Embattled Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise the Tampa Bay Rays have today (Friday) revealed plans to scale back capacity at Tropicana Field through a new series of capital improvements and renovations which they claim will enhance the fan experience at the ballpark.

Tropicana Field has a current capacity of around 31,000, but the Rays only pulled in an average attendance of 14,258 during the 2018 season, ranking them 29th out of the league’s 30 teams. The Rays today said the work will reconfigure the ballpark’s seating capacity to an estimated 25,000-26,000.

The renovations will involve elimination of the upper deck level which reconfigures the ballpark seating areas to include the first, mezzanine and second seating levels, as well as the new GTE Financial Party Deck, seeking to concentrate fans closer to the field of play.

Tropicana Field will offer more social gathering spaces with the creation of a new common area, the Left Field Ledge, to include a full-service bar, ledge tables, and seated drink rails. The existing field lights will be replaced with energy-efficient LED lights, improving overall on-field playability and entertainment lighting throughout the ballpark.

“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.”

The Rays said they have invested more than $50m (£39.6m/€44m) in Tropicana Field renovations since 2005, including more than $15m in the last two years. Today’s announcement comes just weeks after the Rays maintained they are committed to finding a new home in the local area despite admitting they are at “two strikes” following the decision to abandon a project for a new stadium in Ybor City.

In July, the club unveiled plans to create the most intimate ballpark in MLB. The headline feature of the Populous-designed ballpark was a translucent roof accounting for 30 per cent of the project cost and fully enclosing the facility.

The stadium would have had 28,216 fixed seats and a total capacity of 30,842. It was projected to cost $892m and had been earmarked for completion on Opening Day of the 2023 MLB season. However, the plans stalled significantly and Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg last month conceded the Ybor City vision was no longer viable.

Rays season ticket holders who have purchased seats in the upper level for the 2019 season will have the option to relocate to an upgraded location.

Image: Eric Kilby