Mark Madden: Tampa Bay’s split season scheme is laughable, driven by greed |
Mark Madden, Columnist

Mark Madden: Tampa Bay’s split season scheme is laughable, driven by greed

The Tampa Bay Rays are averaging 14,545 fans at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Tampa Bay Rays want to split their season between Tampa and Montreal.

That plan is ludicrous on so many levels.

It’s hard to imagine fans in either city buying in, or buying tickets. Decreased inventory doesn’t figure to increase demand when it’s not really your team. How’s this for a marketing slogan in Montreal: “Big-league baseball is back! Well, kind of.”

MLB failed once in Montreal. This would be like St. Louis with football, or Atlanta with hockey.

Montreal had baseball’s best record when the 1994 season got terminated because of a work stoppage, and that’s often blamed for the game’s decline and fall in that city. But the Expos’ attendance averaged just 22,000 in ‘94.

How would Rays players and other club employees function? Do they own two homes? Do they own no home? What do the kids do about school? WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?

Then there’s the language barrier. Parlez-vous saison divise?

Good luck signing free agents. Travel agents, maybe.

This absurdity trickles back to the grotesque over-expansion of sports. Too many games, too many teams, too much TV, too much everything.

Because of that, there’s almost no foolproof place to move a team. Most major media markets are occupied by just about every sport. (No, Pittsburgh doesn’t need an NBA franchise.)

Eight cities in the top 10 media markets have all four major sports: No. 7 Houston and No. 10 Atlanta lack hockey. (Let’s give Atlanta a third try.) No. 18 Orlando oddly has only the NBA, but also has Disney World. Move the Pirates there. They field a Mickey Mouse product.

What is Tampa Bay’s real agenda? The proposal is totally unwieldy, but it’s backed by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.

Tampa’s stadium stinks. Perhaps this is a ploy to get a new one. But Manfred says this plan could get each city a new stadium.

That seems doubtful. Tampa and Montreal would each host a half-season. Perhaps they would each get a half-stadium: 190 feet to the power alleys.

You can bet Bob Nutting has his eye on this. The Pirates’ lease at PNC Park runs through 2030.

But attendance has dropped by over a million since the Pirates’ 98-win season in 2015, and is fifth-last in MLB this year with an average crowd of 18,179. That’s not even 4,000 better than Tampa.

Nutting intends to squeeze every last nickel out of the Pirates. How about splitting the season between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis? The Pirates’ minor-league team can come here. The difference would be negligible most nights. Mitch Keller would always be in transit.

If the Rays aren’t making it in Tampa, they should move. But, as noted, no alternate location is a sure-fire winner.

The Rays are 45-33 and locked in an American League wild-card spot, and still don’t draw. The Miami Marlins got a new park in 2012, and their attendance is dead last in MLB, albeit with a hopeless team.

Perhaps Florida’s involvement with MLB should begin and end with spring training.

There was a time when Tampa Bay’s average attendance of 14,545 wouldn’t be cause for alarm.

Baseball has always been big business, but not to this degree. TV rights fees took it (and every other sport) over the top.

In 1955, for example, only seven of MLB’s 16 teams averaged more than that. The Brooklyn Dodgers won their first World Series that year, and averaged just 13,423 spectators. (They needed a Carl Furillo bobble-head night.) Only Milwaukee topped an average crowd of 20K, at 26,050.

But, of MLB’s 16 teams, five would move by 1968.

Also, the Braves had moved from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953 and would move to Atlanta in 1966. The Athletics had moved from Philadelphia to Kansas City that year and would move to Oakland in 1968. The St. Louis Browns had moved to Baltimore in 1954.

Things are more stable in MLB now thanks to a system that makes it highly likely for every team to profit, long-term stadium leases and the aforementioned dilemma of having no place to go.

But having a lot of money pales in comparison to having even more money.

If there’s a scam to increase profit, the owners will cook it up. That’s what’s going on in Tampa.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9)

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