[2] Dolans – Look In Mirror: Baseball Is Not Dead (Except in Cleveland??)

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Before we explore the defeatist psychology developed from the Dolan ownership, let’s take a look at some of the failed generic “excuses” that try to remove management and ownership from responsibility:

One of the most commonly repeated reasons for the anemic attendance in Cleveland since 2008 is that baseball isn’t popular anymore. Young people want the excitement of a fast paced sport. No one likes the pace of baseball. Who wants to sit in the stands to watch an untimed sport? Well, the answer to that question is easily answered by game attendance. You might call me on this and ask for TV ratings and the like. But as valid as that would be, attendance still measures how many people want to spend their hard earned money on sporting events. MLB attendance has gradually grown since 2009 from about 73.4 million to about 74 million paying fans per year. In the same timeframe, NBA attendance has stayed flat at about 21.40 million fans. Both sports were better in years just before 2009 for about three years. That seemed to match the economy. The NFL attendance in 2009 was 17.15 million, went down, and then recovered to 17.3 million by 2013. To be fair it would be harder to grow attendance over a 16 game season but those are the figures. Conversely, the shorter season also places tickets at a premium and inflates attendance on the basis of demand per game. So, in summary, 74 million paying fans watch the 81 home games per team per year in MLB while 38.7 million attend the 48 home games per team per year for the NBA and NFL combined. Baseball has slightly grown attendance since 2009 and the other major sports have stayed basically flat. I don’t think that the “baseball is dead” theory explains Cleveland Indians attendance (or any team’s attendance for that matter).

Well, what do we expect, Cleveland is a football town!! Baseball is an afterthought. If it wasn’t for the Browns leaving, the Indians would not have been so popular in the mid 90s. This theory is thrown around with more regularity than a laxative. Yet, there is not a shred of evidence to link the Indians attendance to the Browns attendance. Since the Browns have been back in 1999, the Indians had massive attendance in the first 4 years of the Browns return. Starting at 3.45 million per year in 1999 and dropping to a still massive 2.62 million in 2002. What happened, did the fans take 4 years to get “used to” the Browns again?? And why did the Indians draw 2.84 million fans in 1995?? The Browns were still in town. The answer is simple and blows this “Browns Town” theory out of the water. The fans of Cleveland are not idiots. They can tell when a franchise is worth watching or rooting for and when they are not. They might miss by a year or so sometimes, but the Cleveland fans will pay money for a winning franchise or one that they perceive to be striving toward that goal. Since there is no evidence that Cleveland fans are unwilling to spread their money around to all 3 major sports when worthy, I don’t think the Dolans can find solace that their failing brand is based on their being trapped in a football town.

So if it isn’t that baseball is failing …. And if it isn’t that Cleveland fans can’t support the Indians because the Browns exist ….. It must be that, well….. , the darn stadium is getting weathered and we don’t have a stand up open bar in the outfield where people can stand and converse and drink with their family, coworkers and friends. Or we need a larger play area for kids so that the parents and child can avoid the game as much as humanly possible. Who wants to sit in the stands and watch the actual game anyway?? On the first point, I don’t drink at the ballpark because it is too damned expensive. But I don’t object to those who want a drink. And I have two grandchildren ages 3 and 5. They sit in the stands EVERY game we go to and watch the game and the players and the scoreboard and cheer every home run and every run. They laugh and know the players names and their batting stances. Now that might have something to do with my daughter and son-in-law both being diehard Indian fans but who knows. My point here is that, while any enhancements made to Progressive field might be nice, the ballpark is certainly not the problem here. So the big hoopla around the stadium enhancements that we won’t have to pay for (actually being paid by the concession company – what does that tell you?) is nothing more than a smokescreen for the real problem with the attendance there.

You know, I never really thought baseball was dying or the Browns existence lowers Indian’s attendance or the stadium was a problem , WE ALL KNOW it is the depressed economy in Ohio and the Cleveland area. Well, while the economic changes after 2007 certainly took a dire toll on Cleveland, it didn’t seem to correlate with Tribe attendance all that well. Between 2003 and 2008, the Indians averaged about 2 million per season. Low was 1.7 million and high was 2.3 million. In 2009, the year of by far the largest scare when the stock market crashed to an ominous low in March, the Indians drew 1.77 million. In 2011, they drew 1.84 million. Right now the Indians are sitting at about 1.32 million with about 6 home dates remaining. If they draw at their current pace, which might be a pipe dream, they will end up at around 1.43 million. That will be the SECOND LOWEST ATTENDANCE SINCE 1992 !!! Topped only by 2010 which was 1.39 million. This is exactly 1 year after the team had a dramatic season ending rally and somehow got into the wild card game by winning 92 games! During years that the Cleveland and National economy is clearly improving, 2011 to 2014, the Indians attendance has been 1.84, 1.60, 1.57 and now 1.43 million. Throw a 92 win season in the middle of those years (2013) and you still have a progressively declining attendance that doesn’t correlate to the economy, the condition of the ballpark, the popularity of the Browns, or the popularity of baseball. In my next installment, we will begin to explore deeper into the current state of the Indians and what, if anything, can stop the free fall.