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What’s the Deal with Attendance?


This past week, Wahoo’s on First’s Jeff Mount detailed the Indians woeful attendance problem and offered reasons for why he believes the Indians continue to struggle at the turnstiles. It was a well written and well thought out article, so much so that it got me curious as to what the rest of the staff felt the problem was. With that in mind, for this week’s Wroundtable question I decided to ask them what they felt the problem really was and why attendance has been so bad. Here’s what they had to say.

Nick Houghtaling:  I would like to preface my response by saying that I live in the Los Angeles area, thus I might not have a great idea about the situation in Cleveland. From my perspective, though, I think it’s simply hard to believe in a Cleveland team. Cleveland fans have been disappointed plenty of times in the history of the city, and I think the fans have become jaded at this point. Even if the team looks good, it’s too easy to believe they’ll fall into a slump like they have the past two years and end up finishing out of contention yet again.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

It’s especially easily to feel this way about baseball – in a 162 game season, a good start can turn into a terrible team very quickly. I think a lot of uncertainty is ingrained in the minds of Clevelanders, and for good reason. The Tribe must be consistently good to draw in the fans on a consistent basis.

However, I do not necessarily agree with this mindset that I’m perceiving Clevelanders to have (once again, I’m out of touch with the area and this is just guesswork). I think that when a team fronts the money and picks up talent like the Dolans have done, it deserves some belief in the fan base. I think this year has been better than previous years, but there’s obviously still plenty of room for improvement.

Geordy Boveroux: The Dolans are like a big-name Hollywood producer. When they produce something, you know about it and it comes with a lot of media hype and anticipation for some. But some producers develop a reputation for making crap movies and that’s what the Indians of recent years have become.

Regardless of past hit films, the producer’s name in the public eye becomes diminished and very few make plans to head to the theater and catch their latest film.  Sometimes good reviews trickle in and encourage some to spend an afternoon seeing what its all about and perhaps coming away pleasantly surprised, but throwing large amounts of money at a blockbuster does not guarantee one box office success.

A producer is only as good as their body of work. One solid film to debut (2001 season) and a big hit (2007 season) surrounded by a series of clunkers leave fans untrustworthy of initial hype for the producer’s films. Sometimes this will lead to quality films being largely ignored and seen as great works in retrospect, but often not every good movie is truly appreciated on its debut.

Kyle Downing: The answer can be summed up pretty simply: the fans are skeptical.  As Cleveland fans, we’ve all been hurt before. Think of it like a person who’s been burned by a significant other twice (such as the fans were when they got their hopes up in 2011 and 2012). If we’re let down twice, is it all going to come back because the person buys us a bouquet of flowers? The fans are tired of being hurt. If the Dolans show that they are serious at the trade deadline, I think it will prove to a lot of fans that they’ve “changed”. The fact that attendance has increased even slightly is a good sign. I’m still hoping we pull in Cliff Lee before August, but maybe that’s a pipe dream.

Steve Kinsella: I reserve judgement of all matters regarding attendance until later in the season. I have no qualms about fans not reaching into there pockets to pay for tickets in April and May. They can watch David take on Goliath from the comfort of their homes and if David is putting up a good fight late in the year they’ll want a front row seat front and center. A couple of consecutive competitive seasons where the team is viewed over an offseason as more than “the little engine that could” with a smaller checklist of “ifs” needing to work in their favor would go a long way to improving attendance incrementally through the season.

Ed Carroll: Nobody wants to hear this, but attendance is bad because the fans are bad. No one with the team will confirm this viewpoint, at least publicly, because the Indians aren’t PR morons, but Clevelanders are running out of plausible excuses as to why they don’t show up to games, and are now turning to ridiculous ones. There’s a variety of factors in play here, and no one likes to be told how to spend their money, but this isn’t exactly a new problem with the Indians. Blame the economy if you want, but it’s been bad throughout the country. Blame the team if you want, but even when the team has been good, attendance hasn’t responded (such as in 2007). Like it or not, baseball is a business. If a business doesn’t make money, it will close, or leave for somewhere where it will make money. The idea that Clevelanders need consecutive good seasons or to be playoff locks to support this team simply isn’t realistic. Attendance isn’t a new problem in Cleveland, but it’s sinking to new lows, and could eventually be taken out of Dolan’s hands, and into MLB’s hands, where they can (and will) find a city that will show up to games.

Evan Vogel: I don’t live in Cleveland and I’ve only been to Progressive Field twice, but I know that the economy stinks as a third year teacher still without a full-time job, with a wife and a four-year-old daughter. How am I going to afford tickets? I don’t even consider going to Reds games in Cincinnati (where I live) with the team offering $5 bleacher seats. Why? Because the parking, the pop, the hot dogs, and everything else that comes along with the fan cost index figures don’t make it a reasonable night out for a small, financially crippled family. Even if we had money coming in from, say, writing for various websites, would I feel like taking a kid out past their bedtime to a noisy ballpark? Probably not, even as a baseball fanatic.

A lot of attendance issues go away when kids are out of school AND when the team is performing well; however, the fans in Cleveland SHOULD be full of doubt and hesitant to spend money considering how long it took the Dolan’s to spend theirs. A great product will make the gates turn, but when the team has had gigantic collapses over the last two seasons, maybe attendance won’t increase until the club is still contending in August.

Maybe the club is hoping for a collapse so that the fans stay away and they can move to Miami? We’ve seen this all before. The team signs a high velocity arm out of the penitentiary leagues, a few washed up veterans, and a speedy nobody and takes the city and the league by storm…I remember that even in movies, the fans weren’t there until the Indians proved themselves.

As a member of the struggling Ohio unemployed, I blame the economy, which is far worse in Cleveland than it is in Cincinnati, and whether the fans have proven to be  fair-weather or non-existent in the past or present, times have changed from the 1990′s version of Cleveland Indians fandom. Lost jobs, income fluctuations, and years of dreadful Tribe squads could have driven them away from the ballpark and the city.

Brian Heise: I think a lot of factors come into play but the two most glaring have to be the perceived opinion of the Dolans along with economic state of the city. Personally, I live in New Orleans because I couldn’t find work in Cleveland following my graduation from grad school. If I still lived in Cleveland, I’d be going to the games regularly. I love baseball and I love going to games even when the team is awful. I’m optimistic even when I probably shouldn’t be. However, the majority of people still calling Cleveland home either aren’t that optimistic about the team, and by association the Dolans commitment to winning, or simply can’t afford to go to more than a handful of games each season. Perhaps the most troubling part of all of this is that the Indians are the most affordable ticket in town when compared to the Cavs or Browns. You can go to a game and have a good time for relatively little cost, all things considered. I just wish people knew what they were missing out on. I can’t go to games because I live 1000+ miles away. These people are just a short drive and can’t be bothered.

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Tags: Attendance Cleveland Indians Larry Dolan

  • http://www.arrowheadaddict.com Patrick Allen

    Attendance is something the team has to earn. When the organization can string together a couple of playoff appearances, the fans will show up. They’ve proved that in the past.

    It is pretty clear that Tribe fans realize the organization isn’t willing to spend money to win so why should the fans shell out cash to watch the team lose? It’s idiotic.

    I like a lot of the moves the Tribe made this offseason and I am glad they opened up the wallet a bit. But I am not going to place blame on the fans for not shelling out money to watch a consistent loser when they can watch at home for free.

    Win and they will come. It is as simple as that.

    • Ed Carroll

      Thanks for the comment, but if Cleveland is only going to show up for an MLB team if its a winner, then it won’t have an MLB team in the next few years.

      Also find this argument curious, especially given the way Cleveland supports the Browns and how terrible they have been. Hell, even the Cavs average more fans on most nights than the Indians this year.

    • http://www.arrowheadaddict.com Patrick Allen

      There are a number of reasons the Browns and to some extent, the Cavs, do better attendance-wise than the Indians. But it is comparing apples to oranges. Football is wildly popular in this country and will always be a bigger draw. The Cavs, recently, have been a winner, something no other Cleveland team has really accomplished since the Indians got knocked out of the ALCS by the roided up Red Sox.

      The Indians, the first couple years after they stopped winning, still enjoyed decent attendance numbers. The Cavs are likely still receiving some residual attendance from their glory days. Make no mistake, though, if they put up four or five more terrible seasons the Q will be empty too.

      There is a difference, in my mind, between being loyal to your team as a fan and shelling out your hard-earned cash to watch a crap product. Sports is entertainment. To expect a small market to show up and spend money to not be entertained for nine innings isn’t realistic.

      There are way too many entertainment options available in today’s world to expect that kind of commitment from fans who aren’t seeing a return for their investment.

      If the Indians put a product on the field that is worth supporting, people will gladly come out and support it.

      As for the Browns, they will always draw better for reasons mentioned above. But take it from me, as a Chiefs fan first and a Browns fan second, even the most devoted of fan bases get fed up. See the empty Arrowhead Stadium as proof.

      I don’t like blaming the fans for not showing up to support impotent sports teams that gouge them for money at every turn.

  • Ed Carroll

    I keep saying the headline in a Jerry Seinfield voice lol