Crisis brewing in the Tampa Bay Tidepool
1 out of 8 citizens within Tampa Bay region currently do not have the luxury of report to a job on a daily basis. And it is this impending economic pickle that might finally sour the Rays Front Office to this region effectively corralling the numbers needed to support the team in the next 5 or 6 seasons. With the team basically coming “out front” and telling their fan base they have collectively “borrowed” money for payroll from future Rays squads, this might be a sign of leaner times for the Rays until the entire economic system rebounds and again begins a healthy upswing.
But this is also a National crisis, but the media and blogs posted in the past month or so questioning this region’s passion and love for the game are ridiculous. These same postings do not address solutions within the region, but point to outer posts or locales where a “healthy” revenue stream can be obtained with minimal effort by the men who guard the coffers. And with their statements, they do not even surface emphasize or firmly grasp this region’s struggles to simply tread water right now because they are not down in the Rays trenches on a first hand basis, and seeing the growing fan base increasing potential and the beaming pride from the ground level of both young and old fans in the stands.
They point to the black-and-white facts of the Rays lacking great local Corporate support and ticket sales, or even the abysmal Season Ticket holder numbers which in comparison would look firmly out of context numbers when stood next to the Corporate support shown within the large capital cities of industry like New York, Philadelphia or Boston, which have over 100 years of baseball support systems in place to form a solid fan foundation compared to the less than 20 years of total Tampa Bay’s Major League Baseball existence.
And some of these same authors’ have been bold and brazen enough to label this community a “Spring Training town” and not able to muster the needed revenues or support to even keep a Florida State League team in our abandoned waterfront stadium. But these same voices forget to tell you of City of St. Petersburg legislation to secure baseball events like the ACC Baseball Tourney and other yearly baseball tournaments for the currently vacant Progress Energy Park.
The basic instinct of prioritizing their family finances, and cutting out such past luxuries as attending countless Rays games could dramatically effect Rays game attendance figures throughout 2010. I know this region is just a small puddle within the larger pond of increasing frustrations felt by citizens throughout the United States by this growing epidemic, and it might hit hard on MLB teams in other cities like Detroit, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and the list can go on and on….until we are again on a solid footing. But even that first hint of a ripple, that first stone dropping into the water can change the outcome and appearance of the entire scenario in a matter of seconds. This time is that important right now here in Tampa Bay.
As of December 2009, there are over 15 million people just like myself, fighting to find even a part-time gig to support their sole existence, not just their MLB yearly habit. And it might be someone like myself, or even you who ultimately adds one more failure to the Rays board by not being able to attend games, or showing a physical presence at the ballpark every night. But I also know I will do everything short of becoming another street dweller to raise the bar and show my pride physically as well as fiscally in my love of the game and my hometown Rays, as long as I financially can… But there are many who will not be able to make that financial commitment or even take these types of chances in 2010 with their incomes, or even attend as many games because of fiscal woes and their decreasing disposable income limitations.
And that will fuel the non-support flames even higher towards the Rays bonfires again, not the reality that this service-oriented, transient populated Tampa Bay community lives and breathes off the tourism dollar and the seasonal ventures by out-of-town fans that come here for weekends or weekdays following their teams road trip schedules during the MLB season. And even the most dedicated Rays fan might have noticed the economic effect in the stands during the 2009 season when Boston and New York came to town the Rays could bank on being sold-out in advance, even during the mid-week.
But in 2009, there was an increasing ocean of empty blue-colored seats poking out towards television cameras to viewers in the other reaches of the United States. And to them, those empty seats transferred quickly to lack of support, or even a visual reminder of just how hard this region is struggling with itself to fill those same empty seats on the usually slow Thursday night games. My tickets for 81 games come in at $ 1,799 for the season for my little seat right next to the Rightfield foul pole at Tropicana Field. That breaks down to around $ 20.21 per game. And I will be honest, some nights that $ 20 could be better spent, but it is my personal commitment to this team that I give it to the Rays without a single moment of hesitation or concern right now.
For our much maligned region of Florida to survive the attacks and the volleys from outside our walls we have to join and remain strong in our bonds and commitments to baseball in our community. I remember another city back in 1984 that also thought they were on solid ground and enthusiastic towards their opinions that ” things would work out” for its city and its NFL team coming to a harmonious agreement. And the citizens believed in this team and community meshing until the Mayflower moving vans formed outside Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and their team relocated in the middle of the night to Indianapolis, Indiana.