Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Baseball and the lack of public transportation in Tampa Bay

A few weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Times produced an amazing look at the quagmire that is Tampa Bay transportation.

Among some of the most damning findings:
  • Out of the country’s 30 largest metro areas, the region ranks 29th in four of six common ways the federal government measures public transit coverage and usage.
  • Tampa Bay spends far less on transit each year than any other major metro area.
  • Almost every other top-20 metro area has at least 600 buses. Tampa Bay has the fewest, about 360.
  • Denver, Pittsburgh and Baltimore spend twice as much on bus alone as Tampa Bay, despite being similar sizes.

Those are just the biggest points. The story details several Tampa area workers and their struggle getting from their homes to their place of work.

While the focus of the article was specifically on employment and transportation, we could easily make the connection to recreation and transportation. If Tampa Bay is struggling to get people to work, are they also struggling to get people to leisure activities such as the beach, downtowns, or sports stadiums? How many buses pass Tropicana Field? Are there bus stops near the Trop? How often do buses pass? How many people can reasonably be expected to take public transportation to games?

Tampa Bay will never be New York City, where thousands of people take the train to the games after work. Tampa Bay doesn't have the population nor the infrastructure to make that happen in the next 100 years.

But even against comparable markets, Tampa Bay is struggling to get people to sporting events. Especially baseball.

I have often compared the Tampa Bay baseball market to Pittsburgh. The two metro areas have the same sports (MLB, NFL, and NHL), they have similar populations, and both the Rays and Pirates were subject to relocation rumors when attendance was a struggle.

The Tampa Bay Times article depicted how many jobs people could get to via public transportation in various cities. For many cities, sports stadiums are along a major job and transportation corridor. Here is the Pittsburgh transportation/job map followed by a Google map plotting PNC Park, home of the Pirates.

Here is a similar map for St. Petersburg and Tropicana Field.

The inability of public transportation to get people to Tropicana Field is definitely a factor in Rays attendance. I don't have the numbers of how many people take public transportation to Pirates games, but the potential to take public transportation is definitely greater in Pittsburgh.

The Tampa Bay Times also compares Tampa Bay transportation to Phoenix. Both regions have relatively new MLB teams, have extensive Spring Training in February and March, and according to the Times,
Phoenix and Tampa Bay faced many of the same challenges in the mid ’90s. Both Arizona and Florida are small-government states with limited transit funding. Both struggle with car cultures and swaths of sprawl, though Phoenix’s is much worse, ranking 14 spots behind Tampa Bay in density among the top 50 metro areas.

Phoenix politicians, however, invested heavily in public transportation increasing ridership from 24th nationally to 14th. Tampa Bay's ridership rose only from 28th to 26th.

Public transportation affects so much of life in metro areas. Investment in public transportation is a necessity that Tampa Bay is sadly lacking in. Jeff Vinik of the Lightning calls it the "Achilles Heel" of Tampa Bay's economic growth. And his team plays in Downtown Tampa.

Rays ownership hasn't been as vocal about referendums and the current plight of Tampa Bay public transportation. On one hand, they are not as invested in the community economically as Vinik, who is rebuilding a significant portion of Downtown Tampa. On the other, there are so many other factors and self-inflicted wounds affecting attendance for the Rays to focus on public transportation as a cure-all. People would surely throw those factors at the Rays as deflection from the public transportation mess.

But there is no doubt, public transportation is a HUGE issue affecting baseball attendance, leisure activities, work/life balance, and every other facet of life in Tampa Bay.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Spring Training 2017 has sprung in Tampa Bay

On Thursday, February 23rd, the Philadelphia Phillies kicked off Tampa Bay area Spring Training by hosting the University of Tampa Spartans at the newly re-named Spectrum (formerly Bright House) Field. The game was one of three MLB vs college exhibitions that began the Grapefruit League schedule. As to be expected, the Phillies beat the Spartans, this year by a score of 6-0. 2,924 fans attended the contest.

This season Tampa Bay area teams will play a total of 67 Spring Training games, including split-squad but not including games against World Baseball Classic National Teams.
  • Phillies: 18 home games
  • Pirates: 17 home games
  • Yankees: 16 home games
  • Blue Jays: 16 home games

Last year, Tampa Bay area teams played 60 spring training games, drawing 449,793 fans for an average of 7,497 per game. This was a 2% decrease from 2015's spring training attendance.

Over the last 12 years, individual teams have had several ebbs and flows in their attendance. The following chart depicts team trends as well as the overall per game attendance for spring training in the Tampa Bay area.

While Yankees spring training attendance has been consistent, Phillies spring training attendance has plummeted nearly 2,000 per game since 2011. The Blue Jays have also seen significant increases since 2011. Meanwhile, Pirates spring training attendance has increased 1,800 per game since 2007.

Without the star power of the past, it will be interesting to see if the Yankees can keep the high level attendance they have had in previous years. The Phillies are also rebuilding without big name talent, leaving the Pirates and Blue Jays as the local spring teams with the biggest talent draws. These teams play in the smallest parks in the Tampa Bay area.

I usually don't comment too often on Spring Training other than overall trends. Due to tourism, spring training is not an indicator of baseball passion in Tampa Bay. I will have occasional posts if anything out of the norm happens and I will talk about total trends after the Grapefruit League concludes in early April.

It's good to have baseball back in Tampa Bay.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Rays and Braves should swap spring training locations

During the offseason, the Atlanta Braves began negotiations to find a new spring training home. Last year, they looked toward Pasco and Pinellas County. In late 2016, Braves officials met with Sarasota County officials. In late January 2017, plans were submitted on the construction of a 6,500 seat stadium in Sarasota where the Braves would play from 2019 to 2049.

According to the Tampa Bay Business Journal, the Braves new spring training complex will cost approximately $75 to $80 million dollars. According to Shadow of the Stadium, the Braves will pay none of the cost up front - the entire cost will be from state and county funds.

Of course, the government of Sarasota County wants a spring training team because .... some reason. Despite what elected officials claim, there are many studies that debunk the idea that spring training has a huge economic impact.

The reason the Braves want to move from their current location is because "the vast majority of teams in Florida’s Citrus League play along either the state’s east or west coasts, making the bus rides to play competitors too long" according to the Executive Editor of the Atlanta Business Journal.

(Although this is cited without evidence and without financial impact on the billion dollar franchise, we will accept it as fact for the case at hand.)

The Braves currently play at Champion Stadium at Disney World, the same stadium the Rays played select regular season games in 2007 and 2008. Which leads me to a strategic solution that would save taxpayer money, solve the Braves location problem, and help the Rays build their fanbase:

Starting in 2018, the Rays and Braves should swap spring training locations. The Rays should move from Port Charlotte to Disney World and the Braves should take the Rays spring home in Port Charlotte. The Braves should assume the Rays' contract with Port Charlotte and the Rays should sign a new contract with Disney's Wide World of Sports.

The first beneficiary of this spring home swap is the taxpayers of Sarasota County, who no longer have to pay the Braves the money necessary for the Braves to engage in their business in Sarasota County. Since the Braves' sole purpose in moving is to be closer to other spring training competitors, this move would put them near the Red Sox, Twins, Pirates, Yankees, Phillies, and Blue Jays. Exactly where they want to be for far less cost to taxpayers.

Because there is no Braves fanbase to worry about, the Braves can move anywhere. They believe their fans will find them, whether that be at Disney World, Pinellas, Pasco, or Charlotte County.

Fanbase is exactly why a move to Disney World would be a major win for the Rays. In 2009, the Rays moved to Port Charlotte to  expand their fanbase to the South. Port Charlotte is a town of 54,000 people. In 2014, the New York Times plotted baseball fandom by zip code. Zip code 33948, home of Charlotte Sports Park was 29% Rays, 20% Yankees, and 16% Red Sox. If we assume 50% of residents are baseball fans, the breakdown of baseball fans in Port Charlotte is:
  • 7,830 Rays fans
  • 5,400 Yankees fans
  • 4,320 Red Sox fans

Other fans attending games in Port Charlotte are a mix of fans from other similarly divided counties. According to Ryan Holleywell of Governing.com, the Rays paid $4 million dollars to move from Al Lang Stadium in St Pete, where they were not growing their fanbase at all, to Port Charlotte, where they may be winning fans by the dozens. At the time, moving to Port Charlotte was cheap and convenient, but for a team needing to win the hearts and minds of baseball fans throughout Florida, Port Charlotte is no longer the best place for the Rays to prepare for the season.

Moving to Disney World is the perfect way for the Rays to capture the Orlando market. According to the aforementioned New York Times fan map, the Rays are the third most popular team in the Orlando area, far behind the Yankees and Red Sox. Some zip codes had as much as 41% Yankees fans to only 9% Rays fans. Orlando is Yankees Country. The Rays need to penetrate that market.

In 2006, the Tampa Bay Times published an article discussing the Rays attempts to grow their fanbase throughout the state. According to writer Eduardo Encina,
Why is Orlando important?

The Rays want to expand their fan base every way possible. The spring training move to Port Charlotte in 2009 embeds them in the south, and they've talked about efforts north into Ocala and Gainesville, but commanding Orlando, the 20th largest media market in the country, is instrumental in their regional efforts. The Rays haven't had much presence in Orlando. That's changing, albeit slowly. Bright House cable is scheduled to air 67 games this season in the Orlando area, up from 25 last season.

Ten years later, Orlando is still important. On population alone, it is more important than Port Charlotte. There are more potential fans and more money in the only major US market without professional baseball. To stay in Port Charlotte when the Orlando market is available is passing up a great opportunity, even if it means breaking the final 12 years of the lease agreement with Port Charlotte.

For years, fans have advocated the construction of a new Rays stadium in Downtown Tampa or near the Hard Rock Casino to make baseball more convenient for Rays fans in Lakeland and Orlando. Moving spring training to Disney World would finally capitalize on those fans.

The Rays have used Disney's Wide World of Sports in previous years to increase their Central Florida footprint, and they should do again. This time on a permanent basis.

If this were to happen, the Rays gain the ability to grow their fanbase, Port Charlotte still keeps a spring training client, the Braves acquire the spring training location they are looking for, and the people of Sarasota County don't have to spend their tax dollars on a new baseball facility. The only losers would be the politicians of Sarasota County who can no longer kowtow to the wishes of a professional sports team.

While writing this, I realized in late 2015 Jared Ward of DRaysBay wrote a post about the Rays moving to Disney World. When writers with the same passions both come to the same conclusions, idea should be repeated every so often.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Threshers engaging in Security Theater

After changing the name of their stadium last month, the Clearwater Threshers made another announcement last week.

According to a press release on their website, the Phillies security team are installing metal detectors at Spectrum Field.
All guests will be expected to walk through metal detectors at all entrance gates, starting with the Phillies vs. Tampa Spartans game on Thursday, February 23, 2017. The added security is part of a Major League Baseball mandate that all fans are subject to metal detection screening.

I'm confused. This is a Major League mandate. Not a Minor League mandate. Why is it being done at a Minor League field? The reason security is high at Major League parks is because they are typically large gatherings of 25,000 to 50,000 people. Spring Training at Clearwater rarely tops 10,000 and Florida State League games at Clearwater rarely top 5,000 and typically are between 1,500 and 3,000.

However unlikely the odds, if a terrorist were to plant a bomb at Spectrum Field, there are only a few select dates in which they would inflict maximum human casualties. If there was a gunman, that is something that can be taken out by a quick thinking armed security guard, which I hope are already present.

And it doesn't prevent a drone from flying in something. Or someone from hoping a fence.

Or someone getting hurt in a bar fight. After all, there is a bar in left field that serves alcohol.

Threshers average attendance has been over 2,700 per game the last three seasons. While Spring Training fans might not mind the security inconvenience, we will see if local Clearwater fans will put up with this latest episode of Security Theater.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

McKechnie Field is now Corporate Sponsor Stadium

Last week, I wrote that Clearwater's Bright House Field underwent a name change and is now Spectrum Field. In the final few sentences of my post, I wrote how the change from one corporate sponsor to another typically isn't a big deal for fans. The deal with the devil has already been made, whether you call him Satan, Lucifer, or Old Scratch.

As of last week, there were three stadia in the Tampa Bay area named after people important to baseball in the area. Al Lang Stadium, named after the former St Petersburg mayor, is the home of the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Steinbrenner Field will always be named after the former Yankees owner as long as the Yankees are present in Tampa. And since 1967, McKechnie Field in Bradenton was named after Hall of Fame manager and late Bradenton resident Bill McKechnie.

"Was" being the operative word.

Unfortunately, in an absolutely horrible marketing move, the Pittsburgh Pirates sold the name of their Bradenton spring training stadium to the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, or LECOM. The facility is now called LECOM Field. According to reports, the City of Bradenton not only received no compensation for the selling of the name, but the people of Bradenton are upset with the change.

As well they should be.

Last Friday, Pirates owner Frank Coonelly stated "LECOM shares our mission to help develop young people into highly trained professionals so that they can pursue their dreams."

Which, interestingly enough, was the same mission as Bill McKechnie when he managed ballplayers. But dead men don't pay naming rights.

Besides the residents of Bradenton, other people upset with the name change include NBC sports baseball writer Craig Calcaterra , Sarasota Herald Tribune columnist Doug Fernandes, and Bill McKechnie's own daughter - who neither the Pirates nor the City of Bradenton informed about the name change.

Seems like an act first, ask questions later decision. Done without taking into account history or public opinion.

While the name change might not affect Pirates spring training attendance, it may affect Bradenton Marauders attendance, which is predominantly driven by local dollars. Locals could vote against the name change by not attending Marauders games. How far fans go to let their frustration known will be interesting to watch this season.

Not a good strategic move considering Maruaders attendance each of the last three seasons, and dropped 15% in 2016 to its lowest level since 2010.

The move also does not reflect well on the Pittsburgh-Bradenton relationship which caused a public relations mess last year when the tourism office distributed Pittsburgh Penguins swag during their playoff series with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now the Marauders have to deal with an unpopular stadium rebranding.

Good luck.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Accepting Jameis Winston: Yankees fan

For the last two years, since he was initially predicted as the first round pick of the Buccaneers, I have written about Jameis Winston's relationship with professional baseball teams in Tampa Bay. I've often wondered when he will ever support the local Major League team instead of a team that only spends two months in Tampa.

The answer is probably "never".

Last week, there were two Jameis sightings. In both, he openly supported the New York Yankees.

On February 8th, Yankees pitcher James Kaprielian tweeted thanks to Jameis for visiting the Yankees training facilities, apparently for the 2017 Yankees Captain Camp.

The next day, on February 9th, Jameis made an appearance at an Orlando Magic game decked out in Yankees gear.

Neither of these should matter. After all, LeBron James was a Yankees fan for years before being seen at Indians games wearing Indians gear. But LeBron leaned on his localness to be accepted as an Indians fan. If Jameis were to don a Rays jersey, it would not have an ounce of authenticity or credibility.

He is a Yankees fan. He is always will be.

The quarterback of Tampa Bay's football team openly roots for a team that plays against and in the same division of Tampa Bay's baseball team. This would be similar to Evan Longoria publicly being a Atlanta Falcons fan or Chris Archer publicly being a Carolina Panthers fan.

The big word here is "publicly". As with the Sternberg-Mets fandom, it is absolutely acceptable if a player, owner, or whomever roots for a team outside of Tampa Bay. But when that fandom is publicly flaunted or discussed, Tampa Bay fans have every right to be upset. Because if the opinion makers believe the local teams aren't good enough to root for, why should the fans?

If I was the Rays, I would write Jameis off. I would not invite him to throw out a first pitch nor be a special guest at any games or outside charity events. I wouldn't even invite him to the FSU Chop at the Trop. If any fans ask (and FSU fans probably have), the Rays should politely inform them that Jameis's fandom is somewhere else besides Tampa Bay. Jameis is not persona non grata, nor he is not barred from Tropicana Field, but if he wants to see a Rays game, he will have to buy a ticket.

That's not to say the Rays shouldn't engage Jameis. They should absolutely make Jameis's Yankees fandom an issue. But they should do it through Raymond.

I have often said Raymond is an under-utilized marketing tool for the Rays. Raymond can go to local events and engage fans at Tropicana Field as any mascot would. But he should also create videos for Rays fans to share on social media.

Raymond should create a series of short online videos - either on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, or YouTube - playing up that Jameis doesn't want to hang out with him. These videos would show Raymond wanting to be friends with Jameis, but Jameis not responding.

Raymond could try to play catch with the Bucs mascot only to fail every throw, he could try to call Jameis, tweet Jameis, or cry after after looking at pictures of other Bucs and Rays relationships and then a picture of Jameis in pinstripes. This could be an ongoing saga throughout the season - maybe once a month. Momentum it could build if done right.

Currently, Jameis Winston has shown little interest in the "Team Tampa Bay" concept. He is a Yankees fan and expresses that openly. It is probably not the smartest move, but then again, Tampa's politicians play both sides of the Yankees-Rays local dynamic as well. As long as the Yankees have such a large presence in Tampa, there is no incentive for Jameis to root for the Rays, just like any other Yankees fan in Tampa Bay.

Using Raymond could get Jameis's attention. The skits should be very careful not to annoy Jameis, only to poke fun at his fandom. That's why the videos need to posted sparingly.

As much excitement as Jameis Winston has brought to the Bucs fanbase, it is a shame he can't bring any of that to the Rays.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Why #MLS2StPete will spell doom for baseball in St Pete

During the baseball offseason, there has been a lot of headlines and action regarding the Tampa Bay Rowdies quest to move up in leagues to Major League Soccer. On Dec 7th, the Rowdies kicked off the #MLS2StPete campaign to generate support for their endeavor.

While St. Pete and even Tampa are awash with marketing materials promoting the campaign, there have been a few articles of pushback. On Jan 27th, Robert Trigaux of the Tampa Bay Times wrote a piece entitled "It's Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Tampa Bay Rays in scramble for fans, money in St. Pete sports market". It was an absolutely solid piece detailing the growing battle between the two St Pete franchises.
The result is a new dynamic emerging between the Rowdies and Rays, two sports teams located within a mile of one another in a rapidly evolving city. Each sports franchise is trying at the same time to win the hearts, dollars and attendance from St. Pete's (and Tampa Bay's) business community and residents.

Trigaux hits a lot of the typical notes: the Rays are struggling to draw fans, MLS is hot, the Rays need money for a new stadium, the Rowdies are willing to pay to expand Al Lang Stadium.

But his article had two small drawbacks: 1) it failed to talk about disposable income and economic capacity and 2) it ended with questions.
Will some businesses be forced to choose between the Rays and Rowdies? Can area residents support baseball and soccer in a hometown city with population of 260,000?

Let me answer:

Question 1) Yes.

Very simply, some businesses will only have enough funds to support one team. Some businesses are very profitable and can support professional sports teams, Little League teams, non-profits, and everything in between. Some small businesses can barely support paying their bills. So yes, if some businesses wanted to provide corporate support, they might have to choose between the Rays and the Rowdies.

Question 2) No.

I have repeatedly written about Tampa Bay's lack of disposable income. I've written about the area's economic capacity. I've written about average income, job growth, and demographics. Nothing indicates that Tampa Bay, and St Petersburg specifically, can support the growth of a sports team.

This area already supports
  • Rays
  • Lightning
  • Bucs
  • Storm
  • 4 Minor League Baseball teams
  • Approximately 50% of Spring Training attendance

All with a population of 3 million people making an average of less than 50,000 a year.

Increased attendance and focus on the Rowdies would require time and money to be diverted from other entertainment or leisure venues. Whether the movies, a museum, the Rays, or a restaurant, people will be switching focus to the Rowdies. Stadiums don't come with people - they aren't old GI Joe vehicles that came with the pilot. People live in the area and have to be won over.

Of course, in their pitch, no one with the Rowdies has said there is the economic capacity to support expansion. They've cited the TV market (which the Rays commonly do as well) and the demographics. But those demographics are not exclusive to soccer. They are shared by almost every major sport.

Despite so much evidence to the contrary, Mayor Kriseman and the St Pete Area Chamber of Commerce are supporting the Rowdies initiative. Mayor Kriseman believes St Pete is big enough for the Rays and the Rowdies.

It's not.

Currently, single game tickets to a Rowdies match costs $23.50. Times 18,000 seats = 423,000. Times 17 game schedule = over $7 million total in disposable income to sell-out each Rowdies match. And that's just ticket sales. Currently, the Rowdies seat 6,000 at $23 = 2.2 million. So nearly $5 million more required from the Rowdies market.

Meanwhile, for the Rays sell out every game at $15 at ticket, they would require $36.4 million.

That's $50 million minimum to max out attendance in an area with a population of 259,906 and a median income under $50,000. Unless they are counting on people from outside the Tampa Bay area to support the local teams.

How's that "Team Tampa Bay" working out right now?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Bright House Field is now Spectrum Field

Way back in April 2015, I theorized how the sale of Bright House cable services to Charter Communications could affect the name of the home stadium of the Clearwater Threshers. Since 2004, when the Phillies Florida State League team began play in the facility, its name has been Bright House Field.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, as of mid-January, the facility will be known as Spectrum Field, named after a part of Charter Communication's service. This is the first facility name change in the region since 2010 when Dunedin Stadium became Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.

Overall, in the grand scheme of marketing, this decision won't make much difference. Of course, the Charter group will have to pay the cost for rebranding, but once fans get used to the change, there will be no difference. One corporate supporter to another - the way of sports today.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Rays Front Office to Speak at Tampa Bay Business Journal Event

Every year, the Tampa Bay Business Journal assembles several prominent sports business leaders in Tampa Bay for a discussion. These "Business of Sports" events are usually held at a sports venue (the last two years' events were at Amalie Arena), cost nearly $100, and are hosted by well-regarded sports media personnel.

The 2017 Business of Sports event looks just as good as previous events. Hosted by Sports Business Journal and Sports Business Daily Executive Editor Abraham Madkour, the event features front office personnel from the Lightning, Bucs, Rays, and Rowdies, as well as personnel from major Tampa sporting events such as the College Football Playoff. Representing the Rays will be President Brian Auld and VP of Strategy Melanie Lenz.

Surprisingly absent is Minor League Baseball or any of the Spring Training teams. Those teams are part of the Tampa sports ecosystem. Their facilities are in part paid for by taxpayers and local fans also buy their tickets and merchandise. Both Minor League Baseball and a representative from the Minor League teams should be present at the Business of Sports event.

Personally, I think the most interesting guest of the day will be Tampa Bay Rowdies Owner Bill Edwards. Edwards has big plans for the Rowdies in downtown St Pete. I would ask how these plans coincide with the future plans of the Rays. Unfortunately, however, I will not be attending. But I will be following along on social media.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Tampa Bay Times asks Stu Sternberg more easy questions

Every year, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times sits down with Rays owner Stu Sternberg for a "State of the Rays" interview. There are usually some questions about the direction of the team, recent acquisitions, players who have recently moved on, a vague update on the stadium, and sometimes a question about food or music.

Although this year's interview did not have a food or music question, it was much of the same.

Of course, Topkin didn't ask Sternberg about his out-of-state residency or the fact that opinion of Rays ownership has plummeted according to ESPN. He also didn't ask about Sternberg's rationale behind being the only MLB owner to oppose the new collective bargaining agreement. Follow up on that issue might have been nice.

Topkin's interview did have some interesting quotes by Sternberg.

I have to give it to the Rays. No matter how many other sports teams expand or ask for funds in Tampa or in St Petersburg, the Rays never go on the offensive at the local level. Case in point, Sternberg does mention the Rowdies growth plans, but mentions the Rays will proceed regardless.

I will have more on this in a later post, but St Pete is not big enough for both an MLS Rowdies and the Rays, despite what Mayor Kriseman thinks.

Sternberg discussed the Rays cable deal, which greatly needs to be renegotiated. Unfortunately, he says it won't happen until 2019, but then say it could be month. Not sure what that answer meant.

Buried towards the bottom were two very key points:

According to Sternberg, the Rays have not turned a profit since 2005. This includes their subsidy from MLB due to revenue sharing. Yes, the value of the team has skyrocketed - this is probably why Sternberg doesn't want to sell - but the team is not financially stable with its current operations. It is not "killing what it eats". It is relying on outside funding or future returns to gain leverage. That's not a good way to do business.

The Rays may need to be more creative in how they make money.

The last but perhaps most interesting point for this site was Sternberg's assessment that attendance will be flat this year and probably similar to last year's 1.2 million. This is surprising. Have the Rays admitted 1.2 million is the new reality? From 2011 to 2013, the Rays averaged 1.5 million. Why is that number unattainable currently? Another 300,000 on top of 1.5 million would equal the Rays 1.8 million attendance reached during their World Series year.

But again, why isn't 1.5 million a realistic number? What changed after 2013 that altered ownership's expectations?

These are the type of questions Marc Topkin should be asking.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Observations on Rays Fan Fest 2017

On Saturday, February 4th, the Rays held their annual Fan Fest at Tropicana Field. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the event drew over 15,000 fans.

Fan Fest 2017 was earlier in the year, with a slightly different format. The biggest change in the format was the removal of long autograph lines. At first I thought this might be a bad idea, but being that only a small percentage of fans stood in line and the lines took up a significant part of the fan fest area, this was a good decision. Fan fest seemed much more open without the lines of people standing around.

The Tampa Bay Times detailed why the Rays moved the date of Fan Fest from later in February to the first weekend in the month.
Typically the Rays hold Fan Fest on a Saturday early in spring training, but they made the change this year due to several conflicts, primarily an earlier start to camp because of the World Baseball Classic, which has them beginning games Feb. 24. Another factor is not wanting to lose most or all of a workout day in Port Charlotte, as camp report day is Feb. 12.

The Trop was unavailable Jan. 21 (college football), this week (home show) and Feb. 11 (gymnastics), leaving a choice between Feb. 4 and Feb. 18.

Unfortunately for the Rays, there was a huge competing event in downtown St. Pete on the same day they chose for Fan Fest. Localtopia 2017 was "St. Pete’s largest “Community Celebration of All Things Local” showcasing over 200 of your favorite independent businesses and community organizations" and occurred throughout St Pete's Williams Park. Previous Localtopia events drew over 20,000. With the weather in the mid-70s on a clear Saturday afternoon, I wonder how many fans opted to go outside to Localtopia instead of inside Tropicana Field for Fan Fest.

I did both.

While at Localtopia after attending Fan Fest, I noticed the Rays may have missed an opportunity. The Rowdies had a booth at Localtopia advocating their latest initiatives. The Rays did not have a presence at Localtopia. They didn't even have a person handing out schedules or telling people Fan Fest was a few blocks away. One of their many customer relations staff could have been at Localtopia.

It is possible I missed the Rays representative. Maybe they were there. But they definitely did not have a booth or kiosk at Localtopia. That's an opportunity lost. Sometimes, even though you've reached expectations at one location, going to where more people are could plant the seeds for increased brand awareness.