“Stand up and be counted”

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
On Twitter: @Castrovince

ImageI’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.



The weather is a big factor. If I have budgeted to go see four or five games a year, I’m not looking to go to game before June due to the dicey weather we usually get. I want to go to a game and not have to worry about the weather or freezing. With all the games on HDTV, that has to be a factor as well. I think the ratings are pretty good, so people are interested.

Doing nothing to spark fans interest is on the Indians Fans love Offense not well pitched games there are no STARS on this team and they would be hard pressed to find only a couple of starters would start on other teams maybe only A- Cab REALITY dolan family over spends in NY but is fiscal here

A-Cab, Santana, Choo, Kipnis, Hafner, and Sizemore (the Yankees were trying to sign him this offseason so that should say something) would all start on a majority of the teams in the league. No, they probably wouldn’t start for the Rangers but we did just take 2 out of 3 against them.

The Dolan excuse is lame and old. How is it that Lerner and the Browns get a pass? That being said, the Indians front office and PR department is their own worst enemy. Why is it that when Santana and Asdrubul are signed long term, the Indians speak of value lining up with dollars ( meaning that the signing is cost effective) instead of saying that we signed these players because we are committed to winning? Why bring the value of the signing into it? Why not get ahead of the game by saying we signed these players long term because we are committed to winning?

This team is talented and the weather is turning. Cleveland just doesn’t have as good of fans as they always claim. Browns fans are diehard but Cleveland fans, in general, are not. Look at the attendance for the Cavaliers (pre and post LeBron) and Indians of the last 10 years and there is a definite trend.

Thanks for your thoughts, Anthony. I think you are right on target and would like to add a couple of key things. First, the Indians have 81 home games vs. the Browns have 8. I’m not sure it’s fair to compare the Tribe’s attendance with how the town supports the Browns. I completely understand why Cleveland would tune into the draft. Why not? If the baseball draft was as interesting they would do the same to see who the Indians select. But, as you know the baseball draft has never generated the same interest, regardless of whether it is in Cleveland or New York City. Tribe fans still watched the games on TV and also caught the draft at the same time. Cleveland is a sports town regardless, and I think most serious fans of Cleveland sports will go to a game (or watch it on TV regardless of how bad the team performs).

Second, a psychology exists in Cleveland (as in Kansas City) that I think affects how fans support the Indians. Why get excited to support a team that will not pay for players to stay or will send them off/trade them (Lee, Sabathia, etc) when they want to be paid beyond the minimum for their services? If Dolan and Co. would not only pay for players, but sign young players to long term contracts, like they did in the 1990s, then I think fans will not only show up as they did in the 1990s, but also come back with regularity.

I live 30 minutes outside NYC and I know the Yankees are always ready and willing to spend millions on a small market team’s best players. If Dolan signs players to long-term (and fair) contracts, players will stay, and Cleveland will draw fans like they did in the 1990s. Fans will go to the park to support players committed to playing for many years in Cleveland even if they can’t afford to do so. They’ve been doing that for years.

Thanks for the thoughts, all. To methlibrarian, in particular, I guess the best counter to your points is that in 2007 the Indians extended Hafner, extended Westbrook, had Sabathia, Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore, etc., won the AL Central…. and still finished 21 out of 30 in attendance.

I come back to a singular premise: This is not a baseball town.

Premise well taken, and I agree with you Anthony. This is (currently) not a baseball town. The 1990s was a different situation with long term contracts and a seemingly committed fan base of consecutive sellouts. I agree that the Browns were long gone to Baltimore and there was less competition for Clevelander’s dollars (and interests). I wonder, and perhaps you’ve answered the question in your thoughtful post, how can Cleveland become a baseball town again (assuming it was at one point?). Would be interesting to see what could happen if the Tribe would put together a streak of 3-4 years of competitive baseball, have the players super interactive with local charities and speaking engagements, and publicly promote the city as a great place to live and play? I just wish I could actually watch Tribe games instead of the constant NY Yankees/Mets combination day after day after day🙂 – Chris Anderson, Madison, NJ

I will never understand Cleveland’s blind, deaf, and dumb devotion to the Browns. I was at the Tribe game last season during the first round of the NFL draft. We were up 8-0 on the Royals, about to move to 16-8 in the standings, and all anyone in my section was talking about was the draft (and yet another Browns misstep). Sad. Say what you will about the Dolans, but at least they don’t spend most of their year in Birmingham, UK, watching their equally disappointing EPL team. Not that they could afford one…

I live in Columbus and it makes me sick I cant go to every game. If i lived in the city I would I get to every game I could. I grew up in Columbus and it use to be a Cleveland PRO town. Now its a Ciny town and thats unaceptable. Are players bust their ass, why arent we supporting them win or lose. Thats a fan. Stop looking at the schedule and or score. The players are human and work of emotions. We cant compete to get players from teams like the Dodgers, because their daily parking lot sales out do a double header. If you live in Cleveland, what could possibly be more fun than going to a game. I am a Cleveland sports fan, but the Browns have never given me anything in return. And what do they care, they sell out everygame. The Tribe atleast is entertaining. And they it do it with a much smaller piece of the pay.. T

I think this is a big part of it , in the past decade + many have moved out of Cleveland b/c of the economy (especially younger people) , but it doesn’t make them any less of fans. I moved to Columbus a few years ago as well, I’d love to be able to go to more Indians games , but for me it means a 2.5 hr drive. I still catch just about every game on TV/Radio. I also go to a few Tribe road games every year, and it amazes me how no matter where I go I see tons of Tribe fans.
2 weeks ago I was in Oakland for the Tribe Series there , and for 2 of the games I would say 10%-15% of the crowd was Tribe fans, for the Sunday rubber match it seemed like even more then that. Tribe fans are out there , and very abundant, we just don’t live in Cleveland anymore.

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The declining city argument doesn’t work. If that was the case, attendance would have been at its peak in the 70s when the metro was at its population peak. Also, saying that the team has had the most sustained success over the past two decades is not clear cut. The Cavs have had more trips to the playoffs. Also, the Indians have as many trips to the post season in the past ten years as the Browns: 1. That, more than anything, is the reason attendance is so low. Getting to the postseason once every ten years is unacceptable.

I’m sick of all the people that insist on not going to game until the Indians spend money. Spending lots of money does not guarantee anything!!!! Look at how much the Red Sox spent two years ago, what has that gotten them? They are a complete mess! Do you really want to pay Pujols over $20 million a year for 8 or 10 years???!!! That’s insane.

The Indians did spend money a few years ago, the signed extensions with Sizemore, Hafner, and Westbrook and obviously injuries pretty much ruined all three players, so you can’t blame the Indians for not wanted to pay that much money to one or two players again, if they get hurt or underperform, you are screwed.

The answer is easy–a distrust in an ownership group that sends mixed messages about a commitment to winning. Sending 2 top pitching prospects for Ubaldo (a move that I supported) was meant to give this team a window of contention of perhaps 2-3 yrs. In the off-season, however, the Tribe was unable to fill an extremely glaring need, i.e. a bat, giving the fans a “hear we go again” mentality w/ ownership. So, it seems we have a competitive team coming out on the day to day, but could be a bat short when it comes to winning time in Oct. Fans see that and will stay away in droves.

That’s just excuse-making. The big bats this offseason were Pujols, Fielder, and to a lesser extent Beltran. NONE of them made any sense for Cleveland. Then we’re talking Kubel and Willingham, both of whom got overpaid and, btw, are lefthanded. Every “fan” who whines about this issue never seems to “name a name”….but they never stop whining, or castigating players like Duncan, Cunningham, and Damon.

Face it…the only solution that REALLY made sense in the last 9 months was Pence, and the Phillies paid a much dearer price for him that Cleveland ever could, or would.

More excuses now? care to offer up a new name ?

Part of being a team’s local fan is attending the games of that team. Not solely when they’re succeeding or are spending enough money to satisfy your ideals — that limitation places folks squarely within the definition of ‘fair weather fan.’ I’m a Tribe fan that resides in the Twin Cities, and I attend at least one game of each series when the Indians visit, no matter how well the team is playing (I’m aware that my money does, unfortunately, support the Twins… that’s a downside).

As AC said much more eloquently, people can spend their time and money how they choose; however, if you reside locally and that choice doesn’t include attending Indians games, it’s probably time to reconsider calling yourself a ‘fan.’

I couldn’t agree with you more. I love the Indians but I live near Boston now. I despise the Red Sox but I still go see the Indians at Fenway at least once every series they come here. I’ll be there Thusday and Sunday.

Like I said, I agree with your post. Yes it’s nice when the Indians win, but even if they lose the experience is still fun. Some of my best baseball memories come from games that the Indians lost.

oh hai anthony.

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