/How low can you go: Rays close off upper deck

How low can you go: Rays close off upper deck

The Tampa Bay Rays, who ranked next to last in the majors in attendance last season, are eliminating more than 10,000 seats in an effort to create a more “intimate” experience for fans at Tropicana Field.

The Rays on Friday said they would add a premium seating section in the lower level but would no longer seat fans in the upper deck, which would reduce capacity at the stadium to approximately 25,000 to 26,000.

That would be about 10,000 seats smaller than capacity at any other stadium in the major leagues.

“These renovations mark our continued commitment to providing a first-rate fan experience at Tropicana Field,” Rays president Matt Silverman said in a statement. “Together, in concert with the reduction in seating capacity, these investments will help create a more intimate, entertaining and appealing experience for our fans.”

The Rays averaged 14,258 fans last season, ranking only ahead of the Miami Marlins (10,013). It was a 7.9 percent decline for the Rays, who have ranked last in attendance in all but two seasons since 2012.

Tommy Pham, who was traded to the Rays from the St. Louis Cardinals in July, was critical of the fan base in Tampa Bay.

“It sucks going from playing in front of a great fan base to a team with really no fan base at all,” Pham said on SiriusXM in December. “… That’s something that I miss, because even here in the Dominican they have a strong fan base for the team I’m playing for. Their fans are very supportive, they’re loud. And the Rays? They just don’t have that.”

In December, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said he’d reopen the search for a new ballpark site after plans for a stadium in Tampa’s Ybor City area couldn’t be finalized by last month’s deadline.

Sternberg said any new ballpark can’t open until at least 2024 and the team must start thinking about where it will play when its lease at St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field ends after the 2027 season.

“We’ll continue to look in Tampa Bay and we’ll put our efforts to that,” Sternberg said at the winter meetings. “One way or another, we need to figure out a where the team is going to be in 2028, if not sooner. Ideally sooner. But absolutely by 2028.”

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has said the sport will not consider expansion until the Rays and Oakland Athletics get new ballparks. The A’s announced plans on Nov. 28 for a new stadium near downtown and are working to gain approvals.

Tampa Bay has played at what is now called Tropicana Field since its first season in 1998.

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