Though they have been competitive in 2012, holding first place in the AL Central for 43 days this season, the Cleveland Indians have struggled to get fans to buy tickets for games at Progressive Field. The Indians rank 30th (that is last for newbies) in Major League Baseball in attendance, averaging 18,298 fans over 36 home dates as the team heads into the last two games against the Cincinnati Reds at Progressive Field on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Those 18,298 fans are 1,100 fans per game fewer than the 29th ranked Oakland A's. Based on the average ticket price, the Indians have the seventh lowest average ticket price, $20.42, in MLB. Along with that, the Indians provide the ninth lowest fan cost index (FCI) in baseball, $173.66, which is comprised of four adult average-price tickets, two small draft beers, four small soft drinks, four regular size hot dogs, parking for one car, two game programs and two of the least expensive, adult-sized caps (via Team Marketing Report).
While the FCI is up just 1.6 percent (the league average was up 2.4 percent), the Indians average ticket price went up 10.4 percent, (the league average was 0.0 percent since it went up just one cent). This isn't to say that the lack of attendance has anything to do with the prices or the play on the field, but whatever the reasons are for Progressive Field to be filled just 42.1 percent of each home game in 2012, the Indians need to find ways to fix it.
Attendance leads the revenue of a small-market team, and if the gates aren't churning, it is very unlikely that the Indians will be able to "improve" through free agency. Here, we'll take a look at ways the Indians can increase attendance over the remainder of the 2012 season.
I attended a game in Cleveland on May 19 at Progressive Field. The location was considered a premium seat, so I received a $5 credit at the concession stands. How generous!? I was priced into receiving money back, while those who sit in the bleachers with their kids or college roommates fend for themselves for the $12 average parking, $5 small beer and $20.42 average tickets, when I had the money to get a better seat. Does that make sense?
I'm not going to get all political here because no one wants to read about that in a baseball column, but it doesn't make sense that those who can afford more are benefited with more abundance, while those who can barely skate by will be forgotten. It is as if we are saying that the two rich businessmen who attended the game are more important than the family of four, which includes two small children attending their first game.
Why not give $5 in concessions for each ticket purchased prior to the day of the game? This would allow fans to plan accordingly with budgets, so that buying a night out at Progressive Field doesn't overdraw their bank account.
While the coupons on the back of tickets are a nice touch, it doesn't take away the initial burn in the pocket that you feel when you buy your child a hot dog, drink and an Indians hat and spend $25.25, plus tax on the hat, and it doesn't take away the inferno of doing that for your other child and spending over $50 on dinner and a baseball hat for your two kids...and that doesn't even count the beers you needed to make your mind think that decision was normal!
The Indians do have some nice things going on right now. For one thing, the KeyBank Grand Slam Four Pack (four tickets in select seating, four hot dogs or slices of pizza, four Pepsi products, four hats and a parking pass for $96) is a nice touch and a great start, but does everyone know about it?
Certainly, that would be a pretty nice draw for fans, even if the seats are upper-level or bleacher seats, but be prepared for the language and "fun" that comes along with those areas if you have your family, as is the case with any sporting event.
The "Perfect 10" promotion was also nice, as fans received 10 vouchers that could be used for 10 tickets to any game at Progressive Field, so long as the voucher was taken to an Indians Team Shop or to the Progressive Field Box Office. With this package, you could take nine friends with you to a single game, or leave your parents basement for the 10 games that were most intriguing to you, all at a discount pricing for each ticket.
However, it clearly hasn't been enough. Northeastern Ohio has had its share of failures in recent years, and that isn't including the Browns, Indians and Cavs. People are struggling all over Ohio to get by, so the night out just isn't as affordable. So, instead of pricing your prospective clients out of your product, make it more affordable:
- Buy One, Get One Free Weeknights: Buy a ticket at regular price and get the second ticket for free.
- Everyone in Attendance Gets the Promotion: Sure, you may lose money on printing or purchasing more items than you need, but by giving 15,000 bobbleheads away, you have 3,000 people walking away without one. By increasing the number of fans who receive those highly-coveted promotional items, you could increase attendance.
- Happy Hour at the Ballpark: The Cincinnati Reds have a promotion on Friday night for "Free Agent Fridays," hoping to draw the single-and-mingling crowd to Great American Ballpark. They hope to draw them by offering half-off or discounted adult beverages. While it is unknown how many successful happy endings have come from this promotion, cheap beer at a ballpark is a great opportunity to get people away from The Thirsty Parrot.
- Kids Under 12 Get In Free with Each Adult Ticket Purchased: Talk about being ambassadors to the game, this is what baseball needs to overcome that terrible sport of soccer from taking over America's pastime. Clearly, there has to be limitations on this, as summer camps and daycare centers could totally abuse this promotion, but you want the family in the ballpark, creating memories that they won't forget and craving more.
The previously mentioned concessions on the ticket is a favorite of mine, but these are a few more options.
Speaking of free stuff and discounts, the Indians could open the gates earlier to allow more fans to watch batting practice, robbing small children of batting practice home runs. For the over 30 crowd that brings their gloves to the game still, this is right up your alley.
Batting practice is an excellent time to chat with players, making them more human and relatable. The balls flying into the crowd is also an excellent adventure, seeing how many people leave with bruises while observing the seagulls flying overhead instead of the action.
Progressive Field opens its gates at 6 p.m. when games start at 7:05 p.m. from Monday through Friday, at noon Sundays with 1:05 p.m. starts, and at 11 a.m. with a 12:05 p.m.start. Those in suites and club-level seats typically get a half-hour head start on the normal society.
Batting practice can be boring for some, as stretching, rehabbing players and pitchers tend to take up a lot of time and space in the outfield, but is is still fun to watch. While you may see the visiting team now, it would be nice to have a closer look at the hometown team more often.
NOTE: I was contacted by Indians Assistant Director of Communications, Anne Keegan, on 6/21 about the batting practice section above. She confirmed what one of the commenters mentioned earlier about the gates, see the email below:
Thanks so much for the reply. Just wanted to write and introduce myself. I’m fairly new with the Indians and since you cover them frequently, wanted to make sure you had my info.
Also, was reading your latest article about ways we can boost attendance. Appreciate the coverage, and just wanted to clarify one item. We do open the gates early for nearly every game for BP. For 7:05 games, with extremely rare exceptions, the gate out in right field (Gate C) opens at 4:30 pm for people to come in and enjoy BP and explore our Heritage Park. For Sunday 1:05 games, with rare exceptions, Gate C opens at 11:00 am and for games where the time adjusts (we have a few 3:05, 4:05 and 6:05 starts sprinkled throughout the season) Gate C is almost always open 1 ½ - 2 hours prior to game time. Just wanted to make sure you knew that option did in fact exist.
Please let me know if there are stories we can ever help with in the future.
I want to thank Anne here, as well, for taking the time to read and get this information out there to confirm the batting practice idea. I was using information from the Indians website and I clearly missed something. Get to the park and see batting practice and your first-place Tribe!!!
When you lose Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Richie Sexson, Brian Giles, C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee and others, you lose fans. Fans like players and they help define a team and a city. Where would Cincinnati be without Pete Rose highlights? Ernie Banks and Chicago? Pittsburgh without Willie Stargell and the "We Are Family" Pirates?
When Oakland lost all of their stars—Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, etc.—in the late 1970's, they became the non-attended A's of today. While Oakland even struggled with attendance in its successful years, it struggled more without the faces and names that made people come to the ballpark.
Cleveland has a lot of pride in their teams, which is why when Modell took the Browns to Baltimore, the city and fans fought to keep the name and records of their franchise. Owners so soon forget who has made their teams so successful at times, but it remains the people who buy tickets, and they will buy tickets when they appreciate the players on the field.
The Indians locked up some young guys recently. Most recently, buying out Asdrubal Cabrera through 2014, and extending Carlos Santana through 2017. Before that, they locked up Grady Sizemore (to a deal similar to Santana's) in 2005. So, if they locked up Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis, would that be a good idea?
The issue that I see is that the only franchise player on the roster is Asdrubal Cabrera, but only if he is a mashing offensive force like he was in the first half of 2011. Then, you have to wonder if extending him further will work, considering two of your top five prospects are shortstops. Move Cabrera? Move on from Cabrera?
Regardless, get and keep players so that you have a team that the town can know and love.
Whenever you get an assignment that says "Ways the "insert team name" Can Do "insert verb here", you could probably say that winning would solve that issue. That is no different here, and while it seems redundant, it is simple.
If the Indians want fans to show up, they need to win. They could charge $500 per ticket, and if they are winning 65 percent to 70 percent of their games, they would sellout. Winning is, above anything else, the cure for all woes that a team may be going through. Injuries, rumors, attendance, whatever, if the Indians win and win as often as the Tribe did in the movie Major League, they would have to find more seats at Progressive Field.
From 1995 to 2001, the Indians were 625-462 (.575) while maintaining an attendance between 2.8 million and 3.5 million fans per season. Then, in 2002, their record slipped to 74-88 (.457) and their attendance slipped to a little over 2.6 million.
In 2009 the Indians were 13th in the American League (out of 14 teams) in attendance, then settled in at 14th in 2010. The Tribe hasn't been ranked higher than ninth in the American League in attendance since 2003. Since 2003, the Indians have had two winning seasons (2005 and 2007).
Win and get fans; otherwise, the Cleveland Indians really need to start working towards helping fans reach Progressive Field for other reasons.