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Tampa isn’t interested in the Rays no matter where they play

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012

Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2012 03:03

During baseball season, Tampa is often awash in team colors — not the Tampa Bay Rays blue mohawk variety, but rather those of many other MLB teams. Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan would like to argue that moving the Rays from their St. Petersburg location, Tropicana Field, would fill their seats. However, the lackluster fan turnout that has plagued the team is not an issue of physical address, but the lack of camaraderie in the Bay area as a whole.

Tampa is not a baseball town. Even when the Rays do well, attendance is still low. According to Forbes magazine, the team lacks the kind of fandom present in cities like Boston, where big-name teams like the Red Sox carry legends that have been passed down from generation to generation. Many Tampa residents seem far more interested in sports during football season, or simply follow other baseball teams in the spring.

One proposed location for a new Rays stadium is near the Florida State Fairgrounds, where U.S. Route 301meets Interstate 4, according to the Tampa Bay Times, requiring fans to drive through  rush hour traffic on I-4, Interstate  275 and Interstate 75. The location would also be quite a haul for Pinellas county fans.

Even a downtown location may not solve the problem. Until recently, attendance at the Tampa Bay Times Forum for Tampa Bay Lightning hockey games has been relatively low. The increases in attendance over the past few years may be because of the team’s aggressive attempts to increase the number of season ticket holders, such as freezing season ticket prices and throwing in free jerseys and food and drink discounts. According to St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, Rays marketing efforts have been slacking.

The Rays can move wherever they want, but the reality is that Tampa residents are not interested at this point in traveling anywhere to see them, not even for $20 tickets, when they can easily sit at home and flip between the Rays and their favorite home team on TV.

A Times poll conducted last year showed that residents are not in support of building a new stadium. A plurality of respondents answered that they do not want public money to pay for the building, even if it doesn’t raise their taxes, making it clear that the real problem is that residents simply do not support the Rays.

Even if the Rays could settle on a potential location, their lease is still holding them back and proposing more financial problems. It requires that the Rays stay in their St. Pete  location until 2027. If other groups, or even governments, interfere with the lease, they could be the recipients of legal action.Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has said he is unwilling to be the “boyfriend” who causes the divorce between St. Pete and the Rays, and he is right. The Rays’ move has been an object of contention for years, and there is hesitance from city officials and others to make a big, expensive move that may not cure the problem.

“If the region wants the Rays to stay in the region, then Tampa Bay needs to support this team this year by putting their backsides in the seat and going to the game,” Foster said to the Times.

The Rays and the St. Pete City Council should be concentrating on marketing the team to the tough crowd in Tampa and need to win their audience over before building an expensive and unnecessary stadium.

Jessica Schoenfeld is a sophomore majoring in sociology and women’s studies.

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