This morning the Rays announced several renovations to Tropicana Field with the aim of creating a more intimate fan experience, including a new bar area in Left Field with views of the field, LED lighting for improved home viewership, improved turf to allow for a return to on-the-field events, and improved concourses for fan inter-connectivity.
The most notable announcement, however, has proved to be the closing of the 300-level for regular season games (not including the Party Deck above left field), with many fans and journalists calling foul on anticipated ticket price increases.
Completely getting rid of the 300 level?— Matt Sommer (@Msommer524) January 4, 2019
Works for me. Interesting to see how it will effect ticket pricing— Matt Sommer (@Msommer524) January 4, 2019
Hey, how’s this for an idea? Let’s take the few #rays fans who bother coming to games and make it more expensive for them! What could possibly go wrong?— David Lopez (@djl_rays) January 4, 2019
And yes, the upper deck seats were the least expensive seats at the Trop. #rays— Eduardo A. Encina (@EddieInTheYard) January 4, 2019
There are some who clearly believe this decision was made in bad faith: that the closing of the deck is more about profits than fan experiences.
Doesn't surprise me at all. The team can save some money and increase lower the supply closer to the demand. Sad, but basic economics. #Rays— Michael F. Weber (@m_weber) January 4, 2019
People may make Rays attendance jokes here, but that's only part of the story. This is in keeping with baseball's overall move to reduce the number of cheap seats in favor of premium seats, club sections and higher-revenue-generating gathering spots. Happening in all parks.— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) January 4, 2019
(More from Calcaterra’s article on NBC Sports:)
[...] there’s more going on with these sorts of moves than simply closing seats that do no sell. Indeed, the common thread here, and with the construction of newer stadiums, is to go with fewer seats while placing a greater emphasis on more expensive seats, club sections and common gathering areas with bars and other amenities. The Rays may have multiple aims with this move, but one of them certainly involves eliminating its lowest-priced tickets which likely represent fans who spend less money at any given ballgame.
Unless I'm missing some key details, the #Rays closing the upper deck is a huge backdoor ticket price increase. It isn't even a new strategy; I remember Naimoli tried it in 2002 and had to revert after two or three months because of how unpopular it was.— Patrick Kennedy (@PLKDC) January 4, 2019
But some were mostly concerned with their own ability to afford the game.
"Premium"=Increased ticket prices. If you increase prices on my seat, I wont be able to afford it. And, if you didn't charge for parking, I would be at more games. Stop the $$ madness #Rays.— CryptoCowgirl (@Ok75449551) January 4, 2019
I'm not fully understanding how they will axe the 300 level but if that's the case I will be forced to axe my trips to the Trop.— Brian Benson (@BrianBe51562236) January 4, 2019
I'm a father of 5 and though I do well, I am on a budget. The cost of a 2+ hour trip, a pair(+) of tix and food/beverage is hard as is once a month.— Brian Benson (@BrianBe51562236) January 4, 2019
And if I may add a personal anecdote: I relate to these concerns.
My first date with my wife was in seats 3 and 4 of row 1 in section 300, where the vantage point of home plate had long been my preferred view. As a college student, I was not able to afford much in the lower bowl when weighing the cost of gas in my weekly budget (seriously!), but sprung for what I considered the best seats in the house.
I empathize with anyone who is immediately concerned with the possible rise in ticket prices or affordability of a preferred view that was provided by the 300 level. But there is also much to be said for a more concentrated group of fans in the stadium.
Per an article from ESPN, which was initially headlined “How low can you go: Rays close off upper deck” but is now titled “Small pond: Rays close off upper deck,” this new configuration will represent the lowest seat total in baseball:
The Rays on Friday said they would add a premium seating section in the lower level but would no longer seat fans in the upper deck, which would reduce capacity at the stadium to approximately 25,000 to 26,000. That would be about 10,000 seats smaller than capacity at any other stadium in the major leagues.
[...] The Rays averaged 14,258 fans last season, ranking only ahead of the Miami Marlins (10,013). It was a 7.9 percent decline for the Rays, who have ranked last in attendance in all but two seasons since 2012.
The reduction in seats for the Trop is only, at most, 6,000 seats in the farthest views from the field itself. This adjustment in seating shifts the average attendance across the line from being less than half full to more than half full within what is already a cavernous stadium.
We do not yet know what the new season’s ticket pricing structure will be, but for now we have at least seen that Season Ticket Holders already in the 300-level will not be impacted by higher costs next season.
As one who is affected the Rays just sent me an email. Press level or outfield is an upgrade at no cost. Or you can choose the GTE party Deck as well at a price savings.— Justin Pegg (@WalkingwthElias) January 4, 2019
As articulated by Craig Calcaterra, there is certainly an economical impact to eliminating 6,000 of the cheapest seats in the park, but overall this should create a net positive for the fan experience (and perhaps the player experience as well).
And we cannot say tickets will not be priced at upper level rates.
Last season tickets at the press level were marked as low as $9.99 on Thursdays (a deal that also included chips and a drink), and $14 for the lower level on Fridays through an upgrade to the 7-11 promotion.
Furthermore, the Rays have a demonstrated history of acknowledging the needs of low-income fans. In 2018, tickets were free for individuals who worked in lines of service — teachers, military members, and first responders — on Mondays, and all tickets for children were a mere $2 on Tuesdays. Hot dogs were also priced at $2 in that promotion, and food has always been allowed to be brought into Tropicana Field from outside the stadium.
The Rays are among the cheapest to find tickets as well. Statista ranked the Rays 28th in average ticket price in 2018 at $21.60.
Whether you are encouraged or not by the team’s decision to close the upper deck: let’s withhold judgement on the team’s overall intentions until we know what the prices will be.