Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Tribe and the (lack of) Attendance

It seems recently that everyone in Cleveland is talking about the Tribe and their poor attendance figures. Tony Rizzo has devoted a lot of time to the topic, Paul Cousineau and Gary Benz wrote about on the Cleveland Fan and Terry Pluto has also penned an article. The short story is that the Indians are 25th in the majors in home game attendance. That is not good.

Everyone has their own reasons for this, from Cleveland's economy, to Cleveland fans being spoiled with the 90s and (of course) the Dolan's low payroll (you may have heard that it's below Kansas City's!).

Now, don't get me wrong, I think the lack of fan participation isn't simply one single thing but a combination of many forces. That being said, I am a bit surprised that no one has mentioned what I think is one of the main factors in the unwillingness to get behind this Indians team.

The trade of Coco Crisp.

Now, I have no way to prove this, but I think the trade of Coco to the Red Sox for minor league 3rd baseman Andy Marte hurt the Tribe much more than they could've imagined.

After barely missing out of the playoffs in 2005, the Indians come into 2006 by... trading a popular outfielder for a minor league 3rd baseman who no one has heard of. From a baseball stand point, was it a good deal? Meh, neither Crisp nor Marte has lit it up, but the Tribe had Grady Sizemore ready to step in for Crisp. It may not have been the best deal but, from a baseball side, it was defendable.

But not from a public relations side. Tribe fans had just spent the past few seasons watching the team trade away veterans for minor leaguers (when they weren't walking away for more money). This was simply the worst time to trade away a popular figure. The team was starting to come back around and form its own identity and the Tribe trades away a young veteran (with a neat name!) for yet another minor league prospect.

They said it wasn't a cost cutting move, but one believed it. For better or worse, it looked like that the Tribe, again, couldn't afford it's own players and would trade them away for that perpetual 'next year'.

Why should fans come out for this team? They'll fall in love with the regulars but by the time the team is set to make a move, they'll just trade them away because "Dolan is cheap".

Dolan has said that he'll spend the money when the time is right and, from where I'm sitting, that time is now. I've been saying for awhile now, if the Tribe came out tomorrow and offered CC and Hafner fair market deals (just biting the bullet) that Tribe fans would begin to come out to the ballpark.

Is that too simple? Maybe. But I really do think that fans simply don't trust management to do what it has to do in order to win. They see Coco traded away, they see the Tigers trade for Gary Sheffield while the Tribe shops for pitchers off the scrap heap year after year and they see a payroll at the near the bottom of the majors. This team is one of the best teams in baseball, the payroll is, if nothing else, "thrifty" and yet they're still shopping for tainted goods? They can't afford real talent? They're signing guys coming off of surgeries, guys who retire before the year starts?

Do you trust the Dolans to make that signing that puts the team over the top? Do you trust Shapiro to go get that right handed bat? Aren't we all expecting some kind of Matt Lawton/Trot Nixon type deal?

Is it fair? Probably not. Can I prove my little theory? No. But, for whatever reason, the fans don't trust this team.

I can't blame them.


rick grayshock said...

Interesting theory...I believe that the fans don't trust the ownership to make any deals to help this team win this year. I think that it has more to do with the promise of spending money- heck forget the money, the promise of doing something to improve the team if we have a shot at winning. Well, we have a shot- are you going to ante up and make some kind of move to give us the illusion that you are interested in winning this year? Next year may not happen. You have to take advantage when the team is ripe for a run.

The Other Ben said...

Personally, I think the lack of attendence has a lot more to do with the success of the team rather than how much it is being paid. While the payroll/personnel issue is a factor, lets be realistic; this team has not been to the playoffs in SIX years. Now, your arguement holds water as far as "maybe they would have gotten to the playoffs if they spent more money." I understand this, but it takes a lot of guts to go out and pay top dollar like the yanks and bo sox do. They simply have more $$$ than the dolans and it would be a terrible business move to mortgage off the future by having large contracts and not big payoffs. It takes a lot to be a perennial playoff contender and the yanks/red sox do this by spending more money than anyone else. The market dynamic for Cleveland almost forces them to be in a pattern of 4-5 years of great seasons followed by 4-5 (the current six year drought is a bit much even for me) of mediocre/rebuilding seasons. If this team makes a LONG playoff run this year and shells out the cash to sign Hafner and extend CC after next year, attendance will go up. I think the emergance of Ben Francisco and Frankie Gutierrez as our corner outfielders of the future doesnt hurt either. On top of that, if we resign Hafner, it would be wise to consider playing victor at 1st base a lot more to ease Shoppach into a perminant role on this team (as long as he produces the rest of this year and possibly the playoffs and beyond)

Erik said...

Coco Crisp? Maybe a bit, but I'd go back even farther than that.

There are fans out there who still resent the Indians for letting Manny Ramirez, Omar Vizquel and Jim Thome walk, for trading away David Justice and Roberto Alomar.

There are a lot of people in this town who fell in love with the players on those teams of the '90s, not just the team itself, which in the current economic climate of baseball, is setting yourself up to have your heart broken. This isn't the '50s, when you knew Bob Lemon or Bob Feller was going to spend virtually his whole career as an Indian.

While the Indians were sucking for four decades, free agency entered the picture, and baseball became tilted toward the teams with the most money.

This fact never hit Cleveland very hard until about 2000, and now I think there are a lot of fans who are simply saying "What's the use? All these guys are going to be playing somewhere else in a few years anyway, just like Manny and Jimmy."

The Indians blunt "Acceptable for this market" approach isn't helping them either. It makes it seem like the Indians aren't trying to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox, just the Twins and Tigers.

The clouds are starting to part. The Indians are starting to draw well on the weekends. And I'd caution to not read too much in to their 25th ranking in attendance. Even if the Indians have a pretty good draw in the second half, it won't affect their standing too much. It's too late in the year. It's like a pitcher's ERA getting permanently screwed by a bad April.

Ben said...

Just to make sure, I obviously don't think that Indians fans are staying at home saying "I'm not going out to the ballpark, not since they traded Coco Crisp".

But I do think a lot of people were willing to buy into the rebuilding plan up until the Crisp deal. Crisp was one of the young guys the Tribe got for a veteran (Chuck Finley) and now he's being traded for another young guy.

It is true, the fans are starting to come out and I think eventually this team will draw. But there's a lot of mistrust of management out there (rightly or wrongly) and I do think the Crisp deal played a bigger part than they realized.

Ben said...

As for what Erik said, their blunt market assessment approach hasn't helped anything, but I don't really believe that Tribe fans expect them to compete with the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox.

That's not going to happen (and I think in years down the road, after baseball finally implements some kind revenue sharing system or cap, we're all going to look back and be like, why the hell was this market gap allowed to continue for so long? Of course, I say the same thing about college football playoffs, but that is neither here nor there)

But competing with the Tigers and Twins shouldn't be out of the question. I think its fair to say that the Indians are one of the best run franchises in baseball. They compete, they draft well and they put forth a good product on the cheap (mostly).

But keeping these guys here (and not just the Westbrooks and Lees, but the 'stars' as well) will go a long way towards easing the fans pain.

But of course, I still hear people calling WKNR and bitching about Omar leaving...

Erik said...

The Indians are reaching another Coco Crisp critical mass with Travis Hafner and C.C. Sabathia, only on a much larger scale. Basically, the only good way out is to sign both of them to extensions.

If the Indians trade one or both away for prospects before they can become free agents, it sends a message that tomorrow never comes, and the Indians are always building for three years down the road, not the immediate future.

If the Indians go the Manny route, get as much mileage out of Pronk and C.C. as they can and let them walk away when they get too expensive, it sends an even worse message to the fans.

The bottom line is that, until the Indians start inking their best players to longterm extensions, the fans won't totally let their guard down and will probably stay somewhat cool toward the team.

Of course, a run deep into October could blow that whole theory out the window.

Erik said...

One more thing I have to get off my chest about this:

The economy is NOT a reason the Indians aren't drawing. I heard some guy call up one of the WTAM sports yakkers and whine about how the Indians can't draw because Cleveland is in SUCH bad shape and EVERYONE is losing their jobs.

That's a load of horse dookie. Studies repeatedly show that, even in lean times, people still place a high financial priority on entertainment.

Cleveland has been in bad financial shape for almost 50 years. Jobs and people have been leaving the area in droves, and it didn't stop the Indians from selling out 455 straight games. It doesn't stop the Browns from selling out every single game at high prices, no matter how unspeakably lousy the on-field product is.

It hasn't stopped fans from gravitating to the now-winning Cavs and their astronomical ticket prices.

It hasn't stopped Playhouse Square from staying afloat. It hasn't caused the Cleveland Orchestra or any of the museums at University Ciricle to close up shop. It didn't stop the House of Blues from opening downtown, charging ghastly amounts for their tickets and still becoming the go-to indoor concert venue in the area.

People spend to be entertained. If it wasn't true, all of MLB would have gone under in the 1930s when the average baseball fan was standing in a soup line.

Cleveland's financial woes are responsible for a lot of things. Sparse crowds at Jacobs Field isn't one of them.

Ben said...

Again, I'll point to Detroit. They've been hit just as hard in the pocket books as Cleveland, and yet the Tigers draw (and it's not like its at the expense of the Pistons, Red Wings or Lions).

I know they're coming off a World Series run, but they spent money before that playoff push.

The Other Ben said...

I tell ya, the way the market is, the dolans vs CC negotiations are going to be brutal. The White Sox stood firm on Buerhles 4 year/$56 millon contract and that is way below his market value based on prior years contracts: Maddox, Zito, Dice K, Schmidt to name a few. If we do not resign CC before next year, that same wave of high priced pitching is going to be in full effect with little doubt that CC will get offered a $90million contract elsewhere when he becomes a free agent. As far as Hafner, I think you have to offer him a friendlier deal than 5 years/$60 million. Give him $55 million over 4 years with a one year option of 11.5 million (which we could do, just front load the contract now so our salary is less when we need to resign the young guys)

Ben said...

Part of me thinks the crazy Zito and Schmitt deals are going to bring some sanity to the market.

But another part of me thinks that all it takes is one dumbass team and CC can get paid $150 million.

and just to be clear, I'm not arguing that Coco Crisp himself or that exact deal is what hurt them.

The idea that they came off a huge year (one week away!) and traded a (very popular) starter for a minor leaguer is what hurt them.

LargeBill said...

All good points. I agree to the average fan trading Crisp sent a message. Personally, I was in favor of the trade because I didn't think Coco's value would ever be any higher. He doesn't hit enough to be a corner OF and Sizemore had taken over center. Obviously, Marte not developing as expected has hurt. But what hurt even more was the Tribe didn't take the next step. I wanted to see them get a big bat for a corner OF. If they had made a major move to replace Crisp with a power bat no one would have bemoaned his loss. However, instead of getting a big bat they picked up various platoon pieces (Michaels, Delucci, Nixon).

Separately, in baseball attendance is a lagging indicator. This years attendance is a result of last years performance. If we win this year then we will see a bounce in attendance next year.

The Other Ben said...

This is out of the realm of cleveland sports, but go read the Antoine Walker article on the front page of
I literally just shot coffee out of my nose at the office while reading it and now everyone is looking at their strange co-worker. Its only that funny if youve spent a majority of your basketball viewing time making fun of Antoine Walker, which everyone should be doing.