ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays are counting on a new flexible ticket program to lift them out of last place in home attendance, building much of their 2014 advertising campaign around it.
Rays business executives on Wednesday touted their new Flex Packs as unique for Major League Baseball clubs. The Tribune couldn’t independently verify that Wednesday afternoon, but the program is a big change from the Rays’ usual ticket deals.
Fans who buy a three-, six- or nine-day Flex Pack can redeem them for any games during the season, even the season opener, with no extra cost for in-demand games against the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. Typically, marquee games have gotten a price mark-up.
So, for example, someone could buy a three-game pack and catch the Rays’ home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays on March 31 and one game apiece against the Red Sox and Yankees. The only caveat is those games can’t be sold out when the fan tries to redeem their packs.
The Rays have sold packages to multiple games before, but never allowed fans as much freedom to pick when they want to redeem them over the course of a season, said Rays senior Vice President Mark Fernandez.
“We’re trying to get that individual ticket buyer to commit to three, six or nine games,” he said.
So far, the program seems to be working. The team has sold 10,000 Flex Packs for the upcoming season, at prices starting at $49 for a three-game pack, said Brian Auld, a senior vice president of business operations.
Fans who buy them receive a plastic card with a magnetic stripe similar to a credit card, rather than traditional tickets.
The team made its Flex Pack program a cornerstone of its 2014 ad campaign. Rays players Evan Longoria and Desmond Jennings and manager Joe Maddon, for example, will appear on billboards flexing their biceps and holding Flex Pack cards, beside the catchphrase “Get Your Flex On.”
The Rays will try to improve upon last year’s disappointing attendance, which saw them finish last in the big leagues with just 18,646 fans per night. Its overall slogan for the 2014 season will be “Rays Up,” which emphasizes the team and fans alike raising up each other.
“That Rays Up is all about, ‘Let’s go do this thing together,’” Fernandez said.
Rays fans have become accustomed to quirky give-aways and promotions from the team, from a Joe Maddon gnome freebie to the infamous DJ Kitty, a cat who spins records. Rays marketing officials let on Wednesday that they feel some pressure to keep generating quirky ideas. This year, the Rays are debuting a new Joe Maddon Mr. Potato Head doll and a DJ Kitty hat.
Some people are skeptical that ballpark attendance is vital to the Rays, because the team generally enjoys strong TV and radio ratings. Also, Major League Baseball in 2012 signed a huge new TV deal with ESPN, Turner Sports and Fox that will nearly double what baseball had been getting. The Rays will get a piece of that extra money, and they stand to cash in when the team renews its current local broadcast deal with Fox’s Sun Sports network. Fernandez wouldn’t disclose when that is.
Fernandez, though, insisted Wednesday that ballpark attendance can’t be overlooked.
“Filling the stands is still extremely important,” he said.