Rays finish 2021 season with franchise-low home attendance due to COVID-19 pandemic
Tropicana site. Image via City of St. Pete.

Tropicana Field had an average of 9,396 fans per game this season.

The Tampa Bay Rays finished the 2021 regular season with their lowest total home attendance in the team’s 24-year history, in large part because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tropicana Field began allowing fans at full capacity on July 5. The Rays started the season allowing a limited capacity of about 9,000 fans per game, opening the 300 level for the first time since 2019 to allow for more social distancing.

An average of about 9,396 fans per game attended the team’s 81 home games this season at Tropicana Field, according to Baseball Reference. Tropicana Field has a capacity of 25,025 fans.

Baseball Reference data shows the Rays had total home attendance of 761,072 fans during the 2021 regular season. The Rays’ 100-62 record marked their best in franchise history. It also was the best record in the American League, helping the Rays to their third consecutive postseason appearance.

The Rays’ 2021 attendance ranked 28th in Major League Baseball ahead of the Miami Marlins (642,617 total fans, 7,934 fans per game) and Oakland Athletics (701,430 total fans, 8,660 fans per game).

Not counting 2020 when fans weren’t allowed at MLB games, it marked the third consecutive year the Marlins finished last in the league in home attendance. Marlins Park was built ahead of the 2012 season, and has a capacity of 36,742 fans.

The Rays’ previous low attendance came in the 2003 season when the team had 1,058,695 fans, or an average of about 13,071 fans per game. The team was known as the Devil Rays back then.

The Rays entered the 2021 season after making a World Series appearance. Tampa Bay lost the 2020 World Series in six games to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers led MLB in attendance with 2,804,693 fans for an average of 34,626 per game.

The Texas Rangers — who were the only team to begin the 2021 season at 100% capacity — led the American League in home attendance with 2,110,258 fans, for an average of 26,053 per game.

The Trop’s season-high for fan attendance came Sept. 25 against the Miami Marlins, when some 23,783 fans watched the Rays clinch the American League East title for the second consecutive year in a 7-3 win.

Some 2,924 people witnessed the Rays’ 4-3 win against the Oakland Athletics on April 27, marking the season-low for fan attendance at Tropicana Field. The Rays’ 12 lowest-attended home games came in either April or May.

Fans were not allowed during the 2020 season at Tropicana Field due to the pandemic. Tropicana Field averaged about 14,552 fans per game in 2019 and 14,259 fans per game in 2018.

The Associated Press reported attendance was down across Major League Baseball this season. The league drew 43.5 million fans this year, which is a decrease from the 68.5 million fans in 2019.

Attendance at Tropicana Field has been a discussion topic among people throughout the Tampa Bay area. However, the Rays make most of their money through television rights to broadcast their games. While Sports Business Journal reported in February 2018 that the Rays’ TV contract is worth $1.23 billion — about $82 million per year through the 2033 season — team owner Stuart Sternberg told the Tampa Bay Times the contract is “well, well, well under” the initial reported value.

The Rays are committed to their lease at Tropicana Field through the 2027 season. However, Rays leadership have publicly stated their consideration to split an 81-game home schedule between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal.

In late September, Sternberg issued an apology after plans leaked about posting a sign during the postseason at Tropicana Field to promote the spilt-city proposal. The Rays are no longer planning to post the sign, but are still considering the split-city concept.

The logistical challenges of the split-city proposal are daunting, if not impossible. It includes financing a new stadium somewhere in the Tampa Bay area, figuring out what to do with a proposed billion-dollar stadium on the days the Rays aren’t playing there, financing a second stadium and getting the MLB Players Association to agree.

In December 2018, the Rays terminated its negotiating window with the city of Tampa to build an $892 million stadium in Ybor City.

Leaders in the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County told the Tampa Bay Times of plans to search for a new Ybor City site where Kforce used to have its headquarters at 1001 East Palm Ave.

Sternberg and team President Brian Auld have met with outgoing St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman multiple times about the team’s future. The city of St. Petersburg’s charter limits the Mayor and City Council members to two terms in office. Kriseman is due to leave office in January.

In June, Kriseman said he could resume negotiations with the Rays after halting discussions in response to a lawsuit against Sternberg. St. Petersburg city attorney Jackie Kovilaritch had told Kriseman to pause negotiations while her office investigated whether the allegations raised in the lawsuit amounted to a violation of the team’s Tropicana Field lease.

St. Petersburg City Council Chair Ed Montanari along with members Darden Rice and Gina Driscoll wanted Kriseman to continue stadium negotiations to keep the Rays in the city. However, the City Council voted 5-3 in June against scheduling presentations for the final two Tropicana Field developers, compliant with a previous resolution seeking to bring the Trop project to a halt until the city and Rays have reached an agreement.

The redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site, with or without a team beyond the 2027 season, will fall onto a future administration.

On Thursday night, the Rays are set to host the winner of Tuesday night’s American League Wild Card game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

Mark Bergin

Mark Bergin is a freelance journalist, who previously worked as an online writer for 10News WTSP in St. Petersburg. Bergin has covered the Tampa Bay Rays’ stadium negotiations, the 2018 midterm elections, Hurricane Irma, Tampa Bay’s transportation issues and city/county government. He also covers the NFL for the Bleav Podcast Network and for BrownsNation.com. You can follow his work on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram at @mdbergin. Reach him by email at [email protected]


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