Blame Thrown in Wrong Direction in Tampa

But someone has to be blamed! Who? Who?!?! I’ll say the owners and front office deserve most of the blame. Clearly, the players aren’t going to criticize the bosses, but I think that’s who deserves it. Now, as I go into this, I realize the Rays gave away 20,000 tickets to last night’s game, but it needed to happen earlier. Not doing so on such a scale was being unrealistic. Essentially, they said they preferred having an empty stadium to giving away most of the tickets and losing revenue they weren’t getting anyway. If they weren’t going to be sold anyway, then what did you have to lose? I commend the front office/ownership for finally realizing it because I don’t think anyone else has, but teams need to learn to be more proactive. Imagine if this was more common. 10-20,000 more fans coming in the gate a night. You weren’t going to get their ticket money anyway, so you’re not missing out on that. But now, you’ve got them trapped in the stadium. Everything else is gravy—the concessions, merchandise sales, future ticket sales from new fans, etc.—and it’s more than you would receive if they weren’t there. Additionally, you have more fans at the game to cheer, make a ruckus, and make your players happier. Additionally, the fans actually have some goodwill toward a team that seemingly needs it (and some teams really need it. Imagine if Pittsburgh did this). If the fans get in there and see the team more often, the time invested may result in money invested. I realize this could have some negative effects (if you give away tickets, then what’s the incentive to buy (hint: only do it at certain times), for instance?), but I think the potential for growth is much greater. And if the city finally buys in (and realizes how awful that stadium is), maybe they’ll be more acquiescent to doling out some tax money for a new stadium. But again, I have to give the Rays’ ownership credit—at least they finally figured it out. Most other teams seem to live in denial, thinking someone will walk through that door with some money. With all of the emphasis on intangibles, people seem to see the business side through accounting eyes. (Side note: I can’t wait for an economics person to tell me I’m wrong, though I imagine I’m nowhere near the first to mention this idea)

Okay, so we cleared that up, but what about Price’s outburst and subsequent apology? I think it’s time for these apologies to stop. It was cute when it started and meant more, but now, it’s just reflex. No one means it anymore (see Portis, Clinton), and it’s become cliché. People just apologize, our collective conscience is assuaged, and the offender still feels no real remorse for his/her transgression, only regret that it backfired. In Price’s case, I think it’s fairly easy to see where he (and Longoria) is coming from, and his apology is absolutely unnecessary. He’s being open and honest, and I would prefer that more athletes were that way. Letting them speak, whether it’s flawed or not, allows us to see what we need to work on, whether it’s our actions or the thoughts and perceptions the athletes or we have. Forcing apologies glosses over an excellent learning opportunity. Let’s use that Clinton Portis situation as an example.

The Jets made some comments about a female reporter in a male locker room, and Portis essentially agreed. That led to a ridiculous back-and-forth with journalists the next day in which Albert Haynesworth put tape on Portis’ mouth after Portis “apologized”. Superficially, Portis made amends, but does anyone think he really feels bad about this? I seriously doubt it, but forcing his apology demeaned the situation and made it into a joke, which probably cements this as an issue to which Portis feels he doesn’t need to pay attention. It wasn’t. Instead, we should have taken note of a few things. One, there is still quite a bit of chauvinism in sports, and someone really needs to speak to these gentlemen about gender equality. Two, these players have obviously gotten this idea from somewhere. Where did they get it, and does it represent a larger societal problem? Do we, as a society, still have a problem with gender equality? Instead of blaming players, maybe we need look elsewhere while explaining (this part is key—it has to be explained) and correcting his behavior. It’s easy to point at the guy doing the action, but if we’ve learned anything from sabermetrics, it’s that we need to look deeper. Now, this doesn’t mean this is specifically your fault. We’ve talked about structural racism before, but it may have been better to label it structural discrimination. Those same themes apply here, but the context has changed to gender history instead of racial. We’ve largely moved past gender discrimination, but it still exists (anyone note the subconscious “his/her”. Why does “his” come first? “Her” is first alphabetically.). Yes, the perpetrator deserves some blame because gender equality is a very prevalent idea, but you have to wonder why he chose to ignore it.

Of course, Price’s “transgression” wasn’t quite so bad, but he still “offended” some people. Sure, it wasn’t the smartest thing to say, but it was also heartfelt. If it was heartfelt, there’s a reason he said it. If he’s wrong, then it needs to be explained to him that it was wrong. But we’re all learning here, and he’s still really young as a human being. Young people make mistakes, but we have to be careful how we criticize them. Improper punishment will make them less likely to grow as people, not taking risks and never learning from succeeding or failing. Maybe Price doesn’t really understand the ramifications of the economic recession, and now, it can be explained to him. If he hadn’t said anything, he may never understand, never learn because the wrong idea remained buried. Sometimes, an apology is called for, and if it is, go for it. Other times, it’s not, and the public embarrassment only forces the person deeper in his shell. If he stays there, we’ll never see the cracks beneath. We need to do this because we all have some cracks, and someday, we’ll need someone else to be understanding.

14 thoughts on “Blame Thrown in Wrong Direction in Tampa

  1. Larry@IIATMS

    Mark, it’s funny to see all of this stuff hit the fan, because we’ve been calmly discussing these topics here all year.
     
    Early this season we established the baseline economic fact that the most successful financial teams in baseball, with the Yanks at the top of the list, derive the majority of their money from gate receipts and the revenues that flow from having fans at the ballpark.  We pointed out the crazy fact that the Yanks would take in more money from paying customers in their first 6 or 7 home dates than the Pirates would take in for all 81 of their home games.  And when I posted this, we got reaction from Pirates fans and other fans of small market teams, about how discouraging it is to lose year after year, and how rotten it feels to know on Opening Day that your team does not stand a chance.  We pointed out gently in reply that if fans of the Pirates don’t show up in sufficient numbers, the team is going to remain revenue-poor.
     
    What we didn’t see coming was that we’d have three small market teams emerge as winners in 2010: not just the Rays, but also the Reds and Padres.  Attendance is poor for all three teams: San Diego is in 18th place for attendance (average of 26,233 fans per game), CincinnaTi in 21st place (25,379), and Tampa Bay in 22nd place (22,913).  But at least the numbers in Cincinnati and San Diego are up over 2009 — in contrast, the Rays had slightly better attendance in 2009, when they finished 6 games above .500.
     
    Yes Mark, maybe the Rays could give more tickets away.  But they’re not selling their tickets for all that much to begin with.  The average MLB ticket goes for $26.74. The average Rays’ ticket is $19.75.  Remember, this is $19.75 to see the team with the best record in baseball.  This sounds pretty good in comparison to seeing the underachieving Mets for $32.22 a pop, or funding the McCourts’ postnup at $29.66 per ticket.  The last place Orioles, Mariners and Nationals all charge considerably more per ticket than the first place Rays.  Plus, the Rays don’t charge for parking.  The average SF Giants fan pays more to park his car than the average Rays fan pays to park his fanny in an average seat at the Trop.
     
    Per the Fan Cost Index, the Rays are the fifth best bargain in baseball.
     
    Yes, I get the fact that the economy is lousy.  Things are tough all over.  Things are tough in Tampa.  But is it any better in Detroit, where the average ticket price is more than three bucks higher than in Tampa and where 30,000+ fans show up at each game to see a team struggle to finish above .500?  Or in Milwaukee, where the team is ten games below .500, they’re about to lose their best player to free agency, and where 34,000+ fans show up for each game paying $22.10 a pop?
     
    The economy is lousy for hockey fans as well as baseball fans.  But last season, Tampa’s hockey team (the Lightning) played 41 games at home at an average 78.4% of stadium capacity, with an average ticket price of $35.76.  That’s about $23 million of gate receipts, about 2/3 of what the Rays will make in around half as many home dates.  The Lightning finished 34-36 and failed to make the playoffs.  (Yes, I know that the Bucs are having problems with attendance.)
     
    I have more than a little sympathy for Longoria and Price.  All they wanted was a typical crappy crowd of around 20,000.  That’s not so much to hope for.  Even the Pirates drew over 23,000 fans per game to their final home series.  Instead, the Rays were barely able to attract half of their usual crowd to Monday night’s game.  Yeah, that has to be discouraging.  It also has to be discouraging when the Yankees come to town, or the Red Sox come to town, and around half of the crowd is rooting for the visiting team.
     
    But the main reason the Rays’ crowds are discouraging is that they’re an indication of what’s about to happen to this team.  The Rays can’t expect to compete with the Yankees and Red sox, when the Rays have 1,800,000 fans show up at their ballpark in 2010 paying an average of $19.75 each.  The Yankees have more than twice that many fans showing up and paying three times more on average for the privilege (and we’re not even factoring premium seating into this equation).  The Red Sox are not far behind the Yankees in terms of attendance, and their average ticket is even more expensive.
     
    I am not casting blame.  I am not saying who “deserves” what.  I could not fault the Pirates fans who commented on my post: if your team loses year after year, it’s hard to drag your fanny to the ballpark.  I cannot fault the Rays’ fans who hate The Trop, or find it difficult to get there and depressing once they arrive there, or who were so turned off by 11 years of losing that they need something more to pique their interest than a mere three years of winning.  It’s just that if you don’t show up, chances are your team is going to lack the revenue stream required to build and maintain a winning team.  If your team is good and you don’t show up, chances are that they’re not going to remain good.  This is not a question of right or wrong, good or evil.  It’s simply economics.

  2. jon

    I would love to be able to see the Yankees in person – I was in the Cities when they last played the Twins.  Tickets on Stubhub were well over 50 bucks in the nosebleed sections.

     

    Watching last night's game, I had one thought – "Wow, if I lived in Toronto, I could see the Yankees 8-10 times a year."  (or however many times they go to Toronto.)  Shoot – if I lived in Tampa, I'd be going a LOT.  Although I may have passed on last night's game too – after all – why go, when a fan needs to save money for the playoff tickets?

     

    Agreed – last night in Tampa was sad, but market demand is what it its.  I caught the home opener for the Vikings – sold out house, scalping tickets for 2-3 times face value.  For a product that was quite a bit inferior in quality to the Twins.

  3. Patrick M.

    I'm a displaced Tri-State area Yankee fan living in the Tampa Bay area, and I assure you, there is no lack of support for the Rays.  Everybody wears their cap or shirt on an almost daily basis, just about every business with a marquee sign from plastic surgeons to restaurants have the ol' "Go Rays", you've got bumper stickers out the ass, rear window car decals, at work everyone discusses what happened or what went wrong with last night's game, it's everywhere.  The only place that there is a lack of support is at the Trop, which isn't nearly as bad as people say it is.

    HOWEVER, the Trop is in friggin' downtown St. Pete.  That would be like putting Yankee Stadium in Newark or Elizabeth.  It's not a very friendly place, and on top of that, most white people are scared of black people, plain and simple.  That part of St. Pete. is very black, so you're not as likely to get as many fans out there since many white people are afraid.  I'm not joking, I'm dead serious.  Add in the rampant homeless and transient problem, and you have lots of scared white people.

    The Lightning are in Tampa, right by Channelside, right by all the bars and clubs, it's white dude paradise.  Downtown St. Pete… yea, not so much.

    Price is a jackass.  He should keep his comments to himself.  You know how many times I've seen Price or Longoria or Pena in Tampa or St. Pete?  Never.  But almost every spring training I spot a Yankee, and when I lived in New York you could see them every now and then.  A team like the Rays needs to be "for the city" and that comment was arrogant and rude, coming from a guy who is not part of this town.  Unfortunately for the Rays, Tampa has been a Yankee town since Steinbrenner fell in love with it.

    It's sad that people aren't showing up?  Get over it, you're a professional, you get paid millions to play baseball, so do it.  If they had won the Series and were still getting poor attendance, it might be more warranted, but come on.  The Orioles?  When their spot in the playoffs is all but in stone?  Give me a break.

  4. Patrick M.

    I would also like to add that the unemployment here in the Bay area is out of control, and anyone who downplays the way depression in this area is insane.  I am very fortunate to have my job, but for most people, watching the Rays on TV or listening to the radio is all they can afford.  I can't afford to go too often and I have a job.  If you didn't know, the Bay area is where the housing market crash started, and we still haven't recovered.  So maybe the millionaire baseball players should be a little more thankful that their fans watch and listen to them as much as they do, didn't the Rays rank 7th for TV ratings?

  5. It's worth pointing out that it's hard to overstate the area's economic problems. On top of double digit unemployment, a lot of wealth was vanished by the housing bubble popping, lots of mortages are underwater, etc. If national conditions mirrored those in the Tampa Bay area, we'd be casually talking about a depression and even Ben Bernanke couldn't ignore the problem.

  6. Moose

    The useful comparison to me (since I lived in Colorado for a while) is to the Rockies.  Their stadium was built downtown, in an area that's now "white dude central" but at the time was pretty grimy.  Baseball can turn a neighborhood around, but not in this economy.  Further, the Rockies had (and may still have) Rockpile seats, which were $5, day of game only.  That's pretty much free, but could be marked down if St. Pete is really that broke.  The Rocks have solid attendance numbers and actually made a notable economic impact on Denver.  This could happen in Tampa with some better marketing (i.e. a RayZone or something clever), but not until the regional economy improves.

  7. JE

    FWIW, Darren Rovell thinks the free ticket scheme was a lousy idea: http://www.cnbc.com/id/39419112

  8. billy

    when there are not enough people buying a product, it means the product is priced too high. i understand that the rays ticket prices are lower than MLB average, but what about the cost of everything else that goes into going to a game?  i've been to games in half a dozen cities in the past 2 years and all of them are guilty of price gouging in the parking lots and at the concession stands.  its ridiculous.  if the rays want more fans, try having promotions where beer, soda, hot dogs, and pretzels are reasonably overpriced and not ridiculously overpriced.

  9. brian paul

    Interesting post, and something worthwhile to consider. It is a similar situation to what initially ocurred with the luxury seats behind homeplate at new Yankee Stadium. Wasn't it depressing to see so many open seats behind the plate? Especially considering the stadium was new, and the Yanks had spent big that winter to brng in a true ace, a dynamic first baseman, some other guy (http://johnsterling.blogspot.com/2010/09/aj-brune…) and an extremely likeable right fielder.

    At the time I was dying for the Yankees to take advantage of a terrific PR opportunity and donate the unused tickets to some underprivileged kids from the Bronx.

    Thanks for the great analysis IIATMS!

  10. Mark Smith

    Interesting points being made here. While St. Pete is no doubt hurting, what about Detroit who is bringing 10,000 more people to the park a night? They're doing horribly, too. The stadium situation is interesting, though. We often overlook race, but remember, that race isn't the only component. People may not want to go that part of town because they don't want to be robbed. That's a socio-economic thing, not necessarily racial, that is often connected with race because African-Americans are largely poorer than their white counterparts. But all of this is good context to add in.

     

    And while I understand that free tickets to the Trop may not help that much, I still think it's something that needs to be done elsewhere. Other teams, like the Pirates, should do it. The Pirates, in my opinion, are not keeping the team down for the profit, but that's easier to sell (pun) if you're giving away some tickets. And while the Rays' tickets may not be all that expensive, they may still be too expensive for their fan base. Dan Rovell makes some good points about what else the team can do, but I think most people get hung up at the door. They don't want to go because they realize the cost of the tickets plus everything else, and if it was free and I don't have to buy food or drink, I could go for free!! It's not necessarily logical, but I think it's part of the mindset. Again, this may just be my perception. Feel free to continue to debate. It's good to see.

     

    I'm a little surprised no one has commented on the Twitter thing. What do people think about athletes apologizing? Is it necessary?

  11. Pat

    @billy: I was down in the Florida area last year and managed to make a Rays game. And they actually did have promotions on the concessions. 50 cents for a hotdog and a dollar for peanuts or cracker jacks. I don't know how often they do that, but on top of the thirty dollars for the very good seats I thought it was an excellent bargain.

  12. Patrick M.

    @ Mark Smith – The issue is that a.) the area is crappy b.) white people are afraid of black people – white people associate black people with crime, things are very segregated, and racism is VERY prevalent throughout the Bay area and the whole state for that matter.

     

    I think people have a misconception about Tampa Bay.  It is NOT a city like New York, Detroit, Chicago, LA, Seattle, Miami, San Deigo, Dallas, Boston, etc.  Most things close by 10pm or earlier, there's not much to do except on weekends, and even then your options are very limited.  It's hard to describe, but having lived in and around New York City for most of my life, and having spent time in many major cities around the US, then moving here, it is nowhere near as busy or exciting as most other cities that have ball parks and such.  Which is why I'm saying the stadium should have been in Tampa itself, not St. Pete (they are different).  Tampa is mostly a business city, but it does have some night life, and attracts more people.  I have no clue whatsoever as to why they picked St. Pete.

     

    With that said, people may also not realize all the other baseball options people have down here that aren't MLB.  Teams don't just do spring training in Florida- there is the Florida State League, and in the Bay area alone we have the Tampa Yankees(NYY), Bradenton Marauders(PIT), Clearwater Threshers(PHI), and Dunedin Jays(TBJ).  Not to mention other teams that are not that far either.  All of which have nice stadiums that are even cheaper than the Trop and have fun activities and theme nights frequently.  In Detroit and other cities I really doubt they have that many baseball teams within thirty minutes of each other.

     

  13. Mark Smith

    Those are some good points. But I don't know that minor-league teams would affect Tampa in September, when the minors are done. As for the stadium itself, I imagine St. Pete was cheaper, and the stadium was built before they had a team. Do you want to spend a lot on a stadium when you don't even know if you're going to have a team?

  14. Patrick M.

    It wouldn't effect September directly, but during regular season it definitely does.  And that's a good point about the stadium.  I don't know, whatever, we don't get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars like the marketing and PR people for the Rays do to fix this, so let them figure it out lol.

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