The Tampa Bay Rays are well-positioned to make the playoffs for the fourth time in six years, but they lost the race for game attendance long ago.
The second-place Rays came in dead last -- 30th out of 30 -- in average game attendance for the 2013 Major League Baseball season.
"I'm a little shocked, I'm a little surprised," said principal team owner Stuart Sternberg said. "My goals sometimes are pretty reasonable. I wanted to be league average after '08, and I felt we would be 28th, maybe with a shot at 27th."
The average attendance of 18,645 was the worst since 2007, the year before the Rays went on a streak of six-straight winning seasons, including 2013. That's an average of 54.7 percent capacity, good for 24th place in baseball.
While the team has played well this year, holding a record of 88 wins and 69 losses with five to play, Sternberg said this season's poor attendance would affect their ability to hold onto high-paid players and compete for valuable free agents.
"We budget for certain numbers and we're extraordinarily conservative when it comes to expectations and budgeting, but it was below our expectations," Sternberg said. "We have to change our sights for next year now."
Still, Sternberg was hopeful the Rays' postseason hopes would boost the bottom line. He said he expected sellouts for any postseason play at Tropicana Field.
"There's still a lot of baseball to be played and it could be helped by what happens the rest of this year, it could be helped to see what happens in the offseason as far as pre-sales and season tickets and things like that," he said.
The Rays are headed for the single-game wildcard playoff on October 2, if they manage to stay ahead of either Cleveland (1 game back) or Texas (2 games back) with five games to go. Any playoff games after that, Sternberg said, he was "pretty certain" would sell out.