Looks like people are concerned about the declining attendance of Cleveland Indians games this year.
Just for fun, let’s rewind even further, to another weekday night game in April at Jacobs/Progressive Field. This one on April 23, 1996. The game-time temperature that night was 38 degrees, with a 20 mph wind, which computes to a wind chill factor of 17 degrees. According to the official box score, that game started in a drizzle.
Oh yeah, and there was one other factor that night. The Indians’ won-loss record: 12-6.
The attendance that night: 40,770.
Now we have tonight’s game. A weekday night game in April. The Indians will go into the game with a record of 2-5.
In other words, plenty of good sections are still available.
All of which does not bode well for Cleveland’s American League Baseball Club. You know, the one that is so dependent on ticket sales in order to bolster the talent level.
As the Indians embark on their first homestand of the season, and moving forward through this season as a whole, what we have here is a perfect storm for attendance infamy. You have a bad team off to a bad start coming off a bad season, playing in frequently bad early season weather, in a bad economy.
The fears became reality Wednesday night when Progressive Field drew its smallest crowd in history of 10,071. The graph below shows the trend of Cleveland’s attendance and winning since 1996.
There is a strong association between winning, attendance, and revenue; however even when the Indians were winning a few years ago, they weren’t drawing crowds consistent with those in the 1990s. That attendance has not hit the levels it had in the 1990s does not surprise me. The late-90s Indians had the perfect storm of a good team and a new stadium—the latter quality is key. Economists have identified that new sports stadiums typically experience a “honeymoon effect,” which lasts between 6 to 10 years. During the honeymoon phase, fans go to the park for the park, not to see the team. That’s something that the Indians aren’t going to get back.
Looking at the recent past, when the Indians have been good fans have responded. In 2005, when the Indians won 93 games, attendance increased by 11% over the previous year. In 2007, when the team won 96 games, attendance increased by 14%. It’s also interesting to note that after these good season, attendance doesn’t drop off as much as the teamed gained from improving. But if you don’t stay good you can loose fans. In 2009—two years removed from the their AL Central title—attendance was down 19% when they won 68 games.
While low attendance isn’t a good thing, I don’t think the club should be disappointed because it’s attendance isn’t what it once was. The Indians shouldn’t expect numbers comparable to the 1990s, even in winning times, because those numbers were influenced by the honeymoon effect, which can’t be improved without a new stadium. But please, don’t even think about it.