Why the Fans Aren’t Showing

Apparently, the idea of contraction is being brought up in baseball circles once again, just in time for new labor negotiations.  Although the baseball talks have not reached the contentious stage that the NFL’s have, that doesn’t mean each side has some issues to get across.

The ownership will use the possibility of eliminating teams to its advantage.  SB Nation’s Rob Neyer threw out the names of the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays as possibilities for downsizing if the sport decides to go that way. 

After all, the Rays couldn’t sell out their home opener after a division winning season last year.  Even the Indians have sold out each of their openers since Progressive Field opened in 1994. 

The whole idea of losing teams comes up because after a sellout on Friday, the two smallest crowds ever to attend a Tribe game showed up on the two weekend dates against the White Sox.

Naturally, people within the sport are concerned about the shrinking fan base in Cleveland.

It was just ten years ago that fans filled the ballpark to the tune of 455 consecutive sellouts, but it seems like eons ago.  And as people point out all the time, the streak occurred at a time when the Browns were not around. 

Lately, attendance has been spotty.  Since 1999, when 3.468 million walked through the turnstiles, the number of people watching the Tribe has declined steadily.

The team drew 2.6 million in 2002 coming off a division winning year, but that was the last season over 2 million until another division pennant was won in 2007, when they drew 2.2 million. 

The following year, expectations were again high, and over 2 million fans again watched the Indians.  However, the biggest problem for the franchise is the lack of sustained winning.

The team drew close to 2 million (1.99 and 1.96) in 2005 and 2006 as well.  If you recall, the ’05 missed the playoffs by one game, and fans were optimistic going into the following season. 

There is no question attendance figures would have been much higher in both ’06 and ’08 had the team gotten off to a good start, thereby convincing the casual fan that the playoffs were on the horizon once again.

There is no question that poor starts in both seasons killed the potential for good gates throughout the year.

The other problem for the poor attendance is the lack of confidence in the ownership and front office.  That is something that needs to be addressed by the administration.

Fair or not, most fans have been disenchanted since the 2009 trades of Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez, both of whom were under contract to the team through the end of the 2010 season. 

Yes, many people forget that both players could have been here all last season.

It’s okay to trade a player who will probably leave for free agency at the end of the year if the team is having a poor season.  Why not get something in return instead of draft picks?

However, giving up on the season afterward as well was the last straw for many Tribe fans.  The ownership basically wrote off a season before it even started, and the fans haven’t forgotten.

Now, the ownership is in the position of changing the mindset of its fan base.  They have to win back the trust of the people who buy tickets, and right now, they haven’t done it.

Until it happens, the Indians are going to have to fight to put people in the seats.  The guess here is they won’t make the same mistake again, but the damage is done. 

A lot of empty seats at Progressive Field serve as witness to that.

KM

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