On this website, I've already looked at Rays attendance during Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and USF Football games. Today, I will be looking at Rays attendance on dates that coincide with Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer games.
A lot has been made of the Rowdies recently. The team and the City of St. Petersburg are campaigning to elevate the franchise to Major League Soccer. The #MLS2StPete effort has been ongoing since last year and has a considerable amount of support and money behind it.
I have written on this website that I do not believe the area is big enough nor has enough expendable income for the Rays and a Major League soccer team. Not when sports fans on the other side of the bay already have options such as NFL, NHL, Arena League football, and Minor League baseball. That's a lot of sports for a region that is already economically overstretched.
But are the Rowdies affecting the Rays already? The following chart lists all Rowdies and Rays games played on the same date since the Rowdies resumed play at Steinbrenner Field in 2010.
A few observations:
Rowdies and Rays games often fall on Saturdays. 32 of 39 occurrences were on Saturday. While this makes it easier to compare based on day, it makes it more difficult due to the Rays varying promotional schedule.
12 of the 39 occurrences were on Rays concert series nights. Some concerts drew better than others. Hall and Oates in 2010 were much more popular than Sister Hazel in 2015. Although usually a big draw, I believe the concert series as a whole has lost some of its allure - but that's a post for another day.
3 occurrences were on days the Rays played the Yankees. In 2015 and 2016, this would not be a big deal. But prior to 2015, the Yankees were loaded with marketable stars, most notably Derek Jeter. With 20% of baseball fans in Tampa Bay affiliating with the Yankees, Yankees marketability was once a considerable factor in Rays attendance.
In August 2015, New York fans again swarmed Tropicana Field, but this time it was the New York Mets fans. Although there are far fewer Mets fans than Yankees fans in Tampa Bay, Mets fans made the Mets first visit to Tropicana Field in several years into an event - which means they waited for the day and went en masse, unlike Rays fans, whose support is spread over 81 games.
While there aren't many obvious trends from the above chart, there are two notable trends if pull the data apart a bit. Let's only look at Saturday games (32 of 39 games).
Here is a graph of the above chart.
We see here that while Rays attendance has steadily decreased since 2013 on selected Saturdays, Rowdies attendance has climbed from 3,000 per match to almost 6,000 per match. Since Rays attendance has decreased every day since 2013, it is difficult to attribute the cause on these Saturday to Rowdies soccer, since on 15 of the 32 days the Rays drew more than their Saturday season average.
With little conclusive evidence here, we can't state that Rowdies has had much of an effect on Rays baseball attendance through 2016. There are 8 coinciding dates in 2017, so we will have more data after the close of each team's season.
What I am worried about, however, is the expansion of the Rowdies capacity and interest in St Pete. If the Rowdies move up to Major League Soccer, will there be increased interest and attendance? If Al Lang Stadium is expanded to 18,000 as the Rowdies ownership would like, will fan decisions then affect Rays attendance?
Right now, there are enough hardcore and casual fans to maintain the same levels of attendance at Al Lang and Tropicana Field. But does the market have enough financial capacity to support MLS expansion to St Pete? That is the multi-million dollar question.