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.