The Tampa Bay Rays were knocked out of the Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs yesterday by the Texas Rangers. The Rays sold out game 3 of the American League Divisional Series (ALDS) with 32,828 in attendance. Game 4, with the Rays down 2 games to 1 in the best-of-five series only had 28,299 in attendance. While this is only about 4,500 less in attendance, Stuart Sternberg the owner of the Rays has started to wonder if the Rays can continue their current existence in Tampa Bay with this business model.
After the game Mr. Sternberg said:
“We replicated last year and our numbers were down,” Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg said. “The (television) ratings were down. The rubber has got to hit the road at some point. We’re four years into winning. We’re getting to the point where we don’t control our own destiny. This is untenable as a model.”
And it’s not just the owner, it is also the players. Third baseman Evan Longoria noted:
“We’ve been playing great baseball all year. Since I’ve been here in (2006), the fans have wanted a good baseball team. They’ve wanted to watch a contender,” Longoria told reporters at the time. “And for us to play good baseball for three years now, and for us to be in a spot to clinch again and go to the playoffs, we’re all confused as to why it’s only 15,000 to 20,000 in the building.”
ESPN notes that the Rays have actually chopped their payroll by $30 million dollars, from $71.9 million to $41.9 million in a single year. Despite these cuts, the team has continued to have success, but the fans aren’t coming. In sports economics we spend a lot of time looking at determinants of demand for sporting events, and from the body of research there is often many factors involved in bringing fans to a game. Winning helps, but so can a lot of other factors, such as the health of the economy, competitive balance of the league, local market population size, and so forth. While Tampa Bay’s ownership and team seem unhappy that fans are not coming because they aren’t winning, there are still other factors they may need consider.
But this does bring up potential bigger issues. Local leaders in Tampa Bay have been considering building a new stadium for the team. The question remains whether the attendance and revenue issues might lead Tampa Bay to want to relocate to another area. It is either that, or rethinking the team’s business model, which could mean cutting salaries even more. I don’t think Tampa Bay can continue to be a playoff team if they are going to cut salaries even more… it took them literally till the last day of the season to make the playoffs.