A month into the season, the Cleveland Indians are ranked dead last in average attendance – 30th out of a possible 30 teams with an average attendance of 15,197. It is startling to see them listed behind clubs such as Oakland, Florida, Pittsburgh, and Washington. Only Toronto has a lower average percentage of capacity at 30%, with the Tribe averaging 35% capacity. The Indians have only played 9 home games so far, tied for the fewest in MLB, and had a fairly decent April, weather-wise, when they were in town. It is unlikely they will hold in 30th position throughout the season with current figures based on such a small sample size. In the second game of the season against Texas, however, the Tribe set a single-game attendance record low in the 16 year history of Jacobs/Progressive field with an announced figure of 10,071. In addition to Cleveland, Toronto, Washington, and Baltimore have also set single-game ballpark record lows.
With the Cavs success, weak economy, and the fire sale of recognizable names leading to low expectations, the Indians have been unable to get any traction with the NE Ohio fanbase. It’s fairly obvious that the reason for these low numbers have little to do with the functionality and ambiance of the ballpark. Yet an article in the New York Times cited the Indians as one of several MLB clubs looking to update and renovate their park, in addition to the sparsely attended aforementioned Camden yards:
Ever-escalating payrolls have also forced teams to squeeze as many dollars as they can out of their suites, club seats, signage, concession stands, parking lots and even bathrooms. It can be tough to maintain the old-time feel that parks like Camden Yards evoke while generating enough money to pay players their multimillion-dollar salaries…
The Orioles are not the only team thinking about makeovers. The Cleveland Indians, who opened Progressive Field in 1994 (it was Jacobs Field then), are among the 10 teams looking at ways to revive their parks, said Earl Santee, a senior principal at Populous, the architectural firm that designed Camden Yards, PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Coors Field and other retro stadiums.
Seats, scoreboards and suites have a natural life, he said. The most recent ballparks are putting an emphasis on premium seats with access to exclusive restaurants, as well as food courts for fans sitting elsewhere. Camden Yards may need to reflect that.
Vince, over at Scene/‘64 and Counting, wrote about the recent minor updates and the need for further refinements on Friday:
All those suites, once filled with economically well-off Clevelanders (yes, they once existed), are empty now, and there’s little to no chance the Tribe will be selling any more during the season than they have already.
Other differences are minor and have been unfolding over time: new sponsors in new locations (the Walgreen’s sign on the left-field foul pole), the all-you-can-eat seats, the new Social Media deck, etc.
Jacobs Field is now 16-years-old, which isn’t ancient by any means, but an age when some updating needs to be done, especially in an economic climate when no one’s got money for the $7000 suites, when your team sucks and isn’t drawing like it used to, and the team is trying to milk every penny it can from those that do want to come to ballgames still.
The Times article emphasizes the careful tact required to update ballparks, such as Camden and Jacobs, which set the standard for the new wave of MLB stadiums over the past 20 years. Attendance figures aside, these fans tend to have a strong sense of nostalgia and loyalty to the parks as they were originally constructed so any updates will be done with subtlety. Camden Yards is looking to update its concession stands/menus and re-thinking the space currently used for club levels and suites. The tinkering with Progressive Field will most likely be along these lines.
In recent years, we have seen Jacobs/Progressive field constantly evolve as the club tries to market the park itself in the absence of talent. A most notable addition includes the new and impressive scoreboards displayed around the park. One major area of emphasis has been the various social spots throughout the stadium – the Party Deck, the Social Media Deck, and the Batter’s Eye bar where those more interested in their alcohol than the pitch count tend to migrate. As Vince noted in his piece, and I recognized myself for the first time this weekend, they have converted a suite down the right field line into the “Fan Cave.”
The economics of baseball have changed drastically since the park opened in 1994 and attendance figures have plummeted with the team’s success. After setting a then record of 455 consecutive sellouts in the 90’s, the Indians have ranked in the bottom third of the league in average attendance every year since 2003. Barring unexpected on-field success, this season’s figures look to be particularly bleak. While improving the team is the priority, the organization continues to look at ways to update and improve the ballpark.