[6] Dolans – Look in Mirror: The #Indians Can Be Relevant Again

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I will take one final stab at my critics who still cling to the view that the Indians attendance problem is caused by the people of Cleveland and not a failed business plan. My latest debate was with a good blogger who felt the attendance shortfalls reflected the population decline in the greater Cleveland area.

While I admit that Detroit and Cleveland have not increased population in their greater metropolitan areas over the past 13 years, it has not been like there is a mass exodus out of either metro area. Based on the US Census Bureau actual count and estimates over the past three years, the Cleveland Metro area started at about 2,148,143 and ended the span from 2000 to 2014 at about 2,064,295. This translates to an 83,848 population loss or 3.9% over 14 years. Detroit has lost 157,574 or 3.54%. It is certainly hard to fathom that a loss of about 84,000 people over 14 years is accounting for a 24% attendance drop over the past 4 years. So yet another belief or “excuse” is debunked by facts.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, baseball and all sports are part of the entertainment industry. The customers will respond to perceptions and reality. The customers definitely respond to talent. Any entertainment company will do whatever it takes to get talent. It is that talent that drives revenue and profit. To blame the customers for not showing up to your entertainment product seems rather counterproductive to me. Plus, it stops you from improving the product in order to turn around your business.

So could we please dispense once and for all with the continual excuses for the Dolans. They knew what they were buying when they put up the money. Now they are in a favorable position to make it work but it will take a considerable additional investment not matched by revenue to make this happen. All owners of entertainment companies need to do this from time to time unless they are extremely fortunate. Almost every MLB team needs to do this and can’t wait for matching fan attendance to do it. The Kansas City Royals have increased their salaries over the past 4 years from about 35 million to about 89 million and had virtually no increase in attendance until this year and it will be about 160,000 greater.

My point is that the Dolans need to look in the mirror and recognize that the current Indians team is pretty darn good but NOT good enough. They tried to really spend when they sold their TV station but swung and missed with Swisher. They need to bury that mistake and do it again. It is almost certain they will not do it, but I am hopeful that they will see the need and jump in again. There is no homegrown substitute for what the Indians need to really compete. That is a power, high average middle of the order stick.

I suggested Victor Martinez because he will be a free agent, plays for our primary competitor, has expressed interest in coming back to Cleveland, and fits our need perfectly. He also is a tremendous competitor and clutch hitter. Finally, he is an ex-Indian who was loved while here. The Indian fans have shown great interest in and have come out to see great ex-Indians return. It would be excellent from a PR standpoint and completely dispel the rumor that the Dolans won’t spend when the time is right.

However, this move would be very risky with high reward. Victor will be 36 years old by the beginning of next season. He has had some injury problems through the years. He would best be used as a DH but still plays first base fairly well. He virtually negates any benefit of Swisher unless Swisher can play right field. Finally, he will cost us a ton over several years and the latter years of the contract might be a poor investment. So, if we were sure Victor would have 4 years like this year, it is really a no brainer despite the cost. But that, of course, is not possible to know.

Knowing the Indians, they would prefer to find a one year player with warts like Nelsen Cruz. Baltimore’s investment in Cruz is definitely paying off. But that is also risky because you can end up with a Mark Reynolds instead. Those players are hard to find. Even with his age, Victor would be a far better risk.

Trades to accomplish the same result are also possible but we would have to give up a ton to get a younger player with Victor’s punch and average. So I am open to any and all possibilities to get the job done but I am not compromising on what I feel the Indians need. It is their only legitimate chance to really contend and get the fans revved up and interested again. The Indians pitching has the potential to be special, but the team must find a way to have fewer games where they score 3 runs or less.

I feel a substantially increased investment is necessary for the next two years to provide a true window to succeed and improve attendance. As Swisher’s and Borne’s contracts expire, they should not be replaced. We should have enough young players to fill those gaps by then. So, in two years, about 25 million will come off the payroll. Dolan should set up a business plan to severely deficit spend for two years and then get the payroll down in 2017.

I hope you have enjoyed this series on the Indians. It was the product of a lot of research and thought. I understand the final recommendation is kind of simple, but I think a major addition is needed. The team is set up overall to win with that addition. Whether this would succeed to peak the interest of the Cleveland fans, only time would tell. But I can assure you that doing nothing or very little will NOT result in a significant increase in attendance. The deficits created in that scenario might be deadly to the Dolan ownership and the Cleveland Indians franchise.

 

5 thoughts on “[6] Dolans – Look in Mirror: The #Indians Can Be Relevant Again”

  1. Thoughtful series. I enjoyed it. You do not have to be a Harvard business school grad to know that blaming the customer never works.

  2. I commend you for your analysis, which I believe is more honest, direct and productive than anything I have seen from the Plain Dealer on this issue. I must say that the PD shares some culpability in this mess, albeit comparatively small, but their strenuous effort to continually absolve the Dolans for systematically alienating a fan base instead of doing their jobs and holding them accountable, has contributed to the overall disenchantment Cleveland has had with the Indians.

    At no time since 2007, have I believed this team capable of winning a World Series and I am not sure I have faith that the Dolans will ever be capable of putting forward a sustained championship pedigree team. I mean that says it all right there. I would say that’s how the majority of fans feel and why they are not interested.

    I think that the Dolans should do the right thing and realize they have no credibility and sell the team. Even if a new franchise were faced with the same financial constraints and reacted similarly, just hearing a new voice would be sufficient to alter perceptions and reinvigorate a fan base that has been alienated from their team.

    Anyway, I commend you. Really nice job on these essays and I wholeheartedly agree with just about everything.

    1. Thank you very much for your comments and your thoughtful approach to describing my series. I also think you have provided very useful insight into the indirect culpability of the Plain Dealer. Paul Hoynes “excusing” the Dolans IN ADVANCE for not signing Victor this off season really speaks to your point. I strongly believe, as it seems you do, that perceptions in entertainment products (especially sports) plays a critical role in the response of the customers. To dismiss or ignore that critical factor makes little business sense.

      Further, although I didn’t want to put this in the series, I have spoken to highly placed members of the Indians PR department (whom I greatly respect)that bristled when I suggested that the team just producing decently on the field might not be enough to excite the fan base and bring them back. That trying to logically explain why any reasonable fan would support the team is a way of passing responsibility for the products failing attendance onto the very customers you are trying to attract. That almost arrogant attitude will not result in fan acceptance but fan rejection.

      Again, thank you for your thoughtful comments.

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