I have been throwing out on twitter lately some reminders about what I said in the off-season “to the Dolans” about what would happen if they sat on their hands last off-season and did not fill the number 4 hole in our lineup. I produced a series of articles that explained why I felt that, while the Indians were close to something special, they needed to go after a legitimate middle of the order hitter or fans would shut them out unless the team outperformed their talent. We now know that certainly has not been the case and, if anything, they have underperformed their talent level which is much worse. The Cleveland Indians are simply very tough to watch. And the terrible affliction of 2014, scoring less than 3 runs per game for innumerable games has continued.
So my thoughts were not “hindsight” as some have recently suggested. I clearly saw this possibility and spoke passionately about why I hoped the Dolans would severely deficit spend for two years while they washed out the Swisher and Bourne contracts. They needed to extend to get the one piece everyone could see they were missing … A dangerous hitter to put in the middle of the order. Now that they are past mid-season and the results can be seen with attendance and lower TV ratings, I am not sure that trying to “buy” any players is a wise idea. The mistake was made in the off-season and the trading deadline is not likely to be kind to the Tribe. So here are the last two installments revisited and I will expand on how I recommend they approach this now that the inaction has led to what looks like another lost season in a later post.
“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.
The final Epilogue Post follows:
“Just a brief final note on my series on the Indians and their attendance and how it relates to the near term future of the team. I was honored by WFNY with a reference to my blog series in the While We’re Waiting (WWW) section today. I appreciate Kirk Lammers reference to the series even though he honestly stated that he didn’t agree with all my points. That is the reason I am adding this brief seventh and final installment in the series.
The beauty of that reference in WFNY is that it not only helped expose many people to something I spent considerable time creating. But it also allows me to say this tonight. I am completely cool with people not agreeing with me because I am not 100% convinced I believe myself in all of the points I made in that series. That is what makes blogging one of the most rapidly growing communication tools today. It allows an expression of thought from someone other than a professional to be heard and then be followed by debate and dialogue.
The main reason for the series was to challenge widely held views about the Cleveland Indians failure at the gate (Brown’s town, bad economy, baseball disinterest, etc.) At the same time I wanted to emphasize the business principle that you shouldn’t blame your customers for a failing business. You should look in the mirror and find out what you can do to change your customer’s behavior. ALL good businesses reinvent themselves to adjust to the customer. Bad businesses cry about how the customer just “doesn’t understand their greatness” and are doomed to failure.
I personally don’t want the Dolans or the Indians to fail. So, I simply said that they need to improve the talent on the field (especially the hitting) and the fans will likely follow. Now I may be wrong but what other viable business plan can you think of that will increase attendance? The only other option is essentially giving up and calling the baseball fans of Cleveland a lost cause. For a lifelong fan, that is simply unacceptable.
So I appreciate that many will disagree and I respect that completely. I hope I have made some of you think and question a few of the widely held “theories” about shrinking Indians attendance. GO TRIBE !!!! Thanks for listening.”