Will the Attendance Increase with Wins in 2009 ?
And with their move to Port Charlotte, they also moved their old Vero Beach Florida State League baseball squad across the state to occupy the facilities after Spring Training is over for the Rays. The Ripken Baseball group then came in and formed a partnership with the Rays in running the lower Class-A Charlotte Sand Crabs. But will this move be a short term success or a growing franchise with unlimited potential? With a well respected baseball ownership group like Ripken baseball in charge of your affiliate, you usually can expect great thing to be happening in the 2009 season. The anticipation of the new team playing ball has made the local community excited and motivated to buy 3,000 Spring Season Tickets for their first campaign. The Rays averaged about 300 while they were playing at Progress Energy Field in St. Petersburg.
So if the team can show success in the Spring venue, will that also translate into sales and attendance in Tropicana Field for the Rays? That question will be answered soon enough. The Rays currently have around 10,000 Season Ticket holders, but have stepped up with an aggressive ad campaign to try and increase that number 50 percent to 15,000 before Opening Day. Could such an increase be possible in the economic climate where almost 10 percent of Pinellas county residents are out of work or experiencing financial hardships? The Port Charlotte experience might be tied closer to the fact that the team is new and the community is bonding together to promote and attract more people to come down from the Tampa Bay are aand make a weekend out of their baseball adventures.
So will this pre-season event be a great indicator of the excitement and the energy that will flow starting in April. I would hope so, because we will not have our team nearby for a change during Spring Training, we will have to show our commitments early to the team before they head south for the month and half of Spring Training. But also, this season the single game tickets will not be up for sale during the Fan Fest. usually the first official day of selling the single game tickets is coordinated with the Fan Fest. Could this keep some fans away who do not want to fight the crowds in the autograph lines, or will they still come out and stand for hours to chat with the players for a few moments.
You would think the signing of Pat Burrell and Joe Nelson would be an indication of the team’s commitment to finishing the job and going back to the World Series. Trading Edwin Jackson for young Matt Joyce should be viewed as the Rays looking both to today and tomorrow by getting a young up and coming outfielder who could be here for a long time patrolling the outfield for the Rays. But will the team’s increased payroll and fancy commercials be enough to show they want and need the fans in 2009. If the promotional giveaways are any indication, then the Rays are banking that collectors and fans will be seeking the Championship Week items and pushing that entire weeks schedule of games to the sellout point.
But will the true test be in the early parts of 2009 when the Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles come in and the stands are not sold out. Will the Trop then again be thrown all over the national news as the true home of the fair weather fans, or will there be cowbells and Rays gear everywhere. I think the month of May will be the time that the fans let the team know if they are behind them. or waiting for a sign. In that month, the team come home to a quick weekend 3-game series against Boston before bringing in the Baltimore Orioles for two games. Through the month, the Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Oakland A’s and Minnesota Twins will come in and play the team a total of 13 games. These 13 games might hold the key to the teams attendance in 2009. Traditionally, the Oakland series is a low attendance series, the Indians and Orioles are predicted to have aggressive teams, but might not feature that competitive bite yet to bring out legions of Rays fans. And the Minnesota series in 2008 was during the last home stand of the year, which is always a huge attendance draw because of the end of the yea events for the fans.
I am hoping for 2 million fans in the Trop this year. That would be a great indicator to the Rays front office that we finally have turned the corner and believe in this team. But we also do not have the concentrated population of New York and Boston to pull from during the year. And we also do not have a winning tradition to make people scramble for the tickets. But 2009 will be a great year for the Rays faithful. The only question will be if you have someone right next to you to high five after the game, or you have to move a few seats to get that satisfaction……………….I am betting on 360 degrees of hand slapping fun in 2009, what do you think?
Photo credits for today go to: Tampabay.rays.mlb.com, and to Mike Stoller and Caviler92 of Flicker.com