Empty is a strong word, but it did seem that
Jacobs Field “Progressive Field” in Cleveland, didn’t contain as many rabid Indians fans as it should have last night. Sure it was a Monday, but it’s warm, it’s August and the Indians were on a tear going into the game that pushed them briefly ahead of Texas for the second Wild Card spot. They were starting a 4-game set against their rivals that could have (with a sweep) vaulted them into the division lead – and yet recorded attendance was only 24,381.
On the season attendance in Cleveland (and this includes all of you Tigers fans who have made the drive to the southeast) is 14th in the American League, ahead (barely) of only the Tampa Bay Rays. We know why the Rays can’t draw, or at least we think we do, no matter what happens on the field the stadium was put in the wrong place in the metro area – not wanting to make the awful drive, Rays fans prefer to watch the games on TV. The Indians don’t seem to have any such systemic problem, it wasn’t all that long ago that they were selling out every game. Nonetheless, the Indians have sold fewer tickets than have the Houston Astros or Chicago White Sox not to mention the A’s, Royals and Twins. The Twins, Astros and White Sox would draw a lot more fans if their teams were competitive, even in down years they can sell more tickets than the Indians are doing now. The question is why the Indians – who used to have attendance figures like the Cardinals – now look to be in the same league as the A’s and Rays.
The A’s and Rays are sort of special franchises, ones that have proven that merely winning games will never be enough to put butts in seats. For most other teams, it matters a great deal how well fans expect the team to perform. As far as this year goes, the Indians management certainly did things right: they created some buzz and expectations with offseason acquisitions and an increase in payroll and they have followed it up by actually winning games. And yet the Indians per game attendance is almost exactly what it was in 2012, when they won only 72. Compare that to the Astros, who made no bones about their inability to compete as they have been unable to compete for several years even going so far as to claim that the competition of the American League would make it impossible to win games for a long time. Still drawing better than Cleveland. We should wait to see what happens next season, should the Indians actually make the playoffs this year, as far as ticket sales before writing off the Indians as a franchise that is unable to draw fans at the best of times… but it’s hard to see things any other way.
Cleveland has had many of the same problems as Detroit, speaking of the city itself. Hard economic times and a steady loss of population. Cleveland sports fans have also had it beaten into their heads over the past decade that Cleveland is not the kind of city that can expect to compete in professional sports. The Indians, year after year, traded away their top talent as they would be unable to pay market prices for players like C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee. LeBron left. It’s possible that the Indians have managed to turn off fans permanently through those trades and those losing seasons, and that coupled with a declining population might mean that there are fewer Indians fans to put in seats than there were a decade ago when the team drew so well…