It seemed there was a never-ending stream of superlatives when it came time to describe our selection as the 2008 MLB Organization of the Year. Unconventional, youthful, tenacious, coming of age, and plucky were but a handful. But, if you were to say at the beginning of the 2008 MLB season that the Tampa Bay Rays would make the World Series, maybe the best word used to describe them would be “unimaginable.”
The Rays, this year’s AL representative in the World Series, won our selection by going from worst in '07 to first in '08, and in the process breathed life into an organization that for the majority of its tenure has been running on life support.
To start with, the organization rebranded itself, removing "Devil" from the club name, and changing the team colors. At the time, owner Stuart Sternberg seemed to encapsulate how the team would be remembered in 2008:
"We were tied to the past, and the past wasn't necessarily something we wanted to be known for. Nobody's running from it or hiding from it, and we're proud of certain aspects of it, but this is something the organization was able to really put their arms around. I hope and expect the fans who come out will see it as a new beginning," he said.
From a player payroll perspective, no team did so much with so little. Using the Marginal Payroll/Marginal Wins metric (see a detailed break down of all 30 clubs), the Rays had the second lowest Opening Day payroll in the league at $43,820,598, then won the AL East with a 97-65 record, which comes to an incredible $679,764 per marginal win. To place this in perspective, the Rays were the only postseason team to tout a cost per marginal win less than $1 million, with the nearest being the Brewers at $1,692,854 per MW --- nearly two and a half times greater.
As they say, winning cures all ills and the Rays were no exception. The Major League's largest increase in average attendance came to the Rays, who saw a jump of 28.20 percent to 22,370 per game, or 1,780,791 in total attendance, up from last season’s 1,389,031. The total attendance count was nothing spectacular, but given the fact that the (then) Devil Rays had posted total attendance of 1,369,031 in 2006 (29th out of 30), and 1,124,189 in 2005 (30th out of 30), the Rays see hope in growing fan interest over the next few seasons based on their improbable run through the AL East and the postseason.
That winning also parlayed into increased viewership on television. FSN Florida and the Tampa Bay Rays saw nearly a 100 percent increase in ratings from last year (99%) posting a 3.47 rating this year compared to 1.74 last season. To add an extra shine to the regional ratings, the Rays doubled total households from 31,000 in '07 to 62,000 in '08.
This increase in viewership has allowed Rays owner Stuart Sternberg and his staff to negotiate an 8-year extension with FSN Florida through 2016. While figures have not been released, the Rays will see a substantial increase in television rights fees from FSN Florida over the life of the agreement.
On top of all this, the real reason the Rays received our 2008 award is the make-up of the team. From GM Andrew Friedman, to the pitching staff, through the rest of the roster, the best word to describe them is “youthful.” That quality pervades every aspect of the team.
Come sail away? The Rays wisely opted to wait for a
better economic and political opportunity to pursue
a proposed new waterfront ballpark in downtown
St. Petersburg. (see more images)
The club's Wall Street analyst-turned general manager, Andrew Friedman (age 31), had never worked in MLB until owner Stuart Sternberg tapped him for the position. The Rays' World Series starting rotation has an average age of 24.6. The team roster includes 11 first-round draft picks, five of which the Rays drafted.
We also tipped our hat to manager Joe Maddon, who was selected as The Sporting News Manager of the Year for the American League. Maddon’s taste for what some termed a “new age” style resonated with the players, and his straightforward candor and honesty was a breath of fresh air for the league.
Other points of interest that make the Rays our selection as MLB organization of the year:
- For the second consecutive season the organization played a series at Disney's Wide World of Sports, just outside of Orlando, this year taking on the Toronto Blue Jays. The games were a proactive effort by the Rays to increase fan interest regionally before the realization that the team would become a force in the AL East. How have the Rays fared at Disney? To date, they are undefeated.
- The club announced plans to develop a new ballpark in downtown St. Petersburg at the Al Lang Park location. The design, arguably the most unique in all of sports, has sail-like panels that would create cover in the event of rain. While the Rays were hoping to obtain public funding this year, they wisely pulled back from that stance, opting to do so at a later point when the political and economic climate is more conducive.
The question will now shift to whether the Rays can ride the momentum? Will season ticket sales increase? Will those that were bandwagon fans turn into regulars? Certainly the team's first run into the postseason, its core of young marketable platers, and its strong management team offer hope.
Select Read More to see the rest of the Business of Sports Network 2008 MLB Organization of the Year Award, including guest selections, our runner-up and honorable mentions
Runner Up – The Los Angeles Dodgers
If not for the Rays remarkable run, the Dodgers would have almost certainly been our selection this year. As staff member Kurt Hunzeker said, “For the 2008 Los Angeles Dodgers, becoming 'relevant' again means everything." With ‘08 marking the 50th anniversary of the club’s relocation to Los Angeles, Frank and Jamie McCourt leveraged the milestone date to the hilt, starting with an exhibition game at the LA Coliseum with the Red Sox that posted the largest single-game attendance in history at 115,300.
But, it was certainly the hiring of Joe Torre in the off-season and bringing in Manny Ramirez late in the season that gave the Dodgers more muscle than they have had in some time. With the moves, the Dodgers won the NL West posting an 84-78 record on the way to sweeping the Cubs in the NLDS.
In terms of franchise value, the Dodgers have been a model of consistency since 2002, ranking as high as 3rd, and locked in as the fourth most valuable club in MLB. The value of the Dodgers has increased 60% over that period of time and should keep heading in that direction as they continue to renovate Dodger Stadium, and look to develop the area around the historic stadium. The Dodgers have launched "Dodger Stadium - The Next 50 Years" which will transform the stadium and surrounding area into what the Dodgers see as a year-round destination.
Other points of interest regarding the Dodgers:
- The McCourts continued to work their philanthropy through ThinkCure, a charity whose purpose is to raise funds to support cancer research, and whose mission is to find a cure for cancer, including a radio telethon which raised over $160,000.
- The aforementioned exhibition game at the LA Coliseum was a fund raiser with all gate receipts going to ThinkCure.
Other clubs that received high marks in consideration for Organization of the Year:
Milwaukee Brewers – In MLB’s smallest market, owner Mark Attanasio and the Brewers saw total paid attendance of over 3 million (3,068,458), ranking them 9th out of the 30 clubs for 2008. Throw in the late season acquisition of C.C. Sabathia, which led to the first postseason berth since going to the World Series in 1982, as well as working hard to retain Sabathia now that he has filed for free agency, and the Brewers are proving that small market doesn’t mean small potatoes.
Minnesota Twins – With the departures of GM Terry Ryan, and free agents Johan Santana and Torii Hunter, most saw the Twins as slipping decidedly downward in the standings in 2008. Surprisingly, the Twins very nearly made it to the postseason, forcing a one-game regular season playoff game with the White Sox for the AL Central crown. And while a new stadium for the Twins is now under construction – something that will most assuredly raise the value of the club – the fact that Carl Pohlad, MLB’s richest owner opted to not help fund a roof, moved the Twins slightly down on our list, rather than up.
Guest Contributors Make Their Selection for Best Organization of the Year
|With the Business of Sports Network selecting the Tampa Bay Rays as the MLB Organization of the Year, we contacted several notable individuals asking who they viewed as their selection. Our thanks to these individuals for adding their voice:|
Kurt Badenhausen, Senior Editor, Forbes:
My pick for MLB Organization of the Year would be the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies have a rich history of losing, but they have become consistent winners as one of just three teams with at least 85 wins in each of the past six years (AL East superpowers Red Sox and Yankees are the others). Their young nucleus of Hamels, Rollins and Utley is entering their prime giving the Phils a solid shot at future World Series appearances. The team has kept payroll under $100 million helping the Phillies turn consistent profits at Citizens Bank Park. This season will be the most profitable in team history thanks to their playoff success and record attendance of 3.4 million, fifth highest in baseball.
Tim Lemke – Sports Business Writer, Washington Times:
Granted, it was only a matter of time before the Tampa Bay Rays would start to benefit from all of those high draft picks they acquired for nearly a decade. But no one expected them to go from worst to first in such an impressive fashion. And along the way, team president Matt Silverman and his crew made all the right moves in injecting some excitement into the fan base in Tampa. From the name change, to the Evan Longoria contract to the announcement of a possible new ballpark, the Rays have acted like a professional, aggressive franchise and it's paid off. Not only are the Rays the great story of 2008, but their farm system is still stacked and they've become the model for small-market teams looking to be young, cheap and good.
Andrew Zimbalist – Sports Economist and Author:
The Rays management is tops for 2008. Sternberg, Silverman, Friedman et al. made a salutary change in the team’s name, introduced a creative architectural and financing model for a new stadium, rode a modest $43.8 million payroll to first place (from the cellar) and the World Series, and succeeded in raising attendance by 29.8 percent in a very difficult market and a poor stadium.
Business of Sports Network selection of MLB Organization of the Year made before the 2008 postseason.
Guest submissions received the week of October 20.
See The Biz of Baseball Author Profiles page for listing of staff.
Copyright 2008, Bizball LLC