Are Rays already too far down destructive road?

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The following is cross-posted from Noah Pransky’s award-winning Shadow of the Stadium blog.

Hey Sasso!  My Google Alert for “Rays attendance tampabay.com” is going off!  Get another Rays story on the front page!

I don’t know if that’s exactly how the conversation went yesterday at the Tampa Tribune, but it may not have been far off.

A day after John Romano wrote in the Times, “Don’t blame Tampa Bay, maybe Florida and baseball don’t mix,” the Trib’s leading stadium writer, Michael Sasso, dissected the team’s sagging attendance numbers:

Midseason, the Rays are averaging just 17,961 fans per game at the Trop through 46 home games. That’s down from an average of 21,035 fans per game through the first 46 home games of last season…

Everyone has their own theory.  Mine has been that Trop-bashing has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  And Sasso went down that road:

The Rays may be caught in a vicious cycle, based on the experience of one fan who caught a game at Ferg’s sports bar in downtown St. Petersburg recently. Angie Latour, 40, of St. Petersburg, said the team needs more season ticketholders, but the fear that the Rays may leave town keeps her from purchasing them.

Not purchasing a season’s worth of tickets because the team may be gone in five years doesn’t make a lot of sense…but neither does a Tampa fan’s hesitation to drive from South Tampa to Downtown St. Pete.

Watching the reaction to these stories have been interesting.  More specifically, the lack of new reaction has been interesting.  Most of the most comments reacting to Romano’s column were of the “get them out of that dump and you will see increase in attendance” and “we are the only Major League Market without viable mass transit” variety.

But commenter “stilljustsayin19” echoed the “self-fulfilling prophecy” theory, saying “The Trop has a negative energy that I don’t need, and I don’t want to be a part of. I definitely don’t want my wife and kids experiencing that either. Idon’t go to WalMart either. Why? Same reason.”

And leading Rays biographer Jonah Keri (well, just about the only Rays biographer) took issue with Romano on Twitter: “So, so, so much wrong in this article.”

I believe Keri was referring to Romano’s snub of one major reason for Rays’ struggling attendance: the team’s short history and lack of fans born into the culture (so far).  But if young Rays fans are brought up in a culture where it’s not seen as “cool” to go to a baseball game, the argument may be moot anyway.

Finally, it’s worth noting the Rays declined comment on Sasso’s story, continuing their practice of methodical media relations, generally commenting only when convenient and when planned well in advance.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.