During this past off-season, one of the biggest stories revolved around which uniform Barry Bonds might wind up wearing. It seemed that the list of suitors for Bonds’ services would be long—regardless of the cloud of the BALCO investigation hanging over his head—given the near certainty he would surpass Henry Aaron for the all-time home run record, and with that, the ringing of cash registers at the gate.
When the Giants signed a one-year $ $15.8 million deal with him in early February of this year, they banked on that logic, and with that, have looked for increases in attendance.
Too bad that hasn’t transpired... yet. And, by the way, "yet" might be a stretch.
With Bonds now 10 home runs from tying Aaron for the all-time home run record, the difference in attendance for the Giants between last season and this season is almost indiscernible. Even in the supposed safe-haven of San Francisco, the home run chase by Bonds is on the verge of being meaningless when using attendance as the barometer.
Looking at the first twenty-two home games from 2006 and 2007, gives attendance for the 2007 season an advantage of 1,323 in paid attendance over last season—a variation that could be related to nothing more than good weather, or other factors, Bonds’ chase possibly included.
For example, over the first seven games of the season at AT&T Park, average attendance was 40,821 compared to 37,580 for the same period last season.
During the stretch, Bonds hit numbers 16 and 15 in the countdown to tying Aaron.
But, the difference of 3,241 can be accounted for a couple of different ways.
The two series for this season saw the Padres and the Dodgers, compared to the Braves and Astros in 2006. While the levels for the Padres and Braves series were nearly identical, the Dodgers far outdrew the 41,529 to 33,651 due to the Astros games being initially rained out, and then made up on a mid-week double header that drew an average 33,651.
Add in the fact that the Dodgers are a better draw than the Astros in San Francisco, and the gap becomes all the more clear.
When taking in the total attendance for this year and last, if one adjusts for those two games with the Astros that were postponed and replayed, the gap in total attendance thus far this season shrinks to just above 1,200; hardly anything that can point to anything other than lukewarm interest in “The Chase” at this point.
How does that impact the bottom line?
Using this year’s Team Marketing Report, the Giants have an average ticket price of $25.11. Using the attendance difference from last season to 2007, the Giants have an increase of $32,316.57—a figure that if it were solely attributed to Bonds (which is isn't) would nary a dent in the costs to retain him. Yes, there are other revenues to associate with Bonds countdown, but if you said television, at least on the local level, it is not one of them. Since television contracts are worked up in advance, it’s not as if the Giants pull in more or less depending on interest—or lack thereof in Bonds’ chase of Aaron.
In fairness, this snapshot should not be viewed as what will transpire from home runs 745 to when he reaches 755. There will surely be a rise in attendance over the course of those games. Clay Davenport of Baseball Prospectus gives Bonds a 90% chance of passing Aaron by July 5th, or 21 games in which the Giants can hope to milk The Chase for all its worth.
That is, if Bonds and opposing pitchers play along and stretch the dingers out that far.
Davenport also gives Bonds a 50% chance of reaching Aaron by June 16th, clipping the number of Home games to just 12, or just over half as many games for the Giants to gain the extra revenues from.
But, it seems more than clear that the costs of Bonds contract have to be weighed against the total number of wins he provides. That's where the real value of a player contract is at, above what he can bring through the turnstiles as a marquee player. Using Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections, Bonds should have a WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player) of 3.5 for 2007.
With the Giants sitting a game under .500 (fourth in the NL West), and the lackluster interest in “Bonds: The Home Run Story”, at this point, the Bonds contract is a bad deal. The Giants will have little hope in extracting a mountain of cash for just the home run chase. As with every team, the value will come at the end of the season when the Giants, make, or fail to reach the playoffs. At that point, you might reap the benefits of the wins Bonds would bring.
Until that time, however, it seems the nation snores over the countdown, and worse, so does San Francisco.
The Giants (and some fans) may scoff at this claim. After all, they are holding down 7th in overall attendance (92.5% of capacity) so far this season. Not bad, right? But, in the context of the home run chase, and where attendance has been in the past, there should be movement up, not down. Here is attendance for the last six seasons:
| Year ||Attendance (avg) ||% of Capacity ||Rank |
| 2001|| 40,888|| 100.2|| 2nd |
| 2002|| 40,163 || 98.4|| 3rd|
| 2003|| 40,307|| 97.1|| 3rd |
| 2004|| 40,232|| 96.9|| 5th|
| 2005|| 39,259|| 94.5|| 5th|
| 2006|| 38,645|| 93.0|| 7th|
|* 2007|| 38,411|| 92.5|| 7th|
* Through 21 games at AT&T Park
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Maury Brown is the founder and president of The Biz of Baseball and a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be contacted here.