, attendance did not meet expectations; after trailing the Southern League in attendance in multiple years, the Rays’ owners announced the team would move to Montgomery in 2004.

To be honest, I think the Orlando area should have a minor league team. While that might be happening soon, that’s a post for another day.

But of course, Notte’s article is about TV market, not attendance. Since this is about television, Notte should have noted that SunSports is a state-wide television network. That means people in Orlando watch the Rays just as easily as people in St. Petersburg, Tampa, Sarasota, Miami, or Jacksonville.

And ratings last year were pretty good. The size of the TV market is not a factor in any discussion regarding the relocation of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Sometimes the facts help. That’s why I am here.

1 comment for “TheStreet.com writer hypothesizes possible Rays relocation, misses key facts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *