Feb 15, 2016

Boston talking head says Tampa Bay and Montreal fans don't care about baseball

Tony Massarotti on MLB Now
Tony Massarotti on MLB Now
Screenshot courtesy: MLB Network
As a night owl, I usually stay up pretty late and get up pretty late. In this case I got up late enough that MLB Now was on MLB Network, the channel I have my cable box set to power on to. As I'm going to the bathroom, I hear them tease something having to do with the Rays for after the break, but I didn't hear them clearly. So I get back in my room, listen in, and here's what happened:

Video may repeat. Be ready to click the video to stop it.

Excuse me?! You said what, Mr. Massarotti?

Now before we dive in, let's explore who Mr. Massarotti is. His name is Anthony "Tony" Massarotti. He's a Boston-based talking head who contributes the Boston Globe, use to formerly contribute to the Boston Herald, and now also co-hosts a radio show on WBZ-FM 98.5 "The Sports Hub". So right off the bat, you know what kind of guy we're dealing with. And we all know I have no love lost for Boston talking heads, as I've shown in the past. (Sorry about the broken video embed in that link. I can't control how long other websites host their videos.)

Anyway, as seen in the video, the MLB Now panel was discussing a recent proposal by a Montreal newspaper that would see the Rays split their home schedule between Tampa Bay and Montreal. Essentially sharing the team. If you would like to read more in-depth about the proposal itself, you can see the article by Marc Topkin on the Tampa Bay Times website.

The part that drew my ire, is the past where Mr. Massarotti weighs in with the following:

Well look, in theory, it makes sense on paper. I would just rather do it without Tampa [Bay] or Montreal. Can we eliminate those two places? They don't care about baseball.

Here's my initial reaction on Twitter after watching the segment:

Needless to say, I wasn't (and still am not) happy about his words. Why? Because as anyone who has studied the statistics involving fan interest in Tampa Bay would know he's either ignorant and just spouting lies. Either way, he's wrong. And from what I've read, he's wrong about Montreal too, but I'll let them defend themselves.

Let's break this down.

Most people cite the Rays egregious attendance as a sign that baseball won't work in Tampa Bay. They did after all average only 15,403 in 2015. A season attendance total of 1,247,668. Both good enough for dead last in the majors, according to statistics from ESPN.It doesn't help when you consider that Rays fans are grossly outnumbered by transplants who hold on to old allegiances, or fans that just hold on to their allegiances from the pre-Rays, Spring Training-only days. But break down that average, like Michael Lortz of FanGraphs.com did, and you'll see that weekday average attendance is 12,688, and on the weekend, that goes up more than 30% to 18,328. Suggesting that it's not the fact the fans don't support the Rays, they just can't make it to the Trop after working in Tampa, which is closer to the center of population for the Tampa Bay area. Which is why there is a major movement supporting that Rays build their new stadium in Tampa.

However, that's not the only statistic to measure fan support from. In television ratings, the Rays continue to be a top 15 team in the majors in TV viewership. That also translates over to radio, where they also rank among the higher tier.

The simple fact is this: Rays fans exist. They want to support their team. But many can't do it with the team being away from the center of population in southern St. Pete. It would also help to start "converting" the transplants and have them leave their old allegiances behind when they move to Tampa Bay.

So back to Mr. Massarotti's comments that Tampa Bay doesn't care about baseball. I think it's quite clear that Tampa Bay cares about baseball. I just think the Rays front office needs an education in marketing from the Lightning and the team needs a stadium in Tampa. But what more can you expect from a Boston writer when it comes to the Rays.


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