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Legends On Deck

Can a New Rays Ballpark Help Build a Stronger MLB Culture in Tampa Bay?

The Tampa Bay Rays announced plans for a new stadium to be built in the Ybor City neighborhood just this past week.  The new ballpark would include a fixed translucent roof with a seating capacity of 28,216 (expanding to over 30,000 with standing room); making it the smallest ballpark in Major League Baseball.  

In recent years, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has expressed the need to solve stadium situations in Tampa Bay and Oakland, as a means of improving the overall state of the game.  The Rays current home, Tropicana Field, is widely described as the worst ballpark in baseball.  Located in St. Petersburg, Tropicana Field has a unique history, as it was built six years prior to the Tampa area being awarded a franchise.  It was built with intentions to entice a team to the area and served as home for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning for three seasons. The Rays began playing there in 1998.

For many years, there’s been discussion of a new ballpark in the Tampa Bay area.  But in the last couple years the search for a new stadium site opened up possibilities beyond their St. Petersburg home, to include the more populated Hillsborough County (Tampa).  While the Tampa-St.Petersburg media market ranks 13th in the US, the Rays play their home games in the less populated Pinellas County, across the bay from Tampa. The new Ybor City location would place the team approximately 25 miles east of their current location, making it more centrally located to the region’s population.  It would also place it around 80 miles west of Orlando.

The Rays have had among the lowest attendance in MLB, averaging under 16,000 the past few seasons.  Yet, in terms of TV numbers, they find themselves closer to the middle of the pack. The latter suggests there is an engaged fan base.  For a young franchise, the Rays have enjoyed some success, including capturing an AL Pennant in 2008, a AL East title in 2010 and Wild Card births in 2011 and 2013.  Currently, the Rays are a competitive team holding an above .500 record, even after shipping off their longtime star Evan Longoria in the off-season and focusing on rebuilding.  Catcher Wilson Ramos and LHP Blake Snell with represent the team in the All-Star Game.  Their farm system is considered among the best in baseball.

So what’s the problem with baseball in the Tampa area?  And can a new stadium help cure some of what ails it? Potentially.  Granted, the new stadium comes with a steep $892 million price tag and the finances have yet to be determined.  That aside, the proximity of the new ballpark alone should bring about a boost in attendance and a smaller seating capacity will make the ballpark easier to fill.  In a season with 81 home games, part of the appeal of attending an MLB game is the atmosphere and a new park would drastically improve the fan going experience.  

Another advantage working to their favor is their division.  The Rays play in the AL East, which includes the Yankees and Red Sox.  The number of relocated New Yorkers and New Englanders in Central Florida is staggering; and it’s much easier to make a trip to Tampa to see their team than New York or Boston.  Other northern cities like Baltimore, Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland, Minneapolis and Chicago are also represented well in Central Florida. A better location and ballpark atmosphere makes it much more likely for these opposing team fans to attend.  

Finally, Florida is the fourth largest state in the country and one of the fastest growing.  Nearly 1,000 people a day move into the state, which far exceeds any other state but Texas.  In other words, there’s almost nowhere that the Rays could move to seek a better potential market to draw fans.  Not to mention, there’s no other state (excluding California) producing more baseball prospects.  In other words, Florida is a baseball rich state.  

If there was ever a team who needed a new ballpark, it’s the Tampa Bay Rays.  Now, let’s see how it gets done.

Brian Koss

Brian Koss

Brian has been a contributing writer to Legends on Deck since April 2017. He’s a diehard Detroit Tigers fan, who grew up playing and following baseball in the suburbs of Detroit. He covers the Tigers and their farm system for LOD and also likes writing about the general state of baseball. Brian and his family reside in the suburbs of Orlando, where he enjoys coaching Little League and passing on his love of the game to the next generation.
Brian Koss

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