Will a new pitch to bring a Major League team to Orlando affect the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays?
If former Orlando Magic co-founder Pat Williams has his way, Major League Baseball will call the city of Mickey Mouse home in the future. The state of Florida already has two teams – the Tampa Bay Rays and the Miami Marlins – that have not fared well in terms of fan support since the teams’ entered professional baseball in 1993 and 1998.
This is not the first time that Williams has tried to strike gold with the potential of bringing baseball to the central part of the state. Given the porous crowds in both Miami and Tampa, it might be a hard sell despite the diversity of the Orlando market and the international appeal the tourism industry enjoys because of attractions off the I-4 corridor.
"Per Matt Bonesteel of the Washington Post, “At a news conference Wednesday, Williams emphasized that the initiative was still in its infancy and that there’s no timeline to acquire a team. First, his group needs to determine whether there is indeed a public appetite for a pro baseball team in the area (a website already has been set up). If the interest is there, Williams would go about looking for areas to build a new ballpark.”"
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Disney’s Wide World of Sports is home to MLB Spring Training for the Atlanta Braves. Fifteen MLB teams have their Spring Training facilities in Florida, including Miami in Jupiter and Tampa Bay in Port Charlotte. Florida is also home to 14 minor league teams throughout the state, including the Daytona Tortugas, the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.
The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp – the Marlins Double-A affiliate – and Florida Fire Frogs, the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Atlanta Braves are also big draws in the central and northern parts of the state.
While the talk of expansion is not something fans should be surprised about, it could be met with some opposition as to where new teams may set up shop in the future.
"As Bonesteel explained in his story, “In April, Commissioner Rob Manfred said he envisions adding two teams, one in the Eastern time zone and one in the Pacific. And while any expansion likely is a far-off prospect, Manfred has mentioned Charlotte, Nashville and Montreal as possible Eastern candidates.”"
There has not been an expansion team to join MLB since 1998.
The lack of attendance in Tampa and Miami may hinder Williams’ attempt at making the sport a trio in Florida. The Marlins averaged 10,016 fans over 81 games last season, which was last in the Majors. The Rays did not trail their in-state rival by much, just bringing in 14,737 per contest over 80 games. The rays finished 2019 with a 96-66 record, good for second in the American League East. The Marlins, who have Derek Jeter running the show, were 57-105, the worst team in the National League.
Despite large media markets in Tampa (12th) and Miami (16th), there hasn’t been a buzz about going to the ballpark. The Rays made the World Series in 2008. Miami owns two World Series titles in 1997 and 2003.