Saturday, October 14, 2006

Major League Baseball – 2006 Attendance Trends IV

Major League Baseball established a single season attendance record for the third consecutive season, more than 76 million attended MLB games for the first time in Major League Baseball history. The first part of SBN’s look at attendance trends (focusing on the 2006 season, while at the same time looking back at the last five seasons for each respective franchise), looked at the New York Mets, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

The second part of SBN’s look at attendance trends (focusing on the 2006 season, while at the same time looking back at the last five seasons for each respective franchise), looked at the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Oakland A’s, San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers.

The third part of SBN’s look at attendance trends looked at the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians. Today’s fourth part looks at the remaining three American League franchises that haven’t been looked at yet – the Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners.

The Minnesota Twins have long been an enigma when it comes to analyzing their attendance. Major League Baseball commissioner suggested both the Montreal Expos and the Minnesota Twins would become the first two MLB franchises to ever be contracted five years ago. Five years later, the Expos are now the Nationals and they’re in Washington. The Twins are getting ready to break ground on what they hope will be a new ballpark. What a difference a day has made in the lives of the Minnesota Twins.

On August 29, 2006 the Hennepin County board approved sales tax extension one of the final steps in the Twins se curing the needed public (taxpayer) dollars needed to build a new ballpark for the Twins. The vote authorizes the county to begin imposing a .015 percent sales tax, the proceeds of which will be used to fund a portion of the ballpark. The Twins will pay $130 million of the total price tag, which is expected to be $522 million. The new 42,000-seat open-air ballpark will be built in the Warehouse District, north of the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis.

The Twins have produced on the field, consistently over the last five seasons. The Twins have won the AL Central four of the last five years. Six consecutive winning seasons, averaging 90 wins per season – that’s consistent and above average performance consumers have been able to count on.

Over the same six year period the Twins average attendance at the Metrodome has been 1.659 million fans per year, well below the MLB average. In the last five years MLB has averaged more than 2.4 million fans per franchise, clearly the Twins are not adding to that total.

In the last six years the Twins have gotten the biggest bang for their buck in terms of annual payroll relating to the number of wins. The Twins 2001 payroll -- $ 24,130,000, 2002 -- $ 40,225,000, 2003 -- $ 55,505,000, 2004 -- $ 53,585,000, 2005 -- $ 56,186,000 and 2006 -- $ 63,396,006.

What exactly are the issues the Twins are facing? Is it the lingering ‘affect’ of Twins owner Carl Pohlad’s reputation as a ‘stingy billionaire’?

He agreed to contract his baseball team sending a message to Twins fans he didn’t care about baseball in The Land of 10,000 Lakes. Remember the Montreal Expos, the other franchise that would have been contracted, was owned by Major League Baseball when Selig proposed contraction.

Pohlad was smart enough to stay as far away from the Twins proposed ballpark negotiations as possible. Minnesota taxpayers have always been ‘hesitant’ when it comes to public funding for sports franchises – welfare for billionaires. The Twins have a great private/public partnership. The Twins are contributing $130 million towards the cost of the ballpark and they’ll be retaining all of the revenues. The corporate naming rights will be worth more than the capital commitment the Twins are making. Carl Pohlad should not only be sensitive to that, but be prepared to dramatically invest in the Twins payroll when the new stadium opens. He had better stand and deliver or as has been demonstrated by baseball fans in Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Cincinnati – Twins fans will not support their team simply because they’re moving into a new stadium. There will not be a honeymoon period for Carl Pohlad to enjoy.

If the Twins have been winners on the field, but a team with serious issues off the field, the once proud Kansas City Royals have serious issues both on and off the field. The Royals have been consistent in being near the bottom in the standings and attendance for the last five seasons. In 2006 the Royals sold 1,372,684 tickets, averaging 17,158 fans per game or 42.1 percent capacity.

The Royals have finished fifth in the AL Central the last three years, third in 2003 and fourth in 2002. The Royals had a winning record in 2003 (83-79), but have had a losing record every other season since 1993. In the last ten seasons, the Royals have averaged 66 wins each year. That’s a decade of pathetic baseball, embarrassing baseball.

If Baltimore Orioles fans are upset with Peter Angelos, it’s a wonder why anyone attends Royals games. A team averaging 66 wins annually over a decade is a team losing 96 games annually over the last ten years. Over that same ten year period, the Royals have averaged 1.528 million fans a game. As Major League Baseball continues to set annual overall attendance records, either fans in Kansas City haven’t heard the news, or (more likely) fans in Kansas City have no confidence whatsoever in Royals management. The Royals are a terrible baseball organization both on and off the field. Royals fans are proof positive what happens when the consumer loses complete confidence in the product they’re being offered.

The Seattle Mariners moved into Safeco Field midway through the 1999 season, on July 15, 1999 (an interleague game against the San Diego Padres, won by the Padres 3-2). The ballpark’s capacity is 47,116, and follows the style first made popular by Baltimore’s Camden Yards – the back to the future, open air, ‘retro look’.

In 2006, the Mariners who finished last in the AL West sold 2,480,717 tickets, averaging 30,626 fans per game or 64.1 percent capacity. In the seven full seasons the Mariners have been at Safeco, the team has sold more than 21 million tickets, averaging more than 3 million fans annually. However, while the Mariners attendance peaked at 3,539,938 in 2002, the Mariners attendance had declined annually since.

In the last five years the Mariners have lost close to 1.2 million fans (from the franchise high in 2002 to their 2006 numbers) a tremendous decline, and a strong indication to Mariners management that they better wake up and realize the product their putting on the field isn’t meeting fans expectations. The Mariners won a franchise record 116 regular season games in 2001, and followed that with back to back 93 win seasons in 2002 and 2003. While the Mariners won 78 games in 2006, the team has finished dead last in the AL West each of the last three seasons.

The Mariners at one time featured Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, three players destined for the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Mariners couldn’t afford to keep any of their franchise players when they became free agents. That is a terrible message to send to your fans, once you’re players become marquee players; management can’t or won’t pay the players their market value.

The Mariners are owned by a consortium since 1992 that includes Japanese businessman Minoru Arakawa, and have one of the biggest stars in MLB, Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro Suzuki joined the team before the start of the 2001 season, and was the first Japanese position baseball player to sign with a Major League franchise. In his first six seasons he has averaged more than 200 hits a season – Ichiro has sold a great many tickets for the Mariners. Ichiro is also 33 years old. He may have four more productive seasons left in his career. The Mariners should begin planning for Ichiro’s retirement sooner rather then later.

Mariners fans have established Seattle as a solid baseball town (remember Seattle lost the expansion Seattle Pilots after their inaugural 1969 season). Bottom line – find young players, and keep those young developing players in Seattle uniforms.

This completes SBN’s look at the American League – our final MLB baseball attendane Insider will focus on the remaining five National League franchises that will complete SBN’s in-depth one of a kind five year Major League Baseball statistical attendance analysis.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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