Of all the people associated with MLB, the one that I’d like to go away most is commissioner Bud Selig, and as a Red Sox fan, that says quite a bit. I’d rather be stung by 1,000 yellow jackets then have to endure another day of Bobby V. managing the Sox, but I’d rather watch Bobby V. manage for another 1,000 days than have to deal with the commissioner for one more. What I disliked from Mr. Selig even more than him showing up to pat himself on the back during the game that marked Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary, was his comments last week regarding the absolute necessity of new stadiums being built for both the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays.
There’s a few things to consider on this point. First- Fine, the teams need new stadiums. Let the teams build themselves a new stadium, Mr. Selig, or if they are unable to do so, perhaps MLB can kick in the funds necessary for the teams to build the stadiums. This is how it always should be, but considering the economic climate that has gripped our country for the last several years, don’t you think it seems a bit much to ask a community to pony up half a billion dollars or more for the privilege of having a MLB team? Also, as it’s not the go-go ’90s, it’s a lot harder to threaten a community with moving a team. Where are you going to send them, Mr. Selig, North Dakota?
Second- Is it possible that Oakland and Tampa Bay just aren’t major league towns? We’ll come back to Oakland in a minute, but according to Baseball-Almanac.com, the (Devil) Rays have only averaged more than 20,000 fans per game five times in their first 14 seasons (and no, 2011 was not one of them.) Selig also stated that you can’t expect teams to compete if they don’t have a new stadium. As has been discussed before, Tampa Bay has more than competed over the last four seasons (3 playoff appearances, 2 division titles, and one World Series appearance), yet the fans remain absent.
The season after the Rays’ World Series appearance, they drew less than 1.8 million (23,147 per game), which is still the second-most they’ve ever drawn in a season (they drew 2.5 million in their inaugural season.) In 2010, the Rays won their second division title, and the fans of Tampa Bay rewarded ownership by just barely eclipsing the 1.5 million mark in 2011 (18,879 per game.) And that team made the playoffs, too!! Perhaps the real problem in Tampa is that there isn’t a fan base to speak of, not that their stadium is gasp! 22 years old (and had a $70 million upgrade before the Rays ever took the field.) Their lack of support is well-documented. Maybe it would be best to wait for the economy to turn around, and then Stuart Stenberg’s ownership group can offer the team up to the community willing to build him the fanciest ballpark.
The Athletics in each of their iterations have had difficulties drawing fans. When they played in Philadelphia (1901-1954) they drew less than the American League average in 33 of their 54 seasons (including the last 22 seasons they were in Philly), and the St. Louis Browns dismal box office performance likely helped that total. When they moved on to Kansas City, things did not fair any better, where they drew less than the league average in 10 out of their 13 seasons. On the plus side, their first two seasons in Kansas City they did top 1,000,000 fans for the first two times in franchise history, but it was a feat that would not be repeated again until their 1973 campaign (in Oakland.) Since they have resided in Oakland, they have drawn less than the league average in 36 out of 48 seasons.
In Oakland’s defense, the fans did turn out for the Bash Brothers teams that made three straight World Series appearances between 1988-1990, and even for a couple of seasons after that. They also averaged over 2.1 million fans for each season from 2001-05, when the Athletics were playing well. As seen in the Tampa example, winning doesn’t cure all, but in Oakland’s case, the fan base in recent history has come out when there was a reason for it. If it is Mr. Selig’s opinion that a team should remain in the Oakland area, and if ownership is unwilling or unable to furnish a stadium for themselves, perhaps MLB could hold a fundraiser for the Athletics. Bake sales are always a popular way to raise funds, but MLB’s marketing department can probably come up with something more creative than that.
The bottom line is, this is an MLB problem, not a city/county/state one. If teams want a new stadium, then their ownership group should build one. If they are unwilling or unable to do so, there are a couple of options: move the team, or have MLB ‘invest’ in the stadium project. Failing all of that, perhaps it is time to look again at the option of contracting teams. It’s an option that Mr. Selig would never consider (again), especially not as he travels the country telling everyone how great and brilliant he is, but if another solution cannot be found, it is one that is available.
Questions? Comments? Criticisms?