Wins Drive Baseball Attendance, Not Ballparks

Keep an eye on the attendance situation in Washington, the only Major League Baseball team to open a new ballpark this season. They opened the stadium to a packed house on National Television – after begging ESPN to air the game – with the President on hand. Due to a scheduling quirk the Nats did not play home game #2 until Monday night, in front of only 20,487 fans, roughly half of capacity. New stadium hysteria eventually wears off, but after one game – that’s bad news.

Grant it, an early April Monday night against the minor-league Florida Marlins, who really wants to watch that game. Washington made a mistake rushing construction to meet the Opening Day Deadline, leaving a parking nightmare, along with numerous ballpark malfunctions, according to many first hand accounts. Not a good way to win over fans for a team yet to be competitive since moving to Washington. Though better weather and better visiting teams will bring more fans, don’t expect sellouts at Nationals Park this season. Fans want to see good teams. Teams usually get at least one year of attendance paradise with new stadiums (see Pittsburgh) before returning to form. Will Washington fans even provide that?

Down the Beltway, Oriole fans have finally turned a cold shoulder to Peter Angelos. Experts pick Baltimore to finish last in the East, behind Tampa, and compete for the worst record in the league. Since Opening Day attendance has failed to eclipse 20,000, marking record lows at Camden Yards, one of the best pure baseball parks around even 17 years after opening. San Francisco, another team undergoing a major rebuilding process, and Baltimore, provide two interesting case studies for attendance. Two premier stadiums that historically sold out, though Baltimore’s attendance is in a multi-year decline, home to two teams projected to eclipse 100 losses. Will the stadium alone draw fans, or will team performance lead to half empty state of the art stadiums? If the latter holds true, will new parks in Florida or Tampa really make the teams more competitive, or will new ownership?

An unscientific look predicts team performance drives attendance. Jacobs Field emptied out when the Indians emptied the roster, same with Safeco in the post-116 win era, while plenty of tickets remain available in Pittsburgh, the class of the new stadium wave, and Cincinnati.

When team’s falter the value of service, innovative ticket packages, good marketing, and overall ballpark enjoyment and convenience become paramount. Washington may have missed the boat on that. This season we’ll find out how well San Francisco did in those areas, or if Barry Bonds steroids persona will have an impact.

[Note: A more detailed analysis of attendance trends and W-L record will follow. ]

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One Response

  1. I was at the home opener, AND at the second home game.

    I think you’re forgetting something huge here. #1, it was the Marlins, you’re right, but #2, it was the Final game for college Hoops. Someone GAVE me their club seats to the Nats that night because they needed to stay home and watch college hoops.

    I think attendance will get a bit better.. That’s a big consideration you left out. I bet attendance was lower at all the ballparks that night.

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