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May 14, 2010

Mets' league-leading attendance drop: Sign bloom is off stadium rose?

The New York Mets have seen the largest drop in attendance from last year of any MLB team, and somebody thinks they've spotted a trend:

"The problem is last year the tickets were really expensive and the team stunk and that can really stick with fans for a while," said Jon Greenberg, the executive editor of Team Marketing Report, an industry publication.
In the mid-1990s, Greenberg said, teams could count on new stadiums to help them boost ticket sales for several years, but that trend has ended.
"Stadium fatigue sets in much faster than it did before," Greenberg said, noting that new stadiums built in Baltimore and Cleveland in the early 1990s led to long periods of increased attendance for both franchises. "When Camden Yards and Jacobs Field were built, they were a big deal and were a complete change. The novelty has worn off."

That last note about stadium fatigue isn't entirely untrue, but it's also worth noting that the Orioles and Indians both got really good on the field around the same time they opened their new stadiums, which is the main reason their attendance honeymoons were so long. Cellar-dwelling teams have not been so lucky: The Pittsburgh Pirates jumped 41% in attendance the year they opened PNC Park, then fell 28% the next year after losing 100 games in 2001; the Cincinnati Reds had a similar but less-dramatic drop two years later.

Some of this is no doubt stadium fatigue &mdash Camden Yards could have drawn fans in the early '90s even if the Orioles had been playing like, well, the Orioles — but mostly it's just an expression of the same principle at work as always: If your team is winning, you can stretch a honeymoon out for a few years; if not, it'll likely fizzle in two to three. Every stadium draws curiosity-seekers its first season, and every stadium is pretty much back to baseline attendance levels ten years down the road. Florida Marlins, you have been warned.

COMMENTS

The primary reason for the significant drop off in Pirates attendance was not just the 100 loss season. Owner Kevin McClatchy's decision to raise ticket prices killed any enthusiasm or goodwill that the new stadium had generated. I know of several people who didn't renew their season tickets just for that reason.

Posted by PittSlovak on May 14, 2010 12:57 PM

The fact that 20-something teams have HOK-style stadiums and that they are now the new cookie-cutters doesn't help either.

Posted by Brian on May 14, 2010 01:48 PM

I've always felt that the cookie cutters got a bad reputation for little good reason. The real problem with those fields was the astroturf, which made the playing surface insanely hot. Busch Stadium became a different place with grass in the 1990s (and some other renovations).

Places like the Vet, Riverfront, Three Rivers, etc were relatively compact, often had nice settings, had good sight lines, good views from the loge boxes, good atmosphere when 2/3 full, and best of all, low cost. They were also based on such historical designs as the Roman Colosseum.

Each one of these "throwback" stadiums becomes more absurd in its architectural features and pointless wall angles--probably rising to the heights of idiocy with the train and strange hills in Houston. Is this really improvement?

Posted by G on May 14, 2010 03:48 PM

Agree with all three posters here.

The major factor in my mind is the increased cost of attending games in new facilities. Yes, your club totally sucking doesn't help. But paying 2x last year's price for terrible baseball is even worse. Even when the taxpayer gets hammered on costs for new stadia, the team's "revenue boost" always includes taking a significantly larger bite out of fans' pocketbooks.

After seeing a new stadium a couple of times, maybe fans just aren't that into you...

Like everything else, baseball has it's price point. Many clubs thought that untrue in the halcyon "zero down zero interest" days of the last decade. But like all unsustainable trends, this too has passed.

Could we really be approaching a return to the days when sports businesses have to cater to actual fans rather than multimillionaire club seat/suite clients?

I can't wait... I love pro sports, but enough is enough. It's time sports returned to charging and paying what the actual market will bear, not what the market plus several hundred million dollars of taxpayer funding can bear...

Posted by John Bladen on May 15, 2010 02:01 AM

In fairness to the Mets the weather has been very nasty during many of their games. The truth is that many people just don't have enough money to go to baseball games. The ticket prices can be an issue, but parking,beer,food, merchandise are so overpriced.

The new designs of the stadiums aren't the problem(although the new Yankee Stadium is a big miss), but I do agree that several teams are not putting a good product on the field. It may be time for a salary cap.

Posted by Sad Yankee Fan on May 15, 2010 01:41 PM

In fairness to the Mets the weather has been very nasty during many of their games. The truth is that many people just don't have enough money to go to baseball games. The ticket prices can be an issue, but parking,beer,food, merchandise are so overpriced.

The new designs of the stadiums aren't the problem(although the new Yankee Stadium is a big miss), but I do agree that several teams are not putting a good product on the field. It may be time for a salary cap.

Posted by Sad Yankee Fan on May 15, 2010 01:41 PM

I would disagree that the designs of the parks aren't a problem. The huge number of "premium" seats in newly-built parks relegate the regular fan to distant seats or poor sightlines--with artificial scarcity pushing up the prices of even those seats. If these were privately built parks--no problem. But obviously they aren't.

Baseball decided it didn't want the "problem" of having to market tickets to churches, boy scouts, and social clubs anymore, and figured it would be easier to sell relatively fewer seats/luxury boxes at higher prices to big companies. Many of the cities of these new parks don't have the corporate strength to live that way for long (i.e. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati), and when the bloom is off the rose of the new stadium, these seats aren't easily transferred to the "secondary market". That may not get better anytime soon.

Posted by G on May 15, 2010 04:21 PM

In the research I've done, there are some signs that newer stadiums have more volatility in attendance than older ones do - which could indicate a flaw in the rich casual fan strategy. It's an area ripe for investigation by someone with a knack for regression analysis.

Posted by Neil on May 15, 2010 04:28 PM

The irony is that Baltimore, the city that started all of this (at least on the baseball front), is probably the least equipped to deal with the newfound reliance on corporate seating. They were probably better off, relatively speaking, staying in Memorial Stadium (one of the better stadiums circa 1991) and having everyone else stay in their cookie-cutters.

Posted by Brian on May 15, 2010 05:53 PM

a winning team is a much better draw than just a mallpark, especially now.
that's not on the horizon in flushing...

Posted by paul w. on May 16, 2010 12:36 PM

Yeah, it's looking like another summer of $0.98 StubHub tickets in Flushing...

Posted by Neil on May 16, 2010 03:25 PM

Hmmm. It seems like a perfect storm of BS at Sh*ti Field: bad team, hopeless ticket prices, the whole Retro Mall-Park thang winding down. If we get another owner whining like a baby about how oudated his 6 year old park is and how he'll have to move to Indianapolis or something if her don't get it, PLEASE someone shoot that f#cker.

Posted by Marty on May 16, 2010 04:10 PM

Since there are less seats than the previous stadia, if things go the way they are now, the owner would have little choice but to offer seats at the lower level to the plebes at significantly reduced prices. Imagine the sight of those well-to-do sitting in those seats in front of the moat when they realize that someone next to them paid 1% of the price to sit in the next seat. The owners would really then hear the complaining.

Posted by Transic on May 17, 2010 06:44 PM

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