Why Is Baseball's Best Team Fighting For Survival?

Tropicana Field

With the Major League Baseball playoffs set to begin tomorrow, the topic surrounding the Rays will once again be about their struggles with attendance and the future of the franchise. And we will certainly hear more comments like this one by Bill Simmons from a recent episode of “The B.S. Report“:

“It’s ugly. It’s really ugly. [The Rays] had some big Red Sox games, and then like, I think, the next night they had like 12,000. It’s really bad. With all due respect, they probably shouldn’t have a baseball team…”

The Rays clearly have attendance problems, drawing 1.8 million fans this season (22nd in MLB) despite finishing with the second-best record in all of baseball. But is the lack of ticket sales an indictment of the survivability of baseball on the west coast of Florida?

Many have suggested the economy as the biggest culprit, and it is certainly a factor. Local unemployment (12.5%) is about 33% higher than the national average. Eventually, the economy will improve, but the same certainty can’t be said about Tropicana Field.

Opened in 1990, eight years before the Rays came into existence, “The Trop” is one of the oldest parks in MLB and is considered by many to be one of the worst sports stadiums in the country. It’s also located in what may be the worst spot for a stadium in the Bay Area. And while everybody agrees that the Rays need a new stadium, nobody can agree on how that will happen.

The Rays want to be in Tampa where they would be closer to the corporate money and the centre of the regional population. But unlike most professional sports franchises, the Rays don’t have a lease at Tropicana Field. Rather, they have a “Use Agreement” that doesn’t expire until 2027 and makes their relationship with the City of St. Petersburg more like a business partnership. Therefore, leaving St. Pete is much more complicated than just paying off the remainder of the rent.

Meanwhile, St. Pete has already made it clear they are not about to rip up the contract unless the Rays next stadium is also within their boundaries.

Both sides have agreed to table their discussion until after the playoffs. But while neither side is talking now, one thing seems certain: this situation is going to get uglier before it gets better. And in the meantime, the Rays still won’t get the attendance they deserve until the stadium issue is resolved.

Baseball can survive in Tampa Bay, but it may not if the City of St. Pete and the Rays can’t work out a solution for a new stadium.

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