The Tampa Bay Rays are likely headed for the playoffs — again — and also headed for a dismal total attendance — again, though it’s especially impressive that they’re currently dead last in the league, behind even a team that traded away every recognizable player in a salary dump and one that recently drew a 0.00 TV rating. And Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has responded by threatening to cut player payroll next year, because surely that’s going to get people to buy tickets:
“We budget for certain numbers and we’re extraordinarily conservative when it comes to expectations and budgeting, but it was below our expectations,” Sternberg said. “It’s not helpful. We have to change our sights for next year now. “
This would arguably be Sternberg shooting himself in the foot, since any attendance bump he might have gotten from a long postseason run by the Rays (should they manage that) is now likely to be lost as fans fear that next year will see a new parade of no-names like the team across the state. Though it’s somewhat less arguably a way for Sternberg to give himself an excuse if he was planning on cutting payroll anyway. And even less arguably a way to use lousy attendance as a bludgeon in his campaign for a new stadium — something that Deadspin points out he’s been doing pretty much consistently ever since he bought the team:
- 2009: After raising the payroll to $60 million, Sternberg says it’s “not sustainable” and couldn’t have been achieved without the gate receipts from a playoff run to Game 7 of the ALCS.
- 2010: Sternberg says he has to drastically reduce payroll, in part because of bad season-ticket renewal rates and overall poor attendance. “For some reason, people are choosing not to come out as they do in other parts of the country for Major League Baseball.”
- 2011: Sternberg says he can’t spend competitively because it doesn’t translate to attendance. “I could decide to mortgage the future and trade all the young guys,” he said, “But the truth is that we would only get $9.82 extra at the gate. So what’s the sense?”
- 2012: Sternberg says MLB is losing patience with the team’s attendance figures. “The M.O. to this point in our sport and any other is that winning cures the ills. We’re in brave new ground: Winning hasn’t cured the ills, so to speak.”
- Spring 2013: Sternberg says the team’s payroll of $60 million is “well higher than it ought to be…The attendance, everyone knows the number.” He predicted increased fan turnout for this season. It obviously didn’t happen.
Sternberg has long insisted that a new stadium would cure his team’s attendance ills, but it’s also worth wondering if maybe this is just the level of attendance that Tampa Bay can support. Which wouldn’t necessarily mean doom for the franchise — hey, some city has to be last in attendance, and the Rays at least draw decent TV ratings, providing a potential alternate revenue stream — but acknowledging it would mean that Sternberg, and MLB, would have to give up hope of Florida taxpayers bailing them out of figuring out how to keep the league’s lower-revenue teams competitive. Which is why you will never ever see Sternberg acknowledge it.