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Home is where the heart is and the Rays are looking for a new one

With a new season in our sites and the St. Pete city council coming to there senses, the prospect of getting a new stadium is on the mind of Rays fans every where.  If the Trop was a school, it would have serious truancy issues and that is no doubt one of the things on the mind of the Rays.  I love downtown St. Pete but a stadium in a more centralised, metropolitan location would not only make it easier for more regular fans to go to more games but also would make season tickets and event space more appealing to corporate interests in Tampa.   Attendance has never been the Rays strong suit and a lot of people feel as if a new stadium, in a new location, is the shot in the arm that the team needs to get off the MLB’s naughty list; but I’m not so sure.

Wait wait, before all the fans reading this start to turn on me and tell me I’m wrong, hear me out.  

Recently there was another team in Florida that was also having attendance issues and felt like building a new stadium in a more central location would help improve them; the Florida, I mean Miami Marlins.  The Marlins spent 18 seasons playing at Sun Life stadium, the home of the Miami Dolphins.  The location of the stadium was outside the metro Miami area, plagued by rain and heat, and also was not a true baseball stadium.  In addition to these issues, the Marlin were consistently coming in at the bottom of the pack in game attendance; solution? A new home for the Marlins.

In 2008 the the Marlins reached an agreement with City and County Commissioners for a new stadium.  According the ESPN the average attendance for a game at that time was 16,688.  Marlins Park opened in 2012 the attendance skyrocketed to 27,400 but the very next year went back a more typical 19,584.  Although it’s true that the last few years that Marlins have seem a slight increase in attendance bringing their average to over 21,000 but that is still well below the league average.

The mentioned that Miami Marlins to say that this pattern of behavior is my fear for the Rays.  I fear that the first year of a new stadium will awesome and tons of fans will come check it out, but in the years following attendance less than stellar.  What can the Rays do to not be in the same situation as the Miami Marlins?

Finding the perfect location for the new stadium is crucial.  The rumor is that goal is to make a stadium similar to Camden Yards, yet currently the proposed locations seem to be anything but that.  Unlike most fans, I’m lucky enough to have been to Camden Yards (in addition to a few other stadiums) and it’s one of my favorites.  Camden is close to city center, right on a light rail stop that comes directly from the airport, and surrounded by hotels and local bars/restaurants.  It’s a modern ballpark with historic appeal; sporting tons of red brick and incorporating a historic warehouse into the construction.  Just a beautiful park.  

Of the locations that the Rays are looking at the one that I feel is most Camden Yards like is the Tampa Park Apartments option.  The location is as close to Amalie Arena as Jeff Vinik will allow, close to highways, parking, local bars, and an Amtrak train stop that could be beneficial if Tampa decides to expand public transit.  This location is urban but does not seem not too industrial and is still close enough to the cruise terminal for visitors to catch a game.  This location has it’s challenges but no location is going to come easy.  

In addition to choosing a good location, the Rays need to not be lulled into thinking a new stadium is enough to get butts in seats.  Ticket specials and giveaways should still be a part of the plan to increase attendance and grow the fan base.  Even the most successful teams in regards to attendance have ticket specials and do giveaways.  The Rays added some awesome ones this season, I hope fans take full advantage.  

The last element of the success of a new stadium is for fans to make a commitment to the team and show up.  I’ll be the first to tell you that I didn’t go to many games last season because my work schedule and residence in the Tampa was not conducive to do so and I was sad about that.  I knew me going to The Trop meant something to the team I love and I let them down.  Many fans, including myself, have made the statement that is the stadium was in Tampa we would go to more games; let’s hold true to our word.

The fate of the new Rays stadium is questionable at this time.  There are multiple locations on the table but they all come with their own set of challenges.  Location, ticket specials/giveaways, and fan follow through all play into the success of a new home for the Rays.    With the rumors of possible relocation still swirling, should the Rays take whatever space they can get?  I’m not so sure.  What I am sure of is change is needed and and the Rays seem to be up to the challenge.  

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