Why #MLS2StPete will spell doom for baseball in St Pete

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During the baseball offseason, there has been a lot of headlines and action regarding the Tampa Bay Rowdies quest to move up in leagues to Major League Soccer. On Dec 7th, the Rowdies kicked off the #MLS2StPete campaign to generate support for their endeavor.

While St. Pete and even Tampa are awash with marketing materials promoting the campaign, there have been a few articles of pushback. On Jan 27th, Robert Trigaux of the Tampa Bay Times wrote a piece entitled “It’s Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Tampa Bay Rays in scramble for fans, money in St. Pete sports market“. It was an absolutely solid piece detailing the growing battle between the two St Pete franchises.

The result is a new dynamic emerging between the Rowdies and Rays, two sports teams located within a mile of one another in a rapidly evolving city. Each sports franchise is trying at the same time to win the hearts, dollars and attendance from St. Pete’s (and Tampa Bay’s) business community and residents.

Trigaux hits a lot of the typical notes: the Rays are struggling to draw fans, MLS is hot, the Rays need money for a new stadium, the Rowdies are willing to pay to expand Al Lang Stadium.

But his article had two small drawbacks: 1) it failed to talk about disposable income and economic capacity and 2) it ended with questions.

Will some businesses be forced to choose between the Rays and Rowdies? Can area residents support baseball and soccer in a hometown city with population of 260,000?

Let me answer:

Question 1) Yes.

Very simply, some businesses will only have enough funds to support one team. Some businesses are very profitable and can support professional sports teams, Little League teams, non-profits, and everything in between. Some small businesses can barely support paying their bills. So yes, if some businesses wanted to provide corporate support, they might have to choose between the Rays and the Rowdies.

Question 2) No.

I have repeatedly written about Tampa Bay’s lack of disposable income. I’ve written about the area’s economic capacity. I’ve written about average income, job growth, and demographics. Nothing indicates that Tampa Bay, and St Petersburg specifically, can support the growth of a sports team.

This area already supports

  • Rays
  • Lightning
  • Bucs
  • Storm
  • 4 Minor League Baseball teams
  • Approximately 50% of Spring Training attendance

All with a population of 3 million people making an average of less than 50,000 a year.

Increased attendance and focus on the Rowdies would require time and money to be diverted from other entertainment or leisure venues. Whether the movies, a museum, the Rays, or a restaurant, people will be switching focus to the Rowdies. Stadiums don’t come with people – they aren’t old GI Joe vehicles that came with the pilot. People live in the area and have to be won over.

Of course, in their pitch, no one with the Rowdies has said there is the economic capacity to support expansion. They’ve cited the TV market (which the Rays commonly do as well) and the demographics. But those demographics are not exclusive to soccer. They are shared by almost every major sport.

Despite so much evidence to the contrary, Mayor Kriseman and the St Pete Area Chamber of Commerce are supporting the Rowdies initiative. Mayor Kriseman believes St Pete is big enough for the Rays and the Rowdies.

It’s not.

Currently, single game tickets to a Rowdies match costs $23.50. Times 18,000 seats = 423,000. Times 17 game schedule = over $7 million total in disposable income to sell-out each Rowdies match. And that’s just ticket sales. Currently, the Rowdies seat 6,000 at $23 = 2.2 million. So nearly $5 million more required from the Rowdies market.

Meanwhile, for the Rays sell out every game at $15 at ticket, they would require $36.4 million.

That’s $50 million minimum to max out attendance in an area with a population of 259,906 and a median income under $50,000. Unless they are counting on people from outside the Tampa Bay area to support the local teams.

How’s that “Team Tampa Bay” working out right now?

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4 comments for “Why #MLS2StPete will spell doom for baseball in St Pete

  1. Mike
    February 11, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    Your math is off on the Rowdies numbers. There are only 17 home games, meaning a total of $7M to fill vs. $14M. It would be about $4-$5M of additional disposable income, since there is an existing base of 6,000 attendance for the Rowdies today. Plus the demographics for soccer skew differently for soccer, so while there is some overlap it’s not a zero-sum game between the Rowdies and Rays. Now, some of the additional $5M of Rowdies disposable income will have to come from somewhere…perhaps other activities. I agree that there is a cap on disposable income in the area, but the portrayal is not as dire as indicated. The Rowdies overlap pales in comparison to the Rays unlocking the $15-$20M worth of attendance revenue that aren’t making the choice to buy a ticket today. This is a big market and as a former sponsor of the Rays in the past, we always found great value because of TV. Incomes are challenging here, but there are things to be sorted out on the Rays side that can make that puzzle solvable.

    • Michael Lortz
      February 12, 2017 at 1:32 am

      I was told by a few people that I forgot to split home and road Rowdies games. Fixing that. The biggest problem is regionally. The area is overstretched overall, not just in St Pete, but the entire area. Regionally, TB is the fifth most overstretched sports market in the US. These teams need support from throughout TB and I think expansion is the wrong answer until we either raise population or per capita income.

  2. Colin Beazley
    March 2, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    What if the Rays and the Rowdies share a stadium, similar to what the Yankees and NYCFC are doing? The combined money could build something that fans want to go to…

    • Michael Lortz
      March 5, 2017 at 10:06 pm

      That could work, but they have already repurposed Al Lang to permanently fit soccer.

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