Rays' new relief corps

The team is warming up to even fringe fans with a variety of entertainment options.

Published January 26, 2007

Plenty of people who go to Devil Rays games aren't diehard Devil Rays fans, or even baseball fans, for that matter.

The Devil Rays know this. So they're tweaking their business model and ramping up the off-field attractions this year, to draw in baseball's non-fanatics.

The entertainers who fill up the downtime between innings are among the Rays' lures. On Thursday, the team held auditions for dancers and other entertainers. Darcy Raymond, the Rays vice president of branding and fan experience, plans to hire as many as 80.

The Rays also will more aggressively segment the attendees Tuesdays for senior citizens, Thursdays for young professionals, etc. to better meet people's food, music and entertainment preferences. And the marketing team, after years without a mission statement, rolled one out at the end of last season. ("To energize the Tampa Bay community through the magic of baseball.")

"We're trying to create that magical, baseball feel," Raymond said.

Needless to say, a team like the Devil Rays - scarce on wins, lacking in history - could use that atmosphere to draw fans.

Enter Thursday's auditionees.

"The idea is, we can get you here and maybe start to build a connection beyond 'I'm just here to watch the dancers,' " said Jeff James, a sport management professor at Florida State University.

Off-field entertainment and gimmicks like T-shirt giveaways build customers short term, James said. But to build a long-term customer base, a team must get its players out in the community, so people feel connected to them.

Want in?

Auditions can be scheduled by appointment through the end of February. Call (727) 825-3211 or e-mail fan experience@devilrays.com.

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Steven “Fritz” Lombardo, 45, Tampa.  Auditioning for: Entertainer. Day job: Professional entertainer. Why he auditioned: “I always knew I had a special ability to make people laugh, and making a living at it is just the cream on the cake.” 

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Rebecca Raj, 24, Clearwater. Auditioning for: Dancer Day job: USF recruiter. Why she auditioned: Meet friends, escape 9-to-5 drone. Never wanted career dancing. “Just because I had other ambitions. And it’s not guaranteed money.”

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Michael Misserville, 55, Largo.  Auditioning for: Fan host.  Day job: Realtor after 25 years as cop. Why he auditioned: “I just want something to occupy my time, to get out, meet people. I sell million-dollar units on the beach, but I get bored.”

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Bill Shanks, 40, Tampa.  Auditioning for: Devil Rays mascot Raymond. Day job: Marine surveyor inspecting boats for buyers, sellers and insurers. Why he auditioned: Business has slowed in the past year. Plus, he has the performance bug.