With a chance to clinch on Monday night, the Rays drew about 12,000 fans. Pathetic, I agree. Two of the Rays biggest stars sent out tweets following the game calling it "embarrassing", among other things. However, players blasting fans is usually a battle they are never going to win. Number one, it comes off as millionaire pro athletes telling average folks how they should spend their money in a down economy. Yet the economy is just as bad in New York, Boston, Chicago, L.A., St. Louis, and other cities who continue to draw well in spite of the economy. So do the Rays superstars have a point? Maybe, but their point also shows a lack of knowledge of the market in which they are playing.
First, football will always be king in the state of Florida, a.k.a. "The Pigskin Penninsula". It takes a major event like the Marlins winning the World Series (ugh!) or the Miami Heat's landing LeBron James to take the focus off the Gators, Hurricans, and Seminoles, as well as the Dolphins, Buccaneers, and Jaguars. Second, Florida is a transplant state, in which everyone who lives there is from somewhere else. Therefore, people move to Florida with their sports loyalties from home, and while they might adopt the Rays, Marlins, Heat or Magic as their adopted team (as I did with the Magic while I lived in Orlando), the hometown loyalties will always endure. What this means is that there are probably more Yankee fans in the Tampa area than Rays fans. Significantly more, in fact. Just like there are probably more Cub fans in the Phoenix area than Diamondbacks fans. Tampa is a small market that was a Yankee town long before the Rays were even an idea.
All players, for all their competitiveness, want to play for a good, loyal fan base. I understand that, and it would be easy for me, as a fan of a team that has been around for 134 years in a major market city, to bash Rays fans for their apathy. But the bottom line is, Chicago and Tampa Bay are on opposite ends of the sports market spectrum. Total 180 degree opposites in every way. Large market vs. Small market, Old sports city vs. New expansion sports market. So it's not even fair to compare the two.
The Rays have been around for about 12 years, and were not even a blip on the sports world radar until 2008. But the fact that they have been winning big for three years now, in the freaking AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST and are still not being supported by the community really shows me that baseball has never really caught on there. Several of their big name players are free agents at the end of the year, and their payroll will be slashed significantly with crowds like this. If they start losing again, in that division, and their crowds get even smaller (which they will), it could signal the end of baseball in the Tampa Bay area. The only question is, would anyone notice?