Rays to close upper deck, reduce capacity to 26,000

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Tropicana Field already had the lowest seating capacity in all of baseball, with room for 31,042 souls. It also had the second-lowest average attendance in 2018, with only 14,258 folks showing up per game. While not a cavernous stadium to begin with, its particular aesthetics and those empty seats make the joint seem even more empty than it is, so the Rays are doing something about it: getting rid of seats.

From the Tampa Bay Times:

Seating capacity at Tropicana Field will be reduced to about 25,000 to 26,000 under a renovation plan aimed at improving fans’ experience.

The team on Friday announced plans to create a more “intimate” atmosphere, including the creation of the Left Field Ledge in the lower level featuring premium seating for small groups, and the elimination of the upper-deck 300 level.

The Rays are not the first team to go this route. The Indians dramatically cut their seating capacity in a recent renovation to Progressive Field. The Diamondbacks desperately want fewer seats in Chase Field and/or a new stadium with a lower seating capacity. The Braves just moved into a stadium with a much smaller capacity than their old one. The A’s, of course, have kept the upper deck of the Oakland Coliseum closed for years, with only a few exceptions for promotional nights.

While some may laugh at this and view this only through the lens of the Rays’ poor attendance, there’s more going on with these sorts of moves than simply closing seats that do no sell. Indeed, the common thread here, and with the construction of newer stadiums, is to go with fewer seats while placing a greater emphasis on more expensive seats, club sections and common gathering areas with bars and other amenities. The Rays may have multiple aims with this move, but one of them certainly involves eliminating its lowest-priced tickets which likely represent fans who spend less money at any given ballgame. It’s a move animated by economic opportunity every bit as much as it is motivated by the aesthetics of the ballpark, as suggested in the article and the team’s statements about the change.

Maybe that will not transform Tropicana Field into some sort of premium, upscale destination, and maybe it will not transform the less-than-fabulous aesthetics of games in that park, but it’s certainly in keeping with baseball’s move toward making attending baseball games a more premium, upscale product. Which is fine I suppose unless you want to snag some cheap upper deck seats to, you know, simply go to a baseball game.