The Tampa Bay Rays may not be able to afford staying in Florida much longer. NESN baseball analyst Peter Gammons reports on MLB.com that the Rays eventually could be forced to move to a more profitable market.
With spring training drawing closer and teams putting the finishing touches on rosters, Tampa Bay faces a bigger challenge than filling in its second-base hole. While the Rays have enjoyed success against big-market teams such as New York (Yankees), Philadelphia and Boston, their on-field success has not translated into revenue.
"There are smart people in the Major League Baseball offices wondering if there's hope of even discussing a potential move of the Rays to New Jersey or Southern Connecticut over certain protests from the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and Phillies," writes Gammons on MLB.com.
Prior to the 2008 season, the Rays were ranked last or close to last in MLB attendance every year since 2000. The 2008 AL pennant only produced an average of 6,000 more fans per game at Tropicana Field. The less-than-stellar increase still tethers Tampa Bay to the bottom of the MLB attendance report.
Tampa Bay's baseball history has been an uphill battle from the beginning. When the MLB first looked to Tampa to begin a franchise, city officials of nearby, less-populated St. Petersburg resurrected the Florida Suncoast Dome against the wishes of the league. The Florida Suncoast Dome became the ThunderDome before becoming Tropicana Field.
Unfortunately, the story is not a "rags to riches" tale. After a struggle to find tenants, the eventual 1998 dawn of the Rays and even the American League title did not mark the end of the rocky road. Still, people are unwilling to travel to the area.
"The Trop is stuck in a place that no one east of Tampa -- such as the Orlando market -- will drive to" writes Gammons on MLB.com.
Gammons extends the issue across Florida, citing the Marlins as another strong organization that lacks a following, ranking No. 29 for 2009 attendance. The South Florida team is hoping that "location, location, location" solves its problems, with a new, more accessible stadium close to I-95 and Florida's Turnpike scheduled to open in 2012.
If locality is not the brunt of the problem with Florida baseball, it may be the state’s poor economy and foreclosures, all cited by Gammons.
"The Marlins and Rays share a broader issue -- Florida,” writes Gammons on MLB.com. “Yes, it's South Beach and Worth Avenue, St. Pete Beach and Siesta Key. It's also Orville Triebwasser's House of Taxidermy and Fort Lonesome, the Fossil Museum and miles and miles and miles and miles of cattle and hurricane remnants and foreclosures."
According to the Bleacher Report's JC La Torre, the economy has hit Florida as hard as other areas of the country, but the Rays’ low attendance problem is more complex than just tough times. He believes that if Major League Baseball truly cares about the teams in Florida, it will stop holding spring training in Florida. The area's inhabitants -- most of whom have relocated from other parts of the country -- have former team allegiances. Being able to see their teams in Florida for spring training, why would they make the crossover to root for the Rays?
To make matters worse, WFTV-TV reported that politician Armando Gutierrez has discussed moving a baseball team to Orlando. The Milwaukee Brewers, who were mentioned as a possible option, have since refuted the suggestion of their potential relocation. But the possibility of a neighboring team poses even more turbulence -- and competition -- for the Rays in Florida.