tampabay.com

Marketing, not moving, is the goal, Rays say

Team says their search this week in Orlando is for a broader audience regionally, not a new home.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 15, 2007


LAKE BUENA VISTA - The Devil Rays say they are playing three games at Disney this week to get more Central Florida fans interested in coming to Tropicana Field and not to explore moving the team to Central Florida.

The Rays came up with the idea to take a three-game regular-season series that probably wouldn't draw well at the Trop and turn it into essentially a living commercial to broaden their appeal regionally.

"A number of our fans in Tampa Bay are going to make the drive over to see outdoor Rays baseball at home, but the marketing emphasis has been to reach fans in Orlando and Central Florida, " Rays president Matt Silverman said.

The Rays view this experiment as similar to what the Green Bay Packers did for years by moving a game to Milwaukee, the Boston Celtics to Hartford, even the Brooklyn Dodgers to Jersey City.

Disney VP Reggie Williams said "there has not been a syllable discussed between this series and moving the team to Orlando. It's not on anyone's radar screen. That's a David Blaine thing."

Disney sees a long-term benefit to the deal. "We're extremely excited about the opportunity for every youth athlete to forever more play on the very same field as authentic major-league games, " Williams said.

How it works - and how many tickets they sell - will determine whether they do it again. Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg has mentioned they could target other areas of the state as well.

Ticket sales started slowly, but Williams said they expect "very healthy" crowds. The Ballpark has 9, 500 seats and room for several thousand more on the lawn or standing. When the Rangers played in St. Petersburg last May, they drew less than 7, 300 to each game.

About the only concern officials have now is the possibility of rain, which could limit walkup ticket sales and/or disrupt play.

"Our biggest fear, " Silverman said, "is that the weather won't cooperate."