Tuesday, September 28, 2010

David Price and Evan Longoria are Mighty Lonely

As many of you may have heard, David Price has been taking a lot of flak for some postgame comments he made on his Twitter (@davidprice14). Price tweeted, “Had a chance to clinch a post season spot tonight with about 10,000 fans in the stands... embarrassing.” Evan Longoria echoed Price’s sentiments in his postgame interview, saying “It’s kind of like, What else do you have to do to draw fans in this place? It’s actually embarrassing for us.” Longoria went on to say, “It’s disheartening. It’s something I’ve been wanting to say for a long time. It’s not a jab at the fans. It’s not a kick below the belt. Obviously, you want to bring a championship to Tampa and we’d like for more than [12,000] to 15,000 to know about it.” 

To be certain, these are athletes, and they make large amounts of money. Not as much as many others in baseball, but to the average American, a couple million dollars per year isn’t exactly chump change. As Buster Olney pointed out on ESPN today, they shouldn’t be telling fans, who may be hurting financially, especially in light of the financial crisis that has cost many Americans their jobs and homes over the past couple years, how to spend their money. That said, Tampa only drew 12,446 fans to a stadium that holds 36,973.

The Rays are currently the best team in baseball, a half-game ahead of the Yankees and a full game up on the Twins. They’re essentially a playoff lock (magic number is 1), and they still barely draw enough fans to fill a third of their (relatively small) park. They’ve drawn an average attendance of 22,913 in home games this season, 22nd in baseball.

The Tampa-St. Petersburg metro area is home to 2,785,301 people, as estimated by the US Census Bureau. For comparison, the Census Bureau estimates Milwaukee’s population as 1,739,497, roughly 1 million less than the Tampa area. However, Milwaukee’s drawing an average of 34,278 to their games. San Diego has a population of 2,880,000, roughly equal to Tampa, but the Padres have drawn 26,233 per game, more than 3,000 more than the Rays’ average. Minneapolis and the surrounding areas are home to a population of 3,275,041, but the Twins’ division winning ballclub has drawn 39,783 fans per game to their new ballpark, more than 10,000 more than they drew last year and nearly double the fans that have attended the average Tampa home game. 

So how can this be? How can the best team in baseball not even cause a stir in their home fanbase? How is it possible that the Rays have drawn fewer fans in 2010, with the best team in baseball, than they did with a non-playoff ballclub in 2009? That may be the most amazing part… after showing 23,147 fans through the gates on an average gameday last year, the ballpark that now houses the best team in baseball has had a slightly lower attendance during this campaign. 

It’s honestly quite baffling. This is one hell of a franchise, and a front office that both I and most people in baseball (especially those who view the field of sabermetrics favorably) respect immensely. Andrew Friedman, the GM of the Rays, is one of the best minds in the game today, and I’m sure that he’s as frustrated as Price and Longoria. Despite his success in putting together a team with as good a shot at the World Series as anybody, they can’t even come close to filling their park on a regular basis. The amount of hard work and dedication that goes into competing with teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, with payrolls many times larger than theirs, is unfathomable, and yet Friedman’s managed to put together a team that’s as good as or better than their AL East counterparts with less than half the money… and still, no one in Tampa seems to care.

As much as I hate to say this, Tampa may simply not be a baseball town. After nearly 15 years in the Tampa area, the honeymoon is over. If Tampa fans can’t fill their stadium to see the best team in baseball, what’s going to happen when Carl Crawford and Carlos Peña leave this offseason? Though they probably shouldn’t have said what they said, Price and Longoria have a right to be fairly irritated. They deserve better than this. If Tampa’s not going to give it to them, it’s only a matter of time before the franchise moves somewhere that will. 

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