Rays Still Competitive, But Does Anyone Care?

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 18: Outfielder Ben Zobrist #18 of the Tampa Bay Rays signs some autographs just before the start of the game against the Chicago White Sox at Tropicana Field on April 18, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

The Rays, as usual, are pretty good this season. Not great, and with little chance of being great. But pretty good. Which is not bad, considering their $42 million payroll, down from $73 million payroll last season.

Of course, fans don't give teams extra credit for maximizing their dollars per marginal win. Fans just want wins and, I've noticed over the years, they want to see the dollars, too. I don't have any proof, but I believe that if you have two teams with everything else the same, the club with the higher payroll will attract more fans than the club with the lower. Fans are attracted to famous players, obviously. Fans might also subconsciously use payroll as a measure of intrinsic worth, or even as a measure of self-esteem.

All of which is a roundabout way of getting to this ... The Rays, after ranking ninth in American League attendance last season, have fallen to last this season. And the attendance decline has been accompanied by a TV-ratings decline, too. This, even though the Rays have the fourth-best record in the league and have spent the entire season in some form of contention.

It's all here, in Steve Berthiaume's SweetSpot blog post. Berthiaume's big finish:

Nobody is a bad person for not attending a baseball game. Even with 30 new ballparks one major league team would still have to be last in attendance, and even with a new stadium on the Tampa side, there is nothing to suggest that team wouldn't be the Rays. The Tampa Bay area is a great place. It just hasn't been a great place for Major League Baseball to do business.

I actually think the Rays would fare better in another ballpark on the other side of Tampa Bay. Maybe not a lot better. But better enough to afford to keep their young stars for perhaps a bit longer, which would allow them to win more games, instill confidence in their fans, etc.

But the Rays, like the A's, seem like they're just stuck where they are. They've got a lease that runs through 2027, and frankly I'm not sure what that means except it would presumably cost them some real money to break that lease. The Twins got their new ballpark, at least in part, because the franchise is a real source of pride in the Twin Cities. That pride resulted in political will, but it's pretty clear that there's little political will for a new ballpark in the Tampa Bay area.

How does all this end? I think it's impossible to say. Except we can be fairly certain that nothing's going to change in the next year or three. Which means more pieces exactly like this one. Enjoy!

For much more about the Rays, please visit DRaysBay.

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