I don’t know that I know enough myself to make such a judgment, but that’s the judgment of ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume, who writes what I feel to be a fairly accurate and even-handed assessment of the problems facing the Rays in St. Petersburg, concluding thusly:
Again: This is not about assigning blame. Nobody is a bad person for not attending a baseball game. Even with 30 new ballparks one major league team would still have to be last in attendance, and even with a new stadium on the Tampa side, there is nothing to suggest that team wouldn’t be the Rays. The Tampa Bay area is a great place. It just hasn’t been a great place for Major League Baseball to do business.
The most compelling argument against the Rays’ viability in the Tampa Bay area that I’ve heard is the argument that, overall regional population aside, it’s a population that is really spread out in terms of miles from the ballpark. And that’s even before you factor in the bridges and other demographic considerations. At some point, you either feel like you have a ballpark nearby or you don’t, and the bulk of the population in the Tampa Bay Area apparently views the Rays as playing far away from them, in a location that isn’t worth the bother of reaching.
Of course, there are no easy solutions. There are very few if any cities that would be sure-things from a business perspective if the Rays were to relocate. Some would be better than St. Petersburg, but no sure things.
It strikes me that the best bet to ensure the financial viability of the franchise would be to move it into an area that is already part of the claimed territory of an existing team, such as Brooklyn or the New York suburbs. Inland Empire, California. That kind of thing. Such a move would certainly upset apple carts, but it would also reflect the population trends of the past few decades, and those trends are something to which baseball has always, eventually, had to adhere.