Everything’s Up to Date in Tampa Bay

The Rays are doing everything they can to get fans to their seats in a timely manner. (via elisfkc)

From time to time, one encounters a fan who takes an interest in a non-hometown team. Often it is a sentimental attachment to a team based in a city where one spent one’s formative years. Sometimes a fan becomes enthralled with an individual player and by default becomes a fan of the player’s team. And sometimes it is a vicarious identification with a winning team or an underdog.

For my part, in recent years I have followed the fortunes of the Oakland A’s and the Tampa Bay Rays. I’ve never lived in either of those locations, and I’m not a fan of any one player, so I guess you can put me in the underdog category.

As fans are well aware, both franchises have to deal with limited budgets year after year. Also, both play in ballparks that are typically at the bottom of the rankings posted by stadium mavens, and for various reasons their municipal hosts can’t seem to agree on locations for new digs. Nevertheless, the A’s and Rays usually field competitive teams and reach the postseason more often than a lot of franchises with more resources facing less daunting challenges. It may well be their Herculean struggles against their handicaps will never result in a title; on the other hand, a Cinderella team could be taking shape even as I write this.

In recent months, however, I find my admiration for the Tampa Bay franchise is dwindling. It has nothing to do with on-field performance. It’s strictly because of what’s been going on behind the scenes.

In 2018, the Rays declared their parking lots would be cash-free. I’ll bet that surprised a lot of fans on Opening Day! Then in 2019, the Rays went full-frontal cashless. In fact, they were “the country’s first cash-free sports venue.” I guess that’s one way to solve cash flow problems.

Ironic aside: the Rays’ manager is Kevin Cash!

Here’s how the Rays explained the policy:

In an effort to reduce wait times and get fans back to their seats faster, Tropicana Field is cash-free. Payments accepted at retail and concessions locations include all major credit cards, debit cards, mobile barcodes, Rays gift cards and contactless payments, such as Apple Pay and Google Pay.”

The Rays assert that cash-free transactions reduce wait times by up to 50%. The magic words here are “up to.” In other words, if you do 20 studies and most of them show a negligible difference but one is off the charts at 50%, you can legitimately say “up to” 50%. This is not a new come-on. We’ve all seen those employment ads that say, “You can earn up to $200,000 after one year,” or something like that.

The Rays assert that cashlessness will promote “frictionless experiences” for fans. I can’t help but think back to the many times I’ve received a notice in the mail or seen a sign that starts off, “In order to serve you better…”

Nothing against frictionless experiences, but I think the ultimate lube job would be reasonably priced tickets, concessions, and souvenirs, but I wasn’t polled on the matter.

So what happens if you have not been clued in to the cashless policy and show up at Tropicana Field with no credit cards or debit cards? Not to worry, for you can buy a Rays gift card “at retail locations throughout Tropicana Field.” Also, “roaming gift card vendors” will be available offering gift cards “in $10 or $20 increments.” Or you can buy a card online and get it in the mail. Cash tips for vendors are still permitted, however. Good to know greasing someone’s palm is still a reliable way of reducing friction.

The Rays do allow fans to bring food into the ballpark. On the other hand, only bottled water and kids’ juice boxes are permissible carry-in beverages. If you want a beer or a soda, you might have to break down and purchase a gift card. If you are a regular fan, this may be a minor inconvenience. But suppose you are an out-of-towner just taking in a game and you want a beer or a Coke in one of those nifty plastic souvenir cups. If you don’t have a credit card, you will have to go in search of a card vendor. So you will have to make two stops to make one purchase. Chances are, your purchase will not be in exact $10 or $20 increments, so you will be left with money on your card you will never use. I guess we could call that the vig.

Under the cashless policy, if you buy a beer from a vendor in the stands, the ancient ballpark ritual of passing the beer down the row, followed by the cash being passed in the opposite direction, and the change, if any, re-tracing the original journey has now been replaced by a mobile device fans can swipe. So why should anyone care?

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Well, imagine a world without books, but one that offers anything you want to read on Kindle. Though one is reading the same text, the two experiences are qualitatively different. At least for now, readers have a choice. Rays fans do not.

Of course, the FAQ’s have been anticipated and answered:

What happens if the power goes out?
Power outages affect all aspects of the ballpark operations and the ordering and payment systems are no different. Should this happen, we will work to get all concession and retail sales up and running as quickly as possible.”

So let me get this straight…I’m dying for a beer, I have a walletful of cash and a pocketful of change. I can pay you the exact amont of the transaction, to the penny, tax included. You’ve got fully-operative taps hooked up to kegs bursting with beer and you tell me, sorry, our technicians are working on the problem, please be patient. “You’re money’s no good here” used to mean your purchase was on the house. I don’t think that’s the case here.

Is this practice discriminatory towards the low-income population who may be underbanked?”

Underbanked? Now there’s a new word for my vocabulary! But I can’t help but wonder what it means. If one person is underbanked, can another be overbanked? How does one know when one is sufficiently banked? Is underbanked the same as unbanked? I certainly hope not because we’ve had to deal with the great unwashed for decades. Having to deal with the great unbanked might be a bridge loan too far.

At any rate, the Rays respond to the FAQ by, again, saying you can exchange cash for gift cards. Then they follow up with corporatespeak, asserting they “proudly support equality and inclusion throughout the Tampa Bay area through various programming and partnerships, and we support hundreds of non-profits through monetary and in-kind donations each year.”

Gee, what a swell bunch of joes. Unfortunately, they haven’t answered the question they posed. So what would they do if St. Petersburg banned cashless-only transactions? The City of Philadelphia has already done so. Of course, the Quaker City has never been noted as a bastion of forward thinking. Just think of all those unbanked/underbanked Philadelphians arriving at Citizens Bank Ballpark and paying cash! What a civic scandal! How embarrassingly déclassé!

I’ve had a few brushes with the cashless craze at craft breweries and coffee houses. Yes, you can use your pocket change to purchase a cup of coffee at 7-Eleven or McDonald’s, but not at one of these fancy-pants bistros. In fact, I even encountered a three-story food court that refuses to take cash. God knows there’s no shortage of restaurants and watering holes in this world, so I can always go elsewhere.

Now if I wanted to be difficult, I could point out that every Federal Reserve Note of every denomination says, “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.” Does that mean a business that refuses to accept Federal Reserve Notes is committing a federal crime? Also, could a cash-free policy possibly be a 14th Amendment violation? You know…equal protection for the unbanked/underbanked? Just wondering.

This year I am doubly disappointed in the Rays, for they have announced that paper tickets have gone the way of the buggy whip. Henceforth, all tickets “will be available exclusively in the Ballpark app on a mobile device. As part of that policy, paper tickets – including print-at-home and PDF versions – will not be made available or accepted by the team.” Amazingly, they didn’t boast about saving trees.

Well, going paperless may be all the rage, but baseball tickets are, in some circles, sacrosanct. One fan I know has saved the ticket from every game he’s ever attended. Another pointed out he likes to get his ticket stubs autographed on game day. Also, some teams have player pictures printed on the tickets, thus making them collectibles.

Again, your app may admit you to the ballpark, just as a paper ticket does, but it’s just not the same thing. If I understand this policy correctly, this means I cannot buy a ticket if I don’t have an iPhone. Are the Rays getting a kickback from Apple? Do they own a lot of Apple stock?

Now I have also come up against this paperless policy a few other times. At my office, it is an unofficial policy, yet it seems to be honored more in the breach, as the network printer next to my office seems to be grinding away as much as ever. My local zoological society and another organization I belonged to were under the illusion everyone in the world had a smart phone. They no longer gave me membership cards. Okay, so I saved a few bucks and let my memberships lapse.

Now I have to wonder about the hubris of the Rays going cashless and ticketless. After all, they aren’t exactly packing ‘em in. In 2019, only the cross-state Miami Marlins drew fewer fans (811,302). The Rays, 29th in major league attendance, attracted a mere 1,178,735 fans, up from 1,154,762 in 2018. Can we attribute this “surge” of 23,762 to cash-only convenience? One would think the Rays would take any means of payment to put butts in seats…dollars, Euros, pesos, shekels, pesetas, yen, clamshells, beads, barter, casino chips, I.O.U.s, whatever.

If cashlessness is supposed to promote fan-friendly frictionlessness, it certainly hasn’t paid off at the box office. In my many years of experience waiting in lines, the problem is never cash customers. It’s either (a) too many customers at one time or (b) not enough personnel to handle the crowd. Given the Rays’ sparse fan base (indeed, it is hard to even imagine a Rays Nation…the franchise equivalent of Lichtenstein, Andorra, or Monaco maybe?), I have to believe (a) is not the problem. It could be (b) because personnel have this nasty habit of demanding paychecks, and that adds to the debit side of the ledger.

Of course, I’m not an efficiency expert, so what do I know? I haven’t done any scientific studies or published any peer-reviewed papers on the matter. I’ve only been standing in line for seven decades.

Of course, there’s always the possibility the Rays’ management is tanking (and I’m not talking about the sting ray touch tank in center field), not on the field, but in the front office, to deliberately alienate the few fans who have kept the faith. That’s a bold assertion, but it’s worth considering. Here’s why:

The Rays are actively pursuing a split home schedule between Tampa Bay and Montreal. At first, I thought this was just a ploy to scare the powers that be in the Tampa Bay area so they wouldn’t take major league baseball for granted. The Rays are free to leave after the 2027 season when their lease at Tropicana Field expires. Well, that gives Montreal plenty of time to build a new ballpark. And if the Rays can’t make a go of it in Tampa Bay, well, they easily could go to Montreal full time. And if the trail to Montreal already has been blazed, the transition will be that much easier.

I can’t think of a better way to sink the team. Who would want to play for a franchise where half your home games are really away games? We’re not talking about an occasional series in Europe, Mexico, or Asia, but 40 games a year. It’s hard enough for the Rays to hold on to good players. Becoming a two-city franchise would make it impossible. The Rays easily could sink back to the doormat status they enjoyed during their first 10 years, and fan interest could wither away to nothing. Then the Rays could point to an untenable situation in Tampa Bay, and major league owners would nod in agreement and okay any proposal to move to Montreal full-time.

St. Petersburg is not the hippest city in America. A lot of the residents are retirees. A few of them might be as gadget-crazy as their grandchildren, but most couldn’t care less. I seriously doubt every under-teched Rays fan is going to head for the local phone store to get up to speed. Personally, I would skip the Rays in favor of the local Florida State League teams…the Clearwater Threshers, the Dunedin Blue Jays, or the Tampa Tarpons. Hell, the Lakeland Flying Tigers, the Bradenton Marauders, and the Charlotte Stone Crabs aren’t that far away, either.

Perhaps in their attempts to show how tech-savvy they are, the Rays have misread the runes. Against all odds, vinyl records have made a comeback. I understand a lot of young adults are fascinated with typewriters! Will schools start teaching cursive writing again?

In the meantime, I still have the Oakland Athletics to attract my interest. Oh, I won’t completely turn my back on the Rays. I’m not saying they’re the new Evil Empire.

I just wish they’d stop acting that way.

Resources and References:

  • “Rays Go Cashless at Tropicana Field for 2019” by Kevin Reichard, ballparkdigest.com, January 26, 2019
  • “Rays Implementing Mobile Only Ticketing in 2020” by Zach Spedden, ballparkdigest.com, February 20, 2020
  • “Rays Steadily Pitching Case for Tampa Bay-Montreal Proposal,” by Zach Spedden, ballparkdigest.com, February 21, 2020
  • “Philadelphia becomes first U.S. city to ban cashless stores,” www.phillyvoice.com, March 7, 2019
  • baseballreference.com
  • mlb.com/rays/balpark/cash-free-faq


Frank Jackson writes about baseball, film and history, sometimes all at once. He has has visited 54 major league parks, many of which are still in existence.
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Jim
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Jim

Excellent,

Sandy Kazmir
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Sandy Kazmir

Getting old is hard. Everything changes around you, but you stay the exact same person.

ScottyB
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ScottyB

Insert “old man yells at cloud” meme…

Pirates Hurdles
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Pirates Hurdles

or OK Boomer

Spahn_and_Sain
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Spahn_and_Sain

“Give me 5 bees for a quarter,” you’d say.

OTMHeartBBC
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Member

op balances his checkbook by hand too

Subway Alum
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Subway Alum

You bet we do!

Subway Alum
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Subway Alum

. . . and pay cash at restaurants, where the servers welcome cash tips.

free-range turducken
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free-range turducken

It’s a shame about the Rays.

docgooden85
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docgooden85

Lemonheads rule

Dennis Bedard
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Dennis Bedard

Kind of tough when 90% of your fan base looks like they are auditioning for a Betty White or Mel Brooks look a like contest. And don’t knock the stadium. I once attended an NCAA final four basketball game there. Thought they did a good job.

docgooden85
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Member
docgooden85

I hate cashless because it assumes away the existence of people without smart phones, bank accounts, credit cards, and payment apps. And people who prefer not to upload all their data to governments and surveillance companies. I have credit cards but refuse to patronize any cashless establishment. Governments and companies hate it when you use cash because they can’t control it or you through it (govt) or make extra money off you from it (companies). I figure before long cash will be illegal to possess in amounts over like $100 and cash transactions will require data collection to complete the… Read more »

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

For about 99% of people, cashless transactions mean less time spent fumbling for cash and waiting for change. I’m an old guy but, this is really get off my lawn stuff.

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

Perhaps, but cash has benefits of its own, and the choice shouldn’t be taken away from us.

Terrier1980
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Terrier1980

I offer ye five bushels of corn for your daughter’s hand at the alter, sire.

Chuck Hildebrandt
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Chuck Hildebrandt

Cashless transactions also means more time reswiping misread magnetic stripes on cards, reinserting misread chips on cards, and fumbling for another card when the first card you chose completely fails.

docgooden85
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docgooden85

Requiring a smartphone for admission is just *begging* to be sued (by a sympathetic client too – some cute grandma, etc). Might as well just hang up a sign saying “NO POORS!”

dukewinslow
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Member
dukewinslow

well, yes. Poors are low CLV, in fact they COST you money more often than not.

Gus
Member

Just move the Rays to Montreal already!

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

I find an increasing number of articles here to be weird or, I guess, intended to be countercultural. And it’s not as if credit cards came into existence in 1999. I think most of those retirees know how to use a credit card. Talk about condescending. I’m almost 64, but why would anyone want to use a typewriter rather than a computer? I used typewriters and it was a pain in the ass when you made a mistake. I think these “young people” who are being attracted to typewriters are doing so because they think it’s cool, not because they… Read more »

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

Credit cards, yes, smartphones, no.

I’m with you on how stupid it is going back to typewriters, though.

docgooden85
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Member
docgooden85

People with bad credit can’t have credit cards. Or no credit.

Josh
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Josh

But the Rays don’t want those people as fans. Do people think that’s a good thing? Or have they just not thought it out yet? Only time will tell.

OTMHeartBBC
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Member

those people should not be spending money on sporting events. they should pay off their debt

dukewinslow
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dukewinslow

did… did the author get lost on the way to publishing this on infowars? (this is a tinfoil hat cashless government is stealing my brainwaves from a pizza parlor argument, occasionally)

Bigperm8645
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Bigperm8645

that’s all you took from it?

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

Wow, that sucks! There are plenty of people like me who have no interest in getting a smartphone. It’s not worth paying all that extra money each month when I can just wait to get home to use the Internet in most situations, my 3DS is good enough for what little interest I have in photography (and there are always digital cameras if you want high resolution photos), and the games are SO much better on a 3DS or Switch. Also, I’m glad that my local ballpark allows us to bring in sodas as long as they’re in plastic bottles.… Read more »

dukewinslow
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dukewinslow

one of the newish crazy things about europe is how basically everything is now contactless. Which, let me tell you, sucks if you’re trying to buy a train ticket and your italian hasn’t kicked back in yet after a 12 hour ish flight.

Terrier1980
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Terrier1980

Not anywhere near as ‘crazy’ as trying to figure out the antiquated American custom of tipping for service (however poor) via electronic payment devices. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t is my conclusion after trying my hardest during the last few trips Stateside.

Bigperm8645
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Bigperm8645

I’ve attended Rays games since the inaugural season; probably about 15 in total. The stadium is ok but not convenient. The fan experience has always been boring as no one appears really into the game, it’s mostly tourists. Furthermore there isn’t much to do in the surrounding neighborhood. I’ve also gone to other games recently where mine and a friend of mine’s credit card numbers were stolen (not the same game, and not the same park). Get an RFID wallet next time you go to a game because of the thieves are out there. So the last game I brought… Read more »

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

I think it was a mistake for MLB to expand to the Snowbird State in the first place. The people with most of the money don’t live there during most of baseball season!

Neil Turner
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Neil Turner

Ironically, I just attended my first hockey game in Canada (Vancouver) and trying to be ‘hip’, didn’t get any Canadian cash from the ATM. Hey – we have cards, why do we need cash? Got inside Rogers Arena. Their card system was down. Protip: Don’t try to use the ATM when the card system is down. Thankfully, it returned a few minutes later but there was some serious panic about whether I would get my souvenir cup or not!

Ro
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Ro

Pfffff stop whining You can’t stop the future bro.

GoNYGoNYGoGo
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GoNYGoNYGoGo

Frank raises an interesting points, and I’d like to add, for all the millenials kavetching in the comments, a few examples of how the cashless system actually works to hurt sales: 1) children who would normally be allowed to buy something at the convenience stand with a $20 bill given by Dad while dad actually watches the game, don’t get the icecream, pennant, etc as Dad is not missing the game; 2) Dad is out with some old friends and wants to buy his beers with cash. It limits his alcohol/caloric intake but most importantly, it keeps wife from knowing… Read more »

Josh
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Josh

I don’t think this is about a generational understanding of technology, despite apparently the thirst of younger folks In these comments to mock anyone who doesn’t want to be marginalized or fleeced by the Rays under the false banner of “progress…for YOU!” The point about low-income fans deserves a wider hearing. Many fans do not have credit, cannot get a credit card, and may not have access to a mobile device (or reliable connectivity). This seems like yet another “aren’t we clever” way of pushing low-income fans out of your park. It’s tacky and gross. Unbanked citizens are a real… Read more »

Spa City
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Spa City

WTF – Is”unbanked citizen” the new Woke term for “poor person”?!

Spahn_and_Sain
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Spahn_and_Sain

If by “new Woke term” you mean the “FDIC’s decade-plus old term” then yes.
https://www.fdic.gov/householdsurvey/2009/index.html

OTMHeartBBC
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Member

those people should not waste what little income they make on sporting events

Subway Alum
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Subway Alum

I’m with you, Frank! All the twenty-and-thirty-somethings belaboring you here don’t realize that some of us have a cell phone (as un-“smart” as we can find on the market these days) mainly for making emergency telephone calls, not making financial transactions. We may be old, but we’re still a viable component of the economy. . . . Thanks for the shout-out to the Florida State League as an alternative. Before retirement to North Carolina as a northern “half-back,” I spent many pleasant hours watching the Ft. Myers Miracle and traveling around the state to other FSL ballparks. And now I… Read more »

Spa City
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Spa City

That ballpark is a joke.

Can we all finally accept the Rays are moving to Montreal? It seems inevitable. Why not just get on with it?

As awful as Stade Olympique is, it is so much better than Tropicana. And Montreal is so much nicer than Tampa. Let’s just get to it and make the move happen.

Montreal can build a new ballpark later. But lets get the Montreal Inuits going.

hittfamily
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hittfamily

I go to a lot of Rays games. Taxes are included on everything, and all prices are exactly on the dollar. There’s no one that will convince me that me swiping a card is more convenient than handing over a $10 bill on a $10 purchase.

Robert K Duncan
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Member
Robert K Duncan

Do they accept bit-coin payment yet?

Da Bear
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Da Bear

Back in 2014, the Trop hosted a college football bowl game which was sponsored as the “Bitcoin Bowl,” and they accepted bitcoin payment there. The agreement was supposed to continue into 2015 as well, but for whatever reason it didn’t. Hmm…