Tampa Bay is the Most Economically Distressed City in the US


The national perception of the Tampa sports fan is not kind. And the first place the criticism goes is the empty stadiums. Forget that the Trop is a poorly located dump, or that the Bucs and Lightning both boasted robust attendance numbers within the past decade. No, the perception of the Tampa sports fan is that they are a privileged bunch of beach-dwellers who don’t deserve their professional sports teams.

Aside from being unfair, that’s completely unfounded.

"No other major metropolitan area is as stressed out as Tampa Bay when it comes to the combined factors of a rough job market, tight credit, household budget constraints, lower net worth and, most significantly, a lousy housing market.That’s according to the quarterly Consumer Distress Index released Wednesday by the nonprofit credit counseling agency CredAbility.Out of the top 25 metros, Tampa Bay was not only most financially distressed, but it also was the only major metro in the bottom-rung category of “Emergency Crisis.” Detroit, the second-most-distressed city, just barely landed one category higher: “Distressed Unstable.”"

That’s an unfortunate distinction to hold, but it also helps to shed some light on some of the poor attendance numbers that the Tampa Bay area is faulted for.

It’s very easy to see empty seats at a game in Tampa and criticize the fans. After all, most non-Floridians’ image of Florida is pretty much South Beach. Case in point, my college roommate got off the plane from Boston having never actually visited Florida State in Tallahassee, but expecting a dorm with a beach view.

With that perception of Florida come some implications. And it’s understandable. If you conceive of Florida as I mentioned before, and then you come vacation here and see that side of things but also the considerable expense, it’s easy to assume you must be doing well financially to live there.

‘It’s a rich, tropical paradise where everyone lives on the beach and money grows on the freaking trees.’

Ergo, there’s no excuse not to attend sporting events, especially for good teams. I understand how people arrive at the opinion. The problem is, it’s just wrong.

Yes, there are rich people in Tampa, just like there are in Cleveland and Detroit, but the entire bay area has also been nailed by the economic woes that have swept across the country since 2007. For the sake of the aforementioned study, the Tampa Bay area, Clearwater, St. Pete and Tampa were considered the city of Tampa Bay.

The Bay area is the only “city” in the country currently classified as being in an Emergency Crisis.

Now let’s consider some other things that get overlooked in faulting sports fans in the Bay Area. Aside from lacking disposable income, attending a sporting event in the Bay Area is a little different than in other metropolitan areas.

The Bay Area is extremely spread out, there is no densely populated epicenter, very few high-rises, there are just miles and miles of urban sprawl. Miles and miles divided by water and with no public transit. I grew up in the Bay Area, but was still a full hour from Raymond James and 45 minutes from the Trop. I don’t really know what hockey is, but I know the Ice Palace wasn’t close either.

Whereas, you can hop on the Subway anywhere in New York and end up at Citi Park or Yankee Stadium for the price of one subway fare, In the Bay area it’s an ordeal. You have to pack up the car, probably fill it with gas, go and pay for parking and then in addition to the added cost, you have to absorb the regular cost of the sporting event (tickets, concessions, etc…) and then fight traffic and drive however long back home. No where is that more of an issue than Tropicana Field.

But here’s the rub, when things are good financially in Tampa the people do come…

The Trop being an exception, because it’s a soul-less dump of a dome in a down-trodden part of St. Pete that is central to no one, the Bucs and Lightning both used to enjoy great attendance.

There was a time when I was in high school where you could be on the waiting list for Bucs season tickets for a decade and never get a shot at them. Bucs games were THE ticket in Tampa on Sundays. Attendance didn’t become an issue at Raymond James until the economy fell…

The Lightning have lead the NHL in attendance in the past. New ownership is bringing them back but a strike and a bad economy can do a number on any team’s attendance.

It’s time for people to start calling the national pundits on their BS. Tampa is not a bad sports city, it doesn’t have bad fans and the criticism has become downright unfair. Everybody is more than willing to excuse Detroit, but Tampa doesn’t get a pass because people romanticize the beach more than the great lakes?

Tampa is a city in crisis, but make no mistake about it, they love their sports teams. When the money is there, so too are the fans.

But money doesn’t grow on trees.