As reported by the OC Register yesterday, the Angels are facing cratered attendance numbers at the Big A; in fact it’s the worst per game attendance tallies since the 2002 season, before the Angels went to the Promised Land that October and indoctrinated a new generation of Angels baseball fans, as well as bringing the old Moth Eaters from Yes We Can days out of retirement. Things were good for awhile...good enough for people to possibly overlook such catastrophes as our new seventh inning stretch ode to losers("Build Me Up Buttercup, baby, just to let me down…"), and a gm that brought in the likes of Gary Mathews Jr. and Vernon Wells. Winning division championships will do that for a team. But these are not the halcyon days of 2006, and the lingering taste of post season glory may be fading fast in fans’ minds. Make no mistake about it: if these attendance numbers are to be believed, then the Angels are in trouble.
Per game attendance is down at Angel Stadium by 4,300 fans. That’s compared to their numbers last year, but if you want to compare it to the height of Red October days, then that number is closer to 8,000. The benchmark for every season since 2002 was 3 million Angels fans passing through the turnstiles every year, and from these early estimates, they are not going to be hitting that mark. Are the Angels worried? Well, if Robert Alvarado, the VP of marketing and ticket sales is to believe, then no, they’re not worried. Shouldn’t they be, though? I’ve gone to three games this year, so far, and all have been lackluster as far as crowds go. I’ve made rationalizations each time: oh, it’s a small market team they’re facing OR hey, there’s bad weather OR well, this is a school night and there’s no giveaway. But those factors don’t really seem to be in play here, because even when when the weather has been better and it’s a holiday and there’s a giveaway...that place still isn’t selling out. It used to be a foregone conclusion. Again, shouldn’t Arte be looking into this? Unfortunately, he probably has. He just doesn’t care.
The most eye opening part of the article was the Angels insistence that they are not missing out on anything by drawing fewer fans. Alvarado uses the term "per-caps" and it is in reference to how much each of the ticket buying fan is spending in the stadium. They seem to have data that shows them that the people who buy the $10 cheap seat tickets(like me) don’t spend that much money in the ballpark, at least not compared to the folks with luxury suites or club level seats. While this may be true, my first thought is "so what?". It stands within reason that you’d want your stadium full of fans of your team first, and them spending money on baubles and beers second. Not for Arte Moreno and crew. They are signaling to us that, much like in a Vegas Strip casino, the whales are more important, and they’ll bend over backwards to please them. The rest will be relegated to the penny slots and maybe a free cocktail, if the waitress ever comes back around again, while we watch the game on a 12 inch plasma behind the barback station.
It’s all especially confusing when you factor in a couple other things. One: this is not indicative of a trend around the MLB, saying that baseball is dwindling in popularity. Most other teams are thriving, and MLB had it’s seventh biggest attendance of all time last September and is expected to be another huge year at the box office. Two: there was a recent study by WalletHub regarding the MLB’s best and worst cities for fans. Anaheim ranked 8th overall, based on both past performance of the team as well as things like ticket prices, beer/food prices, accessibility to the stadium, local attractions, sports bars, etc. By those two accounts, the Angels SHOULD be seeing their attendance numbers the same as last year(38,221 per game), at worst, and at best, closer to 2011 numbers(39,090 per game).
So what’s the rub? I have a few assumptions:
Lackluster team: sure, they won 98 games last year, but I've spoken with casual fans who had most of that good season wiped from their memory by getting embarrassed in the ALDS. That poor of a showing in the post season, to many, is just the same as finishing second or third.
GM moves: Mark Trumbo was a fan favorite, and is gone. Horrible signings like Hamilton still sting. Howie Kendrick, another long time fan favorite, is gone. The guys on the field, to many fans, are faceless ham & eggers and haven’t had the luxury of a World Series ring to ingratiate themselves to the fans. Dipoto needs to have free reign to do as he pleases with this team and build something up(buttercup), but so far the mark he has left on the franchise has been that of "one step forward, two steps back".
The Josh Hamilton Incident: This left many fans with a bad taste in their mouth towards Arte Moreno and the club as a whole. No matter where you fall on the Hamilton debacle, it’s hard not to at least agree that, speaking strictly in terms of public relations, that the Angels handled this about as horribly as a franchise could. Their immediate comments and ensuing backlash was something that many of us at Halos Heaven had never seen before. Those first comments from the Angels about Josh not getting a suspension were some serious shots fired, and anybody reading between the lines could tell there was trouble brewing. Again, i’m not commenting on anything besides how they publicly handled it. Time will tell, perhaps, if they were in the right, and some possible vindication is headed their way should any more info come out, but until then, I have to think that there were a lot of Halo Honks that lapped up the outrage and decided to disassociate with the club.
These are just my theories right now on why this team is struggling to get butts in the seats, as other studies are showing that not only is baseball thriving in America, but Anaheim is one of the better places to see it in person. The troll in me almost wants to applaud the front office for doubling down on their indifference to Joe 40oz fan and the Sec 539 seats he usually occupies, for saying "Yeah, we know there are less people. But hey, WE are still making money!". Once the big money whales realize there are other casinos in life that are far more worth their time, not only in the product given but it’s potential returns, then perhaps the Buttercupping will finally be over, and Arte will make it a mandate to fill the stadium with OC’s baseball lovers. First, he’ll have to start seeing us as fans, and not Per-Caps or $$$. Yeah, I’ve heard that one before:
"I'll be over at ten, you told me time and again
But you're late, I wait around and then
I went to the door, I can't take any more
It's not you, You let me down again"
So what's the deal? Where have all the Angels fans gone?