Friedman on Rays at Disney: "A Success"

The difference in attendance between 2007 and 2008 was a mere 119, both a success according to Rays' president Matt Silverman. But if you read between the lines, the Rays may be looking elsewhere to expand their fan base. Ted Fleming of Rays Digest reports.

LAKE BUENA VISTA - You would expect nothing less but the Rays believe this trip through the Orlando area was as successful as last year.

While attendance was down a shade from the three game set against the Rangers in 2007 - 119 to be exact - the Magic playing just up I-4 on Tuesday and on TV Thursday for the first round of the NBA playoffs, may have factored into how many people showed up.

Then there is the economy where gas prices are hovering around the $3.50-$4.00 mark, playing earlier when there is more going on in the area, last year's novelty factor and you have a built-in excuse.

"It's been a tremendous success building upon the great series we had last year," said team president Matt Silverman. "The interest in the Orlando area has certainly increased."

"In two years we have demonstrated our commitment into expanding our territory and making this franchise a regional franchise. It's somewhat unprecedented to bring the product 90-miles to the east but we wanted to proved that access to the team as we try to expand interest and fandom for this organization."

Silverman downplayed the numbers saying that it is not the end-all for gauging success. Last year television ratings spiked and he expects the same this season, especially with a better product to present to viewers. They will also return to St. Petersburg with their first three-game sweep of any team since Texas last year in this same stadium. That and being a .500 team.

"We're developing a following," he said. "When the team starts winning more consistently we expect the region's pride and kinship with the team will increase."

There was no commitment from Friedman whether the team will return again next year, leaving that open by saying the team will make "investments" in the Central Florida area but leaving open the possibility of playing somewhere else - Port Charlotte perhaps?

"Whether we play three games here next year or the year after or do something else, we will continue to make those investments. There are so many variables that go into it (decision making) including the schedule that we want to expand our boundaries, not only to the east but to the south. And why not include north too."

There might have been one thing that led Friedman to believe this was better than last because he says there are more Rays' fans this time around and the fans are staying longer for the games. A lot of the new blue merchandise was sold as the Wide World of Sports stores were overflowing with buyers.

When asked if he thought Orlando might be a good market for the team - permanently - Friedman quickly responded.

"We're hoping to move the team to the waterfront."

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