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September 30, 2010
Who's to blame for Rays' low attendance?
On Tuesday, Tampa Bay Rays stars David Price and Evan Longoria called the team's low attendance in the midst of a pennant race "embarrassing" — the team sold only 12,446 tickets to Monday night's potential playoff clincher — setting off a media frenzy over the team's poor ticket sales.
Mostly, Price and Longoria have been raked over the coals for dissing their own fans: Yahoo! Sports' David Brown called it "stupid" and "ignorant" (and, for good measure, "entitled, spoiled, narrow-minded and short-sighted"). CBS Sports' Ray Ratto wrote that "criticizing the customers for not being more numerous is a big idea that almost never goes well" and "if the fans don't come, it's because the team didn't do enough to convince them to come, not the other way around." And ESPN's Buster Olney compared it to a bagel store owner complaining that his customers aren't buying enough bagels, an analogy that would perhaps go over better if Tampa Bay were known for its bagels.
Ratto, among others, points to the horrible economy (especially horrible in Tampa Bay) as one reason why attendance is low. (Not that it's all that low: Bleacher Report's Jeff Leadbetter notes that ticket sales are down just 0.3% from last year, and with attendance falling across all of baseball, the Rays actually moved up from 11th in the league to 9th this year.) ESPN's Rob Neyer cites the ubiquity of cheap big-screen TVs (Rays TV ratings, he notes, are "way, way up" this year). Another issue, of course, is that "clinching a playoff spot" might just not be the most exciting reason to turn up to a ballgame on a Monday night against the lackluster Baltimore Orioles, especially when it's been clear for a month now that both the Rays and the New York Yankees are going to make the postseason out of the A.L. East. So Longoria and Price might just as well have blamed the wild card for destroying the excitement of pennant races — but then, dissing fans is one thing, calling out the commissioner is another.
Or, it could also be that Rays fans just can't get excited about the playoffs when ownership is asking them to pay $100 to join a Playoff Access Club to get dibs on buying postseason tickets. Mentioning that, though, would really be biting the hand that signs their paychecks.