Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Kerrzy’s Notebook: Fillin’ the Stands

For all the success the Tampa Bay Rays have had on the field this season, there’s still something lacking when they step out onto Tropicana Field – and this week, Evan Longoria decided it was time to speak up.

Despite being the best team in all of baseball, the Rays can’t seem to captivate their audience enough to get butts into the chairs at Tropi-can’t-a. For example, Tampa had two opportunities to clinch a playoff spot this week, and both times they hovered around about a half-full (or half-empty) stadium.

When they finally clinched on Tuesday, the official numbers showed they were just below 50% full (17,891 people).

On Monday, Longoria 'called out' the fans, saying the bad attendance was both disheartening and embarrassing.

"It's a tough situation for us. A lot of the visiting teams come in and wonder where are all the fans. It's actually a little bit embarrassing for us. We're one game away from clinching a postseason spot. We have enough guys in this room to celebrate with, but we'd love to celebrate it with the fans, too."

After the third baseman’s comments, there was such a fan (stay at home fan, apparently) backlash that the Rays have announced they’ll be giving out 20,000 free tickets for Wednesday night’s rubber match with the Baltimore Orioles. That ought to fill the bleachers!

If that doesn’t work though, I’ve got a backup plan for the Tampa Bay front office to look into: Fake Fans.

If you want to at least make the TV broadcast look a little better, but fans aren’t flocking to see your club, look no further than the northern Italian city of Trieste. As the Wall Street Journal tells us, the city’s Serie B soccer team, Triestina, got sick of empty seats and decided to take matters into their own hands by unraveling a massive sheet of vinyl with images of fans printed along it – covering a stand that holds about 10,000 people.

“We’d love to have a full stadium with real supporters,” Triestina’s general manager Marco Cernaz says in a quote that sounds like it’s from a Pinocchio spin-off. “But the reality is that we can’t. This way at least we create a bit of atmosphere, a bit of theatre.”

There’s another reason this idea would work great for the Tampa Bay Rays – it’ll also save them money!

ESPN reports Rays owner Stuart Sternberg says no matter what happens, the team will be cutting payroll before next season by at least $20-million dollars.

“No question. Nothing can change that. Unfortunately there’s nothing that can happen between now and April that can change that unless [manager] Joe Maddon hits the lottery and wants to donate it or I hit the lottery.”

Well Stuey, here’s the beauty of fake fans: the vinyl is saving Triestina about $130,000 US per season because they don’t have to pay as many stewards, attendants or medical staff and they don’t have to pay insurance for those seats occupied by 2-D images!

Not to mention the extra ad revenue that could be garnered!

It’s an interesting situation over in Tampa – the team was brutal, finishing no better than 18-games back of the division leader (an average of about 34 games behind over 10 seasons). Then in 2008, they won the AL-East, they were the American League champions and they lost in the World Series.

This season they’ve got the best record in baseball as of right now, they’ve got a legitimate shot at making a deep run into the postseason…and no matter what happens, they’ll be shedding some serious salary once the year is over.

Is that the circle of life, or what?

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