Can Pro Baseball Last In the Sunshine State?
The prevalence of spring training in Florida might lead one to believe that Major League Baseball would be jumping at the opportunity to establish a big league franchise in the state. Floridians packed spring training stadiums and crowded public viewings of the World Series each year, proving that interest in baseball certainly existed within the state.
Yet the quest for professional baseball in Florida was a long and difficult process, with the first franchise, the Florida Marlins, being awarded to Miami in 1991. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays going to bat in 1998 and completing a twenty-year quest to bring professional baseball to Tampa Bay.
The two teams followed differing paths, with the Marlins winning the World Series within four years of their establishment in 1997 and again in 2003, while the Devil Rays struggled mightily for their first ten seasons before reaching the World Series as the Rays in 2008. Yet regardless of win-loss records, both teams struggled to draw attendees, as the two teams typically ranked in the bottom third of Major League Baseball attendance statistics.
A variety of reasons have been cited as the source of baseball’s lackluster draw in Florida. Some blame the dominance of football, especially college football, in the state. Others think Florida’s appeal as a destination for people to move to and start over has contributed, with many Florida residents already having a team that they are loyal to from their days in other states. Ironically, spring training, which brought professional baseball to Florida, has also been blamed for teams native to Florida struggling for attendance. Some believe that Florida residents established a loyalty to their local spring training club as opposed to their state team. Although both Florida teams have been successful, it is almost a yearly ritual to hear questions about whether they will remain in Florida.