Today continues DTTWLN’s three week examination of the Indians’ 2014 season and where it fell short of the playoff expectations established last winter. The staff will examine where the season went wrong and the challenges the front office faces to make the Indians contenders in 2015.
It’s a concept that fans and media alike have discussed to no end. It’s been beaten into the ground and brought up more often than most people would probably like. Yes, that’s right, it’s the great attendance discussion and it’s related argument: Why isn’t Cleveland a Tribe Town?
We covered attendance for a week last year, examining the ways in which the Indians work to appeal to specific fan bases, what the ballpark has to offer fans, as well as why fans may not be coming in droves the same way they did in the ‘90’s.
Attendance did not improve this year, despite the effort to make the ballpark more appealing to a wide variety of fans. The Indians organization implemented Bro-hio to add a section of fandom and excitement into the stands, they continued their $4 beers, offered numerous Dollar Dog and fireworks nights, and attempted to appeal to fans in a number of ways. However, the numbers were still low.
Dynamic pricing is the reason, scream the fans. Put a winner on the field and then I’ll watch, they say. The game is too slow. The list goes on and on.
The Indians ranked 29th out of 30 in all of baseball for attendance, totalling 1,437,393 fans throughout the season. They averaged 18,428 fans per game.
There were six games in the start of the season and two games in September in which the total attendance did not even break 10,000.
However, television ratings increased 12% from last season, and the Indians ratings on SportsTime Ohio finished fifth in all of MLB.
Thus, the problem apparently doesn’t so much lie in a disinterest with the sport of baseball or the Indians but, rather, a disinterest with traveling to the ballpark and attending games in person.
A fan cannot be faulted for their inability to afford tickets or their preference to attend a game from their couch rather than the ballpark after a long day at work. However, the fact that there are fans at home, watching games on their televisions rather than in person, highlights the fact that it isn’t as much a problem that fans don’t want to watch games, it’s that they don’t want to fill the stands.
The Indians are doing all that they can to change that. In addition to the recent addition of the Kid’s Clubhouse and the Family Social Suite, the Indians are spending this offseason renovating the stadium in an effort to make it more fan-friendly and a more aesthetically pleasing experience. They are removing 7,000 seats in order to create a new entrance off East Ninth Street, a newly located bullpen that will give fans a better view of players during warm ups, an expanded Kids Clubhouse, and are bringing Cleveland-centric additions to the ballpark with five neighborhood-themed areas with food from Ohio City and Tremont, among others, in an effort to make Progressive Field not just a place to watch baseball, but a place to explore the culture of the city, as well.
However, drastic renovations may not be the answer. Decreasing the number of seats doesn’t mean that the number of remaining seats will be filled each and every game.
Fans argue that they don’t want to pay the ticket prices to watch a team that doesn’t have certifiable stars or big names. They don’t want to pay for parking and food to watch a team they anticipate is going to lose. The Indians are not, at their core, a bad team. They have players who command attention (Corey Kluber, Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco) and have the ability to compete with teams who made it into the playoffs this season (namely, the Kansas City Royals). Fans, however, argue that the payroll with which the Indians are working means that they will not recruit larger players of star quality and will not put together a roster with as much name recognition as the Cavaliers have with LeBron James or the Browns have with Johnny Manziel. The Indians have been unable to thrust themselves into the nationwide spotlight in that same way. Yes, Kluber’s name has been tossed around with complete sincerity as a very-possible recipient of the AL Cy Young Award, and Brantley was the Indians only 2014 All-Star. Still, fans have not chosen to rally behind these stars the same way they do stars of other Cleveland sports teams.
The argument that Cleveland is just not a Tribe Town bleeds into the fact that, maybe, Cleveland is just not a city made for three sports teams. The Indians had their heyday in the 1990s, when they sold out 455 consecutive games at Jacobs Field. The Indians had players of star quality and the roster was filled with the likes of Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, Carlos Baerga, Omar Vizquel, Sandy Alomar, Charles Nagy, and many more.
The Indians ‘90’s surge also happened to coincide with the Browns removal and relocation to Baltimore.
The Indians thrived when the city essentially dealt with only two sports teams. The Cavaliers and the Indians were fans’ answers to their sporting desires, and the Tribe did not have to worry about competing with a football team. The city was able to support one team in the summer, and, come to end of baseball season, basketball picked up and closed right when it was getting warm enough to return to the ballpark for every game.
The return of the Browns can be argued to be a return of the city’s prodigal son. Cleveland fans were reunited with their team that got yanked out from under them, and they were once again able to return to supporting the game of football that they loved. Then came LeBron James, and, despite his departure in 2010, he is now back and giving Cleveland a reason to turn out for Cavs games in full force to watch what is being to be one of the best teams in the NBA. The Browns had an encouraging start to the season, despite their recent loss to Jacksonville, and worked to make Cleveland one of the most talked-about cities in terms of sports.
Where do the Indians fit into that discussion? Aside from their near playoff push and few notable players, they have not really emerged from the baseball spotlight into the full-fledged world of sports discussions recently.
There is no discernable reason to expect a major change in the coming seasons. Star-quality players are not readily affordable and just because the stadium is renovated does not mean fans will come. The front office and ownership are not contributing to the exciting atmosphere that fans want at a game. The Cavs and Browns are poised to be the focus of Cleveland sports for the foreseeable future. What are the Indians?
Where do they play into that equation? What exactly do the fans need at a game? Even when the team is doing well, they still argue that they’re not doing well enough.
It pains me to say it, as it does for any die-hard Indians fan to think it. Are the Indians nothing but a burden for Major League Baseball? Is it worth it for them to try to compete in a town with two of the most talked about teams in their respective sports?
The Indians organization is trying to build it, but it seems that the fans will just not come. And until there is a definitive reason why, all efforts will likely, and sadly, be in vain.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer