Economic decline, population loss and a saturated marketplace entail the Indians are among the worst supported squads in baseball despite this years success
It was a big weekend for the Cleveland Indians. The Detroit Tigers were in town, and the AL Central title was at stake. The Tigers came in six games back, but the three-game series was the first of 7 encounters between the two teams before the end of the season. For the Indian, the math was simple: win this series, and the Tigers would move far enough back in the rear-view mirror to practically assure a Cleveland playoff spot in October.
The Indian won the series 2-1, and the magic number to clinch the division dropped to seven with 13 games to play. There was baseball excitement in Cleveland. Maybe a Tribe championship to follow the Cavalier riveting NBA title a few months ago? A chance for a city that has had a professional baseball team since 1869 to win its first title since 1948.
Youd is considered that a ticket to the Indians-Tigers series would have been hard to come by, given the longtime rivalry the Tiger and the Indian entered the American League in 1901 and the implications for the postseason. But the team only described, on average, about 25,000 for this meaningful September series, about two-thirds of the Progressive Field capacity. Tickets on StubHub were going for less than $10. And based on the number of fans wearing Tigers gear, it was obvious that a few millions of those in attendance had driven the two and a half hours from Detroit.
The numbers for this series were no aberration. The low attendances for the Indian this summer are causing some head-scratching among athletics business experts. The team has been in first place since early June, but are third last in the league in attendance, ahead of only Oakland and Tampa Bay. The league average is about 30,000 a game, and the Indian are drawing merely under 20,000.
And yet the team has been reasonably successful over the past decade. Counting this year, the Indian have been. 500 or better in six of the past 10 years, and barring some unforeseeable collapse this year is likely to be the third playoff appearance for the Tribe in the past decade. But despite those success, the team has been in the bottom third of Major League Baseball attendance in every one of those 10 years.
The attendance numbers for Cleveland are mind-boggling, said Wayne McDonnell, the academic chair of NYUs Tisch Institute of Sport Management, Media and Business and a man known as the business of baseball professor.
What is a likely explanation, but one no one in Cleveland wants to deal with, is that maybe the citys population loss is finally making the sports marketplace, McDonnell continued. When you look at demographics and household incomes and the number of squads in a market, sports fans have to build hard decisions on where they are spending their fund, and maybe Cleveland fans are choice basketball and football over baseball because they dont have enough for all three.
In the case of Cleveland baseball fans, the best interest is still there, but merely not enough interest to buy tickets. Proof of that is that the local Tv ratings are up about 50% over last year. But Cleveland has the smallest US metro area with three of four major league sports teams( NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL ), and the Cleveland metro areas average household income is the fourth lowest of the MLB team markets( ahead of only Pittsburgh, Miami and Tampa Bay ). For economists, its simple: fewer people with less fund entails less spending. And with the success of the Cavaliers, and the popularity of the Browns no matter how bad they are, the Indians may be the odd squad out in Cleveland.
Since 2010, only two metro marketplaces in MLB have lost population: Cleveland and Pittsburgh. But population loss and a bad economy are only part of the reason the Indians might not be draw; it is also hemmed in by athletics marketplace geography. Three other major league baseball teams are within 250 miles.
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