CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Indians remain well in the race for a possible division title in the AL Central with each passing week.
The last time the team won the division was 2007, and everyone remembers how that season ended with a game seven loss in the ALCS to the Red Sox and now Tribe skipper Terry Francona.
That season the club drew 2.2 million to Progressive Field, 10th out of 14 American League teams.
The following season the team didn’t play as well, but still drew 2.1 million, good for 9th out of the 14 AL teams at the time.
Now fast forward five seasons, and while the club and front office has been proactive about putting a competitive team and on the field, the club remains struggling for fans through the gate.
“I think it’s similar to last year, we’ve had a small increase over last year,” Indians Senior Director of Communications Curtis Danburg told me Saturday.
“We know that fans are going to come out, we’ve seen it on the weekends,” Danburg said. “We can’t control that aspect of it, what we can control is providing great service for when the fans come in here and great value.”
Last season the Indians drew 1,603,596 into Progressive Field, and this year are on pace for 1,567,508, though a solid month of August weather and kids still coming to the park should push them over their 2012 numbers.
The Dolans, long slammed for not going out and bringing in high profile players, did just that in the offseason, snatching players like Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn for big money, but that hoopla seems to have died down a few months into the season.
Instead, it appears that two factors as to fans going to the park have come to the forefront this season – fireworks and $1 hot dogs.
The team has hosted eight Friday night fireowrk/$1 hot dog night games so far, and in those games has drawn a total of 233,014 fans, an average of 29,126 fans per game.
That’s a huge jump from the average attendance this season going into Saturday of 19,352 fans per night at the park.
Some have said that it seems fans only attend those nights for the in game cheaper hot dogs and post game booms, but Danburg says no matter what the reason, it’s a good way to get fans to get a taste of the on the field product.
“It’s an opportunity to engage as many different fans as possible,” Danburg said.
“You might have the hardcore, you might have the occasional entertainment seeker, we try to provide our experience that hits home with all aspects of our fans.”
The Indians have done a lot of work in trying to push a season ticket base that is around just below 8,000, doing the necessary research to provide solid promotions, but also a price structure that makes it best to buy early.
Danburg said that fans that buy season ticket packages, full or partial, will save around 40 percent off single game ticket prices across the board.
So fans that complain that game day prices for single game tickets are too high, should remember the one slogan that the Indians always try and push – ‘buy early and save.’
“You have to protect the season ticket holder, they are your most valued customer,” Danburg said. “We want to provide them as much value as possible.
“We need to drive season tickets, that’s the bread and butter of our business.”
Danburg says that buying early will not only provide the best prices for fans looking to save, but also it helps fans avoid waiting in line and trying to service fans the day of the game at Progressive Field.
So fans that want to avoid paying prices they feel are too high or waiting in lines before the games while they are hearing the National Anthem being sung should simply prepare beforehand.
It still leaves the toughest question for the club and for fans themselves to answer – why are more fans not showing up for games?
That’s always the toughest question for the Indians themselves to answer, as between pricing and promotions they are the most fan friendly team in the city, yet seem to lag behind the Cavs and Browns in the department of fans that show up for home games on average in their sport.
You can’t point to winning as a reason, as the Browns have one playoff appearance since coming back into the league since 1999, and haven’t won a division title in 23 seasons.
No matter, every season when the regular season starts, newly named First Energy Stadium is filled to capacity for all their home games.
The Cavs haven’t won in the three seasons since LeBron James inked with the Heat, yet still were 22nd overall in the NBA last season, averaging 16,192 per game.
The answer to the question about the Indians isn’t that easy to answer.
It’s not as simple as just saying if the team won more it would draw better.
The Tampa Bay Rays reside in first place in the AL East, yet are one of the two AL teams (the other being Houston) that are behind the Indians in average attendance (TB is averaging 17,790 entering Saturday night).
At the end of the day for fans to come to Indians games, the team has little margin for mistakes. They have to be just about perfect on and off the field.
Even Francona has admitted (at least on the field) that his team isn’t perfect, and it’s something that is very hard in the competitive sport of baseball to be year in and year out.
Fans will always have the right to choose what to do with their money and what teams to support.
The fact that why more are not spending that money and support on the Indians remains a solid mystery.
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