Evan Longoria says the 'best decision might be to move' the Rays out of Tampa Bay
The best player in franchise history isn't sure baseball is viable in Tampa Bay
After 20 years at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, the Tampa Bay Rays are currently trying to secure a new ballpark that would allow them the team to remain in the Tampa Bay area long-term. .
But according to the greatest player in franchise, it might be a waste of time.
In a recent interview with Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, former Ray and current San Francisco Giants third baseman Evan Longoria suggested moving the Rays out of the Tampa Bay area may be in MLB's best interests. He cited the Miami Marlins and their ongoing attendance woes as a cautionary tale. From Topkin:
"Honestly, and this is maybe not something I should say, but my gut tells me that the best decision might be to move the team,'' Evan Longoria said Thursday. "I say that only because I look at the example of the Miami Marlins, and (a new stadium) didn't really solve their attendance issues. So from purely an attendance standpoint, somewhere else might be better.''
"It pains me to say that, but players want to play in a place where you have consistent support,'' Longoria said. "It's a selfish thing to say probably as a player, but, I don't know, does anyone really want to play in front of 10,000 a night? I don't know. I'm glad I won't have to hear the backlash again this time (for making comments about attendance, as when he played there).
"There are a lot of dedicated Rays fans … and obviously it would be a shame for those people to lose the team. But you just hope there is consistent fan support, and it historically hasn't been there. I don't know that it's the easiest case to lobby to build a new stadium in the area. It's not a slam dunk.''
Longoria also said that, if the Rays are dead set on staying in the Tampa Bay area, they should move across the bay and into Tampa itself. A ballpark near Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, would be the best spot, according to Longoria.
The Rays are currently 15-19 and they currently have the third worst attendance in baseball at 14,711 fans per game. Only the Marlins (11,070) and Pittsburgh Pirates (12,916) are drawing fewer fans in the early going. The Rays have ranked last in the American League in attendance each of the last three seasons. Nineteen times in franchise history the club has ranked bottom five in attendance and only once have they drawn more than 1.9 million fans total. That was their inaugural season.
The Ybor City site would put the Rays back on the Tampa side of the bay and make the team more accessible. Right now, it's a bit of a hike for fans in Tampa to travel across the bay to Tropicana Field, especially during rush hour for a 7pm ET game. A new ballpark in Tampa would certainly help attendance to some degree, but is baseball viable long-term in Florida? The Marlins have a new park -- in a less than ideal location, it should be noted -- and it did not solve their attendance woes.
Before spending hundreds of millions on a new ballpark -- hundreds of millions in tax payer money, most likely -- MLB has to seriously consider whether baseball can survive and thrive in Florida. It would seem to be an ideal market for the sport. But for whatever reason, both the Rays and Marlins have been unable to draw well, even when they were World Series contenders.
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