**UPDATE 4:20 - Maury went on the King David show today to discuss this piece. Justin (the show's producer) was nice enough to share the link with us to the session recording they posted for those who missed the segment **
Maury Brown is one of the leading experts on the business side of sports, so whenever he chimes in on the Rays' situation, I'm sure to pay attention. He posted an article this morning on the Rays this morning, and I'd like to highlight a few sections:
Tampa Bay, you're safe. The devil you know is better than the devil you don't: any market you'd look to relocate to is thin - a small or mid-market with caveats. You could move the Rays to Northern New Jersey where there is plenty of population and business to build off of, but the Yankees and the Mets would scream. Go to Portland and you deal with the Mariners. Go to Vegas and you deal with 6 clubs that claim the television market.
Maybe, you consider contraction. [...] Fat chance.
The MLBPA would never go for it as they would see players on MLB rosters lose jobs as would all the affiliated minor league teams. Throw in television contracts and the municipalities that host them suing MLB left, right, and sideways, and contraction is off the table.
In short, there's little chance the Rays get relocated or contracted; instead, the team and area are going to need to work together to find a solution to the issues at hand.
Maury then goes on to make some less-than-complimentary remarks about the Tampa Bay area, and on one hand, I can understand his stance. This season's draw was disappointing, even when you consider all the regional issues in play. But I also can't help but think that Maury takes it too far, and is overreacting to the decrease in television ratings that he wrote about yesterday.
Here's the deal: yes, the Rays saw a huge decrease in their television audience this season. When you look at the change in percentage form, it looks massive: a 37% decrease, one of the largest in the majors. But when you take a more long-term view of their television ratings, all of a sudden the Rays' ratings don't look so terrible:
The Rays ranked 13th in baseball in television ratings in 2009 and 5th last season. While I can't find a full list of this year's ratings, I'm assuming they're falling back around 13th this season considering their overall ratings are slightly better than in 2009. Even if the fall off this season was extreme, the overall trend in this data is still positive...and the Rays are still drawing more local viewers than over half the teams in MLB.
As with everything regarding the Tampa Bay market, you can look at this data any number of ways. If you want to be disheartened, you can. But I think there are also reasons for optimism here. To me, this data shows that the baseline interest in the Rays is slowly increasing with each season, and that the area can and will tune in when the narrative surrounding the team is that they're a serious playoff contender.
This area has some serious issues to deal with, definitely. And it's not going to be an easy or enviable road for the Rays to improve their footprint in the area. But to write off the entire Tampa Bay market as a failed market is being overly dramatic and hyperbolic.