We need to talk about our record of attendance
By Jeff Ellis
May 10, 2012
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
Also, the Pirates have great food too!
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.
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.:)
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.