As a transplanted NY sports fan now in Vegas by way of Tampa, I’ve seen this “fair-weather” phenomenon on both coasts, and I’d like to add MHO in an attempt to explain it (if not excuse it).
I spent 7 years in Tampa, early to mid-90s. During that time, my only pro sports exposure was the NFL Bucs. Routinely, the only games that sold out were against division rivals Green Bay and Chicago–mostly due to people from those regions planning their vacations around the games. The problem was simple–the Culverhouse regime was putting an inferior product on the field, and that showed in the lack of interest from the local populace.
Cities without a major-league sports history/tradition don’t have the luxury of a built-in fan base that places like Chicago, Boston, NY etc. have. In order for the franchises in these places to be successful past the point where the novelty of “hey, we got a major sports team!” wears off, you have to put a good product out there. The D-Backs have done this to the point that they draw even in a substandard season. The NFL Cardinals, OTOH, still depend heavily on out-of-towners and transplants to fill the seats. I went to a Cards-Jets game a couple of years ago, and the place was more than half Jet fans.
That having been said, I look with not a little shame at the attendance figures for the Marlins and Rays. OK, the Rays pretty much sucked until this year, but come on! They were at or near the top of the division the entire season, and still rest near the bottom of the attendance figures. It makes me wonder if anyone in the Bay area even gives a rat’s patootie. When we were seeking a MLB franchise, it was all anyone could talk about. Now they start winning, and still no one shows up.
The Marlins are an even bigger mystery. They’re in the hunt almost every season, and every time I watch highlights from the games on Sportscenter, I see nothing but rows and rows of empty seats.
I’d be curious to hear from fans from these areas regarding exactly what the problem is. Is it ticket prices, the stadium, apathy, or a combination of factors?
Oh, and: Go Rays!