The Tampa Bay Rays have been the laughing stock of MLB attendance for at least a decade, maybe more, averaging between 13-25 thousand fans a game, while Tropicana Field can seat roughly around 34,000. It has been their home since their inaugural 1998 season, but they can’t seem to fill the fairly small ballpark. For about 7 years now, there have been rumors of relocation, and there was even a plan out, back in 2009 with blueprints of the proposed new venue, but it fell through. However, with the new reports of the city allowing the Rays to explore new location ideas, ownership needs to think carefully about their options, as they could find a gold mind.
In 2009 when the structuring of a proposed new stadium came up, it was planned to be built on the Waterfront in St. Petersburg (soccer stadium currently holds the spot, but was formally designed to be a baseball stadium, as it used to be where many Spring Training games were played), as the current Tropicana stadium is sitting just on the outside of the city. Secondly, in a great climate like St. Petersburg, why have a domed stadium? Especially when baseball is a summer game. Despite the team significantly improving since the name change in 2008, who could blame fans not wanting to drive out to the outskirts away from the beauty of the waterfront to watch a half-decent squad indoors in the middle of Summer? The Rays’ owner has said that he hopes a re-location will improve team revenue, well it couldn’t hurt; that is unless they move outside of city limits, which could cost up to $34 million (team has a contract with the city to remain in Tropicana until 2027).
Having a star promotional player is a big key to driving up ticket sales, and as the game has seen over the past few years, those stars are extremely expensive, so the Rays shouldn’t look outside the city limits. The teams’ pushing of allowance for search of relocation outside of the city was a waste of time, when they should have been making the downtown St. Petersburg idea re-emerge. The Rays revenue every year is usually between $150-210 million, while the Yankees (#1) are more than double that. No, the Rays will never be the Yankees, or even the Orioles ($250 million), but they can at least bring it up to $200 million, have a more profitable and appealing location, and use that money to bring stars to the team, so that the Rays can win more often.
Baseball is a summer sport, but because of it’s popularity, it has spread to cities that may not have great whether for the duration of the season, unlike Tampa, FL. What fan doesn’t want to go have a beer and a dog while watching baseball with the waterfront in the background? Because the Rays are a small market team who needs to save money where they can, they should cut ties with their hospitality partner. Despite Centerplate being arguably the best concession company in the country, the Rays only receive a certain commission off of Centerplate’s sales every game, as opposed to running their own stands. For example; roughly the Rays are receiving 28% commission off of Centerplate’s sales, if Centerplate makes $100,000 in a night, the Rays are getting $28,000, whereas, if the Rays ran their own concessions, they would have to be pay roughly 500 employees $9.00/hour for 6 hours a night, then add $100,000 sales to offset that, and they made just over $60,000. New park, new plan for the concessions.
An open stadium on the Waterfront in downtown will automatically bring more fans, thus allowing more people to see how good the team actually is. Using the same concepts in concessions that Centerplate brought to the table will attract people to food and beverages, not just the weather making people in need of refreshments. Lastly, a fresh start will boost the franchise confidence, thus advertising the team more, as the bigger the city/location, the more opportunities for marketing. In the end, revenue shall increase, freeing up cap space to bring in more talent, hopefully leading to a championship run.