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We need to talk about our record of attendance

We need to talk about our record of attendance
May 10, 2012
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The Indians are 17-13, in first place, and this past weekend just took two of three from the best team in the American League the past two seasons, and yet no one is going to the games.

The attendance numbers on the year are embarrassing.  The Indians average attendance of 14,665 is the lowest attendance in all of baseball and it's not even close as the next worst is at the White Sox who are averaging 19,991 people a game. This means the Indians are last in average attendance by more than a third of their actual attendance to the next worse team.

The  percentage of Progressive Field filled on an average night is 33.8%, and the next worst percentage is Seattle at 44.2% whose stadium is much bigger than Progressive Field. Just look at those numbers again. Over 10% lower than any team in spite of a smaller stadium, and the average attendance is 33% lower than anyone.

That's brutal. Those kind of numbers are what Rachel Phelps tried to use to break the lease and move this team to Miami back in the popular 1989 flick, "Major League".

I know the Indians started hot last year as well, but look at this team now versus last season. Jason Kipnis instead of Orlando Cabrera, Derek Lowe instead of Mitch Talbot, and Johnny Damon instead of Austin Kearns just to name a few. Those are all significant upgrades for this team. This year the team is much improved, and that's not even counting guys who might be wild cards like Jeanmar Gomez, Ubaldo Jimenez, and younger guys yet to make their mark like Lonnie Chisenhall.

My point is this team is meant to compete this year, and people should support this team.

The rallying cry in Cleveland has often been that owner Larry Dolan is too cheap, and that fans won't go to games until Dolan spends and the team wins. Yet the statement is also categorically false.  The Indians have a payroll of $78,069,571 which is 21st in baseball. It's not like they are pinching pennies as the 22nd ranked payroll team is the Washington Nationals who have been viewed as an aggressive free agent team that last few years.

The payroll is over $20 million better than the lowest teams in the league this year. The Indians own payroll last year was $49,190,566 so the Dolans have increased the payroll this year by almost 30 million and a grand total of 37% percent increase in total team salary. Yet the team is drawing the worst attendance in the league. In fact, the Indians have a payroll that is unsustainable based on the attendance numbers, so there is definitely no penny pinching going on.

Let's take a look at the Indians attendance numbers when they have fielded a competitive team and see if the casual fan is right and that they will support the Indians.

In 2007 the Indians led the division all year, won the AL Central, made it to the ALCS, and came so close to making it to and winning the World Series.  Surely that year the fans must have come out in droves, but the truth is they did not.  The average attendance per game that season was 28,448, which meant Progressive Field was 66% filled. The Indians finished 21st in attendance, while a team like San Francisco which finished last still drew 39,792 a game.

One year is hardly enough to make a case so let's check out a few other years.

In 2005 the Indians were in it until the final week of the season before a bad final week ruined their chances to make the playoffs. So in such an exciting race people came out and supported the team right? The answer again is not really as the Indians were 24th in attendance averaging 24,861 people a game. The Indians barely out drew a 73-win Cincinnati team.

Even last season when the Indians were in first at the All Star break they failed to bring in the crowds and the Indians  finished 24th in attendance as they averaged 22,726 people a game. One might notice a trend here of only being able to draw in the low-to-mid 20K's.

What this shows me is those who talk about supporting the team when they win are simply not doing so.  For whatever reason when this team is good the fans still slowly drip into the stadium, and I would be shocked to see the Indians break into the top 20 in attendance in any season over the next decade.

I am sure there are a multitude of reasons why people do not show up, but it's time for people to be honest.  It's not about the record, it's not about spending, and it's not about the owner. This city is just failing to support baseball even when the team is good and competitive.

I live out of state, so it is tough to watch the games and see no one there. It is a poor reflection on the team and the fans when the attendance numbers are historically low in spite of a team in first place in May.

The lack of support is also going to handicap the team this year and beyond. The Indians went out and tried to get big money players in the offseason like Carlos Beltran, but he refused to come here and it's not like St. Louis is a great climate either. But why would a player want to come play in front of a mostly empty stadium?  Free agents used to be pumped to come to Cleveland to play in front of a sell out every night, but when there is no one in the seats no one wants to play here.

Another problem is if fans don't go to the games then how are the Indians supposed to keep players and resign free agents? I mentioned before how San Francisco was drawing over 30,000 fans a night in spite of a last place finish. The fact the fans always support them meant they were a team flush with money that can spend in free agency and knows it can count on set revenue and are able to resign their own players.

Yes, San Francisco is a bigger market, but the same idea applies. If the Indians sold out every night during the last decade there is a good chance that C.C. Sabathia might still be here or Victor Martinez might be playing first base. They would still lose players as the market here is just not big enough, but much higher attendance would mean they would be able to keep a few such players. If theu lose someone, then they might be able to find able replacements in free agency instead of sitting on the sideline and signing a bunch of players off the scrap heap to minor league contracts.

Fans get mad when the team does not spend, but it's really been a decade since the Indians got any major support. There are reasons for a decline in team spending and it starts with the fact that fans no longer go to games. If you want a payroll that is in the top 15 then the attendance needs to be the same at least. Gate revenues are probably the best source of revenue for the team, and without it their hands are tied.

Growing up I only got to see a handful of games at what was then called "Jacobs Field". It was an impossible ticket to land, so I saw a majority of Indians games at old Tiger Stadium. Whenever the Indians played Detroit we would load up the car, visit my family in Michigan, and catch two to three games.  It was the only way we could hope to see the Tribe on a regular basis.

The Tribe fans were so proud of the then record sellout streak of 455. It started June 12, 1995 and lasted until April 4, 2001. At that point 95% of all games at the Jake had been a sell out, and Larry Dolan talked about how it would be a record that would never be broken. Well the Red Sox are now over 700 straight sellouts, and even with the recent gaming of the numbers they still beat the Tribe's streak.

Cleveland fans have always been proud of the record and proud of their support during that era. I remember  hearing about it on both local and national sports talk shows. It was a badge of honor that the Jake would be packed and one of the best atmosphere's in baseball.

Since then I know LeBron James went to the Cavs, the Browns came back, the internet has made the game easier to follow at home, and the economy hit Ohio hard. Yet I still can't help but think that there just has been a shift in this town as good or bad the Indians attendance has been relatively steady until this year.

In a nutshell, what I am trying to say as directly as possible, is please support this team.  Not just for this year but the future as well. If you want a contender the team needs support.  If you are a Dolan hater, then look at it this way:  the sooner this team actually has support then there is a much better chance for the team to be sold. No one is going to buy this team with such poor support.

Enjoy the season. It's been a fun one thus far. But lets get back to the time when this city was proud of supporting all of its teams and Cleveland was nationally viewed as one of the top sports cities in the country.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffmlbdraft, or email him at jellis121@yahoo.com

User Comments

Tony
May 11, 2012 - 11:19 PM EDT
While I agree that the cost to attend Indians games or any sporting event is ridiculous....I don't think it has that much affect if any on attendance. The cost to attend Indians games is actually cheaper than for most teams. It is costly to attend ANY game in baseball, yet, every team is drawing a lot better than the Indians. The cost issue is not just an Indians problem, it is a league wide problem that affects the attendance of every team....but in the end those teams are still outdrawing the Indians BIG TIME. It has to be something specific only to the Indians which does not affect other teams....and is why I still go back to a complete lack of faith, trust, and outright disgust with ownership. No connection whatsoever. They lost a lot of fans with two rebuilds.
Don
May 11, 2012 - 11:12 PM EDT
I agree with some others....it is just WAY TOO expensive to attend an Indians game. It costs $20 just to park, before you even get out of the car! It's hard enough for 2 people to go much less even a small family of 4. That's exactly why I don't go and many others have told me the same. Poor attendance has nothing to do with the team, their record, or anything else.Cleveland loves it's sports!!!! It doesn't matter if there are big names on the team or not. Fans learn about, get to know, and appreciate even the unknowns. How many players that are not that well known throughout the U.S. are loved by Tribe fans? Plenty!! Fix the outrageous costs and I bet you will see a rise in attendance!
JeterCP
May 11, 2012 - 4:09 PM EDT
honestly, im a huge fan, in fact bigger than anyone i know. nevermind the fact i live in peoria, AZ but if i did live in cleveland, i wouldnt go to anymore than a game or so a month. its nothing to do with how good team is or the dolans, but the price is outrageous. now im sure the indians are comparable to other prices in the league and maybe even cheaper than some, but i can find a much better way to spend $100 for 3 hours of entertainment, and again I LIVE INDIANS BASEBALL, so the average fan is more prone to pass on going to the game.

Take spring training games for example. I went to six spring training games this season. its really not worth it to spend minimum $12 a seat, outreageous prices on soda and hot dogs, as well as parking for a meaningless game in which the starters will likely only play 5 innings. at least goodyear did the $1 refills on soda this year.
john
May 11, 2012 - 3:09 PM EDT
typical fair-weather fans. so the economy keeps people from going to games? the cavs were getting more on average attendance this past season than the tribe at double the cost of tickets. so in october when the tribe is in the playoffs and contending there will be no issue of finance when the stadium is filled up. and i bet everybody that commented here will be there.
Norm
May 11, 2012 - 7:49 AM EDT
I cannot really buy into all the surprise at the state of the Indians attendance and blame distributed everywhere. The simple fact is that the Cleveland area is not competitive in baseball interest and financial wherewithall. All of Ohio is on the downhill run in population and earnings. Northern Ohio is worst of all. The Indians are currently the most competitive sports franchise in Cleveland. They will likely continue to be the most successful because no big time athlete in any sport wants to be in Cleveland. They will have the worst attendance because no one really cares about baseball in Cleveland except for the diehards. Since baseball in general suffers from this huge income distribution issue, you can expect the welfare received by the indians from MLB to decline.

The future is pretty predictable. The Indians will leave Cleveland in the near future for a location where the grass is greener in fan interest. There are plenty of those that are more attractive than Cleveland. As I recall, the lease extension has a termination provision and 2016 is the final year. Even if that would be too costly, bankruptcy would be quite simple and terminate the agreement without any problem. It may be sad, but the Indians will not be missed.
Erik
May 11, 2012 - 5:24 AM EDT
This is what happens when management decides to trade away nearly every player the casual fan likes and relate to. I always go back to the mom rule, if it's about sports and my mother brings it up, it's big news. The last 2 times she has brought it up was to ask me why they traded CC and why they traded Lee. I told her they got prospects who would hopefully be just as good in return but to her that meant nothing. She was turned off to the idea of not having those guys around by our own doing. When guys leave like Thome and Ramirez the fans don't blame the organization nearly as much as the player. The casual fan thinks fine we don't need that bum anyway we'll win w/o him. and management made a great effort to keep him he just didn't want to be here. But when management willingly parts with it's best and most recognizable players it makes the fan base lose trust and faith that the players they enjoy watching will be kept. Why buy a Santana jersey when I know full well he will be traded if he performs too well?
I understand it's better to get something rather than nothing and why the players had to be traded, but casual fans don't. It all goes back to the MLB system and it is yet another challenge small market clubs will have to deal with if they are going to attempt to turn over competing teams every time the window closes.
Osueddy
May 10, 2012 - 11:08 PM EDT
People just aren't excited about the Tribe. It will take consistent winning to change that. I bought a 20 game package for 2008 after our great run in 07. We scuffled that year and I had trouble finding someone to go with me by July of that season. Everyone on here is a baseball nut, and will always go, but the average Joe isn't interested.

Also, the Pirates have great food too!
Tony
May 10, 2012 - 7:07 PM EDT
Mike, that is interesting. I will have to check into what the Pirates are doing, but if they are doing stuff like that, then the Indians need to take notice and follow suit.
mike
May 10, 2012 - 6:18 PM EDT
Being a pirates fan, I can say they have connection with fans. Plenty of giveaway every night. $1 dogs pops cotton candy popcorn every home game. And $3 tall boy yuengling was better than $7-9 at most parks.
Jeff
May 10, 2012 - 6:00 PM EDT
I appreciate the comments here is my rebuttal and it will be my only one

payroll was based on USA Today, While your right on Lowe that was my bad, that number was also not counting Damn so I would bet the number is closer to 70 then 60.

They spent like crazy this year but it was in arbitration you have to look deeper.

I doubt Willingham or Cuddyer would have made one fan say that's it I am buying tickets.

As for trades thats true but they also got Santana for Blake and Hagadone and Masterson for Vmart so its really a two sided coin.

Its a business and if no one is paying at the gate it would be crazy to think the team will really add a bunch of players.

I like in NYC and still take in 3-5 games a year, supporting a team to me at least is part of being a fan, and like I said the numbers aren't bad they are awful.
Tony
May 10, 2012 - 2:13 PM EDT
Good points Jared....however, I ask how the Pirates are drawing 23K a game. A football town, havent won in baseball in 20 years, perpetual suck, bottom payroll, and so on....yet they are getting people to the stadium?

I still believe a lot of the problem is just a complete disconnect between this team (ownership) and the fans. There is some deep down hate there. Unfortunately, new owner or not, I dont see the attendance issue changing much. Its a bad catch 22 as they cant spend unless people come (they have spent before and people did not respond) and people dont want to come unless they spend. Kind of pathetic if you ask me. Whatever happened to the days when we just went to the games and didnt worry about what payroll we had and so on? Man, sometimes I think the internet does more bad than good as back in the 90s I knew absolutely NOTHING about what guys were paid, what our payroll was.:)
Gary in New York
May 10, 2012 - 2:09 PM EDT
I agree that attendance is disappointing but I too live out of state. So what are you and I doing to actually help attendance? Not much. I went to the opener and will probably attend two or three more games this season when I get back to town. But it's tough to yell at the fans when you and I seem to be part of the problem -- fans that don't attend all that much.
Jarad Regano
May 10, 2012 - 1:57 PM EDT
I love the Tribe and will always go, and appreciate your article and thoughts, but................

You are way off on payroll. Payroll is about $62 million, fifth from the bottom. You are counting all of Derek Lowe's salary for one, and a few other things are off. The only other competitive team around us in payroll is Tampa Bay. Ownership has said they will spend when the time is right...that has yet to happen.

In addition, we traded the two best pitchers in the game at the time, and received basically nothing in return.

Third, the team has not had a winning record since 2007, and only one playoff since 2001!

Finally, the offseason is a time to ignite fan interest. No doubt this market cannot support a Pujols or Fielder...but in a "window of opportunity" year, to not be able to sign a Michael Cuddyer, Josh Willingham, or Carlos Beltran (give him three years if you have to..you have NOT ONE DOLLAR COMMITTED at the time)- that is their problem, not the fans.

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