“Stand up and be counted”
I’m sitting here at Progressive Field, where the gates are open and a day-night doubleheader against the White Sox is already in delay mode prior to the first pitch. There are maybe a couple hundred people in the stands at the moment — maybe — and this is not at all unexpected, given that it’s a Monday in early May and it’s raining.
But the low attendance total for this specific situation is a small part of the bigger picture that is the lowly attendance trend taking place with the Tribe. The Indians entered Monday in first place in the AL Central but dead last in the Majors in average attendance (15,355).
“They will come,” manager Manny Acta said when the topic was broached this morning. And, sure, he’s correct. Indians attendance figures tend to be late-blooming, no matter the weather or how well the team plays in the early going. We saw that last year, and we saw that in 2007, when a Tribe team that eventually reached the ALCS housed ho-hum crowds until at least August.
I did a couple radio interviews over the weekend where the hosts asked me about the attendance issue, asked if it’s a surprise. I must admit that Friday night’s crowd (16,147) was a bit of a head-scratcher, given that a fellow first-place club was in town, it was a fireworks night, a student ID night and the weather was wonderful.
But really, when it comes to the Tribe and attendance, not much surprises me.
The Indians, even with the 30-15 start last year, finished with the seventh-lowest attendance mark in the Majors, were dead last in 2010, were fifth-lowest in 2009 and were 22nd out of 30 a year after reaching the ALCS.
This is what’s called a trend, and it’s part of the package here in a town that’s endured declining population and economic downturn and really doesn’t have baseball on the brain. It should surprise absolutely nobody that the city that ranked first nationally in TV ratings for the NFL Draft is the same city that ranks 30 out of 30 in MLB attendance, because this is a Browns town, through and through, and the once-in-a-lifetime Indians sellout streak of the 1990s was the product of a combination of unique factors (no Browns, strong economy, new ballpark, great team, downtown renaissance, etc.) that will never combine again.
I hear from fans all the time who say they’ll support the team when it spends more money. And Indians ownership has made it clear that it will spend in accordance with revenues. And so around and ‘round we go.
In the end, the simple fact is that among Cleveland’s three major professional franchises, none has delivered on its promise to field a competitive club as frequently over the last two decades as the Indians have (this, in spite of the obvious advantages payroll limits provide for small markets in the NFL and NBA). And yet we saw in 2008, in the aftermath of the ALCS, that the wait-and-see mentality is very much in effect with the public in these parts. And we saw it again this April. For while the Indians were pushing their way to the forefront of the AL Central standings, the NFL Draft utterly dominated the conversation on the airwaves and among the populace, as reflected in those Nielsen ratings and in those Progressive Field attendance totals.
This is not meant to come across as preachy or accusatory. People can spend their money and their time however they see fit. The point, however, is that none of us should really be shocked or amazed by the attendance tallies, to this point.
Acta’s ultimately right. If the Indians keep playing at this level, the fans will come out in greater numbers. And even regardless of how the Indians play, it’s only natural that the numbers will pick up as the weather continues to warm and kids get out of school.
But in the grand scheme, the Indians are still going to finish in the lower-third in the Major League attendance tally. Because that’s the reality of baseball in Cleveland, and it has been for some time.