A Ballpark Half-Empty

I’m about to utter a word every Indians fan seems to shy away from, attendance. Whenever this issue is brought up it always seems to be quickly pushed away for another day. I think it’s about time to discuss this very serious issue.

 
When Progressive (then known as Jacobs) Field opened in 1994, the ballpark was packed game after game, year after year. From 1994 till 2002, the Indians ranked in the top 5 in attendance every single year. People always like to bring up that the situation was different then. And I do agree, the Browns had just left town (moved to Baltimore after the 1995 season), the Indians had a brand new, state-of-the-art ballpark, the Indians were always in contention, and Cleveland economically had never seen a better time. Then the Dolan’s purchased the Tribe in the year 2000. The Indians at the time were still in win-now mode and had a payroll of $92 million, good for 5th in all of Major League Baseball. This strategy worked for the Dolan’s in their first year owning the Tribe, as the team won the Central Division with a 91-71 record, only to lose in the ALDS to the 116-46 Seattle Mariners. The Indians were getting old fast, as the 2001 Indians average age was 31.2. The Dolan’s knew this and also knew that they could not keep spending like the Yankees. In the next two years, the Indians either traded or let players go in free agency. The attendance went from 3,175,523 (3rd in AL) in 2001 to 1,730,002 (12th in AL) in 2003. Averaging those numbers out the 2001 Indians had an average attendance of 39,208 per game, while in 2003 the Indians had an average attendance of 21,358 per game.

 
Since 2003, the highest attendance the Indians have had in a season was in 2007 when the Indians ranked 10th in the AL and averaged 28,097 fans per game. The Indians made the playoffs in 2007 and also won the AL Central, why didn’t fans support the 2007 team like they supported teams in the 90’s. Even looking at last year, the Indians finished 90-72 and were the top Wild Card team, but 14th in the AL averaging a Miami Marlins-esque 19,418 fans per game. However, the Tribe in 2013 had the 8th highest TV ratings in baseball. The fans are still watching the Tribe, but would rather do it from the comfort of their home.

 
This year, the Indians have the 6th lowest ticket price in the MLB at $21.31. This is where people would argue that the economy in Cleveland is bad, too which I say, the economy is worse in Detroit and the Tigers have the 8th best attendance in the MLB. But Tigers are better than the Indians; both teams made the playoffs last year. The fans of the Tribe want consistency, they spent big on Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, and then the next year the front office sat on their hands. The Indians only make so much money off their TV deals. Sources in the Indians front office have told me that the past couple years the Indians have been losing about $9 million per season and are expecting to lose more money again this season if attendance doesn’t improve. So I ask the fans, if they expect the Indians to be more consistent in bringing in top-flight talent, go to the games. If you wish the atmosphere were more like the 90’s go to the games. If you are tired of looking at a half-empty ballpark, go to the games.

 

– Chris Sladoje (@The_Doje)

Photo via ballparksofbaseball.com

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