LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Rays team president Matt Silverman called the second installment of Rays baseball at Disney's Wide World of Sports "a tremendous success."
"The interest level within the Orlando area certainly has increased," Silverman said, noting the team has made a commitment to expanding their territory while striving to become a regional franchise. "It's somewhat unprecedented to bring the product 90 miles to the East, but we wanted to provide that type of access to the team as we try to spur interest and fandom for this organization."
The three-game attendance for this year's series drew 26,798, which was down slightly from the 26,917 that the Rays drew in 2007 for a three-game series against the Rangers.
"I think there was a novelty factor last year," Silverman said. "And we had a lot of baseball fans who attended the games. This year, it feels more like Rays fans. We have many more fans wearing our new gear. They're staying until the end. They're cheering much more for the Rays and that shows that that conversion is starting to take place."
The Rays aren't ever going to have a windfall from attendance in Orlando, regardless of whether Champion Stadium fills to capacity (which can be close to 12,000 if the lawn areas are full) or not. So the main focus has been on expanding interest in the team, which is best reflected through TV ratings. Silverman said that the TV ratings have "continued to grow as we've made these investments in Central Florida."
"TV ratings spiked after last year's series," Silverman said. "They continued to grow at the beginning of this year. And we hope that growth will continue after this series. We're developing a following and when the team starts winning more consistently, we expect that the region's pride and kinship with the team also will increase."
While the Rays like to showcase the team in Orlando, there is no guarantee that they will be able to make it three consecutive years in 2009. Many variables have to click into place to make a return visit possible, including the schedule.
"It's something we will consider," Silverman said. "We will continue to make investments in Orlando and Central Florida to make them feel a part of the Rays. Whether we play three games here next year, or the year after, or do something else. The commitment is there and we'll continue to make those investments."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.