Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Could Tampa be part of a new Florida International League?

Friend of the site Ben Hill of wrote an interesting article last week about the possibility that Cuba could get an Minor League team in the near future. Ben's article was inspired by a recent New York Times article on Lou Schwechheimer, a long-time Minor League Baseball front office administrator and proponent for normalized baseball relations with Cuba.

The NYT piece does a great job talking about the political hurdles Schwechheimer faces: from large-scale distrust between Cuba and the US to the bureaucracy of Cuban politics and the difficulty arranging a meeting with a high-level official. But Schwechheimer has decent political clout on his side in several former US diplomats and people knowledgeable about the US-Cuban relationship.

Although good, the article lacks any description or links to when Cuba did have a minor league team. From 1946 to 1953 Havana was host to the Havana Cubans of the Florida International League and from 1954 to 1959 the city hosted the Havana Sugar Kings in the International League.

While most administrators might want Havana to resume its spot in the AAA-level International League, which is still going strong, what if they shot lower and Havana rejoined a league with a Tampa minor league team? What if the Florida State League went international?

A quick bit of history: Although Tampa has had a minor league presence for most of the last 100 years, the team hasn't always been in the Florida State League. Tampa started in the Florida State League from 1919 to 1927, but joined the Southeastern League from 1928 to 1930. The Southeastern League consisted of teams in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, to include Tampa, Pensacola, and St. Augustine.

After 16 years without organized baseball, Tampa again joined the minor leagues when the Tampa Smokers became part of the Florida International League in 1946. At the time, the Florida International League included Tampa, St. Petersburg, Miami, Lakeland, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm. The Florida State League also continued operations in Florida in cities such as Daytona Beach, DeLand, Gainesville, Leesburg, Orlando, Palatka, Sanford, and St. Augustine.

So the Florida International League was central/southern Florida and the Florida State League was central/north Florida. Although the locations have changed, the 14 Florida teams that played then is the same amount of minor league teams the state is home to in 2015 (12 FSL teams and Jacksonville and Pensacola in the Southern League).

While in the Florida International League, the Tampa Smokers did well on the field. They were two-time league champions, had a winning record every year, won over 100 games in 1947, and had the league's best record in 1951.

So could a new version of the Havana Cubans or Sugar Kings join the Florida State League and could the league be re-branded as the Florida International League?

There are benefits to doing so for the Cuban team. For one, travel is a lot less in the Florida State League than in the International League, which stretches from Gwinnett, Georgia to Buffalo, New York. Second, with several million Cuban-Americans in Florida, the Cuban team and players would have a more built-in fanbase in Florida and attract more fans than in the northeast.

For the Florida State League, going international might help attendance and reduce market saturation, especially in Tampa Bay or south Florida. Right now, four teams call Tampa Bay home and they all compete with the Rays. Two teams call south Florida home and they compete on a nightly basis with the Marlins. Moving any one of these teams to Cuba might be beneficial for the team and the league.

Attendance-wise, Havana was once the biggest draw in the Florida International League. According to Steve Treder of The Hardball Times,
Attendance in the FIL boomed, peaking at over 900,000 in 1949. But then it swiftly declined. By 1953 it was less than 300,000. In 1954, the flagship Havana franchise moved up to the “real” International League (class AAA), and the Florida International League — no longer “international” at all — was doomed. On May 6, 1954, two of the league’s remaining six franchises folded, and by July 27, 1954, the entire league had collapsed.

Today, the Florida State League is one of the worst attended leagues in Minor League Baseball. While Minor League Baseball saw its third highest attended season ever in 2015, Florida State League attendance went down 5.4%, with Tampa Bay area attendance dropping 10%.

While the decline might be attributable in part to both the continuous rain Tampa Bay had throughout the summer of 2015 or the fervor of the Tampa Bay Lightning playoff run, a team in Havana would not have the same obstacles. They would be the only affiliated team on an island full of baseball fans. Odds are, they would break the Florida State attendance record of 202,383 set by the St. Pete Cardinals in 1989.

If the political suns align, moving a Florida State League team from either the Tampa area or south Florida to Havana is a low-risk, high-reward opportunity for Minor League Baseball. It is win-win for everyone. The Florida State League should become a new Florida International League.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The mixed news about new jobs

Two weeks ago, the Tampa Tribune posted an article on job growth in Florida. The bottomline is that things are going well. But how well? Let's take a quick look at the numbers and how they might affect baseball in the area.

Unemployment in Hillsborough County was 4.4 percent last month, down from 5.5 percent in November 2014. In Hernando County, the rate was 6.1 percent, down from 7.3 percent a year earlier. Pinellas County’s unemployment rate was 4.3 percent in November, down from 5.4 percent in 2014. In Pasco, the unemployment rate dropped to 5.2 percent from 6.3 percent in November 2014.

This is a good thing. However:
While unemployment numbers have continued to drop in Florida, many who are now off the benefits rolls — which reflects that drop — are working in lower paying jobs than they previously had or working fewer hours than they need.

And ...
The Florida industries with the largest gains in jobs over the past year were leisure and hospitality, with 13,300. Those jobs tend to be lower paying and in many cases, part-time jobs or jobs that come with no benefits. Jobs added in education and health services were up 12,500. Jobs in professional business services increased by 8,200.

Not the best news for sports teams in the area. People in low paying jobs working long hours aren't usually season ticket holders. They might buy a ticket or two when they can, but they can't be counted on to go to a game every night. Or they will be looking for low budget alternatives, such as Minor League baseball.

For the major sports, better potential lies in companies that hire increased number of low income workers. These companies should be courted to be corporate season ticket owners or sponsors of the Rays or the Minor League teams.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Questioning a recent Tampa Bay Times baseball poll

On Christmas Day. the Tampa Bay Times published an article on a recent baseball poll. According to the Times and Braun Research, 72% of Tampa Bay residents care if the Rays stay in Tampa Bay.

Considering less than 60% of baseball fans in each county are Rays fans, that's a good thing.

The 605 residents polled were also asked where they think a new Rays stadium should be. According to the poll, 25% of responses said Tropicana Field or a new stadium at the same location is the best place for the team. Despite an incredible amount of evidence to the contrary, even the St Pete Mayor believes the same thing.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has said that he thinks the best future home for the team is on its current site, Tropicana Field. He cites easy interstate access and a booming downtown whose renaissance is spreading west along Central Avenue. His opinion is shared by 36 percent of Pinellas residents and 16 percent in Hillsborough.

The poll also showed Pinellas residents want the Rays to stay in the area more than Hillsborough residents.
Pinellas residents also showed a much stronger desire to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay: 48 percent of them said they "care a lot of about keeping the team here" compared to 32 percent of Hillsborough residents.

No kidding.

What I am curious is how many of those polled were actually Rays fans? If they were to rate their fandom on a scale of 1-10, how would it rank? For those fans who are Yankees fans - roughly 17% of Hillsborough County - what were their opinions on the Rays and their stadium situation?

I would also be interested in the age and ethnicity of the respondents. This would allow us to know what age group and ethnic group prefer the Rays.

The fine folks over at DRaysBay did a good job analyzing the Tampa Bay Times article. Definitely check them out for other questions and thoughts.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Problems and Potential of Orlando

Being that this website is focused on the Tampa Bay market, I haven't written much about Orlando. But after discovering a recent article on the worst traffic bottlenecks in the US, I figured I should dive into a discussion about the role Orlando plays or could play in Tampa Bay baseball.

Facts about Orlando:

Orlando is the 20th biggest market in the US with a metro population of 2,920,603. In 2014, CNN rated Orlando the 4th fastest growing city in the US. According to the Orlando Economic Development Commission, Orlando is 71% white, 16% African-American, 4.2% Asian, and there are over 600,000 Hispanics.

Tampa Bay, by comparison, is 78.54% white, 11.58% African-America, 2.75% Asian, and there are 742,583 Hispanics in Tampa Bay.

The median age in Orlando is 36.8, 7 years younger than the Tampa Bay median age of 43.8. 10% of Orlando residents are 18-24, 28% are 25-44, 25% are 44-64, and nearly 14% are over 65.

Tampa Bay breaks down their demographics a bit different, but the area is definitely older, due heavily to 33% more people in the 65+ age group.
  • Age 18-34 19.74%
  • Age 35-54 25.08%
  • Age 55-64 13.66%
  • Age 65+ 21.52%
Although Orlando had a long history with baseball, no regular season team has called Orlando home since 2003. And after the Astros leave the Kissimmee suburb area for West Palm Beach in 2017, the Braves at Disney World will be the only team Spring Training near Orlando. If the Braves leave, as is rumored as well, the Orlando area will be "without a spring training team for the first time since World War II".

That's not to say people in and near Orlando don't like or watch baseball. According to a press release from Fox Sports, Rays TV ratings in the Orlando area were up 29%. Cork Gaines at RaysIndex discussed the positive and negative to the release.
  • Positive: The Tampa Bay-Orlando combined market is over 3.3 million homes.
  • Negative: Without an original number to increase by 29%, we have no idea the actual number of households tuned in to Rays baseball.

Although we can't determine how many area watching, using some marketing data, we can try to estimate the number of Rays fans in the Orlando area.

According to Facebook /NY Times research, the Yankees are the most popular team in Orlando's Orange County. Of Orange County Facebook users, 32% are Yankees fans, followed by 16% Red Sox fans and 10% Rays fans.

The percentage of Rays fans in other Orlando area counties:
  • Osceola: 6%
  • Seminole: 10%
  • Lake: 12%
  • Polk: 35%
Extrapolating 10% Rays fans to the entire population of the Orlando metro area means nearly 300,000 Rays fans in the Orlando area.

Once we define the market, we next have to look at what kind of fans will they be. Will they buy tickets or will they only consume the games on media?

According to Google, from Downtown Orlando to Tropicana Field is 106 miles and a non-traffic time of 1 hour, 36 minutes. If we add in the Tom-Tom traffic congestion consideration of 19 minutes for Tampa and 17 minutes for Orlando, it becomes 132 total minutes - or 2 hours and 12 minutes. So it is fair to say few, if any, Orlando area fans will be attending Rays games from Monday through Friday.

In October, Orlando sports blogger Philip Rossman-Reich wrote about the potential of Orlando as a baseball city. He mentioned how the Rays need to get more proactive in Orlando in order to energize the fanbase. Of course, we can't expect the Rays to do the type of consistent hands-on community marketing in Orlando they do in St. Pete or in Tampa, but if the Rays don't keep their eyes on Orlando, they could lose the fans there to either the Marlins or the Yankees.

Which brings me to a question and a bit of wild speculation.

Could the Rays and MLB be better off sacrificing the Orlando market in order to give the Rays a monopoly in Tampa Bay? Put on your tinfoil hat and hear me out on this:

The City of Tampa's lease with Steinbrenner Field ends in 2027. If that date sounds familiar, it is the same year the lease ends on Tropicana Field. As I have talked about before, if the Rays were to move to Tampa within 15 miles of Steinbrenner Field, they will owe the Tampa Yankees for potential lost revenue. But what if the Yankees moved Spring Training and the Tampa Yankees to Orlando? In 2012, there was a plan to move the Tampa Yankees to Orlando, but the plan was so ridiculous it fell apart before it could gain any steam.

(The proposed Tampa Yankees to Orlando plan estimated a daily attendance of 3,500 fans per night. In the Florida State League. In the summer. That would require breaking the Florida State League team attendance record every year. Not happening.)

But there is no doubt the Yankees would still be able to draw the same Spring Training attendance numbers in Orlando, slightly over 9,000 fans per game. And the Tampa Yankees would still draw in Orlando what they draw in Tampa, an average of 1,751 fans per game.

The biggest obstacle for moving the Yankees to Orlando is the lack of facility. There is none. But if a new Rays stadium were to be built, so too might a new baseball stadium in Downtown Orlando or other locations Rossman-Reich identified.

The second biggest obstacle is the negative economic impact on many Tampa business if Yankees Spring Training moved to Orlando. Although according to a 2009 study, the Yankees Spring Training have the least amount of out-of-state tourists at their games. Most of the ticket buyers at Yankees Spring Training are from inside Florida, but outside the Tampa area. They may not stay at hotels, but they are eating in local restaurants, etc. There will be a loss of revenue if the Yankees move. It is unlikely a new Rays stadium would provide the same restaurants to economic impact.

With a population of over 2 million and no regular season professional baseball, winning Orlando fans should be a marketing department's goal. Perhaps the Rays can create a merch store in Downtown Orlando as they have in Downtown Tampa. Maybe they can put a merch store in a local mall or two. Maybe more synergy with the Orlando Magic. Maybe more appeal to Florida's Hispanic community will capture the hearts and minds Orlando area baseball fans.

There is a lot of potential in Orlando. But with the Rays and Marlins still struggling to win their own local markets, Orlando will continue to be beyond their reach. A few fans from both teams might watch but neither Florida MLB team will have a strong presence in The City Beautiful.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Can the Rays ever draw 2.5 million fans?

Last week, Rays owner Stu Sternberg spoke with Tampa Bay Times Rays beat writer Marc Topkin. Sternberg had a lot to say about the Rays ability to compete within the economic landscape of Major League Baseball. Sternberg talked about how difficult it is for the Rays to field a team given their low income streams.

Of course, the comment that got the most attention was Sternberg's announcement that the TV deal with SunSports does not expire next year as has been frequently mentioned. Several bloggers tracked down where the confusion came from, and now we are sure we don't know what we thought we were sure of.

But another line Sternberg said caught my attention. According to Topkin, "Sternberg admits they don't know for sure whether (a new stadium in a new location) will increase attendance by a million or so to get to the 2.5 million mark he feels would work".

Stu Sternberg believes the Rays need to draw 2.5 million fans. 2,500,000.

Last year, the Rays drew less than 1.25 million fans. In their inaugural year of 1998, the then-Devil Rays drew 2.5 million. They were also a novelty and an event.

I have often compared the Tampa Bay baseball market to the Pittsburgh baseball market. Both cities have three professional sports (MLB, NHL, and NFL), both are small markets, and both cities are too economically stretched out to support the amount of sports they have.

Here is another fact: the Pirates have never drawn 2.5 million fans in their franchise history. Last year, the Pirates drew 2,498,596 fans, the most in their 120-year history. They still ranked 9th in the 15-team National League and 15th overall in MLB in attendance.

Facts about the Pirates past: Prior to the team improvement, the Pirates finished last or second to last in the NL in attendance every year from 2004 to 2012. Going back even further, in the 1980s there were several rumors of relocation, despite the fact that the Pirates had been in Pittsburgh since the 1880s. In 1985, a group of businessmen were exploring buying the Pirates and moving them to Denver and in 1995, Norton Herrick toyed with the idea of buying the Pirates and moving them to Orlando if a new stadium wasn't built in Pittsburgh.

Sound familiar?

Back to attendance potential ...

While the Tampa Bay metro population is approximately 500,000 people greater than Pittsburgh, the Pirates have two huge advantages on the Rays. First and foremost, the Pirates play in a beautiful downtown stadium. Of course, the Rays want a new stadium and hope to build one in the relatively near future.

Even if the Rays can get a new stadium in a perfect location to maximize possible attendance, they still might struggle drawing more than the Pirates. As I mentioned in a post on Rays Index,
Using the Facebook/New York Times survey from 2014, data shows 56% of Pinellas County and 51% of Hillsborough County are Rays fans. Comparably, 68% of Pittsburgh’s Alleghany County roots for the Pirates.

Other counties in the Pittsburgh area also have high percentages of Pirates fans.

  • Butler County: 71%

  • Westmoreland County: 68%

  • Washington County: 68%

  • Fayette County: 66%

Besides Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, no other county in Florida has over 50% Rays fans.

The bottom line is there are more fans of the local team and a less splintered demographic around Pittsburgh than in Tampa Bay. Most people in the Pittsburgh area are Pirates fans. That is not the case for the Rays.

So even with a 500,000 person advantage in population, the Rays would have a very difficult time matching the Pirates in attendance. And the Pirates set a franchise high with an amount just beneath of what Stu Sternberg believes the Rays should reach.

I'm not sure who put the 2.5 million number in Stu Sternberg's head, but even with a new ballpark, following the honeymoon bump, it will be nearly impossible to achieve.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Attendance Review: 2015 Tampa Yankees

Welcome to our fourth 2015 attendance review and our 9th attendance review post on the Tampa Yankees, minor league affiliate of the New York Yankees.


The Tampa Yankees began play in 1994. After two seasons playing at the University of South Florida, the Tampa Yankees moved to Legends Field, a stadium built across the street from Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Legends Field was renamed Steinbrenner Field in 2008. The current population of Tampa is 352,957.

Tampa Yankees 2015:

Home Games: 70

Total attendance: 92,786 (down 16.80% from 2014: 111,521)

Average: 1,497 (down 8.72% from 2014: 1,640)

Highest attended game: 8,825 on Wednesday, May 27th vs Palm Beach

Lowest attended game: 548 on Tuesday, August 11th vs Brevard County

Double headers: 8 (16-May, 28-May, 11-Jun, 24-Jun, 31-Jul, 2-Aug, 8-Aug, 19-Aug)

Cancellations: 0

Average Time of Game: 2 hours, 37 minutes

Notable rehab assignments: Carlos Beltran, Jacob Ellsbury, Ivan Nova, Chris Capuano

Other notable appearances: None

(red highlight = below annual average of 1,497)


By Month:

The following graph depicts the average attendance by month.

By Day:

Tampa Yankees attendance increased 33% on the weekends compared to their average Monday through Thursday attendance.
  • Mon-Thurs average attendance: 1,215
  • Sat-Sun average attendance: 1,815
  • Difference: +33%

The following graph depicts the average attendance by day.

The following chart shows how often each day outdrew the day prior.

Saturdays were a good draw, outdrawing the game prior 92% of the time. No Mondays outdrew the game prior.

By Opponent:

By Starting Pitcher:

This chart depicts how attendance reacted from one starter to the next. If a pitcher is a great draw, the percentage between he and the prior starter should be higher.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Video game reproduction of Tropicana Field

A little something light today. While perusing the YouTubes, I found this video game recreation of Tropicana Field. From the little I know about Minecraft, gamers build structures in the game using blocks and other selected pieces. I can't imagine how much time this user spent "building" Tropicana Field. While its not exactly perfect, it is really good and definitely worth the time to check out.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Baez would fill the Rays need for flair

A few months ago, Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today wrote an article that stirred a bit of controversy in baseball circles. According to Ortiz, 87% of brawls in baseball involved players from different ethnic backgrounds. Nearly half of those "pitted white Americans against foreign-born Latinos". Much of the brawl-based brouhaha and ballyhoo is due to the perception Latino players celebrate too much and don't play the game "how the game should be played", according to American whites.

A few weeks after Ortiz's piece, Chris Lamb of the Washington Post penned a piece diving deeper into baseball's "norms" and their underlying racism. Lamb based the article  on responses by Texas Rangers reliever Sam Dyson and San Diego Padres pitcher Bud Norris to Latino players celebrating after an achievement on the field.
The quotations from Dyson and Norris perpetuate the notion that foreign and nonwhite players are welcome to play the national game as long as they do so according to the customs and practices of baseball traditionalists.
As of 2011, 23% of Floridians were Hispanic. According to a 2015 Public Policy Polling survey, at least 80% of Hispanics in Florida are baseball fans. As of 2015, only 5% of Florida Hispanics identify as Rays fans. Wining the Hispanic fanbase should be essential to the Rays if they are going to be successful in Florida.

With this fanbase in mind, the Rays should embrace the type of game play baseball traditionalists such as Dyson and Norris are trying to brush out of the game. The Rays should look to acquiring the types of players other teams might dismiss as "excitable". If the Rays have a fanbase that wants to see that type of baseball, then it is good business to give it to them.

Currently, the Rays have Chris Archer . Archer has been known to jump off the mound and kiss his arm after big strikeout. And Archer's duels recently with David Ortiz have brought a bit of tension to games between two teams who are not as good as they used to be.

But on days Archer doesn't pitch, the Rays lack flair. Unless you count Kevin Kiermaier's defensive prowess, which while great, is more superhuman than flashy.

Enter Javier Baez.

Yesterday, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times broke the news that the Rays were looking at Chicago Cubs infielder Javier Baez. Topkin speculated the Rays might trade a starting pitcher and a relief pitcher for the highly-regarded youngster.

Of course, Winter Meetings rumors are just that: rumors. But Baez fits exactly what the Rays need. He is an exciting, young, Hispanic player who hits the ball a long way. He can provide power in the lineup and flair on the field.

Before he was drafted, wrote
"Baez plays the game with a combination of Latin flair and competitive fire".
In 2012, Baseball America wrote:
Baez plays the game with flair and enthusiasm, which sometimes rubs opponents the wrong way. He's working on toning down his flamboyance, especially after hitting one of his trademark tape measure home runs.

"When I hit it hard, sometimes I start watching it," Baez said, "but I realize I can't do that in the big leagues . . . You've got to respect the game, and respect your teammates and the other team."
Flair and enthusiasm is exactly what the Rays need to energize a Florida Hispanic demographic that according to Public Policy Polling prefers the Yankees, Braves, Marlins, and Red Sox. If they acquire Baez from the Cubs, the Rays shouldn't discourage him from playing the game the way he wants to. The only part of his game the Rays should attempt to reign in are his strikeouts, which need to be reduced if he is going to be successful at the Major League level.

And the Rays should not be afraid to surround Baez with other players who play the game the same way. Make it the team trademark. Make the Rays a franchise Hispanic players want to play for. A team they feel comfortable on. A team that has an area fanbase of baseball-loving fans ready to support them. And if fans fill the ballpark to see the team that other teams think celebrates too much, MLB would have quite the dilemma on its hands.

Granted, the Rays might not acquire Javier Baez. And they might never be able to pry Yasiel Puig from the Dodgers or Jose Fernandez from the Marlins. But they should still look to add players with flair to their roster. Challenging baseball's orthodoxy has been the Rays' Way for years. If enthusiastic Hispanic players might provide that 2% advantage in the win column and a boost in public polling, then why not?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Attendance Review: 2015 Bradenton Marauders

Welcome to our sixth attendance review of the Bradenton Marauders. This post continues our series of looking back at trends in Tampa Bay area fan behavior since 2007. Today we look at the home attendance of the 2015 Bradenton Marauders.

Overview: The Bradenton Marauders began play in the Florida State League in 2010. The Marauders play their home games at McKechnie Field. McKechnie Field is also the spring training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2013, the population of Bradenton was 51,763.

Bradenton Marauders 2015:

Home Games: 70

Total attendance: 102,913 (down 1.6% from 2014: 104,584)

Per Game Average: 1,491 (down 7.3% from 2014: 1,609)

Highest attended game: 5,812 on Friday, July 3rd vs Charlotte

Lowest attended game: 476 on Monday, August 31st vs Palm Beach

Double headers: 1 (July 28th)

Cancellations: 1

Average time of game: 2 hours, 48 minutes

Notable rehab assignments: None

Other notable appearances: None

(red highlight = below annual average of 1,491)


By Month:

The following graph depicts the average attendance by month.

By Day of the Week:

Marauders attendance increased 39% on the weekends compared to their average Monday through Thursday attendance.
  • Mon-Thurs average attendance: 1,182
  • Fri-Sun average attendance: 1,944
  • Increase: 39%

The following graph depicts the average attendance by day.

The following chart shows how often each day outdrew the game prior.

By Opponent:

By Starting Pitcher:

The following chart depicts how attendance varied from one starter to the next. If a pitcher is a great draw, the percentage between he and the prior starter should be higher.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Attendance Review: 2015 Clearwater Threshers

Welcome to our ninth attendance review of the Clearwater Threshers. Today we look at the home attendance of the 2015 Clearwater Threshers.

Overview: The Clearwater Threshers began play in the Florida State League in 1985. The Threshers moved to Bright House Field in 2004. Bright House Field is also the spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2013, the population of Clearwater was 109,703.

Clearwater Threshers 2015:

Home Games: 68

Total attendance: 174,283 (down 10.65% from 2014: 195,063)

Per Game Average: 2,723 (down 2.3% from 2014: 2,787)

Highest attended game: 9,966 on Friday, July 3rd vs Tampa (Franchise record)

Lowest attended game: 1,221 on Wednesday, June 17th vs St Lucie

Double headers: 4 (May 13th, May 28th, June 13th, July 25th)

Cancellations: 1 (plus 1 game moved to Bradenton)

Average time of game: 2 hours, 40 minutes

Notable rehab assignments: Dominic Brown

Other notable appearances: None

(red highlight = below annual average of 2,723)


By Month:

The following graph depicts the average attendance by month.

By Day of the Week:

Threshers attendance increased 27.4% on the weekends compared to their average Monday through Thursday attendance.
  • Mon-Thurs average attendance: 2,361
  • Fri-Sun average attendance: 3,253
  • Increase: 27.4%

The following graph depicts the average attendance by day.

The following chart shows how often each day outdrew the game prior.

By Opponent:

By Starting Pitcher:

This chart depicts how attendance reacted from one starter to the next. If a pitcher is a great draw, the percentage between he and the prior starter should be higher.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Exploring Rays Attendance Under 10,000: UPDATE

This post is an update to other posts I've done exploring the Rays' lowest attended dates since 2007. This post will look at these dates and try to determine any patterns or trends.

The following chart depicts the 30 times the Rays announced less than 10,000 tickets sold since 2007. This list does not count the May 1st-3rd relocated games between the Rays and Orioles.

Rays attendance failed to reach 10,000 fans the following amount of times per year:
  • 2007: 15
  • 2012: 4
  • 2013: 1
  • 2014: 1
  • 2015: 9

Rays attendance failed to reach 10,000 on the following days of the week:
  • Tuesday: 9
  • Thursday: 9
  • Monday: 6
  • Wednesday: 6
  • Friday: 1

Rays attendance failed to reach 10,000 during the following months:
  • April: 4 (2014 x 1, 2012 x 1, 2007 x 4)
  • May: 11 (2015 x 2, 2013 x 1, 2012 x 2, 2007 x 6)
  • June: 1 (2007 x 1)
  • July: 2 (2007 x 1)
  • August: 6 (2015 x 3, 2012 x 1, 2007 x 2)
  • September: 5 (2015 x 3, 2007 x 2)
  • October: 1 (2015)

Rays attendance failed to reach 10,000 for the following starting pitchers:
  • Shields: 6 (2012 x 1, 2007 x 5)
  • Archer: 3 (2015 x 2, 2014 x 1)
  • Moore: 3 (2015 x 2, 2014 x 1)
  • Hellickson: 3 (2013 x 1, 2012 x 2)
  • Kazmir: 2 (2007 x 2)
  • Smyly: 2 (2015 x 2)
  • Sonnanstine: 2 (2007 x 2)
  • Fossum: 2 (2007 x 2)
  • Seo: 2 (2007 x 2)
  • Karns: 1 (2015)
  • Odorizzi: 1 (2015)
  • Colome: 1 (2015)
  • Jackson: 1 (2007)
  • Hammel: 1 (2007)

The Tampa Bay Lightning played on the following dates:
  • April 16, 2007 – attendance: 9,157 (Lightning Playoff)
  • April 3, 2014 – attendance: 9,571
  • May 7, 2015 – attendance 8,701 (Lightning Playoff)
  • May 26, 2015 - attendance 9,628 (Lightning Playoff)

There is a history of attendance conflict due to Lightning games. I wonder if the Rays front office calculates potential attendance with and without scheduled Lightning games.

Even with a Lightning game scheduled, the Rays rarely schedule additional promotions. They do not try to directly compete with the Lightning. One idea might be for the Rays to eliminate parking cost on days the Lightning play. That might draw more people to Tropicana Field. Or the Rays could do $1 hotdog night or kids get in half price. Anything to bring in fans.

However, 2015 raised additional concerns. The Rays sold less than 10,000 seven times in August, September, and October 2015. That's not good. There have to be reasons why interest decreased since 2014. We can't point at transportation, record, or the other typical reason. We know attendance does decrease from July to August if the Rays are not competitive. But to what level?

2015 also had the first time the Rays drew less than 10,000 for an interleague game. Perhaps the allure against the Marlins is not as strong as Major League Baseball would like. Even worse, one of those games featured Jose Fernandez, perhaps the best Tampa-grown baseball talent since Dwight Gooden. If Fernandez isn't a draw in his hometown, I question if any visiting pitcher could be.

Bottomline: There were 0 games in August and September 2014 and 2013 where the Rays drew under 10,000. In 2015, there were seven.

The Rays have a new front office president coming on board. Perhaps he can increase interest and 2016 will at least be more like 2013 and 2014 than 2015.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Rays Cuban Opportunity

According to several media outlets, the Rays were recently selected to be Major League Baseball's representative in a 2016 exhibition game in Cuba. Apparently, there was a lottery, and the Rays won.

No team needs to play in Cuba more than the Rays. Maybe Major League Baseball realizes that. Perhaps the winning lottery envelope was frozen before Manfred selected it.

Whatever the cause, the result is the best thing the Rays could ask for. I've often written how important the Central Florida Latino community is to the Rays. The Cuban demographic is a big part of that community, especially in Tampa where some zip codes are nearly 20% Cuban. and according to Wikipedia, over 80,000 Cubans live in Tampa. That's 2.8% of the Tampa Bay population of 2.8 million. As comparison, the active military population in Tampa is only approximately 14,000 and the Rays have done a lot to embrace that community.

The Rays should make a big deal out of this. This is a team that has a section of their stadium (the Party Deck) decorated like Tampa's oldest Cuban community (Ybor City).

I would hope the Rays begin conversations with Tampa's Cuban community before their trip. I hope they build relationships in Ybor and other Cuban areas. Maybe even play some local exhibitions against Tampa's Cuban teams. Getting the community excited will only increase the hype of the game. Hopefully the local media will build up the trip with comments from Tampa's Cuban community leaders. So far, they haven't acknowledged the game's potential importance, at least not as much as the New York Times, who broke the story.

Tampa, too, has a significant Cuban imprint, but it predates Castro, and as a result there is not the same bitterness toward the Cuban government long associated with Miami.

Indeed, Tampa now sees itself as playing a key role in establishing stronger ties with the island, and the Rays’ participation in a spring training game would reinforce that notion, though the team plays its home games next door in St. Petersburg.

The reason the Rays need Cuba is because they need to expand their fanbase reach. Both they and the Marlins need to tap into the international community for fans. According to my demographic post in 2014, there are over 2 million baseball fans in Florida who are not from the United States. Many of them hail from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, and South America - countries where baseball is very popular. These fans might have families and friends back home.

I'm curious how the Rays trip to Cuban will go. Of course, the doomsday crowd will claim the sky is falling and the Rays will stay in Havana. But the reality is is that the trip offers the Rays a great opportunity to expand their market to a much needed region.

Keep in mind, in the last few months, Commissioner Manfred has refused the Braves offer to relocate, repeated that Tampa Bay is a viable MLB market, and now offered the Rays a chance to increase their fanbase and reach.

Major League Baseball has given the Rays the opportunity. It's time for the Rays to step up.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Rays add new marketing guru to front office

According to the Tennessean, the Tampa Bay Rays will have a new executive front office member in 2016. Jeff Cogen, current CEO of the Nashville Predators, will be joining the organization on February 1st, following the NHL All-Star Game. Cogen will split time between the Predators and Rays beginning on November 30th.

With the departure last season of longtime Rays executive Mark Fernandez and attendance at a 10-year low, it is no surprise the Rays brought someone in.

So who is Jeff Cogen?

First of all, Cogen is a long-time friend of Rays President Matt Silverman. According to the Wall St Journal, Cogen was one of the first team presidents Silverman befriended when he joined the Rays in 2006. So there is a history of collaboration.

Second, and most important, Cogen has a long career in sports and entertainment. According to the Predators' website, he has worked in the following positions with the following organizations:
  • CEO, Nashville Predators
  • President, Dallas Stars
  • President, Texas Rangers
  • Vice President, Dallas Stars
  • Executive V.P. of Marketing and Sales, Southwest Sports Group
  • Chief Operating Officer, Florida Panthers
  • Director, and later Vice President of Marketing for Olympia Arenas, the managing company of Detroit Red Wings, Joe Louis Arena and Fox Theater
  • Manager, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Shows
In total, Cogen has been working in sports and entertainment for nearly 30 years.

According to the Nashville Business Journal, Cogen and Predators' Chief Operating Officer Sean Henry have achieved much in their tenure. They've increased ticket sales, encouraged youth sports, increased season ticket holders and corporate sponsors, and re-energized the fanbase of a team that was rumored to relocated.

According to the Chairman of the Predators in the Tennessean,
“I have never seen a marketing person who is as thorough and organized and as systematic as Jeff,” Cigarran said. “That is now part of the DNA of the whole sales team. He can tell you every little thing that we sell, how is it trending. I’ve seen a lot of good marketing people … but I’ve never seen anyone as good as Jeff.”

While in charge of the Predators, Cogen saw attendance increase from a low of 14,979 in 2010-11 to 16,854 in 2014-15. A better team on the ice helped, but Cogen also "increased television ratings, and sales and marketing efforts."

An interesting quote from an article on Predators attendance summed up Cogen and Henry's thought process:
"If there are 500 or 1,000 fans from other cities, it makes for a fun night," Henry said. "But it's not a lot of fun when there are 7,000 of them. Then it's no longer a home game. So the real key is getting people that wear gold in our building. We need to give them reasons ..."

When asked about Major League Baseball in Nashville, Cogen emphasized how hard a small market has to work and what elements are needed for success.
"It's easier in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston, because to fill 40,000 seats you have to have a smaller percentage of the population. But I believe the market is robust enough, and corporate-laden and technologically savvy that we have the right mix of corporate and individuals that could support Major League Baseball, if there were facilities."
Needless to say, Cogen has his work cut out for him in Tampa Bay. While the Predators arena is located "in the midst of a very trendy entertainment district", we all know the location issues of Tropicana Field. How much can Cogen overcome that huge obstacle?

Corporate support has also been a huge problem for the Rays. Can Cogen get the Rays on the right track with corporate partners? Can he get more fans to the ballpark on the weekends?

I've often said the Rays can't sell baseball like other teams do. They need to think out of the box. Cogen is an out-of-the-box thinker. In 2011, the Predators gave away tickets. According to Yahoo! sports, the strategy was to "(a) get them in the building and (b) track that data to get them back". Cogen then claimed he can "turn 15 percent of non-paying attendees into paying fans". And Cogen didn't care much about season ticket holders paying when others didn't. According to Cogen.
"Empty seats don't look very good on television, they don't cheer very loud, they don't buy hot dogs."
Tropicana Field had a lot of empty seats last year. When full, they have often been due to opposing fans.

From what I am reading, the Rays have themselves a great acquisition in Jeff Cogen. I've often called the Rays marketing effort the hardest job in sports. Let's see what Cogen can do.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

2015 vs 2014 Tampa Bay Rays Attendance Comparison

Today I am going to do something I have never done before, but probably should have. I am going to compare year-to-year attendance. As I mentioned in my previous post, Rays attendance dropped nearly 14% from 2014 to 2015. This post will look at the second level: where did it drop?

Finding out where attendance dropped could give insight into reasons why. Of course there are overarching reasons such as reduced interest in baseball regionally, cost, or transportation. But before we come to that conclusion we should try to identify the most and least times attendance decreased and see what the tea leaves show us.

Then after we pinpoint the biggest problems the next step to theorize "why?" followed by "what should the Rays do about it?".

2014 vs 2015 attendance by Month:

We see here that during the summer months of June and July, Rays attendance in 2015 wasn't far off of 2014. But in the early and later months of the season, attendance was far worse in 2015. This variance might require us to consider different reasons for the 2015 attendance decrease.

The most accepted theory for the early part of the season is the popularity of the Tampa Bay Lightning during their Stanley Cup Playoff run. We have explored the Lightning effect on the Rays quite a few times. The important thing to realize is that the Lightning didn't only affect the Rays on the exact day of their games. They affected interest in the Rays for the entire time the Lightning were in the playoffs. And then when the Lightning season ended, the Rays had to wait for people to have expendable funds again.

Once the area sports fans had expendable funds again, they sought out the Rays. When looking at the slight decreases over June and July, we have to consider other factors. Among the most popular:
  • Lack of identifiable players
  • Loss of marketable and recognizable players
  • Team performance
  • Interest in opponents
  • Bad stadium experience
  • Increased security
  • Increased ticket costs
  • Stadium political situation

Some of these may have affected people. Some of them may not have had any affect at all. Some may have been affected by mix of all the factors. Without polling everyone who did not go to a game, there is no way to tell.

The decreases in August and September are little tougher to estimate about. They probably have a lot to do with the aforementioned reasons, but with more emphasis on team performance. As we have proven before, being in the playoff hunt does positively affect attendance. If a team muddles around .500, as the Rays did this year, fans lose interest and attendance in August and September is closer to May than July.

2014 vs 2015 Rays attendance by day

There is a lot of negative here. No day was spared in the Rays 2015 attendance decrease. While Monday and Wednesday look a little less depressing, we have to remember the Opening Day sellout was on a Monday and Wednesday featured several "Parks and Recreation Day" promotions where summer camps full of kids filled the stadium. Without those promotions, Monday and Wednesday would probably be similar to Tuesday or Thursday.

The day that took the biggest hit was Friday. As I have often written, Friday is an interesting day for baseball. Whereas fans still have to fight rush hour traffic to get to the park, those who work the typical Mon-Fri work week are not pressured to leave early due to the work the next day. Friday night games should be the best time to unwind after a stressful week. Unfortunately for the Rays, fans opted to do something else to unwind.

While popular consensus is that Tropicana Field is difficult to get to on the weekdays, weekend attendance shouldn't face the same time and traffic obstacles.

Here is a breakdown of the Weekends and Weekdays from 2014 to 2015:

What is interesting here is that as bad as weekdays were (8 games under 10,000 tickets sold), weekends had the bigger drop from 2014 to 2015. Nearly double as many fans didn't buy tickets to Tropicana Field on the weekends than on weekdays in 2015.

Fixing weekend attendance should be the Rays marketing department's number one priority in 2016.

2014 vs 2015 Month/Day cross-analysis

Now let's take the months and days and put them together. We'll segment the days into Weekends and Weekdays so we don't run into too small of a sample size.

This chart shows exactly where the Rays saw their worst decline in attendance in 2015.
  • Weekends in May: - 36%
  • Weekdays in Sept: -27%
  • Weekends in April: -26%
  • Weekdays in August: -23%

If we continue with the Tampa Bay Lightning effect on the Rays early season attendance decline, we see that only 9 of the Lightning's 20 playoff games in April and May were on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday - home or away. But again, the Lightning effect on the Rays needs to be considered for the entire series. If a fan spends $200 on Lightning playoff tickets on a Monday, they are probably not going to spend more money on a Rays game on Friday, even if tickets are 90% cheaper.

Now for the good news from the above chart. Weekends in August in 2015 were nearly identical to weekends in August in 2014 and the follow day/month slots actually increased in attendance from 2014 to 2015:
  • Weekends in June: +13%
  • Weekdays in July: +11%
  • Weekdays in April: +4%

Weekends in June had a well-attended series against the Red Sox and a Lee Brice post-game concert to help with attendance. June weekends in 2014 only had one postgame concert with Weezer.

Weekdays in July in 2015 had the benefit of two Parks and Recs Days whereas July 2014 only had one parks and recs day on the docket.

Finally, the most probable explanation for April's weekday increase has to do with more weekday games in 2014. Both years benefited by having Opening Day on weekdays but in 2014 the Rays played 8 weekday games in April, in 2015 they only played 6.

If we don't count Opening Day, the Rays average weekday attendance in April 2015 was 13,670. In April 2014, the Rays average weekday attendance was 13,790. A difference of only 120 less fans on average.

This concludes our latest deep-dive into the Rays attendance. I'm going to try and create the same charts for all the Minor League teams in the Tampa Bay area. I'm curious where the Minor League decreases are biggest and whether or not they match the Rays trends.

Monday, October 26, 2015

When a long distance love comes back

In late August 1985, my father took me to my first Major League Baseball game. It was “Back to School Night” at Shea Stadium and I received a Mets binder I still have somewhere. I don’t remember much about the game, to be honest. It might have been one of Dwight Gooden’s most impressive pitching performances of the year or it could have been a blown save by current Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell.

My dad was a vendor at Shea Stadium during the Mets first World Series run in 1969. He would tell me stories of running out on the field after they clinched the pennant during their Miracle season. He still holds the yearbook and newspaper clippings as prized possessions. And years before he sold his wares in the aisles of Shea, other family members worked at Shea in the opening days of the ballpark.

There was no way as a kid who liked baseball living in the suburbs of Long Island in the mid-1980s I was going to root for anyone other than the Mets. All my friends were Mets fans, except for one Yankees fan and we barely hung out with him. We were Mets fans. It was a great time to be a Mets fan.

But time moves on, and with it people and passions. I moved to Florida the year after the Mets won the World Series. Although I kept my fandom alive, the only times I watched the Mets was versus the Cubs on WGN, versus the Braves TBS, or on any national televised game. I was still a fan, but following took effort.

Six years after I moved to Florida, the Marlins started spring training in my parents’ town. Baseball had come back to me. I attended a few spring contests a year, mostly when the new Marlins played the Mets. The Marlins on local television also meant the ability to see the Mets more often.

In 1998, when the Devil Rays started, they were an afterthought. I wasn’t living in Florida at the time, had never been to the Tampa Bay area, and never even thought about rooting for MLB’s newest expansion team.

That all changed in 2006 when a job opportunity led me to move to Tampa. I attended one Devil Rays game in 2006, five in 2007, then over 20 Rays games in 2008, to include one game in every postseason round.

Somewhere along the way, Tropicana is where I lost my heart. And somewhere along the way, I started writing about the Rays. These two things probably have a lot to do with each other. When you put anything to words, you start caring about it more.

As I grew as a Rays fan and starting carving out my own niche in the Rays blogosphere, the only attention I paid to the Mets was reading websites such as and Faith and Fear in Flushing. I would stay interested in the way you stay interested in a long-distance friend’s Facebook posts.

“Oh, they had a baby? That’s nice. I haven’t talked to them in a while. Maybe I will drop them an email sometime.”

Then, to the surprise of most people, the Mets started playing well. Very well. So well, in fact, that they are now in the World Series for the first time since I moved to Tampa.

And I am struggling with how much I should root for them, comment about them, and even celebrate them.

Last night, as a matter of fact, I compared my conflicting fandoms to running into an ex. Not the type from a bad breakup, but the type you grew apart from due to circumstance. You say hi, you smile, they still mean something to you, and you wonder what might have been, but you know life is different now. And if your present partner is nearby, you may have to explain.

That’s why I am writing here today.

Granted, I am not alone in rooting for the Rays but keeping the Mets in my heart. When the Mets visited Tropicana Field earlier this year, Rays social media feeds were full of people confused with who to root for. That’s to be expected when roughly 30% of Florida residents were born in New York.

Even the owner of the Rays is a self-professed Mets fan, although I think there is a huge difference between my conflict as a fan and Stu Sternberg’s ownership of a competing franchise. The Rays grew as an emotional investment for me, as compared to a way for Stu to increase his financial bottom line. But that’s a post for a later date.

So for now, I am rooting for the Mets. I’m wearing my RA Dickey jersey to sports bars. I’m talking the glory days of Gooden, Strawberry, Carter, and Hernandez with fellow Mets fans. I’m catching up with who Daniel Murphy is.

I have not forsaken the Rays. I’m still writing about them. But I can’t let go of the team that got me into baseball in the first place.

At least I am not a Yankees fan.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Attendance Review: 2015 Tampa Bay Rays

Welcome to our first attendance review of 2015 and our ninth annual attendance review of the Tampa Bay Rays. Today we will look at the home attendance of the 2015 Tampa Bay Rays.

Total attendance: 1,247,668 (down 198,797 tickets sold (13.74%) from 2013: 1,446,465)

Per Game Average: 15,403 (down 2,454 fans per game from 2014: 17,857)

Highest attended games: 2 x 31,042 (Opening Day 4/6 vs BAL, 8/8 vs NYM.)

Lowest attended game: 8,701 on Thurs, May 7th vs TEX.

Lowest point of average attendance: June 23, Game 37 (Avg attendance: 14,141)

Average Time of Game: 2 hours, 56 minutes

(red shading = below annual average of 15,403)


By Month:

Because the Rays played four games in October, I created a line for Sept/October. July was the Rays best month and May was the worst. Click here for a breakdown of July attendance and here for a breakdown of May. May was the worst attended month since 2005.

The following graph depicts the average attendance by month.

By Day of the Week:

Following typical trends, the Rays drew poorly during the week and better on weekends. Monday's average attendance was aided by the Opening Day sellout. Rays attendance increased 30% on the weekends compared to their average Monday through Thursday attendance.
  • Mon-Thurs average attendance: 12,688
  • Sat-Sun average attendance: 18,328
  • Increase: 30.7%

The following graph depicts the average attendance by day.

The following chart shows how often each day outdrew the day before.

As to be expected, no Monday game outdrew a prior Sunday. Although 38% of Sunday games outdrew the Saturday before it, every Saturday game outdrew the Friday game played the day prior. Half of Wednesday games had higher attendance than Tuesdays and 55% of Thursday had higher attendance than Wednesdays. Only 62% of Fridays outdrew Thursdays.

By Opponent:

The biggest surprise of the 2015 season was how poorly games versus the Yankees were attended. I covered this a few months ago, but attendance versus the Yankees was 44% lower than it was in 2014. In total 120,742 fewer tickets were sold to games versus the Yankees at Tropicana Field. That total is 61% of the Rays total 2015 decrease.

The highest drawing opponent of the year was the other New York team, the Mets. As I predicted in March, the attraction of seeing their team drew many New York transplants to Tropicana Field. Add in the Mets place in the standings, and it is no surprise the series drew well.

By Starting Pitcher:

Despite all the injuries to their starting rotation, only 8 Rays pitchers started home games in 2015. The Rays drew best for Matt Andriese's starts, although Chris Archer was not far behind with three times as many starts.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we have to be careful with saying Archer was the draw. He also pitched in three games that preceded post-game concerts.

On the other side of the spectrum, games Drew Smyly pitched drew the least amount of fans.

Our next chart depicts how attendance reacted from one starter to the next. If a pitcher is a great draw, the percentage between he and the prior starter should be higher.

Once again, games started by Matt Andriese led the way, outdrawing previous games in 4 of his 5 starts. Chris Archer games outdrew the game before 8 of 16 times, with Archer also pitching Opening Day.

By Promotion:

Although "First Friday" is not a Rays promotion, it is a nighttime block party hosted by the City of St. Petersburg several blocks away from Tropicana Field. We include it here because the two events could either aid or detract from each other.

As we see on the chart, Camp Day, Bobbleheads, and Alumni promotions did very well. Each promotion outdrew the day before. That's what promotions are supposed to do, provide incentive for fans to come to the ballpark. They should outdraw games without promotions.

Alumni days were promotions catering to alumni of University of South Florida, Florida State University, and University of Florida. These promotions usually involved a giveaway for fans who bought a special promotions-based ticket. Among the three universities, the University of Florida promotion drew the most fans.
  • UF Saturday Night: 31,042
  • USF Saturday Night: 24,327
  • FSU Sunday Day: 18,613

However, UF Night coincided with the Mets and their visiting fans and USF Night coincided with a Kasey Musgraves concert.

Day Game / Night Game Splits:

As shown, the Rays drew better on weekends than weekdays. Among weekday games, day weekday games outdrew night weekday games by over 9,000 fans per game (possibly aided by the Camp Day promotions).

On the other hand, night weekend games outdrew day weekend games by 3,500 fans per game. As the Rays didn't play any Sunday night games, we can fairly say that Saturday was the most attended day/time of the week for Rays fans.

Overall, in their 41 home wins, the Rays drew 15,369 fans per game. In their 40 home losses, they drew 15,438 per game.

And although wins and attendance are not correlated at all, here is how the Rays performed at various levels of attendance.

We will have further breakdowns of these attendance numbers and how they relate to long-term trends in upcoming posts.