By Jim Bleyer
The obsequious Tampa Bay media, never passing up an opportunity to genuflect to the local lords of professional sports, uniformly term the shrinking of Tropicana Field’s seating capacity as creating “an intimate fan experience.”
The national press and fans of the Tampa Bay Rays know better: it’s another of owner Stu Sternberg’s cost-cutting methods. The fans for decades have been experiencing an intimate experience, huddled together in patches and pockets on gamedays.
The reconfigured Tropicana setup actually contains several thousand seats fewer than the blueprint for the failed Ybor City ballpark site. In fact, Tropicana will have less seating capacity than many North American soccer stadiums.
It’s all part of Sternberg’s holding action while he negotiates a deal with cities willing to gift him with an expensive, state-of-the art facility and the promise of decent attendance and television rights. “Decent” is all it would take to surpass the stagnant, bottom-of-the-heap turnstile count that has brought Tampa Bay unwanted notoriety ever since the (Devil) Rays began play in 1998.
While Tampa Bay media applied lipstick to the Tropicana pig in its description of the abbreviated seating plan, national media were far less kind.
ESPN’s headline on its original stadium was entitled, “How Low Can You Go?” Most telling: the sports network was the first news entity to report on the Tropicana reconfiguration. Other headlines also threw darts.
Bloomberg: Can’t Fill the Seats? MLB’s Rays Decide to Shrink the Stadium.
Yahoo Sports: Poorly Supported Rays Cut Seating in Smallest MLB Venue,
Forbes: Tampa Bay Rays Shrink Capacity for Baseball at Tropicana Field.
Sports Illustrated: Rays Plan to Close Upper Deck Seating, Reduce Capacity to 26,000.
Reuters: Rays Announce Plans to Reduce Seating.
You get the idea. No balderdash about an “enhanced fan experience.” This is how the rest of the world perceives the Tampa Bay Rays and their anemic local support.
Who can blame Sternberg for romanticizing an obvious ploy while he shops the franchise to cities like Portland and Las Vegas that are falling all over themselves to procure a MLB team?