It's official. The Tampa Bay Rays finished dead last out of 30 teams in average home attendance this season.
That's bad, no doubt.
But before you pity the Rays, consider the success they're having on the tube.
Viewership on Fox's Sun Sports network was up 28 percent this year over last, and the team will get an equal share of huge new contracts that Major League Baseball signed with Fox, Turner Sports and ESPN.
Those contracts could double the Rays' share of baseball's national broadcast revenues in coming years.
"In a relative sense, they don't do as well" as other teams, said Mark Rosentraub, a sport management professor at the University of Michigan. "But they still do well because of the size of those contracts."
The Rays wrapped up its 2012 season averaging 19,255 fans per home game, according to data on ESPN.com. That's actually up 2 percent from last season, when they averaged 18,878 per game. But other teams grew by similar levels, so the Rays didn't make up any ground.
In the past, the Rays could always count on battling the Marlins of Miami for last place in home attendance. However, the Marlins' new $515 million stadium helped boost the team's attendance to 18th place in the league, or 27,400 fans per game, ESPN.com data shows.
Even with a splashy new ballpark, though, the Marlins couldn't match the Major League Baseball average of 30,884 fans per game. In interviews with Miami news outlets, Marlins executives chalked it up to their last-place finish in the NL East division.
The Rays declined to comment for this story.
Rosentraub, who has written about the economics of sports stadium deals, said the Rays faced a "perfect storm" this season.
Tampa-area residents had less money to spend on baseball games because of the housing crisis. And the local population is much less dense than other baseball markets, so people have to drive farther to get to the ballpark, Rosentraub said.
"It becomes easier and cheaper to watch the games at home," he said.
Ed Kravitz, a lawyer who works just minutes from Tropicana Field, can only speculate that the injury to star third baseman Evan Longoria and weak hitting by players including Carlos Peña kept some fans away. Still, unlike the Marlins, the Rays played winning baseball.
"The quality of the team was really good," said Kravitz, who attends about 30 games a year. "We have the best pitching in baseball."
The Rays' poor attendance could bolster the team's argument that it needs a new ballpark.
Team principal owner Stuart Sternberg has warned that the Rays can't continue to compete against big-money teams such as the New York Yankees without the additional money a new stadium would bring in.
In fact, a number of local developers are making their own plans for a new stadium — even if the Rays haven't shown any interest in them.
St. Petersburg developer Darryl LeClair unveiled a plan last week to build the team a 35,000-seat stadium in the city's Carillon business park. This week, developer Joel Cantor said he wants to buy Channelside Bay Plaza in Tampa, raze it and build a stadium, although it's not clear how much support he'll get.
Officials from the Tampa Port Authority, which owns the land beneath Channelside, showed little interest in the idea.
Even as the Rays push for a new stadium — a project that typically involves significant public investment — the new broadcasting contracts may fuel arguments against it. The Rays stand to collect tens of millions of dollars per year regardless of where they play or how many they draw.
Starting in 2014, ESPN, Fox and Turner Sports will pay baseball a combined $1.55 billion a year for eight years for the right to broadcast national games. That's nearly double what baseball gets now.
The league takes out some of that for overhead costs but distributes the vast majority equally among the 30 teams, an MLB spokesman said.
The money does not include additional broadcast revenue that the Rays get from Fox Sports for local broadcasts on Sun Sports.
A spokesman for Fox Sports would not say how much the network pays the Rays, but did say the team's telecasts drew about 4.89 percent of the Tampa area's households with TVs. That was up 28 percent over last year.
By comparison, Marlins broadcasts drew about 2 percent of the Miami TV market while the Braves drew about 3.3 percent of Atlanta's market.
2012 MLB ATTENDANCE
Chicago White Sox