Even as the Rays clinch a playoff spot (now we need the division title and home field!) the dark beast known as Attendance Woes consumes most of the fans, the players, and the media's attentions.
Clearly there is a problem with attendance when the AL-leading team, one of the best success stories on the field for baseball the last 3 years, can't even get over 50 percent seating capacity filled during the final home stand leading into the postseason.
My problem with the issue, other than "Gee it would be nice if more people showed for games," is how this is getting portrayed in the media.Worst of all is how ESPN, for example, leads off nearly every story about the Rays with how few fans are showing up for games. When they do, they present the problem related to A) lousy location in downtown St. Pete, or B) lousy domed stadium with evil catwalks and gloomy interior.
AT NO POINT DID THE DISCUSSION HIGHLIGHT THE BIGGER NEWS STORY THAT, HEY, THERE'S A DAMN RECESSION ON.
The major sports media outlets conveniently ignore the fact that the whole Tampa Bay region has not recovered from the economic traumas of 2007-08. That in fact we're one of the hardest hit metro markets and are still mired in hard recession times. Our unemployment in the region hovers between 12 to 14 percent, which is 2-4 points higher than the national average. Those unemployed represents about 12 to 14 percent of local families who are struggling to survive, let alone worry about showing up for baseball games.
At no point does the media seem to pick up on the fact that attending games in person costs rather a lot to people earning under $50,000 a year. You have 15 bucks for parking at the official lot (you can't trust the $5 lots because of those damn pranksters back in April who faked a lot and had those cars towed). You have cheap seats for $10. You can't bring in your own food or drinks so if you have to there's $4 for bottled water, maybe $6 for the cheapest food item on the menu. And that's if you're going solo. You gotta multiply that if you're taking a family of four with kids. And the kids might want those ball caps or jerseys or toys they sell in the stores. So there goes the budget.
And that's just for one night. Going solo one night is $35 at best. There's, what, 82 home games? Multiply and you get $2,870. That is a huge chunk of a person's personal budget. For a family of four, that's $11,000 plus. And that's not including the cost of gas for driving back and forth.
Is it just me, or does the talking heads on the cable sports channels not know anyone within their small circle of friends living at or under $50,000 a year? Because you'd think such a friend would tell those bozos that $11,000 out of the budget would REALLY crimp their ability to, you know, live.
The ESPN crowd has this terrible mindset that winning teams MUST automatically get the full financial support from the fans in their market. At no time does it get inside their heads that some markets JUST CAN'T AFFORD TO. Not right now.
It'd be nicer if the parking were cheaper, say $5 instead of $15. It'd be nicer if they brought back $1 hot dogs. It'd be nicer if the local corporations did more in terms of buying up group seats for their workers. It would have been really nice if Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties planned better back in the 1980s with local transit needs and built metro-wide light rail systems like they have in Chicago and New York where ball fans ride the lines to the parks.
But we don't have any of that right now. What we have is more than one-tenth of our metropolitan market unable to spend the cash to attend games. And what we have are idiots in the media who don't do their damn research to find out why.
Another point, and this one is somewhat ironic, is that the media covering this issue keeps overlooking a great big success story about the Rays. Television ratings for their games have gone way up. Fans ARE tuning in, thanks to improved HD digital televisions and slightly improved game coverage. You'd think the cable sports channels would recognize that their own ratings numbers for people staying home to watch the games would creep into their storylines somewhere. I guess not. For the sports channels, it's all about criticizing the fair-weather fans who can't afford to show up in person for the games.
Personally? I'd love to go to more home games. I've tried, even with my unemployment issues, to attend as many games as I could. Thanks to a brother who's in a group of season ticket holders, I've been able to attend games with his help. But not everyone is in the same boat as me when it comes to family on hand who can afford to attend in person. And it riles me up that the attendance woes keep getting dumped onto the fans, when the truth is the problems are waaaaay outside of our control.
Part of me doesn't want to see sell-outs of home games for the postseason. If they do sell out, the media and the owners and the players will just say "See? It's not the poor economy keeping people away." That's what worries me. The real source of the problem - the high cost, and it IS a high cost, of going to a game - will never get addressed.