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September 26, 2013

Indians struggle to fill stadium seats

Indian Progressive Field

By Joshua Hoover

Ah, Cleveland sports, where the phrase “wait until next year” has become our sad motto. For one team, however, there is no need for next year, because they are looking at a playoff spot this year. That’s right, your 2013 Cleveland Indians are currently sitting in the second wild card spot, in a season where everyone expected growing pains coming from a revamped roster, including Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, and new manager Terry
Francona.

You would think that with the Indians’ success, fans would be showing up to the Jake (sorry, I just can’t get myself to call it Progressive Field) in droves. Instead, the Indians are actually drawing a smaller crowd this year than last year, averaging a mere 19,317. The only teams that are averaging smaller crowds than the Indians are the Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins.

While the Indians are busy playing meaningful games at the end of September to a crowd of 12,000, the Browns are getting beaten by the Miami Dolphins and trading away their star running back, Trent Richardson, who many considered the building block of the franchise. Despite the losing seasons, lackluster players and disappointing managerial decisions, the Browns still manage to draw a great crowd, ranking in the top half for NFL teams with 66,632 fans attending each game on average last year. So why do the Browns, who have looked pretty bad since coming back to Cleveland, still draw a crowd, while the Indians, who admittedly haven’t looked great for awhile still can’t bring fans into games?

One theory I’ve heard is that the ownership for the Indians isn’t willing to spend money to keep our talent or get more through free agency. With the departure of back-to-back Cy Young winning pitchers in 2008 and 2009, I can certainly understand that sentiment. It’s frustrating to watch your players leave for greener pastures year after year. However, this season, the front office went out and signed a winning manager, and acquired two of the top 5 free agents over the off-season in Bourn and Swisher. Still, the fans didn’t come out this year.

Red Sox fan Tim Edwards from Lakewood has another theory as to why the attendance is so low at Indians games. “Part of the problem is the product. Even though the team is winning, I don’t think the fans are ready to trust them.” Edwards reminded me of the past few seasons, where the Indians had gotten off to a great start, but fell apart after the all-star break and finished towards the bottom of the standings. As this year’s season goes on, there were a few scares that something similar would happen, but September has been a fantastic month for the Tribe, as they’ve gone 15-6 since the beginning of the month.

Cost of going to a game has also been mentioned as a factor in low attendance. The cost of an Indians game, however, is significantly less expensive than going to see the Browns play. Indians ticket prices cost between $10-90 per game, depending on where you want to sit, and the time of the year, with the middle of summer being slightly more expensive than seeing a game during the spring or fall. The Indians even lowered the prices of their concession items this year, with many food items seeing a drop of around 25 percent. Browns tickets start at $190, and go as high as $2,900.

Another factor constantly repeated to me is that Cleveland is a “football town”. We are a city of blue-collar people who love to eat, drink and watch football. This has transitioned into tailgating, something that just doesn’t happen at baseball games. While I can understand that, the Browns play on Sunday, and generally only have two or three games during the baseball season, so that is a rather poor excuse for not going to games.

Finally, Mark Pace from Broadview Heights believes that the ad campaign that the Indians run could use some work. “The ‘What If?’ campaign was one of the worst promotional campaigns I have ever seen,” Pace said. He also said that the current campaign is better, but that they need to communicate about all of the great promotional days at the ballpark. Pace said that he could only ever find out about those through the website, and that he very seldom heard anything about them on television or the radio.

Ultimately, I’m not trying to tell you where to spend your money. I’m all for supporting all of the sports teams in Cleveland, no matter how bad they might be doing that year. However, I do think that it’s sad that we have one team that is being successful this season, but the city seems to have forgotten about them.  Maybe it's time to stop “waiting for next year” and start enjoying what we have going on now.