Cleveland took some big steps last year towards getting more fans to the ballpark. The Indians drew 1,840,835 fans to Progressive Field in 2011—an MLB-leading 30.3 percent increase from 2010′s attendance. At the same time, SportsTime Ohio saw its television ratings increase more than any other team’s network with a whopping 108.9% increase over 2010′s ratings.
Despite the positive vibes of the 2011 season, Maury Brown at the Biz of Baseball predicts that the Indians’ attendance will remain stagnant in 2012. He completes his analysis based on many factors including last year’s standings, off-season acquisitons, changes in the front office, and trends in how clubs are or are not improving.
In my opinion, the Indians attendance in 2012 will depend largely on how the team gets out of the gate in April and May. Using history as a guide, the Indians should have better April attendance in 2012 than they did in 2011. If they are able to take advantage of a favorable early-season schedule and recapture the magic they brought to the fans early in 2011 then they should be able to break the 2 million mark for the first time since 2008.
ESPN.com’s Buster Olney notes that the Indians have the easiest early season schedule in the American League. They play six of their first 30 games against teams who had winning records last year—they will not play against a team with a 2011 record over .500 until April 27—and 18 of their first 30 games are at home. The Indians are also coming off a season in which, for the first time since 2007, they were in a position to be buyers at the trade deadline rather than sellers. When the Indians are coming off better-than-expected seasons (2005, 2007) the attendance per game in April generally spikes the following year as seen in the chart below:
The energy behind the Cleveland Indians has to be higher at this point than it was last year, and this has to be seen in the advance ticket sales. Looking back at the beginning of last season, it was as if John Lowenstein’s apathy club had resurfaced along the shores of Lake Erie; the fans reverted back to the pre-Jacobs Field (Progressive Field) days as a sold-out crowd of 41,721 showed up for the opener but the second and third games of the season drew only 9,853 and 8,726, respectively. Not even an early-season visit by the always popular Boston Red Sox was able to bring the apathetic fans out to the park, as that series averaged a disappointing 9,714 fans per game.
The Indians finished the month of April with a record of 18-8 and were in first place in the AL Central, and as the calendar flipped to May the mood surrounding the Indians had turned dramatically. The once-apathetic fans suddenly began to show their passion for Indians baseball and returned to the ballpark. After averaging only 14,283 fans per game in April, attendance jumped to 24,037 per game in May, wherein the Indians extended their lead in the AL Central to seven games and reached what was to become the clubs high water mark of 15 games over .500 (30-15).
Through the summer the fans continued to support the team, as attendance averaged 22,252 per game in June, 26,145 per game in July, and 25,530 in August. Even with the rash of injuries, and maybe buoyed by the festivities following the return of Jim Thome, the Indians drew 24,005 per game in September. The month-by-month attendance for 2011 is shown in the chart below.
On March 15, the Indians announced that the home opener on Thursday, April 5 will be a sellout. It marks the 20th consecutive year that the Indians have sold out Opening Day and the 19th consecutive time at Progressive Field. I will be most interested in the Saturday and Sunday attendance figures relative to the disappointing numbers from the opening series versus the White Sox in 2011. Hopefully the litany of injuries that short-circuited the 2011 season and the long subsequent offseason did not suppress the energy and passion the fans captured in 2011 and Indians fever grips the fanbase early in 2012.