EmailTheRays was interviewed for the what went wrong series:
Fans as scarce as wins
Baseball didn't bring business
Tropicana isn't a draw, but is it the problem?
So many mishaps
Curse of the Devil (Rays)
Waiting for a windfall
This week, the St. Petersburg Times asks of the D-Rays, "What Went Wrong?"
And EmailtheRays.com asks the St. Petersburg Times:
What took you so long to ask the question?
Your favorite irascible webmaster was interviewed for the Times huge three-part story this week but didn't make the cut. So here's what was asked and how I answered:
The Rays came into existence with a distinct lack of retail experience at the top. With the exception of the Outback guys, Basham and Sullivan, the ownership had great prior successes in industrial businesses but no demonstrated flair with consumers. That was evident in the arrogance of the marketing and ownership. Instead of selling the community on their product, they assumed we would buy it no matter what. But sports fans, even avid sports fans, want to be wooed and excited. The Rays attitude was, Here's your team. Love it.
When they brought Mike Veeck in, it was an over reaction and ? based on a pre-publication read of his upcoming book, Fun Is Good -- he clearly received no support from management, which viewed him as if he were Mork from Ork. And Veeck didn?t adjust well to the jump from minors to majors, either, focusing too much on goofy stuff without making it connect with the game.
There is no real marketing effort. If you live in the Tampa Bay area, you are barraged by come-ons from Orlando attractions via direct mail, newspaper, radio and TV advertising. Ever seen any sign of a Rays presence in Orlando? At hotels there? On I-4 billboards? How about south of the Sunshine Skyway?
I understand the lack of confidence in the sales potential of what passes for stars on the team, but they don?t even hype their opponents? star power well.
Of course, my big complaint from day one until this minute is the lack of signage outside the stadium. The Rays have the biggest concrete billboard on the west coast of Florida and it doesn?t even have their name on it. I don?t know what the daily traffic count on I-275 going by the Trop is, but surely the team could benefit by making daily impressions with its name on logo on the outside of the building. The only place the team logo is visible on the outside of the building is the players entrance on the southside.
b) What do you think of the job Vince has done in running the franchise?
I think he?s been a disaster. We all know he loves the game, is a big baseball fan and sits in the stands like a regular Joe. Blah, blah, blah. But he has been a nightmarish presence in our community, from his endless mistakes in dealing with big business and small to his individual ticket buyer's perception.
After the Bucs won the Super Bowl, I remember getting a call from a Rays customer service rep trying to get me to buy season tickets again. (We had full season packages for the first four years.) He told me how the Rays would soon go from worst to first, just like the Bucs. But the difference between the two teams ? and the Lightning, too ? is that it took a change in ownership to fix what was wrong with our other sports teams.
Vince is a laughingstock in the community, which is unfortunate because he?s not a bad guy, personally. But from my own conversations with community and business leaders, he has irretrievably lost their respect as a team owner.
c) What will it take to make this franchise a success?
Lots of people say that fielding a winner will do it. But I think it goes deeper than that. Until the Rays fix their public perception as a band of idiots who don?t know how to run a team from top to bottom, until they regain our confidence as an organization, winning won?t be enough. They need a wholesale fresh start, jettisoning Naimoli and Lamar. And unless they go soon, I suspect their own bright spot, Piniella, will be gone as son as his contract ends, if not sooner.
d) Do you think Tampa Bay is a bad baseball market?
Nope. I think this is a great baseball market ? maybe not as substantial as boosters thought ? that was sold down the river with incompetent ownership and management. Show us some smarts, start treating the community with respect and the fans will turn out. Keep doing the same things as before and they?ll keep getting the same diminishing returns.
What do you think? As always, we'll post the best replies (eventually) on EmailtheRays.com...
Bob the Webmaster