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Tampa Bay Times poll says Pinellas likes the Rays more

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Beware of polls. Also, beware of dolphins. Also, Merry Christmas.

Ian Malinowski

The main front page article in the Tampa Bay Times this morning is Christmas, complete with super-creepy dolphin aliens. The other article above the fold is the results of a Tampa Bay Times and 10News WTSP survey of Tampa Bay area residents on how much they value the Rays.

You can read the article here. The online version includes the questions that residents who agreed to answer the phone survey were asked, as well as full results (although the presentation of them leaves something to be desired, TBT).

Poll Highlights

  • According to the poll, 48% of Pinellas residents care a lot about keeping the Rays in the Tampa Bay area, while only 32% of Hillsborough residents do.
  • Pinellas residents most prefer a new stadium be built in downtown St. Pete (36% compared to 32% for Northern St. Pete and 9% for the Tampa Fairgrounds).
  • Hillsborough residents most prefer a new stadium be built at the Tampa Fairgrounds (39% compared to 17% in downtown Tampa and 16% in downtown St. Pete).

Article Highlights

  • Much of the article consists of what is cut and pasted to look like a lively debate between St. Petersburg Mayor Kriesman and Tampa Mayor Buckhorn, both of whose comments seem to suggest that they would like the Rays in their downtown area.
  • In this respect, Buckhorn breaks with the Hillsborough residents represented in the survey who preferred a Fairgrounds location, saying that a stadium there would be unlikely to spur other development. From the article: "Just look at Raymond James Stadium, he said. 'That's a perfect example,' Buckhorn said. 'You have Chili's and Mons Venus and that's about it.'"
  • Yeah, that's a great quote. Buckhorn "wins" the article.
  • The other guy who "wins" the article is St. Petersburg resident Joshua Black, for talking sense: "It should be the Rays' decision where to build because it should be the Rays' money spent to build it."

Thoughts and Caveats

  • Don't get too impressed with the 4% margin of error. That's an important calculation on a survey, but it's also an unthinking calculation. It's talking about how precise the survey is, but it doesn't mean that the survey is within 4% of being an accurate representation of how residents really feel. Much more goes into that.
  • It seems pretty clear that residents who live close to the Rays already care more about them than residents who live far away from the Rays. I bet that if the stadium was built originally in Tampa, Hillsborough residents would poll as caring about the Rays more than Pinellas residents.
  • I wonder what percentage of Montreal residents want the Rays.
  • Be very careful about talking about these polls as if the numbers are meaningful. Don't say things like "Only 40% of Tampa Bay area residents really want to keep the Rays! That's less than half! That's so low!" The problem here is that we don't know if this is a low number or not. To understand that, what we really have to do is compare it to other numbers. What percentage of New York residents care strongly about keeping the Yankees or the Mets? What percentage of Oakland residents care strongly about keeping the Athletics? Like the numbers we talk about inside the game of baseball, these numbers only become useful with context.
  • What's best for the Rays attendance-wise might be a different thing than what's best for the county that lands them. Attendance will be best in a location that provides the fastest transportation to the most people to get to games. The city will most benefit, as both Mayors Kriesman and Buckhorn seem to understand, from a location downtown that helps to foster continued growth of a downtown area. This needs to be kept in mind whenever public money enters the discussion.
  • And if we're talking about tax dollars, please remember that independent studies of the economic impact of stadiums consistently find no evidence of a positive economic impact. (These are usually done focusing on an entire area, and there may be a different dynamic if the study is limited to a small area, such as St. Pete vs. Tampa.)

Conclusion

Merry Christmas, Rays fans. We're front page news.