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Indians attendance numbers hit new lows with lack of support

Could the box office be to blame for lack of attendance in a playoff race?

Indians attendance numbers hit new lows with lack of support
September 14, 2013
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A crowd of 34,494 were on hand at Progressive Field to watch the Tribe battle the Kansas City Royals this past homestand.

There’s just one problem.

That was the total combined attendance for the entire three-game series.

But wait, isn’t this a Tribe Town? Nick Swisher said it himself numerous times for the last six months, both in the clubhouse and on commercials all around the state of “Brohio.”

Wake up Indians fans! It’s mid-September and your team is less than two games out of the wild card in the middle of a playoff push. Where are you? It’s time you stop sleeping in the past and notice there is meaningful baseball still being played at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

“We would like to be supported a little bit more if we could,” Tribe center fielder Michael Bourn said. “We’re at most two games out and trying for a second wild card. It’s been a long time since the team has been in the wild card here.”

Getting fans to the ballpark was never an issue or even a slight thought for this same organization in the mid-90s. The team had a new stadium, names like Thome, Ramirez, Vizquel and Alomar in the lineup and won five straight Central Division titles.

Fast forward some 15 years later and it’s become a hot topic, even for a team smack in the middle of a pennant race.

But why?

There’s the idea that centers on the whole rebuilding process which has left a general hatred of some toward the front office. Seriously though, are we still talking about something that happened more than four years ago?

Unlike previous years, the front office led by President Mark Shapiro and General Manager Chris Antonetti shocked all fans by spending in the free agent market this past offseason. The Indians in total spent a franchise record $117 million on free agents like Swisher, Bourn and Mark Reynolds, not to mention bringing in two-time World Series Champion Terry Francona to lead the team.

Still, there’s another notion that fans have watched this team collapse for two consecutive years and they’re simply waiting for the other shoe to fall.

While this idea is reasonable, the 2013 Indians have proved this to be entirely wrong. Yes, they have certainly had their ups and downs, but they are still here in mid-September.

Are you?

“I don’t see no reason why they shouldn’t believe in us,” Bourn said. “It’s a totally different team, totally different atmosphere in the clubhouse. We fought till this point and I think we deserve it. I think we deserve it until that last day is over.”

Despite all the offseason spending and adding a new manager and new players, the team still ranks 28th out of 30 teams in Major League Baseball in total attendance. Through 74 home games, the Tribe has drawn 1,438,205 to the ballpark. That’s 60,000 less than it was at this point last season for a team that lost 94 games.

“We’re not asking for too much, we’re just asking for them to come out and support us, that’s it,” Bourn said. “We’ll try and give them a good show every time they come out. We’re still going to play no doubt about it, but we want that atmosphere rocking like they had in the 90s."

Long gone are the days of the record 455 sellout streak. As much as Swisher and the Indians want Cleveland to be a Tribe Town, it truly never will be.

The Browns have had a losing season 12 of the last 14 years since coming back in 1999, and they have no problem drawing fans year after year. Let’s be honest though, if Progressive Field hosted just eight games a year, the place would sellout all eight games too.

“We know the Browns play on Sundays, we’ll give them their time Sunday mornings and let them go to the game then and we understand that,” Bourn said. "All the other days, they’re at practice. Come on out and watch us play, that’s all we want and all we’re asking for.”

But Sundays or even weekday games in September shouldn’t stop fans from missing out on a team that could be destined for October.

“Everybody would love to play in front of a packed house,” Francona said. “My view of it is that we have a responsibility to play as well as we can, and hope that the people that come enjoy it and are proud of us. I think that’s the best we can do.”

The best the team has done has been competing for a spot in the playoffs all season long. For a team that finished 26 games below .500 in 2012, they have been as high as just five games below the mark which came back on April 28.

It’s easy to get caught up in consecutive second half collapses over the past two years, but for a club that lacks in overall star power, Francona and the Indians have certainly held their own for the entire regular season journey. The Tribe has spent 112 days in second place, having been within a few games of a wild card spot since August 1.

Whether you believe or not, the Tribe absolutely deserves the support of this city.

“Of course we notice it,” Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez said. “It’s definitely not the same when you have a big crowd that gets you going a little more. There’s nothing we can do. We’re in the playoff chase. We have to go out there and compete in front of whoever is there for us.”

Excuses aside, a defense could be made for fans as well. Where maybe the problem isn’t on the field, but rather at the box office itself.

This season the Indians adopted a new dynamic pricing system that allows fans to buy early and save online. Excluding the back half of the bleachers, the team also raised all ticket prices from one season ago.

Not the smartest idea for a team that hasn’t finished with a record above .500 since 2007.

Are you one of those fans looking to catch a ballgame on a whim one summer night? Well, you my friend are going to have to dig deeper in your pockets for a ticket, as prices increase if you buy on game day.

Remember when walkup crowds of upwards of 7,000-8,000 stormed the ballpark looking to catch a game on a Friday or Saturday night a couple years ago?

Not anymore, and the pricing increase for tickets on game days is solely the reason why.

How about buying tickets for a game against Central Division rival Detroit or Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees? Well, that will cost you more too, as those are marked as “premium games” at the ticket window.

On the weekend, going up to the box office and seeing the bleachers have sold out is like seeing a dead end sign flash before your eyes. With the left field bleachers filled, this means the next cheapest ticket to get into the stadium is now $24 in the upper deck.

And tell me why the upper reserve sections out in right field are closed? For fans looking to save money, the seats in this section should absolutely be open for purchase. Two years ago, that same seat in right field cost just $8.

Nothing beats the sights and sounds of being at a baseball game, but for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs for six years, the prices to take in a game have become costly.

Taking a family of four to the ballpark on a summer night could mean a couple trips to the ATM, as four tickets, parking and food could easily exceed $150. Date night at the ball yard has also become an expensive commodity, which could leave you stuck in the batter’s box without even reaching first base.

If there’s one thing that gets fans into the ballpark the most, it’s promotional nights.

Think about this, the Indians have had at least 25,000 fans in attendance for 13 games this season. All 13 games featured either fireworks or other promotional giveaways. It even goes beyond that into last year, where there were 20 games with at least 25,000 in the stands. And just like in 2013, all 20 games in 2012 featured a giveaway or promotional event on the schedule.

So what does this mean? The team needs even more promotional nights? Well it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

The team may be averaging 19,435 fans per game, but Fox SportsTime Ohio TV ratings have gone through the roof up 34 percent from last season. That means you are watching, but just not making your presence known in the stands.

The bottom line is this, while the organization was wrong in bumping up prices, it still shouldn’t stop you from finding alternate ways to get inside Progressive Field.

Websites like StubHub, eBay, Craiglist, or even ticket scalpers all have affordable ticket prices that can let you beat the box office. Yes, some things have to change at the gate, but can you really put a price on a successful Cleveland sports team?

Whether they are lucky to play in October or not, this team deserves your attention and full support at the ballpark.

We live in a city where the word “playoffs” has seemed to vanished from our vocabulary over the years, even in a town that bleeds optimism always in hopes that next year is our year.

Opportunities around here only come around so often, so take advantage of it.

With 15 games left on the schedule, it’s make or break time both for the Indians and their fans. If the team can take over the final wild card spot on this seven-game road trip before returning home, I honestly believe we see this town really turn into a Tribe Town.

Then like James Earl Jones said in the classic baseball film Field of Dreams, “People will come."

Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at

User Comments

September 16, 2013 - 10:54 PM EDT
I agree that there should be more cheaper tickets available than just the upper bleachers until they sell out. But going to a game is pretty affordable generally. You can bring in water and food. Most of the objections people bring up are the same or worse in other cities, so it doesn't really make sense.
September 16, 2013 - 8:09 AM EDT
I did not make my points clearly..
First, I am not looking for $10 tickets, have my season tickets..
But most casual fans are not going to search ticket brokers online to find a $10 ticket.. So Dennis, indicating the fans should fill the place because the tickets are $10 is not accurate..
A) Not many tickets are $10.. (Just some from possibly questionable brokers)
B) Most fans are going to shop at or at the ticket window

Second I was not indicating the Indians should sell the tickets for $.50...
The point I wanted to make was that I feel the Tribe PR likes to the hype a low average price by including in the calculation tickets that they normally do not offer to sell..
I believe that on a standard weekday evening, the average ticket price of a ticket you can purchase at is probably $30+

I basically think Steve is correct.. Want more tickets sold. Lower the price.. Or offer 2 for 1 specials etc..
But the dynamic pricing the Indians use appears designed to maximize return per seat sold, not fill seats.
September 15, 2013 - 4:40 PM EDT $ 10 dollar seats..plenty available for Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the coming Astros series.. IF you don't want to find them, then they don't exist...
Joe Chengery
September 15, 2013 - 2:07 AM EDT
Chuck, your last point, though, would put all the onus on the fans- make them "put up or shut up," as they say. They can afford $0.50, and we can really see if the fans of this city will truly support this team or not. If this team does make the postseason, will the fans come out in droves then, or are we looking at Atlanta where the ballpark won't be sold out?
Joe Chengery
September 15, 2013 - 2:04 AM EDT
Again, it comes down to demand: The price argument doesn't hold much weight when fans are paying far more for a football team that isn't close to contending. Never mind the fact that Cleveland is still a lower ticket than most cities and the fact that it's not THAT poor (Detroit is in far worse shape, yet they aren't having trouble selling tickets. So, again, is it that people will just not believe, even though the Indians are in the race for both Wild Cards and even an outside shot at the division, whereas the Browns haven't given the fans any excitement or real reason to get their hopes up about a playoff appearance or a Super Bowl?).
September 15, 2013 - 12:56 AM EDT
I just went and looked at buying a ticket to the Astros 9\20 game.. Not one $10 ticket existed on the web site..
I just counted tickets being sold for the game and I can find only 4583 tickets being listed as being available or already sold for under $20.
Therefore claims of an average ticket price of $19.49 is a bit of BS to me ..
And of the few tickets under $20 on Ticketmaster, only 611 of the cheapest seat, the bleacher tickets, are still available for $12 ( plus fees )
Only other tickets under $19.49 that are available are $16.25 for upper deck..

If nobody is buying.. your price is too high...

If the Front Office really wants to make fans look bad, they just need to list the 10,000 upper deck tickets they do not sell as $0.50, that way they can claim the fans are cheap and will not pay for an average ticket of $10.. the fact that average ticket does not exist does not matter..

If nobody is buying.. your price is too high...
September 15, 2013 - 12:43 AM EDT
Cleveland has shrunk, but Columbus is filled with former Clevelanders who still love all things Cleveland.
Transportation is a problem, but by chartering buses and selling harder in Col's, an impact could be made.
This farm system is loaded with high-potential athletes.
Teams are losing due to a conscious decision to play younger players in tougher competition.
A losing team with four dynamic players and 20 non-prospects might lose most of the time to teams with 24 non-prospects who are better and older than ours.
The goal is to produce big-leaguers not winning farm teams.
When the teams starts to regularly make the playoffs, fans will return.
Joe Chengery
September 14, 2013 - 11:03 PM EDT
The truth is, as an Indians' fan since the late 80s (long before Jacobs Field existed), I am EXTREMELY DISAPPOINTED with the fans in Cleveland, especially since they can support such a poor football franchise who hasn't sniffed the playoffs in 5 years, and who has squeaked in the playoffs once in their 14-year return; it's pitiful. Just pitiful. The news media deserves blame too: Tony Zarella, Mark Schwab, Andy Baskins, Mike Cairns, John Telich, Dave Chudowsky, etc. They always start with the Browns, virtually every day. Yes, I know about ratings, but it's still shameful and ridiculous that they ignore a contender for the postseason and focus on a franchise that can't even sniff the postseason. If the Indians did leave Cleveland, I know these guys would go on about how Cleveland is a great baseball town and how could the Indians leave, yet the local media doesn't even bother to cover them. The Indians should NOT be taking a backseat to the Browns when it comes to attention and coverage; it should be the Browns who take a backseat to the Indians until the Browns prove they deserve more coverage by playing better on the field. Quite honestly, the Browns haven't been held accountable for their poor play on the field, partly why they keep selling out the stadium despite being one of the worst teams in football since 1999. The Indians, even the Cavaliers, have a far better chance of breaking that championship drought than the Browns do in the near future as of 2013. The Browns are much farther away than most people realize, yet they get the support like they're the ones contending for the playoffs. It really makes no sense- I just hope the fans wake up and realize that the Indians are the best professional franchise in this city and are the best chance of ending this championship drought in the near future, and it certainly would be appreciated if the fans of Cleveland stepped up to the gates as they once did (or darn close to it) and start supporting this franchise. I know if the Indians would move, the fans would start boo-hooing and complaining about the move when they had plenty of opportunity from preventing that possibility right now. Come on Cleveland fans and media - step up to the plate and support this team NOW. You can still support the Browns, but let them prove themselves on the field before you throw all of your support behind them, as there's another franchise contending right NOW that could really use your support. Thank you for reading. Go Tribe!
September 14, 2013 - 6:34 PM EDT
Blah blah blah.. attendance sucks..

Blah blah blah.. it's this fault and that fault..

For those who haven't gone to a game, the remaining games are $ 10 a ticket.. Hope they sell out.. hope whoever buys the seats doesn't sit in my seat..

For what it's worth... STO & WTAM are THRILLED with the attention the Indians are getting..HUGE numbers.. and they continue to, people are watching..and, at the end of the day.. that really what matters..

btw..the media isn't and won't be who leads this team to prominence.. The PD/ABJ/News Herald.. are too busy scraping egg off their faces over the Browns utter collapse last week to put any focus on the Indians.. Tomorrow's game in Baltimore..should be more of the same.. 0-2
September 14, 2013 - 6:32 PM EDT
The last couple of years we've started well and cratered mid season. I could see attendance bottoming out when it looked like we may again do that but we've kept rebounding and stayed in it. We're there, in the race in mid September and yet it's like limbo, how low can we go.

So the extraordinarily low attendance lately has mystified me. I don't get it. Yes almost all the games are on TV but that's the case all around MLB and it's been the case everywhere for years. Yes, times are rough but not as rough as in Detroit.

It has to somehow turn around but I'm at a loss to how to do that and I'm sure it's vexing the Indians front office no end.
September 14, 2013 - 5:51 PM EDT
Sorry, for as much as I dislike the Indians dynamic ticket pricing, they are STILL bottom five in average ticket price. The average ticket price to a game at Progressive Field is $19.49.....only four teams are lower: Pirates, Padres, Diamondbacks and Braves. It's just another excuse for lack of support. I've heard them all right now. Bottom line, the fans don't come because the casual fan is apathetic and turned off to this team. They don't care. A lot of that is from constant roster upheaval over the past several the damage is done. That said, people need to quit holding grudges and support this team. Playoff seasons or contention don't come around all too often.
September 14, 2013 - 5:43 PM EDT
My theory is different than any other i've read. Most fans remember the teams of the 90's. Those fans did not come to the ballpark in droves to watch Orel or El Presidente pitch. Those teams were offensive powerhouses which excited fans. With the Indians limited payroll and inability to draft power hitters, they cannot field a team that can hit the long ball or score bunches of runs on a consistant basis. Fans like myself that find excitement in every pitch are far and few between. Even those that don't have an indepth knowledge of the game are fascinated by a powerful offense and it is precisely those types of fans and offenses that put butts in the seats.

I will say that I am pleased with the accomplishment of the team this year and if they could add a big bat this offseason that could put them over the top. I, and every other Indians fan fully expect that not to happen due to the limited budget and that is why fans choose to stay home.
September 14, 2013 - 4:05 PM EDT
First off let me just say I have always and will forever love the Cleveland Indians.

I am like most clevelanders and only have a certain amount of money to spend on Indians games for the year.

So instead of going to twenty games a year and getting a seat for $10, I go to about ten games and get a seat for for $25.

I have no problem with prices going up but not 150% in one season.

Lets face it if a movie ticket went from $8 to $20 the following year, the theaters would be dark just as Progressive field stands are empty.

I think what the Dolans should have done is put a winner on the field first and let the fans fall in love with winning again before raising ticket prices at all.
I think the Dolans owe the fans that much for years of below average play on the field.


September 14, 2013 - 2:25 PM EDT
If the Indians can continue to be an interesting club, and an above .500 team, I think they will get to 2 million next season.

The economics are there to support a club, look at the attendance in places like Detroit or St Louis.

The fans need a consistent club, this one looks like a good building block.
September 14, 2013 - 1:30 PM EDT
As an ex Clevelander and childhood peanut vendor at the old park where one 3 game weekend series with the White Sox drew 190,000 screaming fans you can't tell me it's not a baseball town. It's a matter of cultivating what's there. Winning is part of it, individual player personalities as well as overall team vibe is part of it, having a dedicated media outlet is part of it. When I was a kid we had Rocky Colavito, Sudden Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant, following up by my dad's gen Bob Feller, Al Rosen, Larry Doby, and Vic Power. They were colorful and heroic. We had Hal Lebovitz and the Plain Dealer- pretty much everybody read his column everyday. We had WEWS and people like Jimmy Dudley who made every pitch, every game and every season feel like a metaphor for life itself. Now We have Twitter and 60" HD tv everywhere and a lot of competition for eyeballs, not to mention hearts and minds. I think people in Cleveland haven't had the itch scratched in so long that they forgot the hearts and minds are in there. I believe Terry Francona and the team around him have planted a darn good seed here. If we water it and give it some love baseball will be back in Cleveland in a huge way, trust me.
September 14, 2013 - 12:31 PM EDT
..."Taking a family of four to the ballpark on a summer night could mean a couple trips to the ATM, as four tickets, parking and food could easily exceed $150. Date night at the ball yard has also become an expensive commodity, which could leave you stuck in the batter’s box without even reaching first base...."

Really? What is your idea of a family outing? Window shopping at the mall?

What is the highest in attendance during the Dolans 12 years of ownership? 21st? 25th? It's only gotten worse from when they were ONE GAME away from making the World Series in '07. Nobody showed up then either.

There won't be a switch flipped if they win the wild card in the final home games.

They have taken losses at the gate for the entirety of their tenure and your logic says - they have to practically give away the product at the gate to 'woo' back a fan base?

Sorry Jim, but that makes zero sense.

The excuse for years has been if they put out a good product people will come. Now you extend that excuse because 2nd half collapses the past two seasons are keeping people away.

No. Baseball fans in Cleveland are content to watch on TV.

The team isn't doing anything wrong. Not pricing, not development, not investment, and now certainly not product.

Cleveland and the surrounding bergs no longer CHOOSE to support professional baseball. It is that simple.

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