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Tampa Bay Rays
Title track: T190
Fan relations: 88
Stadium experience: 117
Bang for the buck: 20
Change from last year: -45
The defections of executive Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon still loom large, as the Rays finished a disappointing last in the AL East. For the first time since they were rebranded as simply the "Rays," they lost more than 90 games. Injuries can excuse only so many things, as the on-field product is clearly in need of several upgrades, and many of the off-field items -- none more important than a new stadium -- are still undecided.
Despite playing in one of the worst environments, according to fans, the Rays remain one of the more affordable attractions in sports, as they are in the top 25 for affordability and bang for the buck. Their average ticket price is about $10 below that of the rest of the league, and there is a limited amount of free parking most games, along with free parking for all vehicles containing four or more passengers on Sundays. You can bring your own food into the park, but concession prices -- $10 for a hot dog plus soda -- are relatively affordable if you don't. Once you're inside, there are a number of family-friendly attractions designed to keep the attention of younger fans, including the interactive touch tank in center field.
It's a chicken-and-egg scenario when it comes to ownership and attendance, which rank 116th and 117th, respectively. Owner Stu Sternberg has not been willing to increase what is already a meager payroll, often using poor attendance as a crutch. Fans, meanwhile, say he needs to put more into the team before they will support with their own money. The poor condition and location of Tropicana Field do nothing to bridge the gap. The club has received permission to look outside of Pinellas County for a new home, but progress has come at a snail's pace. This means the standoff between the ownership's bankroll and the fans' wallets will continue indefinitely.
Over the past few seasons, the Rays have been known for their overachieving group of young, likable players who, despite the size of their paychecks, were able to go toe-to-toe with the beasts of the East. They were led by a strong-willed manager who thought outside the box and was not afraid to speak out on any issue. That has all but gone out the window. Evan Longoria and Chris Archer are fine players and ambassadors, but beyond those two, there isn't much in terms of star quality. Kevin Cash, in his second year as manager, seems more likely to choose the safety of Joe Girardi's binder than the quirkiness of Joe Maddon's glasses, and the club fired its hitting coach, Derek Shelton, with just weeks left in the season. The result in these standings is not unlike the fall in the AL East: a whopping 44-spot drop in coaching and a 60-spot free fall for the roster.