Opening Day in Cleveland is rapidly approaching — 35 days and counting — and while the Indians might have hoped signing Russell Branyan would have brought out droves of ticket-buying Tribe fans, it looks as if that's not the case.
It's pretty easy to gauge their desperateness. A few weeks ago I told you that there were still between 10,000 and 15,000 tickets left for Opening Day. That number has probably gone down but probably not by much. While the game isn't usually sold out at this point, it's usually close, and from all appearances, the Tribe isn't even in the same zip code as "close" yet.
The Indians are now offering a handful of discounts to entice buyers for a game that usually needs no enticing — say what you will about Tribe attendance, Opening Day has never really been an issue. How desperate is the team? They're trying to latch onto the large? faithful? band of Lake County Captains fans to scoop up the remaining seats. If that doesn't work, expect Mark Shapiro, with his newly found abundance of free time, to be going door-to-door in your neighborhood.
Opening Day is the least of the team's worries, however, although not selling out the game would be kind of embarrassing. Coming off an absolutely dismal and mind-numbingly boring season, after ditching Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez (but acquiring Brian Bixler!), the team has to be looking at some truly depressing numbers when it comes to projected ticket sales.
In 2009, the Tribe averaged only 22,492 diehards for home games. Total paid attendance: 1,776,904 (26th in MLB). And that was with the benefit of advanced ticket sales before the first pitch had even been thrown, back when many (mistakenly) thought the Indians would contend.
This year? Not so much. No hype. No promise. Uttering "rebuilding" doesn't do much for gate sales. There's literally nothing the Indians have to sell the public on this year. So between last Friday, when single-game tickets went on sale, and the start of the season, I doubt Indians ticket reps will be very busy. And the Indians know this, which is probably why they have a much lower projected loss this season after accounting for the fact no one is going to buy tickets.
According to a December study published on Portfolio.com, it's a money matter: The Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor metropolitan statistical area is badly oversaturated for professional sports based on a measure of the MSA's total personal income (TPI) and a formula the study's authors used to determine what income level adequately can support each sport.
Meanwhile, the Indians have adjusted downward their sales goals for this year after a 65-win season in which attendance fell 17.6% from 2008.
“They're most vulnerable because of their ticket price point,” said Cleveland State economist Ned Hill. “The Cavs and Browns draw the more serious fan, while the Indians draw more pure entertainment dollars. That entertainment dollar goes to movies, dinner, the bingo table and now gambling.”
The Indians, though, are undeterred, citing improvement in attendance when they've won: In 2005, when the Indians won 93 games and fell just short of a playoff berth, attendance jumped 11% from the year before; in 2007, when the Indians were one win away from the World Series, 14% more fans bought tickets than in 2006. That's nothing like the 455 straight sellouts of the mid-1990s, but it's nothing at which to sneeze, either.
Throw in the frenzy surrounding the Cavs, which is drawing approximately 97% of Cleveland Fan's attention right now, and the 2% of Cleveland Fans that are seriously jacked about baseball, and the Indians could see some record/historical lows in attendance this year. (And that's not even factoring in what would happen if the Tribe got off to its typical miserable start in April.)
Follow me on Twitter: @vincethepolack.
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