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Mitch Perry Report for 5.29.15 –The Rays stadium situation in St. Pete seriously needs to change soon

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The St. Pete City Council huddled for over four hours yesterday to settle….absolutely nothing regarding the impasse with the Tampa Bay Rays and the stadium situation. For a blow-by-blow account, check out my colleague Janelle Irwin’s recount.

While the Rays and the Council battle against each other, I’m going to take a look at one of the real culprits in this saga: baseball fans in the Tampa Bay area, or the lack of them.

Depending on what happens tonight in Madison Square Garden, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s season may be over by tomorrow, or extended for another couple of weeks. If they do defeat the New York Rangers in the Eastern Finals in the NHL Playoffs, apologists for local baseball fans will have another flimsy excuse to use about why the Rays home attendance continues to be the embarrassment of Major League Baseball.

In the past week, articles in both local dailies referenced the Lightning’s deep run into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring as (yet another) factor in why the Rays desultory attendance is even lower this season than last year, when they again placed at the bottom of the 30 teams playing in MLB.

I would say with all due respect, arguing why the Rays are drawing only roughly 15,000 vs. 18,000 a game is somewhat of an exercise in futility.

It is true that the intensity of the NHL (and NBA) playoffs is more compelling to watch in late May than the day-to-day ups and downs of the regular baseball season schedule, which isn’t even a third of the way through its long slog of a season. That’s an indictment of the game itself, which definitely has issues of its own (attendance notwithstanding). I mean, when one of the mandates that the new commissioner is intent on pursuing this year is the length of the games themselves, you’ve got some problems in terms of competing for people’s attention spans in comparison to the other major sports in this country.

I was at Tropicana Field last Friday night to watch the Rays host the Oakland A’s. It was a very intimate crowd, announced at a bit over 12,000 folks. An excuse I heard that evening was that it was a holiday weekend, and thus a lot of folks were out of town.

Please.

In most cities in America, a holiday weekend is a reason why ballparks fill up, not slim down. Let’s be honest: the baseball fans in town just aren’t very good. As a recent letter to the editor at the Tampa Tribune from a St. Pete citizen wrote last week, people do come far and wide in the Tampa Bay area to go to the beach, Taste of Pinellas, Ribfest and the St. Pete Grand Prix. “They just won’t do it for baseball,” Tim Smith wrote. He went on to write that he had recently been in Atlanta and heard fans made the drive from Alabama, the Carolinas, North Florida and Tennessee to attend Braves games there. I believe that.

The Rays currently are averaging 14,650.

There are a lot of other issues going on here, but it’s starting to feel like we’ve got a lame-duck situation that’s going to last another 12 years, which is truly untenable. No, things may not be extremely urgent, but attendance is getting worse in St. Petersburg. Why would anything, short of a serious run at the World Series, change this narrative?

In other news…

A new national poll shows that while Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are part of a five-man tie in the early goings of the GOP presidential field, a closer look reveals Rubio is in a better situation than Jeb in the late spring of 2015.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) had a tough time in 2013-14 trying to figure out a way to elect a Democrat in Pinellas County’s CD13 seat. An initial attack on David Jolly earlier on Thursday ended up backfiring on them later in the day.

And who says that the investor-owned utilities in Florida aren’t offering solar power to their customers?

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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