Repeat after me: The Rays are beloved!

Of course we’ve trod this ground before, but it’s always worth a healthy reminder:

The Rays may be chasing the Yankees in the American League East, but they have beaten up on sitcoms, cop shows and reality TV.

Rays games are the No. 2-watched programming in Tampa Bay whenever they air in prime time on Sun Sports. Let that sink in. No. 2.

–snip–

The Rays are getting a higher percentage of TV viewers than the Yankees or Dodgers do in New York and Los Angeles. They get more total viewers than the White Sox in Chicago or the Braves in Atlanta.

This means the community that is routinely ridiculed nationally for a lack of fan support is actually getting more enviable TV numbers than bigger or more historic markets.

There are even more eyeballs tuned to Rays games than the first-place Nationals in Washington, D.C., and more than second-place teams in Houston and Minnesota.

Again, maybe everybody already knows this, but the Rays don’t have a "market problem" nearly so much as a ballpark problem. Which isn’t to suggest there are any easy answers. There’s that damned lease. And even absent a lease, the Rays’ good-sized market is separated by (shocking, I know) Tampa Bay. So attendance might always underperform market size, regardless of where they put the stadium.

But between the increasing importance of TV money and the likelihood that any new ballpark will be better than the old one, if the Rays ever do get a new stadium, they should be able to compete with the other mid-market clubs, financially speaking.

Yeah, their stadium’s a basket case. Their market is not.