If you give it, will they come? Rays to hand out 20,000 free tickets

In response to the bad press created by Monday night's comments from David Price(notes) and Evan Longoria(notes), the Tampa Bay Rays just announced that they'll be giving away 20,000 ticketsfree, gratis, no charge — to Wednesday night's game against the Orioles at Tropicana Field.

We'll see how many Rays fans take them up on it.

If stars Evan Longoria and David Price found the size of the crowd at Tropicana Field "embarrassing" on a night when their team could clinch a playoff spot and only 12,000 or so showed, how might they feel on Wednesday if the place still isn't as filled to their liking?

Well, it probably would indicate, long term, that Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg, Fla., won't last. The team has been making an effort to get a new, publicly financed ballpark, probably in neighboring Tampa, but if the Rays can't even give away tickets in a pennant race, it might just be the last straw for the team pulling up stakes.

Maybe it gives the team's ownership more ammo for a needed move to Tampa. Maybe it gives them ammo to move to another region completely. Nobody knows at this point.

From Marc Topkin's The Heater:

Team president Matt Silverman said they are doing [the ticket giveaway] in response to comments from several of their players, led by Evan Longoria, to create a full-house atmosphere.

"'It was something we had discussed, but I don't think we would have (done this without their comments), and it's not about the two players, it's about the sentiment expressed by the team throughout the year, the energy that they get from the fans when this place is full," Silverman said. "Two years ago when we clinched against Minnesota the players celebrated with the fans, it was a packed house, and it's that type of celebration of this season that we're looking for. You see it in the record — the players really respond to the energy and the noise and the excitement when the fans are in this place, and we're looking to do that tomorrow with these free tickets.'''

Someone Tweeted about the possibility of Longoria and Price having bought the tickets, but Silverman said it was the organization that was footing the bill.

On the one hand, it's a bold — if also a reactionary and desperate — way to do business.

The Rays will get a lot of people, probably, who will come and pay for a beer and a hot dog they otherwise wouldn't have purchased. It'll probably be a fun night, especially if the Rays still need a victory to clinch a playoff spot.

But the gimmick also devalues the tickets of the dedicated fans who already bought and paid for theirs. And it also devalues their product. It's not meant to be a long-term solution, of course, but maybe a 2-for-1 deal, or even 4-for-1, would have been better. Buy one ticket, bring your family. Your buddies. Whatever. At least someone is paying something for what the championship-level baseball you're trying to sell.

It will also look awful if not enough people take them up on it. But let's say they do. What if too many people show up? What if 20,000 people are left on the outside of Tropicana Field, like when KFC offers a free chicken day and doesn't have enough chicken to meet demand?

Asked how many of the 20,000 tickets they expect to be claimed, Silverman told The Heater:

"We don't know, and we'll see tomorrow. I'm hopeful we'll have a packed house."

That shows you how much thought Rays management put into this. Reactionaries.

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