This story is part of ESPN The Magazine's September 29 Fansourced Issue. Subscribe today!
Last year's ranking: 17
Title track: 57
Fan relations: 40
Stadium experience: 92
Bang for the buck: 18
Playing in one of the toughest, if not the toughest, divisions in baseball, the Rays have somehow managed to win 90 games in each of the past four seasons. What makes this even more impressive? They've done so in a small market, with a tiny payroll and with very poor support at the Trop. At the heart of Tampa Bay's recent rise has been quirky but brilliant manager Joe Maddon. The Rays rank 19th in our coaching category; Maddon is universally considered one of the top managers in MLB, earning a reputation as someone who gets the most out of limited talent and someone who is not afraid to go against conventional thinking (infield shifts, pregame motivational tactics, etc.) to gain an edge.
The Rays are also one of the most affordable teams in the four major sports, ranking ninth in affordability, with the fifth-cheapest average cost of game in baseball. Tampa's combination of on-field success, fan friendliness and cheap prices have helped the Rays remain one of the top teams in bang for the buck, but it hasn't resulted in much of an uptick in attendance -- they rank dead last in baseball, averaging only 17,632 per contest.
Which brings us to the Rays' biggest weakness as an organization: the run-down, catwalk-laden venue known as Tropicana Field. The Trop ranks 92nd in stadium experience and has been among the worst parks in baseball for some time now. But the big problem: With little fan interest in the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg area, combined with such poor attendance, it looks as though the Rays are stuck with it. Any new ballpark proposals have been scrapped, and the Rays' long-term future in Tampa remains rather tenuous. Until a disappointing 2014, the Rays had been in the thick of it each season since breaking through in 2008. But as the team continues to trade its homegrown stars when they get too expensive -- David Price was the latest, traded to Detroit at the deadline -- fan frustrations might boil over.