Empty new stadiums
OAFC BBS - All Topics: Archive: Empty new stadiums
April 17, 2002
Fans Staying Away From Baseball
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 4:24 a.m. ET
New ballparks were going to save baseball.
At least that was the thinking a few years ago.
On the final Sunday of the 1995 regular season, Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf sat in a luxury box in the middle of a 4-year-old stadium built for his team by the taxpayers of Illinois. He was staring out at a lot of empty seats. Baseball was closing up shop for the year in all but a handful of playoff towns, and no matter how you looked at the numbers, they seemed to promise trouble.
Attendance was down, pretty much across the board. Six out of 10 people in a poll released earlier that day by The Associated Press said they were decidedly less interested in baseball than they had been the previous August, when the final third of the season and the World Series were canceled so then-interim commissioner Bud Selig and players union boss Donald Fehr could launch competing bids for the Nobel Peace Prize.
It was a dazzling late autumn afternoon in Chicago. Frank Thomas had just homered in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game. There were only 20,457 people rattling around the cavernous park, but another 24,000 had paid for tickets.
Across town, where the Cubs were wrapping up the season at Wrigley Field, the crowd was announced at 24,340. But there, too, sold seats (38,765) outnumbered filled ones.
``Polls don't mean anything,'' Reinsdorf said, and from where he sat, they were easy to dismiss. ``Polls are nothing more than a snapshot of how people feel at a certain moment.''
If that's so, you have to wonder what fans are mad about at the moment.
Crowds at the ballparks that were supposed to dazzle fans and make every new tenant a playoff contender are thin. Across both leagues, average attendance is off 3.5 percent in the first two weeks of the season, to 29,403. Most of the blame is being pinned on lousy weather and losing teams.
But there's something else that should be causing some concern: Eight ballparks have drawn their lowest crowds for a regularly scheduled game. Seven of them were part of the new-ballpark boom. Two of them opened their doors barely a year ago.
The only team among the eight to draw a record-low to an old stadium is the Florida Marlins, who are playing in a reconfigured football stadium and chased away most of their fans by staging a fire sale soon after winning the 1997 World Series.
Fitting, perhaps, Reinsdorf's new stadium turned out to be a white elephant. It was cold, so lacking in charm that the ballpark alienated large numbers of the team's loyal fan base and attracted few new fans. It became an example of what not to build, so much so that few people even consider it part of the boom.
The ballpark built after that, Camden Yards in Baltimore, was the first of the retro-styled parks. Milwaukee's Miller Park was the last to come online. Neither one, though, has been immune from the attendance flu that might be spreading across baseball.
Season tickets in Milwaukee dropped from about 14,000 to 11,000 in only the second season at Miller Park. Camden Yards, which built an impressive string of sellouts while Cal Ripken still patrolled the place, had its lowest-ever turnout -- 22,781 -- a few days ago.
The trend, preliminary as it might be, has to have some people sweating. Because baseball hasn't been able to land a large national TV contract from any of the networks in recent years, all the game's executives argued the way to build a contender was to build a luxury suite-laden ballpark that generated big local revenues -- because only 20 percent of those revenues are shared with their opponents.
But the game became so expensive so fast, that the projected turnarounds in just about every town but Cleveland failed to materialize. Weather may be keeping some fans away, but it could well turn out that raising expectations drives discouraged fans away even faster. People may love not standing in line to take advantage of the amenities at the new ballparks, but their patience could be drying up for a losing team in plush, new surroundings.
Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy thinks that's why Pittsburgh fans have been staying away from PNC Park in droves.
``We've had a number of losing seasons in a row,'' he said. ``The fans just get tired of it, and I don't blame them.''
Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated
Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org
Here's another one. This wire report was the Sports headline article in today's Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
Eight ballparks set record crowd lows
April 16, 2002
NEW YORK -- Many of baseball's gleaming new ballparks have a different sight this season: Thousands of empty seats.
Blame it on losing teams and cold weather.
In the first two weeks of the season, eight ballparks have drawn their lowest crowds for a regularly scheduled game, including seven that were part of the new ballpark boom.
Overall, the average attendance for a major league game was down 3.5 percent in the first two weeks of the season, to 29,403.
"We've had a number of losing seasons in a row," Pittsburgh Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy said. "The fans just get tired of it, and I don't blame them."
Pittsburgh, coming off nine consecutive losing seasons, saw season tickets drop from 17,000 last year in its first season at PNC Park to 10,000 this year. Florida, purchased by Jeffrey Loria from John Henry following a stagnant offseason, sold 4,000 season tickets, down from 6,000 last year.
Still, that's better than it was at the start of spring training, when only several hundred had been sold.
"We're pretty happy with where we got to," Marlins president David Samson said. "Our selling season didn't start until Feb. 16. Our focus was just on getting started, and having a full selling season for '03. We have no specific mandates for attendance goals for this season."
Florida, which hopes to get a new ballpark eventually, drew a record-low 4,466 to Pro Player Stadium on April 11. Other lows for regularly scheduled games include Detroit's Comerica Park (11,833), PNC Park (12,795), Milwaukee's Miller Park (14,090), Houston's Astros Field (21,528), Baltimore's Camden Yards (22,781), Cleveland's Jacobs Field (23,760) and Denver's Coors Field (29,522).
Milwaukee's season ticket sales dropped from about 14,000 to about 11,000 in the second season of Miller Park.
"Last year was the inaugural year of a new ballpark," said Brewers president Wendy Selig-Prieb, the daughter of commissioner Bud Selig. "To be able to match those numbers, particularly early on? Very, very difficult. Have we seen a lessening in our season ticket numbers? Yeah. But it's still the second-highest in team history."
Still, it's a lot better than the old days.
"I looked back in 2000, which was the final year of County Stadium, in games two and three, we drew 7,000 fans," she said. "We need to remember that perspective."
A 3-10 start didn't help the Brewers. Detroit, in its third season at Comerica Park, began 0-11, the fifth-worst start in the majors since 1900.
"We need to play better baseball," said Dave Dombrowski, who left the Marlins last year to become president of the Tigers. "We're in a large city, a great sports town. The passion is phenomenal. It's just we need to be in a position that people start to believe in us."
Part of baseball's drop is due to several teams playing home games in the northern part of the country during early April cold snaps.
But fans turn out for a winner no matter what the temperature. They worry whether the team is hot, not the ballpark.
With the Rangers off to a 3-10 start, The Ballpark in Arlington has seen four crowds under 22,000 -- the lowest since 1996.
Ticket sales dropped in Cleveland, where there were winter wonders about the Indians' success this season. Off to an 11-1 start, the Indians sold 60,000 single-game tickets during the first two weeks of April, raising their total for the season to 2.35 million. Last year, they drew 3.18 million.
Teams that don't win as much often resort to promotions. The Marlins opened a "fan conversion booth," where T-shirts and caps from other teams can be exchanged for Marlins T-shirts and caps. The old memorabilia is donated by the Marlins to charities in the cities of the opposing teams.
Samson also instituted a plan to deal with the Marlins' sometimes frequent rain delays.
"We have rainy day activities. When the tarp goes on during the game, a big siren goes off." he said. "There's a karaoke contest. There's putting contests with trivia questions and prizes. There's trivia contests and ballpark bingo."