Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rays Attendance: It's the announcer, stupid.

The Rays attendance woes can be traced to several factors: the excuses vary from the team being perennial losers; to people hanging out at Florida's pristine beaches; to other entertainment options vying for a sparse dollar; To a degree, all of the aforementioned is true, but one rarely mentioned point is the momentous role a radio/television announcer plays in creating fan interest; on this principle, the Rays have failed miserably. The exciting pace of football, basketball, and hockey, allow fans to interpret the action for themselves. In those sports, broadcasters are a luxury, rather than a necessity. Baseball, however, is slow; and like a good book, the announcer reads it to the fan the same way a mother narrates a bedtime story. Consider the pleasant sounding voice of the Dodgers, Vince Scully: he became a legendary broadcaster by blending play by play with anecdotal information about players. In between pitches, he could tell what a manager can, or cannot say to an umpire that results in an ejection; in addition, he may inform you Babe Ruth's mother was a fourth generation slave. Over time, legions of new fans on the West Coast became Dodger enthusiast. On the other hand, who will ever forget the St. Louis Cardinals, Jack Buck, describing Kurt Gibson theatrical home run with the memorable phrase, "Folks, I don't believe what I just saw!" Buck like Scully, created legions of Cardinal fans throughout the Midwest with his episodic play by play; baseball became our national past time since it closely mirrors our collective evolution as a nation. No teacher can discuss segregation without mentioning Jackie Robinson in the same breath as Rosa Parks. Film maker, Ken Burns's, epic documentary reveals how much baseball is elaborately woven into the fabric of sporting Americana. An announcer's ability, therefore, to express this sport in the context of our culture conveys our heritage. So regarding Rays attendance, what's all the fuss about? Currently, Tampa Bay is ranked 23rd in attendance averaging 22,000 a game. On some nights, the figures are less than 13,000. The season began with high expectations because the club won the pennant last year. So who's the blame? Initially, former announcer, Paul Olden, was so lame, he's currently the public address announcer for the Washington Nationals. The current broadcaster, Wayne Statts, needs a good color commentator as Statts does little more than tell corny jokes. Baseball, meanwhile, becomes dreary when the announcer does not understand the subtle intricacies of the game. Of course not everyone is a Vince Scully, Red Barber, Jack Buck, or Bob Costas, but if they're not in this category, they must substitute background information with an astute analysis of the game. No one likes second guessing a baseball manager more than aficionados; the presenter, meanwhile, must be able to motivate a baseball enthusiast by calling into question a coach's strategy. If the Rays are to stay in Tampa Bay while building fan interest, they must look for an anchor who incorporates all these qualities. Otherwise, Floridians will remain content watching leggy bikini clad blonds prance around Clearwater beach.