Evan Longoria knows how serious the Tampa Bay Rays’ attendance problems are, and he has spoken out about them in the past. Now playing alongside an infinitely more vibrant Bay, he’s sounding the alarm again about his original franchise.
“Honestly, and this is maybe not something I should say, but my gut tells me that the best decision might be to move the team,” Longoria told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday before his new team, the Giants, played in Philadelphia.
“I say that only because I look at the example of the Miami Marlins, and (a new stadium) didn’t really solve their attendance issues. So from purely an attendance standpoint, somewhere else might be better.”
Longoria’s statement didn’t even address two of the biggest reasons Miami’s attendance is bad: previous team owner Jeffrey Loria stuck the public with the bill for Marlins Park, and the franchise hasn’t been a contender for the past decade.
The Marlins’ dysfunction makes the Rays’ perennial difficulty in drawing fans look even worse, because the Tampa Bay franchise isn’t that toxic. It is, however, last in the American League with 14,711 tickets sold per game through Wednesday.
Longoria told the Times’ Marc Topkin that consistent fan support in the area “historically hasn’t been there.”
Fans haven’t had the chance to experience the joys of (or pay for) a new yard, either. The franchise had been hamstrung by its 30-year lease for Tropicana Field with the city of St. Petersburg, Fla., and the severe penalties for even discussing a move. The city has given the club more leeway in recent years to work toward finding a new home in the area.
Principal owner Stuart Sternberg told reporters just before Opening Day (per the Times) that the club will be in St. Pete another four to five years, and then somewhere in the region after that. Tampa is the preferred destination.
Longoria told the Times that if the Rays do move to Tampa, then the new stadium should be built next to Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL’s Buccaneers, rather than on the site in Ybor City the club favors.
Fans, media and internet trolls (sometimes, they’re all the same person) regularly call for the Rays to move out altogether — to Montreal, to Charlotte, N.C., to Portland, Ore., to even the New York metropolitan area. Only Montreal is remotely realistic at the moment based on stadium availability and territorial rights (not to mention the stadium lease in St. Pete), but that market is also the top candidate for an expansion franchise if/when Major League Baseball decides to add teams. It seems prudent for MLB to hold the market open and collect the millions (billions?) in expansion fees.
That leaves the Rays in a tough spot: stuck in a venue that fans don’t find inviting, with a roster that can’t put fannies in the seats, and with few resources to solve either problem. The conditions are why Longoria became the latest highly paid Rays star to leave town, why ace pitcher Chris Archer was rumored to be on the trading block in the offseason as the franchise tried to add young, cheaper talent, and why the payroll will be among the lowest in baseball for the near future.
Longoria isn’t playing at the Trop anymore, but he knows there’s still an empty feeling in the place and that playing anywhere but there will help make that feeling go away.