What team that is leading the American League wildcard standings and has made the playoffs three out of the last four seasons is only the third most popular team in its home state? That would be the Tampa Bay Rays.
Recently a poll was conducted by Quinnipiac University and it was discovered that the New York Yankees have more fans in the Rays home state of Florida. From those surveyed it found that 20 percent of Floridians prefer the Yankees over the Rays. Even the Miami Marlins only beat out the Yankees by 2 percent themselves with a 22 percent fan base.
There are a few theories as to why the Rays are not growing a fan base despite being perennial playoff contenders. First, the Rays stadium is not actually in Tampa Bay but in St. Petersburg which is about 20 minutes away.
On top of that there is rush hour traffic, city expansion, and construction and suddenly the commute becomes an hour long. There is also no form of public transportation in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. Combining these factors and the fact that most people have to work the next day few people are going to go to weekday night games.
Another issue challenging the Rays fans is that most people living in Florida are not originally from the state. Whether it is the love of warm weather, a job transfer, retirement, or military service most people who live in Florida have roots in other states, particularly the Northeast. Typically, this is why the Rays games against the division rival Yankees and Boston Red Sox tend to have the best attendance.
Attendance should not be a problem for the Rays though — as of August 31 the Rays are 1.5 games behind in the wildcard standings and trail the Yankees by 4.5 games in the AL East. Currently, according to ESPN.com Tampa Bay ranks 24th out of 30 teams in attendance, averaging only 58.5 percent capacity. By comparison the Red Sox are second in attendance with 101.4 percent capacity and the Yankees are ninth with 87 percent capacity.
Ironically, it is actually cheaper to purchase tickets to a Yankees game versus a Rays game through the teams websites. Tickets for Yankees games during the week go for as low as $15, where as the cheapest ticket for the Rays is $17. For a state full of retired citizens living on a fixed income perhaps lowering ticket prices could draw in more fans.
The Yankees have the luxury of offering a wider range of ticket prices though since their stadium has a capacity of 50,291 versus Tropicana Field which only has a capacity of 34,078. During the week, Yankees tickets go for as much as $575 through the teams’ website, where as on Tampa Bay’s website tickets only go as high as $275.
No matter what is causing the lack of fans at Tropicana Field, the Rays are not going anywhere in the near future. Mayor Bill Foster has stated that the team has to honor their commitment to the city of St. Petersburg through 2027.
Until the commute becomes easier or more people start to have roots in Florida, it appears the Rays face an uphill battle in trying to draw in fans to their home games. Hopefully, the teams continued on field success will help Floridians overlook these factors and go to their games anyways.