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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Will the Rays and Stu Sternberg go the way of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Walter O’Malley?

Bardi or Golenblog? I’m not sure.

Like Brooklyn fans, we loyal Rays devotees are spectators with the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. (You don’t have to know the story to know a sword hanging over your head is not a good thing.)

If only we could insulate ourselves from the business side of baseball. Stu Sternberg is a nice man. He comes onto the field before a game and talks with reporters and players alike. But Stu Sternberg didn’t make $3 billion working on Wall Street by being nice. The reality is that to Sternberg, the Rays are above all else, an investment. Ultimately it’s another way for him to make money.

He has a game plan. It’s a secret plan, much like the proposal for the downtown stadium, but he knows what he wants to do. Will he move to Tampa? To Charlotte? To Brooklyn to compete with the Yankees and Mets? He declined to speak with CL on the subject of stadium plans and attendance, so it’s hard to say what that plan is.

But it seems Sternberg is treating us the exact same way O’Malley treated the Brooklyn fans. In the end we will find out what he intends to do only after he does it.

Repoz Posted: November 07, 2010 at 10:30 PM | 28 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: business, history, media, rays

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   1. BDC Posted: November 07, 2010 at 11:14 PM (#3685564)
I thought they were contracted to stay in the Trop till 2024 or something. Meaning they may go the way of the Dodgers eventually, as Manuel says to Basil Fawlty. Eventually, in the end.
   2. andrewberg Posted: November 07, 2010 at 11:16 PM (#3685567)
Awww, poor Tampa fans who don't go to games. They're going to miss out on the opportunity to continue to not go to games.
   3. Chip Posted: November 07, 2010 at 11:48 PM (#3685578)
Awww, poor Tampa fans who don't go to games. They're going to miss out on the opportunity to continue to not go to games.


...

It’s a secret plan, much like the proposal for the downtown stadium, but he knows what he wants to do. Will he move to Tampa?
   4. cardsfanboy Posted: November 08, 2010 at 12:00 AM (#3685581)
How come I get the feeling that the writer of this article is a vast conspiracy theorist? I mean from what I gather, basically he says that although Stu has given no indications of moving the team, we as fans should be prepared for him to move the team, because one rich guy 60 years ago didn't say anything about moving the team and ended up moving the team. Perfectly logical.
   5. rLr Is King Of The Romans And Above Grammar Posted: November 08, 2010 at 12:04 AM (#3685582)
But Stu Sternberg didn’t make $3 billion working on Wall Street by being nice.

Presumably, he made three billion dollars on Wall Street through outright theft. That's how it's done there.
   6. trtaylor6886 Posted: November 08, 2010 at 02:31 AM (#3685626)
The Rays announced they were going to cut payroll in 2011 in spring training 2010 not in the niddle of the playoff race.
   7. Rough Carrigan Posted: November 08, 2010 at 04:07 AM (#3685666)
But, unlike Brooklyn fans, you've never really supported your team.

And Brooklyn was screwed more by Robert Moses than by O'Malley. O'Malley at least tried to do something. Robert Moses couldn't have given a #### less. This isn't to exonerate O'Malley but Robert Moses mostly escaped his heapin' helpin' of blame pie in that whole incident. Brooklyn's crucial mistake was becoming part of NYC somewhere around 1900. Big mistake.
   8. A Fatty Cow That Need Two Seats Posted: November 08, 2010 at 04:33 AM (#3685670)
I read The Power Broker last year (around this time, actually) and am still glowing. However, the Dodgers were not discussed. What's the go-to book for Moses-related Brooklyn Dodgers shenanigans?
   9. themendozaline Posted: November 08, 2010 at 04:53 AM (#3685676)
But it seems Sternberg is treating us the exact same way O’Malley treated the Brooklyn fans. In the end we will find out what he intends to do only after he does it.

how about going to a freaking game every once in awhile. 10000+ for a clinching game is pathetic.
   10. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: November 08, 2010 at 05:19 AM (#3685682)
But it seems Sternberg is treating us the exact same way O’Malley treated the Brooklyn fans. In the end we will find out what he intends to do only after he does it.


how about going to a freaking game every once in awhile. 10000+ for a clinching game is pathetic.

Just the facts, ma'am....

Brooklyn's population, 1956: ~ 2,700,000

Dodgers' attendance, 1956: 1,213,562

Metropolitan Tampa-St. Pete population, 2010: ~ 2,700,000

Rays' attendance, 2010: 1,864,999
   11. bobm Posted: November 08, 2010 at 06:13 AM (#3685699)
[10]


Brooklyn's population, 1956: ~ 2,700,000

Dodgers' attendance, 1956: 1,213,562

Metropolitan Tampa-St. Pete population, 2010: ~ 2,700,000

Rays' attendance, 2010: 1,864,999


From BB-REF (Bold added):

1956 Dodgers..."Attendance: 1,213,562 (2nd of 8)"
2010 Rays......"Attendance: 1,864,999 (9th of 14)"


IMO "2nd of 8" reflects a far more involved fan base than "9th of 14."

If one's point is to show that 2010 Rays' fans supported their team at a level greater than fans of the 1956 Dodgers, I think one has to adjust for era and account for massive changes in the economy, sports, disposable income, stadium sizes, etc. in the last 50+ years.
   12. BDC Posted: November 08, 2010 at 06:25 AM (#3685703)
What's the go-to book for Moses-related Brooklyn Dodgers shenanigans?

Michael D'Antonio's Forever Blue. It's quite sympathetic to O'Malley.
   13. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: November 08, 2010 at 06:40 AM (#3685708)
IMO "2nd of 8" reflects a far more involved fan base than "9th of 14."

Or it might just mean that the Dodgers were competing with far worse teams with even worse fan bases, in great part due to the perpetual Brooklyn dominance of the NL for the 10 previous years, while the Rays were up against the likes of the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Angels, the Rangers, and the Twins in their new ballpark.

If one's point is to show that 2010 Rays' fans supported their team at a level greater than fans of the 1956 Dodgers, I think one has to adjust for era and account for massive changes in the economy, sports, disposable income, stadium sizes, etc. in the last 50+ years.

The problem is that other than the stadium size (which hurt the Dodgers exactly twice all that year), all the other factors favored the Dodgers. The 1956 economy was far better, the ticket prices in constant dollars were cheaper, the competition from other sports was practically nonexistent, and the ballpark was more easily accessible to the far more concentrated Brooklyn fan base. There may have been little excuse for the Rays' attendance, but there was even less excuse for that of the Dodgers. The plain truth is that the Brooklyn fans were just spoiled by success.
   14. bads85 Posted: November 08, 2010 at 06:49 AM (#3685711)
IMO "2nd of 8" reflects a far more involved fan base than "9th of 14."


The 1956 Dodgers' home attendance (77 games) was 75% capacity; the 2010 Devil Rays' home attendance (81 games) was 53% capacity.
   15. Tulo's Fishy Mullet (mrams) Posted: November 08, 2010 at 07:01 AM (#3685714)
I swear I read that O'Malley had Brooklyn play some number of home games in New Jersey (in a much smaller park) around this time, no?
   16. bobm Posted: November 08, 2010 at 07:35 AM (#3685720)
[14]
The 1956 Dodgers' home attendance (77 games) was 75% capacity


I count 9 doubleheaders in these 77 games, which probably did boost ticket sales. If none of these doubleheaders were split-admission doubleheaders, then one could argue that the 1956 Dodgers' home attendance was actually 85% capacity.
   17. Richard Posted: November 08, 2010 at 07:46 AM (#3685722)
I swear I read that O'Malley had Brooklyn play some number of home games in New Jersey (in a much smaller park) around this time, no?

Yes, in Jersey City.
   18. bobm Posted: November 08, 2010 at 07:55 AM (#3685725)
[15]
I swear I read that O'Malley had Brooklyn play some number of home games in New Jersey (in a much smaller park) around this time, no?


Yes, 7 regular season games in Jersey City, in a park 75% of the size of Ebbets Field.

FTFA:

Despite a 22-2 start in ’55, attendance stagnated, as many Brooklyn fans, angry at O’Malley’s threats to move, sat at home glued to their newfangled TV sets. In mid-season O’Malley announced that in 1956 seven home games would be played in Jersey City.



From http://mlb.mlb.com/la/history/ballparks.jsp


DODGERS BALLPARKS ...

Ebbets Field ...
• Capacity: ... 31,902 (1952) ...

Roosevelt Stadium
• Opened: April 23, 1937
• First Dodgers game: April 19, 1956
• Capacity: 24,167 ...

The Dodgers played seven home games at Roosevelt Stadium in 1956 (going 6-1) and seven in 1957 (4-3), but the most historic moment at the ballpark came a decade earlier, when Jackie Roosevelt Robinson stepped into the batter's box on April 18, 1946, as a member of the Dodgers' minor league Montreal Royals. It was Robinson's first plate appearance after Dodgers GM Branch Rickey signed him and ended segregation in the National Pastime.


In a move that was ahead of its time, the Dodgers apparently sold the 7 Jersey City regular season games and 1 exhibition game as a package of 8, thus further suppressing the attendance.


DODGER 'PACKAGE' IRKS JERSEY CITY; Plan Would Require Buying Tickets for All 8 Games -- Civic Leaders Meet
By JOSEPH O. HAFF
Special to The New York Times.
August 31, 1955,
JERSEY CITY, Aug. 30 -- Brooklyn Dodger baseball fans who want to watch their team play in Jersey City's Roosevelt Stadium next season learned today it will be a case of "all or nothing."
   19. Howie Menckel Posted: November 08, 2010 at 08:04 AM (#3685727)
The Bergen Record reporter who covered those 1950s Jersey City Dodgers game is alive and well, if anyone wants any details on those games........
   20. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: November 08, 2010 at 01:32 PM (#3685748)
I count 9 doubleheaders in these 77 games, which probably did boost ticket sales. If none of these doubleheaders were split-admission doubleheaders, then one could argue that the 1956 Dodgers' home attendance was actually 85% capacity.

You could argue that, but it still didn't hurt their attendance to any real extent. The "capacity" of Ebbets Field didn't prevent fans from stretching it for games where the demand was there, as was often the case for the World Series. But even using the official capacity figure, the Dodgers sold out only three games the entire year. And in the tightest NL pennant race since 1951, with no more than a game and a half separating the Dodgers and the Braves for the last three weeks, during that time they had crowds of 9,497, 7,570, and 7,847. That last one was with four days to go in the season. It wasn't until the final weekend that the fans decided to show up, and when the Braves blew their second game in a row on Saturday night in St. Louis, to put the Dodgers a game ahead, they had nearly 32,000 for the clincher. I guess that after two months of a three way neck-to-neck-to-neck pennant race, the Fanatical Flatbush Faithful wanted to be sure that the game was going to "mean" something.
   21. just plain joe Posted: November 08, 2010 at 02:58 PM (#3685765)
And in the tightest NL pennant race since 1951, with no more than a game and a half separating the Dodgers and the Braves for the last three weeks, during that time they had crowds of 9,497, 7,570, and 7,847. That last one was with four days to go in the season.


Didn't the Dodgers (like the Giants) really hurt their attendance by televising nearly every home game at this point? I'm sure I have read this but can't remember where to give a reference. Supposedly this was why the Dodgers had such a restrictive local TV policy after they moved to the west coast, O'Malley felt that the unlimited local television in New York had destroyed the gate and he didn't intend to repeat this in Los Angeles.
   22. BDC Posted: November 08, 2010 at 03:02 PM (#3685767)
Three things about the Dodgers seem pretty incontrovertible to me:

1) They were making a good profit in Brooklyn;
2) They made a much better profit in Los Angeles;
3) If every now-65+ citizen of Brooklyn went to as many games at Ebbets Field as they are happy to tell you they used to, the Dodgers would have drawn 250,000 fans per game and the team would never have moved.
   23. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: November 08, 2010 at 03:13 PM (#3685778)
And in the tightest NL pennant race since 1951, with no more than a game and a half separating the Dodgers and the Braves for the last three weeks, during that time they had crowds of 9,497, 7,570, and 7,847. That last one was with four days to go in the season.

Didn't the Dodgers (like the Giants) really hurt their attendance by televising nearly every home game at this point? I'm sure I have read this but can't remember where to give a reference. Supposedly this was why the Dodgers had such a restrictive local TV policy after they moved to the west coast, O'Malley felt that the unlimited local television in New York had destroyed the gate and he didn't intend to repeat this in Los Angeles.


You've got a very good memory. All three New York teams televised all of their home games beginning in 1948 or 1949, and in the case of the Dodgers and Giants, this continued all the way up to the end. And when the two teams moved west, the only games that were offered on free TV were the 11 road games that each team played in the other's park. O'Malley and Stoneham obviously learned their lessons, but you have to be a little suspicious as to why they (and many other teams) didn't learn them a few years earlier.

-----------------

Three things about the Dodgers seem pretty incontrovertible to me:

1) They were making a good profit in Brooklyn;
2) They made a much better profit in Los Angeles;
3) If every now-65+ citizen of Brooklyn went to as many games at Ebbets Field as they are happy to tell you they used to, the Dodgers would have drawn 250,000 fans per game and the team would never have moved.


1) True
2) True
3) Make that 500,000 per game if you include the ex-Brooklynites now living in Manhattan or Florida
   24. depletion Posted: November 08, 2010 at 03:13 PM (#3685779)
I believe the Dodgers also were trying to get a new park at the Atlantic Ave subway/LIRR stop closer to downtown, but got rejected by the city. Their fans were moving to the burbs, hence the LIRR stop, and it was obvious that trend would continue.
On the other aspect of the story, where are the Rays going to move? The last time we went around this problem, I think it was Portland that came up as the most appealing spot.
   25. Tom Nawrocki Posted: November 08, 2010 at 04:22 PM (#3685812)
All three New York teams televised all of their home games beginning in 1948 or 1949, and in the case of the Dodgers and Giants, this continued all the way up to the end. And when the two teams moved west, the only games that were offered on free TV were the 11 road games that each team played in the other's park. O'Malley and Stoneham obviously learned their lessons, but you have to be a little suspicious as to why they (and many other teams) didn't learn them a few years earlier.


It's not at all clear to me that there's a lesson to be learned here. Televising your games obviously builds up your fan base, and even if there's a transitional phase where you lose ticket sales, I suspect that in the long term, it's very good for a franchise to have as many games on TV as possible. Of course, neither the Giants nor Dodgers had a long term left in New York, so we'll never know what would have happened.

The Yankees' attendance in the 1950s peaked at just over 2 million in 1950, then drifted slowly downward, and it's easy to say that televising their games was the reason. But they also led the AL in attendance every single year of the decade. Every team was losing ticket-buying fans, whether their games were on TV or not. My understanding is that TV cut into attendance in the 1950s not just because people could stay home and watch the ballgame for free, but because they could stay home and watch I Love Lucy and Mr. Lucky for free, too. TV created a direct competitor for the baseball-game-going fan, and the teams could either fight against that tooth and nail, or acquiesce and try to make a few dollars (and a few fans) off of TV themselves.

The primary reason the Cubs became the dominant team in Chicago was because WGN began televising 150+ games a year, while the White Sox were on a crappy UHF station showing half as many. It's only a slight exaggeration to say that every boy who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s in the Chicagoland area grew up watching the Cubs on TV every day. And the Cubs are still reaping the benefit of that additional exposure.
   26. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: November 08, 2010 at 04:43 PM (#3685820)
Tom (#25),

I understand your argument, and it's true that nearly all teams saw attendance declines in the 50's, and that baseball had other TV shows to worry about as well as freeloading baseball fans.

But by contrast, look at the NFL, which (wisely, IMO) instituted a league policy of televising all road games while blacking out all home games. The road games whetted the appetite for the product, while the blackouts eliminated the moochers. The result was new attendance records being set every year.

When the Rams tried televising their home games in 1950, attendance dropped in half from 1949, and when they restored the home game blackout in 1951 as part of the league edict, they set a new attendance record. (And BTW the Rams were in the title game in all three of those years.)

In the long run, it probably is better to put all your games on TV (while collecting the rights fees from the cable networks), and marketing the "game experience" as the way to increase live attendance. But in the short run of the 50's, that strategy obviously didn't work, and the surest proof of that is the way that O'Malley and Stoneham handled TV once they moved west.
   27. BDC Posted: November 08, 2010 at 04:46 PM (#3685822)
Paradoxically, the ultimate NFL TV strategy has worked so well that the Cowboys Stadium was designed largely as a device to deliver a televised game to 100,000 people at once. The "real" game is going on somewhere in the depths of the stadium, but people would be reluctant to go unless they could have a better TV experience there than at home.
   28. bads85 Posted: November 08, 2010 at 06:12 PM (#3685919)
But in the short run of the 50's, that strategy obviously didn't work,


In terms of total revenue, yes, it did. The money that O'Malley made from TV was much greater than any money lost at the gate from people who stayed home because the game was on TV. In terms of televsion revenues, the Dodgers and the Giants dwarfed the rest of baseball then. The two teams combined brought in more than the rest of the league (including the Yankees) combined. In 1956, the Dodgers brought in almost $900,000 from media revenues while the Giants brought in $730,000.

The main reason people were staying away from the stadiums wasn't TV; it was deteriorating stadiums in rapidly declining neighborhoods that offered poor access to the park and extremely limited parking. O'Malley realized that even with increasing television revenues, Ebbets Field was a low ceiling in terms of revenues. Even with increasing revenues, O'Malley couldn't compete with teams drawing 1 million more at the gate -- something he would never get at Ebbets Field.

>>>that strategy obviously didn't work, and the surest proof of that is the way that O'Malley and Stoneham handled TV once they moved west.<<<

O'Malley and Stoneman were able to alter their strategy because they were the only team in the broadcast market -- they didn't have to compete with another team airing their games when the Dodgers or Giants were blacked out (All three NYC teasm thought hard about dropping many televised home games in 1956, but decided what was the point --- another team would be broadcasting on their blackout nights. O'Malley realized he'd never get that in Brooklym.

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