Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Major League Baseball – 2006 Attendance Trends V

Major League Baseball established a single season attendance record for the third consecutive season in 2006, more than 76 million attended MLB games for the first time in Major League Baseball history. 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). This is the fifth and final part of a unique Insider’s series only available to SBN readers. The five part SBN MLB Attendance Insider series serves as a precursor to SBN’s annual Baseball Bang for Your Buck. SBN’s two-part MLB Bang for your Buck will be released Friday (teams) and Monday (players).
The Philadelphia Phillies moved into Citizens Bank Ballpark at the start of the 2004 season. In contention for the National League wild card spot until the final days of the 2006 regular season, the Phillies sold 2,701,815 tickets this year, averaging 34,200 fans per game or 78.6 percent capacity. In the ballpark’s inaugural season (2004) the Phillies filled their new ballpark selling 3,206,532 tickets, averaging 40,589 fans per game or 93.3 percent capacity. In 2005 the Phillies sold 2,665,301 tickets, averaging 33,316 fans per game or 76.6 percent capacity. A drop of nearly 18 percent between the 2004 and 2005 season continues a message that baseball fans are delivering – management have to stand and deliver, the so called honeymoon period teams used to be able to enjoy three or four years after moving into a new stadium is now down to one season, if that.

The Phillies won 85 games in 2006 and again contended for the NL wild card spot until the last few days of the season. On the field the Phillies over the last six seasons have averaged 85 wins per season, just north of .500 baseball. Over that same six year period the Phillies have averaged 2.377 million fans per game. The Phillies face dynamics that are particular to their market. The Eagles opened Lincoln Financial Field in 2003. While the Eagles have sold out their first three seasons at the Linc, and there are a finite number of Eagles tickets, the growth of the secondary ticket market (making it more expensive for those looking for Eagles tickets to sold out games) has taken money away from the discretionary spending Philadelphia sports fans, that might have otherwise committed to Phillies tickets.

Atlanta Braves fans have little to complain about in regard to their teams’ on-field performance. For the first time since the 1990 season, the Braves had a losing record. The Braves record of 15 consecutive NL east titles (remember the strike shortened 1994 season didn’t count), suggests Braves fans grew complacent. For all the success the Braves enjoyed during the regular season, the franchise won the 1995 World Series and the National League pennant in 1991, 1992, 1996 and 1999. The Braves have played better then .600 baseball between the 1991 and 2005 seasons. That’s an average of better than 90 wins each year. Ask Kansas City Royals fans what they would give to have a team as good as the Atlanta Braves to support.

The Braves moved into Turner Field at the start of the 1997 season. The facility which served as Atlanta’s Olympic Stadium when Atlanta hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics, had a capacity of 85,000 during the ’96 Games. The stadium was a $200 million "gift" from the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG), paid for by revenue from the Olympics. Half the stadium was demolished as soon after the Games ended. The stadium was built across the street from the former home of the Braves, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which was demolished in the summer of 1997. The stadium’s current baseball capacity -- 50,091.

The Braves first year at The Ted -- 3,464,488, an increase from the 2,901,242 who attended Braves games during the franchises last season at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Yes Atlanta was hosting the Olympics that summer (the Braves went on a three week road trip during the heart of the 1996 season), but the Braves where defending their 1995 World Series title and won the NL pennant in 1996.

The Braves regular season attendance topped more than 3 million fans per year each of the teams’ first four seasons at The Ted, but never topping the attendance record the team set in their inaugural 1997 season at The Ted. After selling 3,234,304 million tickets in 2000, the Braves attendance has fallen steadily since.

In 2006 (again the Braves first losing season since 1990), the Braves sold 2,549,522 tickets, averaging 31,869 or 63.6 percent capacity. In 2005 the Braves sold 2,521,534 tickets, averaging 31,519 fans per game or 62.9 percent capacity. In 2004 the Braves sold 2,322,565 tickets, averaging 29,399 or 58.7 percent capacity. In 2003 the Braves sold 2,401,084 tickets, averaging 30,393 or 60.7 percent capacity. In 2002 the Braves sold 2,603,484 tickets, averaging 32,141 tickets or 64.2 percent capacity. Over the last five seasons (four seasons of winning the NL east) the Braves averaged 2.479 fans per season.

The difference between the attendance high during the last five years, and the seasonal low is less than 280,000. Braves fans seems to have leveled out at around 2.5 million fans annually, and that is during winning seasons; playoff baseball seasons. If the Braves are in a losing cycle, it remains to be seen if Atlanta sports fans will continue to buy tickets. In seven losing seasons between 1983 and 1989 the Braves barely exceeded more than 1 million fans annually.

Major League Baseball failed twice in The District before The Lords of the Diamond moved the Expos to Washington where they became the Nationals before the 2005 season. The Nationals sold 2,692,123 tickets in 2005, averaging 33,651 or 74.4 percent capacity. In 2006 the Nationals sold 2,153,150 tickets, averaging 26,582 or 58.7 percent capacity. The numbers are much better than the last years the Expos didn’t enjoy in Montreal, but it’s important to note Washington was without major league baseball for 34 years before the Nationals returned in 2005.

The key to any long-term success the Nationals hope to enjoy in Washington is the teams’ new stadium. Ground was broken on the new stadium on May 5. RFK Stadium is anything but a baseball friendly facility. Built in 1959, the stadium was typical of the multi-purpose ‘cookie-cutter’ stadiums of the 1960’s and 1970’s. RFK was home to the Washington Redskins (moved to FedEx Field), the Senators (until they moved to Dallas in 1971), and the home of D.C. United of Major League Soccer. RFK was built at a cost of $20 million. Today’s complex sports industry necessitates sports specific stadiums, faculties that offer a ‘game-day’ experience included as a critical component to attending a sports event.

The Nationals new stadium built almost exclusively with public (taxpayer) dollars will cost $535 million. The stadium will open in time for the 2008 season. RFK Stadium seats 45,596 for baseball.

When the stadium is complete, there will be 41,000 seats -- 22,000 of them in the lower bowl. According to the architects, HOK Sports, who have worked on 25 of the 30 Major League Baseball stadiums and 30 of the 32 of the National Football League stadiums, more than half the fans will be able to reach their seats without using elevators, ramps or stairs because the field is 24 feet below street level.

One of the biggest issues relating to the new ballpark – parking. Currently plans call for only 1,225 spaces. While District officials want fans to use public transportation to get to Nationals games, with 10,000 parking spots available at RFK, 1,225 parking spots is a disaster waiting to happen. The parking issues needs to be addressed or the Nationals ability to sell tickets will be directly impacted. Washington baseball fans have failed MLB twice; unless the parking issue is addressed long-term baseball will be doomed to fail a third time.

The Arizona Diamondbacks won a World Series in their fourth season; proof positive money can buy a championship. In 1969 the baseball world marveled at The Amazin’ Mets, winning the World Series in their eighth season. Jerry Colangelo’s personal investment in the Arizona Diamondbacks was less than 2 percent. Colangelo had the unique ability to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in getting people to support projects he believed in. Colangelo sold Major League Baseball on the Phoenix market, found a group of investors, secured the additional funding for Bank One Ballpark and then built (bought) the 2001 World Series.

Built at a cost of $349 million, and seating 48,569, the D- Backs sold 2,091,505 tickets in 2006, averaging 25,821 or 52.7 percent capacity. Winning wasn’t an issue in the teams’ inaugural 1998 season. The D-Backs won 65 games and sold 3.6 million tickets. A year later, the D-Backs won 100 games and made the playoffs. Interestingly the teams’ attendance fell to 3,013,778, a drop of nearly 600,000 but a team that won 35 more games and made the playoffs in their second season. The D-Backs 2001 World Series title attendance fell to 2,736,361. The fall in attendance while delivering a contending and competitive team had to raise a great many red flag about baseball’s future in Phoenix.

The D-Backs enjoyed a nice attendance bump after winning the 2001 World Series selling 3,198,977 tickets, averaging 39,493 or 87.7 percent in 2002. In 2003 the D-Backs sold 2,910,386 tickets, averaging 35,930 tickets or 71.4 percent capacity. The D-Backs won 98 games in 2002 and 84 games in 2003. After the 2003 season the D-Backs completed the dismantling of their 2001 World Series team by first trading Curt Schilling to the Boston Red Sox, and then traded Randy Johnson to the New York Yankees a year later for two players and $9 million. If ever a baseball franchise sent a message to their fans the good days where over it was the Arizona Diamondbacks in dealing Schilling and Johnson.

Schilling shared the 2001 World Series MVP Award star with Johnson. He and Johnson also shared Sports Illustrated magazine's 2001 "Sportsmen of the Year" award. In 2002, he went 23-7 with a 3.23 ERA. Both years he finished second in the Cy Young Award voting to Johnson.

In 2004 the D-Backs first year without Schilling, the teams’ attendance fell to 2,519,560. In 2005 the D-Backs first year without Schilling and Johnson their attendance fell to 2,059,331. Delivering a World Series in the teams’ fourth season was amazing. Winning 100 games in the teams’ second season must have seemed unbelievable, but at the end of the day it’s too much success to early on. How exactly was the D-Backs management team going to follow-up their first four seasons. It was 86 years between World Series titles for the Red Sox. The Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series in 103 years. The Cleveland Indians who joined the American League in 1901 have NEVER won a World Series. D-Back fans have no understanding of the suffering and pain fans of the Cubs and Indians have had to endure. They’ve only experienced success, not exactly a recipe for building long term box office success.

The Colorado Rockies joined the National League in 1993. The Rockies stunned the baseball world by selling 4,483,350 in their inaugural season, establishing a single MLB season attendance record in their first season. The Rockies played their first two seasons, 1993 and 1994, in Mile High Stadium before moving to Coors Field before the start of the 1995 season. Mile High Stadium’s capacity was 76,098, also served as the home of the Denver Broncos.

Coors Field built at a cost of $300 million seats 50,200. Rockies attendance topped 3 million fans each of the franchises first seven seasons. Selling more than 80 percent of their available ticket inventory for seven consecutive seasons sends an interesting message to consumers. The law of supply and demand – Rockies tickets where in demand.

That was before the 2002 season. The Rockies sold 2,737,838 tickets, averaging 33,800 fans or 67.3 percent capacity. In 2003 the Rockies attendance continued its freefall. The team sold 2,334,085 tickets, averaging 28,815 fans or 57.1 percent capacity. In 2004 the Rockies sold 2,338,069 tickets, averaging 29,595 tickets or 58.7 percent capacity. In 2005 the Rockies attendance experienced yet another dramatic fall to 1,915,586. In 2006 Rockies attendance actually increased to 2,105,995.

The Rockies won the NL wild card spot in 1995 losing the NLDS to the Braves. In their last six seasons the Rockies have averaged 72 wins, losing an average of 90 games. That doesn’t create consumer confidence, it offers the consumer quite the opposite – the product you’re interested in having someone purchase has little if any value. Since the 1998 season, nine seasons, the Rockies have finished fourth five times, and fifth the other four seasons. Again a strong message of an expectation that stakeholders (in this case the ticket buying public) will readily support an inferior product.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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