Poorly supported Rays cut seating in smallest MLB venue

Tampa Bay Rays supporters sit among empty seats at Tropicana Field, which the Major League Baseball club said Friday will see its already-lowest capacity shrink even more (AFP Photo/Brian Blanco)

Miami (AFP) - With dwindling fan support in their domed ballpark, the Tampa Bay Rays said Friday they are reducing seats in a stadium that already had Major League Baseball's smallest seating capacity.

The Rays announced renovations that include closing the upper deck at Tropicana Field, trimming capacity from 31,042 to somewhere between 25,000 and 26,000 seats -- about 10,000 fewer seats than any other MLB venue.

"These renovations mark our continued commitment to providing a first-rate fan experience at Tropicana Field," Rays president Matt Silverman said. "Together, in concert with the reduction in seating capacity, these investments will help create a more intimate, entertaining and appealing experience for our fans."

Rays attendance fell just under eight percent last season to 14,258 a game, second-worst in MLB to the Miami Marlins average of 10,013.

The Rays have ranked last or next-to-last in the majors in crowd size in each of the past eight seasons.

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg wants a new ballpark before the club's lease expires in 2027 at the former Suncoast Dome, where the team has played since its 1998 debut.

Plans for a proposed new 28,000-seat stadium in Tampa collapsed last month.