But the bigger stories from a business perspective are how well the game did in the seats and what famous draw was present. We will start with the attendance perspective and then talk about the first pitch.
Thursday’s game at Steinbrenner Field drew 11,159 fans. Last year, the Yankees averaged 10,113 per spring training game, so the game against the Rays was higher than their previous average. More importantly or unfortunately (depending on your perspective), in 2015, the Rays Thursday attendance was 11,211 – a difference of only 52 fans. On Thursday, May 14th 2015, the Rays hosted the Yankees at the Trop in front of 11,977 fans – a difference of 818 fans.
So in these cases, the difference between a Major League game and a Spring Training game between the same teams in the same market on the same day of the week is less than 1,000 fans.
Last night’s game at Steinbrenner Field also had a higher attendance than 20 Rays home games in 2015. Since the Rays played 81 games at the Trop (not including the relocated Orioles games), the Rays vs Yankees at Steinbrenner Field outdrew 25% of the Rays home games in 2015.
The Rays are the only team in Spring Training where a team goes closer to their home ballpark for a road game. Such the oddity that is the Tampa Bay baseball market.
Now as for who was present …
Last year, I wrote about Jameis Winston’s admission of Yankees fandom. I said it was not the best PR move if he were drafted by the Bucs. I also wondered if the Rays would invite Jameis to throw out the first pitch at Tropicana Field on FSU Day.
Although Jameis did catch the first pitch throw by FSU Head Coach Jimbo Fisher, he did not throw out the first pitch at a Rays game, despite being the Tampa Bay Bucs first overall pick in the NFL Draft. While other top draft picks threw out first pitches for their local teams, Jameis was conspicuously absent.
At the time, I worried that the Rays would miss out on Jameis. At the time, I wrote:
What if the Rays wait too long and Jameis receives an invite to throw out the first pitch for the Tampa Yankees, Clearwater Threshers, Dunedin Blue Jays, or Bradenton Marauders? These teams usually don’t do “alumni nights”, but the allure of Jameis Winston might be unavoidable for Minor League marketers. A worst case scenario might be if the Rays don’t invite Jameis at all this season, and the Yankees invite him next spring training. Jameis surely won’t turn down an invite to socialize with his favorite team.
Sure enough, the Yankees invited Jameis to throw out the first pitch in a game against the Rays. Whether they admit it or not, this is a slap in the face for the Rays, who can’t win the heart of the starting quarterback of their own region. While Tampa Bay Lightning players have thrown out the first pitch, Bucs coaches have thrown out the first pitch, and even other Bucs players have thrown out the first pitch at Tropicana Field, the Rays lost the most popular Bucs player to the team that trains in their market.
That’s second fiddle.
So much for “Team Tampa Bay”.
(Photo credit from TBO.com)