There are certain things that exist in the world that I cannot accept.
For example, I cannot accept the fact that Greedo shot first in that bar on Tatooine a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Han did, stop changing my childhood to suit your needs George. It’s annoying.
I cannot accept the fact that OJ Simpson was found innocent by a jury of his peers, after relieving his wife and her “friend” of their heads outside of her Los Angeles apartment all those years back. Funny how the real killer(s) have never surfaced with all that detective work OJ was doing at the Brentwood Country Club.
I cannot accept the fact that breakfast cereal does not come with a free toy inside anymore. This generation of children has been gipped of one of the great joys of childhood. It’s a disgrace. A damn disgrace. Get your act together General Mills, for God’s sake.
And finally, I cannot accept the fact that the Indians can’t work in Cleveland. They’ve been here since 1894 in one form or another, and in the American League since 1901. Every one of those seasons have been played here, in Cleveland. But now all of the sudden those same Cleveland fans – the ones who have supported the team through some really, really bad stretches of absolutely putrid baseball over the past 100+ years – are being told that they can’t support the team. They’re not able to, or whatever it is.
Or won’t. Maybe it’s won’t…
I don’t know, it really depends on who you ask. Can’t or won’t being left for later debate, something stinks like hell on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. The Indians are in the home stretch of (all things considered) a pretty successful season of American League baseball. Unfortunately, the attendance at Progressive Field hasn’t been as superlative as the play on-the-field, as the Wahoo Warriors rank 27/30 in MLB in the all-important “butts in seats” stat, averaging 19,896 fans through 69 home games. The only teams that the Indians are outdrawing to this point in September are those traditional baseball-powerhouse über-markets of Houston, Miami, and Tampa Bay. Yay.
Okay, so that’s the crux of the problem, then. Nobody is coming to games anymore. The Indians, despite providing a halfway-decent product on the field in 2013, can’t draw people to the ballpark in the kind of numbers that they really need to. And most assuredly, not like they used to.
Surprisingly however, starting with the 2001 season, the Indians average attendance has actually been a model of consistency over the period, the first two and last two years excluded:
2001: 39,694 (4th)
2002: 32,307 (12th)
2003: 21,358 (24th)
2004: 22,400 (25th)
2005: 24,861 (24th)
2006: 24,666 (25th)
2007: 28,448 (21st)
2008: 27,122 (22nd)
2009: 22,492 (25th)
2010: 17,435 (30th)
2011: 22,726 (24th)
2012: 19,797 (29th)
2013: 19,896 (27th) – 69 games
Alright, so let’s look at this data for a second… The Indians 2013 attendance isn’t actually the worst average attendance for the team in the last decade, or even the last five years. In 2010, the Indians drew a whopping 17,435 fans a game to watch Austin Kearns and Shelley Duncan help the Indians hack their way to 93 losses. The Indians are also (so far) outdrawing the 2012 season average by 99 fans a game, so attendance is actually up this season, although there is (admittedly) a little bit of time left in that contest before it’s decided. And I realize that claiming attendance is “UP” with a number that is less than 100 people a game is chicken-bleep math, so I won’t go there. Just take that datapoint for what it is.
Anyway, the point of looking at the last twelve years of Indians attendance is both:
A) That’s all the data ESPN would show me.
B) To realize that this is not the end of the world.
Looks to me like we’ve been down this road before, frankly. Now, the key difference between 2010 and 2013 would be the overall competitiveness of the ball club, that can’t be denied and is a huge point of difference granted, but when comparing the two seasons, one could also make the argument that it will be easier for the Indians to get the attendance to rubber band back to somewhere over 25,000+ a game in 2014, especially since the team looks to be positioned to contend for the next couple of seasons barring something unforceen. Multi-year team arcs speak to consistency, which plays into fan experience and attitude. We’ll tear into all that in a bit, hang tight.
If you spend any time at all listening to sports talk radio here in town, you can identify the major excuses that fans use to justify and/or explain the fact that they aren’t going to games pretty easily. These are all crappy excuses, mind you, but I’ll list them here for reference in no particular order, along with the proper debunking. Like, for example:
“The Economy is bad.”
Haha, Nope. Cuyahoga county isn’t getting any richer, fine, but come on now. People can find money to do whatever the heck they want to if they’re motivated enough to squirrel it away in advance. The economy is only an issue because it can be, not because it’s actually a thing preventing people from attending games. And besides, there are cities in far worse shape than Cleveland and the surrounding suburbs that are drawing just fine. There are 1.27 million people in Cuyahoga county, and you can’t tell me that all of them are flat broke. That’s silly. This is like the “check’s in the mail” excuse. It can’t really be argued, called-out, or proven in either direction. But it’s BS and both you and the bill collector on the other end of the line know it. Same thing here.
“The Promotional Calendar is soft.”
I’ll grant the fact that the current promotional calendar is a shell of its former self (remember BAT DAY in the 80′s? Holy Moses I can’t believe they gave the first 25,000 fans a big wooden stick and beer at the same time, haha). But to be blunt here, if you aren’t attending games because you can’t get your Michael Brantley calendar magnet or Albert Belle bobble head…you suck anyway, and it’s best you stay home anyway, because you’re a giant douche. Give-a-ways are fine, but not the reason to go to the game. Sillyness.
“Parking is too damn expensive.”
Yeah, right up freaking front it is, sure. Like anything else, you pay for convenience. Get off your butt, walk 200ish yards, and you can virtually park for free or damn close to it in any number of lots, alleys, and parking decks. I’ve never paid more than $5 to park when going to a Tribe game, and I’m the laziest person on the planet.
“I watch the games on TV for free.”
Okay. Keep doing that. Fantastic. Only one thing though…the games have always been on TV for free, what the hell is so different now that people are no longer going to a few games a year as well? Are Matt Underwood and Rick Manning reciting Shakespeare in the booth or something? Super-imposed bikini models? Million dollar giveaways? The same people who watch the game at home are still watching the game at home. Ratings may be up, which is a good thing, but again…1.27 million residents in Cuyahoga county folks. There’s plenty of people to go around. Get off the couch and goto a ballgame. Bring a radio if you have to have commentary about every pitch and cool stories about the backup catcher’s affinity for My Little Pony.
“Beer costs way too much.”
Yes, yes it does. Alright, I’m sure that’s it then. All you alkies are too broke to get slaughtered for seven innings at a Tribe game, is that it? Here’s an idea, drink water. If you can’t watch baseball without consuming your weight in booze, you might want to turn-off the computer and make a phone call.
“The Indians don’t sell THE ONE seat I’m willing to buy in some odd corner of the ballpark.”
Spare me the feigned butthurt you annoying a-holes. Pick a different seat and shut up. The Indians aren’t going to pay an army of concessionaires to serve you and the other thirteen people who want to sit where you want to sit. Suck it up and buy a different seat. You people really piss me off.
“They fired my favorite hot dog guy.”
I’m serious, Larry Glicken was going off on this BS like a crazy man earlier in the year. I think he even tried to call Obama in on this to get the dude re-hired. I don’t think it worked, but I can’t say I followed the story through to its conclusion. Feel free.
“Downtown traffic sucks.”
- Downtown traffic sucked in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001 too. Suck it up pansy and leave earlier.
Maybe you suck. There’s more stuff to do downtown before and after the game than at any point in the existence of the Cleveland Indians. If you can’t find something cool to do, you either aren’t looking hard enough, or you’re the kind of person who can’t eat a sandwich without Mom cutting the crusts cut-off and going double mayonnaise. You people are better-off at home suffering through Matt Underwood anyway. And why does a baseball game have to be a social event? Go to the game and go home. You save money that way, which is great, because everyone is broke. Remember?
“The casino took all my money.”
Dumbass. The house always wins, all degenerate gamblers know this. Stop blasting the casino on tilt, and learn to manage your money better. Nobody’s official career plan includes the word “gambling”, it’s entertainment not a way to make your rent payment you moron.
So anyway, those are the excuses as I see them. Now, I’d like to get into what the “problem” is, if you can quantify it as such.
“The Dolans / Front Office / Indians are Cheap.”
Okay so as I said, here’s the real problem, but it’s not quite as simple as leaving it at just that. The fans and their apathy toward the local baseball team certainly do have something to do with the perception of the Dolans and how they run their business – and it is important to understand that I used the word “business” in this description and not team, because that’s what it is at the end of the day. A business. As fans, we can bitch and moan and complain about the Dolans running the Indians in a fiscally responsible manner until sunshine turns to gravy, but it is what it is, and it’s not going to change.
However, fiscal responsibility does not by itself lead to apathy. It certainly doesn’t help, but it is not alone the root cause. The issue the Indians fans have with the Indians organization runs deeper than that. Quite frankly, there is distrust, anger, apathy, and hopelessness on different levels, from different fans, that it causing the rift.
Let’s take distrust for example. Some Indians fans distrust ownership and the front office in regards to keeping the talent together long enough to build a consistent winner. These fans remember what happened to the teams that they did come out and support in the late nineties and early aughts. Those legendary clubs were dismantled for parts, or for nothing, oftentimes before they had to be. Thome, Ramirez, Belle, Sabathia, and Lee. All superstar players who were traded or allowed to leave in the midst of their careers. The Indians threw token money at Ramirez and Thome, sure, but nothing more than that. Belle they couldn’t wait to get rid of, and the legend of trading back-to-back Cy Young winners speaks for itself. The fans that distrust the Indians to do anything that requires financial commitment have reasons to feel the way they do, although I wonder if they wouldn’t have made the same decisions had they been the one responsible for payroll. Just curious. Easy to play with someone else’s fortune, not so easy with yours.
Also, it is worth noting that had we gotten back what we thought we were getting back for both Sabathia and Lee, those trades would be a little easier to swallow. However, most of the talent we received in return has failed to live up to expectations (outside of Michael Brantley), so that doesn’t really help matters much, I know. It is, however, worth mentioning. Especially the Sabathia deal. Matt LaPorta was supposed to be a star…
Anger is a different emotion than distrust. Some fans are angry that the Indians have been on the precipice of success before (2007) and done nothing to capitalize on the opportunity. Also, the trades that I mentioned above of CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee are factors here as well. How many teams have had back-to-back Cy Young winners? How many teams have then traded both of them away the following season? It was an unprecedented situation, and Indians fans have been left to wonder what having both of those guys on the staff at the same time might have looked like. The fact that we never got to see it makes people angry. And quite honestly, it should. It was a historically “cheap” move. Maybe the largest and most maddening example of a small market team payroll dumping in the history of baseball. So I get it, people are angry. I don’t know that you’ll ever get these fans back without a World Series title. It’ll be tough. Anger is a primal emotion, and not one easily dissipated.
Apathetic fans might be the worst, in regards to the relationship with the team. You’ve lost these people. They’re gone. Most of them aren’t even paying attention anymore, so efforts to bring them back into the fold are not going to be very successful. These fans have been so disillusioned, angered, disgusted, etc that they’ve crossed the imaginary line emotionally and just don’t want to deal with it anymore. The Indians should be very afraid of this group of former fans. These are baseball zombies. Forever.
Hopelessness is an emotion that is derived from fans not thinking that there’s any prayer for the kind of improvement needed to be a consistent winner. These are the fans who watch Jason Kipnis bloom into a superstar, and instead of enjoying his success and being happy that the Indians have that kind of player on their roster, they are already speculating what year he’s going to leave in, and where he’s going to go. These fans can’t enjoy anything, because in their minds, everything is temporary and the second shoe is only days away from dropping, no matter what ownership and management claims. Hopeless fans are created through cost-cutting, small market economics, and trading away back-to-back Cy Young award winners in consecutive years. A commitment from management to the on-field talent (by way of market-value or above multi-year contracts) is the only way to lure these fans back into the fold. And, well, this is Cleveland, so good luck with that.
In the end, all these different kinds of fans make up a fairly sizable portion of the Indians fanbase. These are the people who aren’t coming to Progressive Field anymore, and those are the reasons why. You can give-a-way all the bobble heads and dollar dogs that you want to, but none of these people that I have described are buying season tickets anymore. A game or two with friends? Maybe, but that’s about it. The fastest way to increase attendance is to entice season ticket holders to either re-up, or find new people willing to spend a lot of money to attend games based on their desire to see the team play. Walk-up is not a strategy. And if people have no faith that the Indians are going to be any good in September, why would anyone buy tickets in advance for games played then? That’s where the consistency metric kicks in…
Bottom line, a lot of these evils could be fixed by spending on a marquee-level free agent who would give the fans both someone that they would like to pay to come see play, and proof that the Indians are willing to invest in the future success of the team. Outside of that or a miracle World Series title, there isn’t a whole lot that’s going to change the status quo here in the short term. Indians fans have been through a lot of crap, and some of it is pretty hard to get-off. One-offs and fancy fireworks notwithstanding, if the Indians aren’t ready to make a financial commitment to the team, the players, the city, and the fans, then buckle-up Charlie because it’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better – if it ever gets better. The offseason needs to be about getting better, not finding value in another team’s cast-offs. In other words, act like what you are.