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Rays To Decrease Number Of Tropicana Field Seats

The Tampa Bay Rays will close off the upper deck 300 level in the 2019 season, cutting the seating capacity for Tropicana Field to under 26,000. It already has the smallest capacity in Major League Baseball.

Last month, the Tampa Bay Rays announced their plan to build a new baseball stadium in Tampa's Ybor City neighborhood was dead. Now they're unveiling a new seating configuration at Tropicana Field.

Starting next season, the Rays will close the upper deck 300 level, cutting the capacity by between 5,000 and 6,000. That will put the Trop's seating capacity under 26,000, just about in line with the planned capacity of the proposed Ybor City stadium of a little over 28,000.

Team officials say tarping off the upper deck will move fans closer to the field.

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

But the fact that the Rays ranked second to last in Major League Baseball in average attendance in 2018, drawing just over 14,000 people per game, might also have something to do with it. Only the Miami Marlins, with an average attendance of around 10,000, had a lower turnout.

The Trop already had the smallest seating capacity in baseball.

Season ticket holders in the upper deck level will be able to switch their seats to the press level or outfield for no additional cost. They will also be able to switch to the party deck area at a discount cost.

Team officials say they've invested more than $50 million in renovations to Tropicana Field since 2005, including more than $15 million in the last two years.

They're planning a number of other improvements this year, including creating a new common area, the Left Field Ledge, which will feature a full-service bar and ledge tables.

They’re also replacing the current field turf with a new Shaw Sports Turf product team officials say is designed to withstand the different events held at the Trop. The team is also replacing the current field lights with energy-efficient LED ones.

The Rays shut down plans to build a new stadium in Ybor City in December. Team officials said it wasn’t clear where most of the estimated $892 million for a new ballpark would come from.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.