If You Build It, They Still Won’t Come

Let’s pause our panicky discussions about the dumpster fire the Tribe is making out of the season to talk about another flaming hot mess.

While America shook its collective head in wonder a week ago when the Baltimore Orioles played a game in an empty ballpark, we in Cleveland saw the haunting photos of barren Camden Yards and shuddered at the similarities to a typical night at Progressive Field.

This is meant not as a snarky jab, but rather to point out a rather gargantuan disappointment. For all the work the Indians did and the millions of dollars they spent improving their ballpark in the offseason, they still can’t get butts in the seats.

Over their first 12 home games, the Indians have averaged 15,822 fans – dead last in Major League Baseball and nearly 2,000 under their overall season average for last year. It’s also nearly 4,000 under their clip for both 2013 and 2012, and a whopping 7,000 less fans per game than what they averaged in 2011.

It would appear Cleveland is going to make a run at repeating as the least-supportive home fans in baseball – at least in terms of, you know, physically being there. Plus, this would be the third time in six years the Tribe would take home that little trophy, making the Indians the New York Yankees of fan apathy.

If this keeps up, the season attendance total wouldn’t quite be low enough to allow Rachel Phelps to move the team to Miami, but it would be the smallest of the Jacobs/Progressive Field era.

But – just like the apologists have been saying about the Tribe on the field for the last three weeks – it’s early. It’s been relatively cold, school’s still going, blah-blah-blah.

Still, you’d figure there’d be at least some novelty factor kicking in over these first few weeks. With all the attention paid to the ballpark renovations, shouldn’t there be a little bit of a bump from people curious to see what’s new? It would appear that isn’t happening. The Indians just put a multi-million dollar patio in their backyard and everybody’s still hanging out down the basement.

On the other hand, if you factor in past history, maybe Progressive Field 2.0 has indeed made a difference – albeit one that’s only visible if you squint. If there’s a silver lining, the 15,822 is actually the best the Indians have drawn over their first 12 home dates of a season since 2009. A year ago, for example, they averaged 1,700 less per home game in the first 12 games.

While vaguely encouraging, you’ve got to ask yourself: is 1,700 more fans per game worth what the Indians poured into Progressive Field in the last six months?

To be fair, there’s still time for that number to swell. Even in anemic attendance years, things don’t pick up until May, and really, not until after Memorial Day. Maybe then the new whistles will start blowing and the Indians themselves will stop.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the Indians’ on-field performance doesn’t make a difference one way or the other. Unless things turn around dramatically at the ticket office, all the money and effort the Indians put into these renovations (none of which were publicly funded, bee-tee-dubs) will be for naught.

And if that’s the case, since the last two seasons pretty much eliminated the “you-can’t-put-a-competitive-team-on-the-field” justification for absence, you’ve gotta think the Indians have just about fished their lake dry, at least in terms of luring fans through the turnstiles.

We can complain about the Dolans all we want, but here’s the reality: they could re-assemble another version of the 1995 Indians, but they’d still have a tough time getting 20,000 people out to see them. Distressing and hard to accept, but probably true.

You could write a term paper on the myriad reasons why, but the upshot is this: like a mouth-breathing mobster with gravy stains all over his polyester suit, the Browns own this town.

The Browns haven’t been (and won’t be) entertaining or competitive, and everything they’ve done (and will do) seems to reenact everything we hated about the 2008 financial crisis: continually act like a donkey and then get handsomely rewarded for it.

Only in this case, the bailout isn’t coming from the government, but from Cleveland fans themselves, who essentially have gleefully allowed the Browns to take automatic withdrawals out of their checking accounts each month. And it seems like the worse the Browns get, the more Cleveland adores them.

Meanwhile, the Indians sit and stew. Or should, anyway. For in the land of people with perfect vision, the blind man is king.

So for those who point bony fingers at the Dolans as being too cheap to put a good team together as the reason for the Indians’ attendance woes, the Browns have blown your argument out of the water. People in this town will happily pay to watch garbage. As long as it’s wearing an orange helmet. And now, Bozo the Clown brown pajamas, as well.

The Indians haven’t always done the right thing, and their mistakes are sometimes glaringly obvious. But – without the benefit of having a LeBron-shaped meteor landing in their lap twice – they’ve been the best-run organization in Cleveland over the past decade.

It’s just that nobody wants to watch them. And, short of asking the Browns to move again, there’s nothing that can be done about it.

Photo: AP Photo

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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. They care about revenue not the fans and I’m sure they will and are still making money. Can’t blame fans for not coming when arrogant jerks like Shapiro do not listen to fans and continue being employed whole failing miserably and consistently. Mistrust has been earned

    1. Didn’t read the entire article till now but that is misleading. You should lead with they are avg. almost 2,000 more per game than last year. I consider that a bump.

  2. No reason to drag in the Browns here. They play what, 8 games in Cleveland and pull in low numbers. Progressive Field hosts 80 games a season, pulls off lots of charity functions and when they ooened the doors and sold out Opening Day in 11 minutes, that was a huge increase for them. That weekend,the place was packed,according to this fan.
    So, let’s not be so super pessimistic. Because, come September and this team turns tide for the Play-offs, you will be paying a pretty penny to watch a team you are dumping on right now.

  3. I unfortunately don’t have the luxury of living close by but I’ll be making my 2nd trip to see the Indians play in August & I’m looking forward to it. At least my wife & I can add 2 to the attendance.

  4. Another Great piece Jonathan! The fact of the matter is that IF the Indians manage to make a run for the playoffs, they still won’t draw enough to make any of the add-ons worth it. The fans have proven that time-and-time again, and I just don’t buy the 8 games theory that was brought up by Adele…at least not completely.

    The Browns would clearly outdraw the Indians if games were equitable, and by a whole lot…which is pretty hilarious considering the fact that it’s been a clown show since 1999.

    Nothing misleading here in the least…pretty clearly states everything.

  5. The games are way too expensive for regular folks, forget about the working poor who have traditionally supported baseball at the major-and-minor league levels for many generations in this country.

    Also worth mentioning is that the’ upper’ in upper deck is becoming quite empty and will probably be closed eventually. Instead of hiring the engineers necessary to build a new bar, the Indians should’ve investigated removing at LEAST one of the three tiers of ‘suites’, empty on most nights, so that upper deck seating is a true option. (SEE: Renovation of Comiskey Park/Chicago).

    Ticket prices, with the multiple and seemingly endless differences between teams, dates, days of the week, etc., are confusing; the current system should be abandoned. I know it works well for the dodgers and Yankees, but…

    It gets a bit nauseating when the media keeps telling fans “we started last year poorly also.” Fans know bad teams, and it appears as though one is here this year. It’s insulting to suggest that Cleveland fans can’t tell the diff between Omar Vizquel and Jose Ramirez. They can, and they’re staying away in droves.

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