Last night was the first time in a while I’d seen an actual huge crowd at Safeco. Interestingly, if you went up to the ticket office and asked for seats they were telling people that there were only scattered singles available, but there were huge chunks of the upper deck with no one sitting in them at all. I’m not sure what happened there, but I wonder if the scalpers bought them all up early in the season and then got hit by busses or something.
The M’s are 10th in home attendance this year, with 36,000/home game (and I believe that’s tickets bought, as we’ve noted before). The M’s are surrounded by teams with better records. The only close bad team is Arizona in 15th place with 32,000/home game.
That seems high, and yet it’s cause for worry for the team. That’s 4,000 under last season, in a year in which season and advance ticket sales were really good, making for a huge base. Even on the worst matchups, mid-week, the Mariners have announced attendance of 28,000.
So here’s where this gets wacky: if you figure that the M’s got $20/head out of the average fan showing up between ticket and everything else, that 4,000 fan drop-off is $6.5m in lost revenue from last year. There are easily that many no-shows in the stands many nights, and if you figure the M’s don’t lose $5/head selling the ticket but not “everything” that’s another $1.6m. I’m surprised the team hasn’t explained that this is where Sasaki’s money went — even though in the past higher-than-planned attendance wasn’t used on payroll.
I haven’t found anything on ratings, but they’ve got to be down — even my wife asks “why bother?” when I tune into games sometimes, and she troops to more home games than anybody I know (not including me). The Mariners were fortunate to negotiate their deals at the height of their success, but the broadcasters are going to bring this up next time.
What’s this project to next year? I notice there’s been a huge difference in tone in the advertising to season ticket holders this year: Lincoln’s no-apology apology letter, for instance, and the constant reassurance that they appreciate season ticket holders (rather than the usual “get deposits in now” strategy). After a year like this the Mariners are going to see a huge drop in season tickets and advance sales will be way down too… unless the team makes some huge moves early this off-season, and I don’t mean Ibanez-style. There are season ticket holders who will bolt if they see a repeat of last year’s off-season. Or at least that’s what I hear… whether or not people follow through on that’s another matter.
If the Mariners win, I think the day-of-game sales will come back up. Safeco Field’s still a great place to see a baseball game in the summer, mingle — whoops, not anymore — and Seattle’s turned into a good baseball town. But season ticket holders buy expensive seats and because they’ve purchased them in advance, are more likely to show up because they’re financially invested. They also give the Mariners their money up-front, which is a substantial amount of float to make money off.
Another factor is that games are more fun to attend when they’re well-attended. It’s less fun trying to get your food and beer, but the difference in game experience between having 10,000 and 20,000 is huge, and 20,000 and 30,000 is large as well… and a sell-out packed house makes almost any game worth watching. A large season-ticket base ensures that the stadium’s always got a lot of fans in it, which makes it more pleasant for the casual fan to come out and cheer along.
The Mariners said they’re looking to spend a lot of money this off-season to help rebuild the team. Part of what they may be considering goes beyond on-field costs: if they sign Beltran, for instance, he might be worth overpaying if it staves off the erosion of their lucrative ticket base as they try to build a winning team again.