According to a survey, just 39.4% of Tampa residents think keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in the region is important.
Is that a problem?
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn posted an online survey last month asking Tampa residents to note their priorities, seeking public input to help set priorities for his final 18 months in office.
Respondents were given a list of potential municipal action areas and asked to rate them as important or unimportant (there was also a “neutral” option).
Most of the areas in which respondents were asked to weigh in were the typical local government areas: transportation; jobs; stormwater management. Some were more potentially controversial, such as race relations or the development of workforce housing.
Snuck in among these topics was this one: “Keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in the Area.”
So how important is this to Tampa residents?
Well, according to the survey, not especially important. 39.4% of respondents rated it important; only workforce housing had a lower score. Thirty percent rated this “unimportant”, the highest percentage of “unimportant” votes of all. And about the same percentage simply had no opinion on this question at all.
What this means for the Rays’ stadium plans
I have heard some chatter that this survey suggests limited support for the Rays in Tampa. Why even talk about a stadium in Hillsborough County if some 60% of the population either thinks it is unimportant or has no opinion about it at all?
Those conclusions, however, are unfounded.
First, let’s keep in mind that this survey has no scientific validity. I’m not saying this to knock Mayor Buckhorn or his staff. The survey met his needs of giving engaged residents the chance to express their views.
However, there is no statistical significance to a survey available to anyone who happens upon it on the city website. We know that 2,043 people filled it out, but we don’t know who those people were and whether they were representative of a true cross-section of the population.
The survey ran during the month in which we saw Houston hit with Hurricane Harvey and in which Tampa was hit with Hurricane Irma. Not many people dealing with hurricane preparation or recovery are going to see baseball as their main concern.
And given that context, there’s no wonder stormwater issues are deemed important by 88% of respondents. Heck, had I been filling out this survey in the weeks surrounding Irma I probably would have ranked keeping the Rays as “not important” and I live for this team!
To compound the difficulties of finding wisdom in this survey: it’s not well designed to really identify respondent priorities.
It’s not clear what people are choosing when they deem something “important,” and that is especially true for the question on the Rays. Does “keeping the Rays in the region” mean keeping them in St. Petersburg, or building a stadium for them in Tampa?
Finally, it’s hard to put this survey question in context. How would “keeping team x” rank among priorities in most cities? Perhaps the majority of people in other cities, even those known as “good baseball towns,” wouldn’t choose their team over other concerns like race relations.
I’m not trying to say that there should be a groundswell of support for building a Tampa/Hillsborough stadium for the Rays in a more scientific study. If a new stadium requires significant public funding and/or a tax increase it will be a hard sell in a fiscally conservative county that has some pressing infrastructure needs.
Instead, this survey question more shows that citizens, faced with a hurricane and a host of social issues, seem to have their priorities in a decent order. Otherwise, this survey tells us little more about the likelihood of a new stadium than we knew a few weeks ago.