Tampa Bay Rays management has announced its first plan for the immediate future following the collapse of its new-stadium plan, and it involves that favorite refuge of the attendance-challenged: tarpaulins.
Seating capacity at Tropicana Field will be reduced to about 25,000 to 26,000 under a renovation plan aimed at improving fans’ experience.
The team on Friday announced plans to create a more “intimate” atmosphere, including the creation of the Left Field Ledge in the lower level featuring premium seating for small groups, and the elimination of the upper-deck 300 level.
The capacity at the Trop previously was 31,042.
The notion that closing off sections that nobody wants to sit in anyway creates more “intimacy” is, of course, kind of disingenuous: If done right it can make the dearth of fans a bit less obvious, but it’s not like it moves the remaining seats any closer to the action. (Notwithstanding that the Tampa Bay Times, no doubt parroting the Rays’ press release, says this move will “bring fans closer to the action.”) Mostly, what it does is create at least a little bit of ticket scarcity, encouraging fans to buy tickets to big series in advance, rather than thinking, enh, I’ll wait and see who’s pitching and what else I have going on then, there’ll always be seats available — which isn’t better for fans in any way (they have to take on the risk that the Rays will be out of contention when the games they’ve bought come around), but clearly can be better for team coffers. Plus, for any really popular games you can raise prices, and that helps make up for the extra 6,000 seats you can no longer offer for sale.
To see what happens when a team closes its top deck, we can look to the example of the Oakland A’s, who tarped off the top level of the Oakland Coliseum from 2006 through 2016. Here’s what their attendance did:
That’s … not so good. What about their operating revenue?
That’s less bad, but still falls more into the category of “didn’t hurt” than “dramatically helped.”
In short, closing off sections is a stopgap measure that isn’t all that significant to anyone, but at least shows an eagerness to do something, even if that something is only to acknowledge that it’s hard to get people to go to your games even when you’re winning. That’s not exactly the best thing to advertise in order to attract new fans, but then, now that Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has spent well over a decade telling Tampa Bay residents that their home ballpark is an inaccessible dump, it’s a little late to change course now.