Historic Number of Tampa Bay Fans Bail on Rays in Playoff Loss

The Rays drew the smallest MLB postseason crowd since 1919 in a Game 1 loss

Tropicana Field during Game 1 of the 2023 Wild Card Series.
Tropicana Field was empty during Game 1 of the 2023 Wild Card Series.
Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty

If the Tampa Bay Rays drop a playoff game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and there’s a record-low number of people there to see, does it still count as a loss? Unfortunately for the 19,704 fans who were at Tropicana Field to watch the Rays lose to the Texas Rangers 4-0 in Game 1 of the American League Wild Card Series, yup.

The attendance of 19,704 for Game 1 of Rangers-Rays in St. Pete was the lowest draw for an MLB postseason game in a non-COVID year since Game 7 of the 1919 World Series. That game, part of a best-of-nine series between the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds, drew just 13,923 fans, although a ticketing issue was to blame, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

In St. Petersburg, the cause for the lack of fan support for the home team is indifference to analytics-heavy Rays and it has been that way for a long time. A playoff team for the fifth straight season, the Rays won 99 games this season but were only able to draw more fans on average than the Royals, Tigers, Athletics and Marlins. (Miami has its own attendance issues.)

Despite their winning ways, the Rays lack star power (aside from indefinitely suspended Wander Franco) and have now lost six straight games in the postseason. In Tuesday’s defeat, Tampa recorded four errors and managed just one extra-base hit despite deploying an all-right-handed lineup against Texas lefty Jordan Montgomery. It’s win-or-stay home for the Rays with Game 2 set to be played in St. Petersburg on Wednesday afternoon at Tropicana Field.

Speaking of the Trop, it will be demolished in time for Opening Day in 2008 when the Rays will begin their season at a new 30,000-seat ballpark in St. Petersburg that will be built as part of a $6.5 billion development project that also includes affordable housing, bars and restaurants and a Black history museum.

It’s a shame fans in Tampa are largely ignoring their team as there are plenty of North American cities that would love to have a big-league ballclub. Montreal, which had the Expos from 1969-2004, has maintained its interest in bringing MLB back to Quebec and offers a metro-area population of more than 4.3 million as a potential fanbase.

Meanwhile, Carolina Hurricanes owner and CEO Tom Dundon told the North Carolina Sports Network that he wants “to try to bring another major asset to North Carolina” and is targeting Raleigh. “I know I’m biased, but I think Raleigh is the best place in the country for a new MLB team,” Dundon said. “And when I say that, I think we have the facts to back that up.”

Other potential expansion cities for MLB include Nashville, Salt Lake City, Charlotte, Orlando and Portland.

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