Sunday Sound-Off: Selig Did Rays No Favors

Every Sunday I offer my unsolicited opinion on topics and issues surrounding the Rays. This week I opine on the latest comments by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig regarding attendance at Tropicana Field, and scold him for missing several opportunities to help the struggling Tampa Bay market.I also let you know what to look for this week on Rays Digest.

Bud Selig was a guest on SiriusXM's Mad Dog Radio earlier this week. He was questioned by host Chris Russo on Rays owner Stuart Sternberg's harsh comments following Game 4 of the ALDS.

Selig had this to say:

"I like Stu Sternberg a lot, as you probably know. I have a great deal of respect for him. He's a very thoughtful, very interesting guy, done a great job there, done a brilliant job there. I, too, am concerned about their attendance. I track attendance every day. He knows it. I've talked to him a lot. They are a wonderful organization, produced a terrific team this year and finished last in the American League in attendance. I'll let you draw your own conclusion. That's bad."

Bud Selig didn't do this area any favors when scheduling the start times for the Rays postseason games. In fact, he kinda screwed us. He set up the Rays for an attendance embarrassment when announcing the start times for Games 3 and 4, and perhaps (and of course I'm speculating here) could have prevented Sternberg's little tirade from even happening. You know...the exact same tirade that he was being asked to comment on.

A day prior to Sternberg's comments, the Rays had lost Game 3 of the ALDS to an announced sell-out crowd. Across the bay, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had also played a game against the Indianapolis Colts, which was broadcast nationally on Monday Night Football. This had arguably been the biggest night in Tampa Bay area sports in quite some time.

Selig's first disservice to Tampa Bay was the start time of Game 3 (5 PM EST). It was scheduled three hours before the start of the Bucs game. This pretty much meant that anyone going to Raymond James Stadium wasn't going to get to watch the majority of the Rays game. The Bucs, to their credit, showed the game on the jumbotron prior to kick-off, but an earlier start time would have allowed everyone in the area to watch or attend both games had they chosen to.

But that wasn't even the worst of it for the Rays. The Game 4 start time ( 2PM EST) was even more problematic. Consider that every rabid Bay area sports fan had just attended a game less than 18 hours before, and that the Game 4 start time had been announced less than 48 hours prior to the game. Throw in the fact that Tampa Bay has an unemployment rate higher than the national average, and that a lot of people had just spent their sports entertainment budget the night before, and it is no wonder that Game 4 wasn't sold out. A lot of people in the area simply can't afford to take off work to watch a baseball game. Move the start time back a few hours, and I'll bet you're looking at another sell-out.

I know the Yankees and the Phillies are always going to get the prime-time games in the postseason. I understand the economics of baseball and that advertising dollars for television are the primary consideration when scheduling start times. Still, the very same Commissioner who has been troubled by the attendance of the Rays, could have taken the opportunity to tweak the schedule a little bit to help the Rays sell-out both games. An earlier start time for Game 3, and a later start time for Game 4 would have been a nice gesture by Selig to the attendance troubled Rays franchise.

There are a lot of issues to consider when talking about the Rays home attendance, and I'm not going to re-hash them here. One could argue that these issues exist in other markets, and you would be right. But there is a perfect storm of circumstances that prevent the Rays from filling Tropicana Field routinely. Some of these circumstances should change in coming years (the economy I hope), and others will not. Perhaps it is naive and selfish of me to think that the Commissioner's office should cater to the Rays in order to assure postseason sell-outs. Certainly, also, the Rays last minute postseason berth created a crash course with the Bucs Monday night game. The opportunity existed to have a positive impact on attendance to the Rays two home games, and it wasn't acted upon. So pardon me if I am little put off when I hear the Commissioner say that the Rays attendance is "bad". When you handicap an already crippled fan base, you can't be too surprised when the results aren't positive.

Such is life for Rays fans though. The only thing anyone ever wants to talk about is who isn't there. Those of us who are, continue to take all of the abuse from the national media and the Commissioner's office year after year.

So yeah, it's "bad" Mr. Selig...thanks for noticing. How about helping us out a little bit next postseason?

This Week on Rays Digest: On Monday, Marc Nemcik will have a review of the Winter Leagues, to be followed on Tuesday by a feature on Rays prospect Tim Beckham by Ben Clicquennoi. Jamal Wilburg will kick off the weekly column "Rays Report" on Wednesday, and on Friday yours truly will be doing a Q & A with blogger, writer, part-time comic, and rabid Rays fan Jordi Scrubbings. On Saturday, we begin to hand out our Minor League Player of the Year Awards, starting with the VSL and DSL Rays. We'll also bring you any breaking Hot Stove news, as the off-season truly begins to kick into gear.

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