The Tampa Bay Rays are one of the best teams in baseball. Yet they are the best kept secret in Tampa as no one it seems has any interest in going to the games and supporting the Rays in person. They are averaging 14,450 per game good for 29th in the league
The Buccaneers coming off 11 seasons with no playoffs have struggled in attendance as well and have even gone as far as to count tickets sold, not fans going through the turnstiles to inflate their actual attendance numbers.
The only time the Bucs can draw a decent crowd is when a marquee opponent come to town. The Steelers, Eagles, Giants, Cowboys seem to draw good crowds but over 50 percent of the crowd is wearing jerseys of the opposing team.
Last season the Bucs averaged 54,356. That was 30th out of 32 teams and some say that actual turnstile attendance was closer to 48,000.
The Lightning have the best fan support of any of Tampa’s three professional sports teams and its not even close. The Lightning have had over 100 consecutive sellouts at Amalie Arena, and even with the disappointing first round exit of the Lightning in this years Stanley Cup playoffs,that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. The Lightning have averaged over 19,000 per game for three seasons now.
Yet the Lightning have the same issue as the two other major sports teams in Tampa. When the Flyers, Penguins, Canadiens, Bruins, and Maple Leafs come to town, Amalie is suddenly filled with a lot of opposing jerseys.
As a newcomer to the Tampa sports scene, I can assure you the above scenario does not occur in cities like Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Philadelphia or even New York where over half the venue would be filled with the opposing teams jersey.
Thats not to say that fans from opposing teams don’t ever show up in those cites and venues, but not with the regularity that occurs in Tampa.
So why is that? Why the lack of support? Why does the Rays and Bucs fan seem to be so apathetic? After all the Tampa metro area has a population of over 3.1 million people and is one of the fastest growing areas in the nation.
People refuse to cut the cord and support the local teams. Yankees fans will only go to Tropicana Field when their team is playing. Same with Red Sox fans. These transients moving here from other parts of the country are raising their kids with allegiances to the Red Sox or Yankees or wherever the heck they are from and refuse to support the local teams.
It’s no wonder the Rays and the other sports teams in town struggle building a fan base.
The Tampa area is a vacation destination. So that obnoxious Yankees fan or Eagles fan is always going to schedule a trip to Tampa on their vacation to see their team play. And Tampa fans will sell their tickets in a heartbeat for the almighty dollar. I’ve seen it happen over and over again.
The Tampa Bay professional sports scene is still relatively young. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers started in 1976, the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1988, and the Tampa Bay Rays in 1998.
That is a very short period of time to try to cultivate a huge fan base. The New York Yankees started in 1903. The Pittsburgh Steelers in 1936. The Montreal Canadiens in 1919. These teams have a very loyal and strong base. It has taken years to develop that base. I think Tampa will get there, but it will take time.
With the Rays there are hundreds of excuses for not going to see the team at Tropicana Field. Here are some of the reasons I’ve heard.
-Tropicana Field is a dump, a horrible place to watch a game
-It’s too far to drive.
-It’s in a bad part of town
-I hate Stuart Sternberg. He is the worst owner of any of the pro sports teams in Tampa. He’s a cheapskate.
-I am a Rays fan. I support the team by watching every game on TV.
-Baseball is boring. There is not enough action. It is too slow.
-The games get over too late and I have to work the next day.
I would attend more games if the stadium were in Tampa, and I didn’t have to drive across the bridge.
It cost too much to take my family. Yet, these are the same folks who will drop thousands of dollars at Disney for a vacation.
How about the excuses for not attending Buccaneers games:
-It is too hot in September and October
-The team stinks, I’m not spending money to attend a game when I can watch them on TV for free.
-I hate the Glazers. Its their fault the Bucs have been horrible these last 11 seasons.
-The weather is too nice. There are beaches, museums, and amusement parks to visit.
It costs too much to take my family.
The Lightning dosen’t seem to have those issues right now as the waiting list is long for season tickets and the Lightning is led by one of the best owners in all of professional sports in Jeffrey Vinik.
With the Rays attendance issue of dire concern right now, here are some things the Rays can do from a promotions standpoint to increase attendance.
-Senior discount every home game. Florida is the retirement capital of the US.
-Offer the 7-11 Friday promotion at the gate. Don’t make it hard for fans to get these vouchers by going to a local 7-11. Offer the discount at the gate.
-Have a discount for college students every home game. The Lightning has had this promotion for a few years now with great success.
-Make the in-game experience fun. Go to a Lightning game and then a Rays game and there is no comparing the in game experience. The Lightning in game experience will win every time.
If you’re reading this and a new resident of Tampa, welcome. There is nothing wrong with hanging on to those great memories of those teams you supported previously.
But to get really involved in our community start some new memories by supporting the Rays, the Bucs, and the Lightning.