How Griffey Could Hurt Attendance
Some people will come out to see Griffey if he’s a Mariner next year, or at least tune into games, or read about the team in the one remaining paper. I don’t know if that’s one fan or twenty thousand over the course of a season, and neither does anyone else. I’m on the skeptical side, as you’d probably expect: from the Mariners own experience with declining stars and bringing aging veterans back for one more run, there’s not much reason to expect a huge bump. I loved watching Rickey Henderson play, but I didn’t attend any games I wouldn’t have otherwise that year. Some people went to see Gaylord Perry in his quick tour here, especially for #300, but not a ton, because the team stank. And so on.
That’s not perfectly analogous, because they’re not formerly hugely beloved players who forced their way off the team to another league, after which some segment of the fanbase spent the time since making goo-goo eyes at them.
I want to raise another issue, and Larry Stone touched on this in passing. What if he’s bad for attendance over the season?
What if Griffey comes in, and 5,000 more people show up for the non-Opening-Day games, and then he’s the shell of a player that Seattle fans haven’t really seen? Think Edgar 2004, but worse. Boone 2005. And these too were popular players in Seattle. Did fans come out to see what might be their last season when they sucked?
No. Of course not. What are we banking on, then? That Griffey’s going to contribute, or that he’s so beloved from his early years and so forgiven for the trade thing, that it’s an entirely different situation?
If that’s true, it’s quite possible he ends up driving people away. The last time Seattle fans saw him play regularly it was 1999, when Griffey still hit like crazy, played center field, went to All-Star games, and placed in MVP voting. If you’re an old enough fan, your memories are of the nineteen-year-old becoming one of the game’s greatest and not long afterwards departing.
What about if Griffey sucks? If he’s hobbled and doesn’t play much, and particularly if the second marriage turns sour and he starts sniping at the front office for not bringing in enough veteran leaders to support him? Or if he picks up feuding with the fans for inadequate fawning? How many people will not want to watch because he’s here, preferring to remember him as the graceful and happy-seeming Kid?
I worry that having this go badly will taint the story of the season, and instead of being about how they’re improving, playing far better defense, and have a promising future, we’ll have a year of Griffey-related pain and hand-wringing, where instead of wanting to go to Safeco to see the new direction they’ll avoid it because they don’t want to see a wrenching reminder of the toll age has taken on the Kid they still want to see.
If we’re going to acknowledge that people’s actions will be determined by their emotional reaction to one player, we have to face that the results may not be all beneficial to ticket sales and ratings.