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Baseball attendance down so far this season

| Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Two Sundays ago, the San Diego Padres played a late afternoon home game against Milwaukee. Coming off a disappointing 2009 season, the Padres had won four of their past five to extend their record to 15-9. It was 69 degrees and sunny with a soft, Pacific breeze at Petco Park.

San Diego won again, 8-0. A crowd of 20,074, less than half the stadium's capacity, came to see it.

The Padres are a big surprise, leading the National League West at 19-12 heading into Tuesday night's game in San Francisco with first-place on the line.

Yet through 16 home dates, San Diego is averaging 4,241 fewer fans from last year, when the club stood at 15-22 en route to a 75-87 record.

The Padres aren't alone.

Major-league attendance is down 2.2 percent from a year ago (all figures are through Monday), when the economic recession sparked the steepest decline since 1952.

So far, only 10 of 30 clubs are drawing more fans than last year.

That includes the Pirates, who had nowhere to go but up after averaging a major-league low of 15,300 in 2009. Through Monday, the team is averaging 16,843 — an improvement of 1,543 per game.

Total major-league attendance is down by more than 360,000. That, however, is misleading.

The Minnesota Twins, who left the Metrodome and indoor baseball for open-aired Target Field, have seen home attendance spike 238,225 (14,889 per game).

How much is that•

Atlanta is second with a jump of 49,481 (4,123 per game). Minnesota's total increase is higher than that of the next six teams combined.

If the Twins hadn't moved and drew the same number of fans, major-league attendance would be down by more than 600,000. Several messages left with the Major League Baseball office weren't returned.

Baseball team officials have two basic responses: It's still early, and tough economic choices linger.

"The economy still affects everything our customers do," Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten said. "Individual customers and corporations are still having a difficult time."

Losing affects attendance, too. So does foul weather and the visiting team. Certain opponents can quickly change a team's numbers.

Detroit's per game attendance was down before the New York Yankees came to town Monday. Now, the Tigers are in the plus column.

The Padres can't wait for the Los Angeles Dodgers to arrive Friday for the start of a three-game series. Two of the games already are sold out.

"It will be a dramatic increase," said Laura Broderick, the Padres' senior vice-president of brand development.

Broderick notes that the Padres have made their games more affordable, including lowering ticket prices. The club ranks second in the "fan cost index," the total cost of attending a game.

Yet a team that finished 12 games under .500 and now has one of the league's best records still needs the Dodgers to help make a dent in its attendance deficit.

That's not unusual, said Kasten, whose Nationals also have made big strides but are drawing fewer fans.

"There's always a lag," he said. "You don't start winning games and, all of a sudden, people start flooding the ballpark. We had two consecutive years of losing 100 games. It's going to affect your attendance."

You don't have to lose 100 games to alienate your fans. A pair of late-season collapses followed by a 70-92 record can do that, as well.

Despite an $800 million ballpark that opened last year and a winning record this season, the New York Mets have the largest decline — 6,748 per game.

"There's a been a lot of negativity around the club," former Toronto general manager and current ESPN analyst J.P. Ricciardi said. "Should they keep the manager, should they keep the general manager• It's been a breeding ground of discontent."

Ricciardi was fired after the Blue Jays went 75-87 last season. But he built the foundation of a team that, despite trading ace Roy Halladay, was 19-15 heading into last night.

Still, the Jays attendance deficit from a year ago is more than 6,000 a game, which Ricciardi mainly attributes to frustration with ownership's frugality — failing to add key players and letting stars like Halladay leave via free agency or trade.

"I think the fans are taking a wait-and-see approach," he said.

Cincinnati and Oakland also are drawing fewer fans while playing better.

Then, there's perhaps the most baffling situation — Tampa Bay.

The 2008 American League-champion Rays have never drawn well, largely because of stadium issues. But this year, attendance is down 2,700 per game despite the Rays owning the majors' best record heading into last night.

"And the ownership has done a good job of keeping tickets affordable," Ricciardi said. "I hate to say it, but there are just some places where baseball's not gonna sell.

"They've got a super club, maybe the best team in baseball. If they played in New York, you'd be killing to get a ticket."

Downward direction

Through Monday's games, major-league attendance is down 2.2 percent from a year ago. Here's list of teams' average attendance per game in 2009 and 2010 and the difference between the seasons:

Team: 2009/2010 — Diff.

Twins: 323,768/38,657 — +14,889

Braves: 324,876/29,000 — +4,123

Rangers: 322,413/26,205 — +3,793

Giants: 333,397/36,288 — +2,891

Phillies: 342,566/45,067 — +2,501

Pirates: 315,300/16,843 — +1,543

Orioles: 323,272/24,163 — +891

Dodgers: 342,894/43,749 — +855

Tigers: 326,638/27,030 — +392

Rockies: 328,346/28,371 — +25

Brewers: 335,169/35,064 — -105

Cardinals: 339,674/39,443 — -231

Red Sox: 337,816/37,505 — -311

Yankees: 344,604/44,269 — -336

Royals: 320,452/19,816 — -636

Nationals: 320,119/19,476 — -643

Cubs: 339,435/38,539v-897

Reds: 321,234/20,321 — -913

Mariners: 327,338/25,935 — -1,403

Athletics: 317,971/16,415v-1,556

Angels: 341,245/39,342 — -1,903

White Sox: 325,136/22,843 — -2,294

Rays: 325,757/23,065 — -2,693

Marlins: 320,429/17,420 — -3,009

Diamondbacks: 328,375/25,113 — -3,262

Astros: 329,387/25,603 — -3,783

Padres: 326,293/22,052 — -4,241

Blue Jays: 321,419/15,208 — -6,211

Indians: 321,246/14,661 — -6,585

Mets: 38,595/32,747 — -6,748

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