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Monday, February 26, 2024
Rates for the 2024 Best Venues Award increase this Sunday at 11:59 p.m. ET

Rays’ Historically Low Playoff Attendance Highlights Market Challenge

  • Club draws MLB's lowest non-pandemic postseason crowd since 1919
  • Sternberg's belief in St. Petersburg locale receives further challenge
Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays’ record-low turnout for their first 2023 playoff game has reinforced the local market issues surrounding the franchise since their debut more than a quarter-century ago. 

The Rays drew just 19,704 fans to Tropicana Field on Tuesday for their American League Wild Card Series opener against the Texas Rangers — the smallest non-pandemic crowd for an MLB postseason game since the 1919 World Series. 

The low draw was partly due to some external, league-driven factors. MLB scheduled the game for a 3:08 p.m. ET start, when many fans are at work or school, and its wild card slate wasn’t finalized until Sunday evening. 

But the latest figure also extends a long-running and troubling issue for the Rays, who have struggled to draw fans despite regularly fielding competitive teams. The Rays ended the 2023 regular season with MLB’s fourth-smallest total attendance, drawing 1.44 million and beating only Kansas City, Miami, and Oakland.

For many years, critics have pointed to the club’s playing on the west side of Tampa Bay, away from much of the region’s population base, as a critical drag on attendance. During the Rays’ recent announcement of a new stadium deal, team owner Stu Sternberg cited a changing St. Petersburg as a key reason to stay instead of building elsewhere in the area.

“This region, and especially this city, are growing up around us and are better equipped to support a Major League Baseball team,” Sternberg said.

The initial playoff total challenges that notion and was bettered only slightly on Wednesday, as the Rays drew 20,198 for Game 2 against the Rangers in another afternoon start.

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