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Pete Toms Article Archive
Written by Pete Toms   
Monday, 11 April 2011 12:58

Last Week in Bizball by Pete Toms

This week in “Last Week in BizBall, early attendance, early local TV ratings, early secondary ticket prices plus tidbits.

EARLY ATTENDANCE

The first few weeks of the baseball season always sees the punditry examining attendance in search of larger trends both at the team and league level. This year has been no different. Maury Brown crunched the Opening Day numbers for all 30 clubs and concluded that attendance was up 0.3% over Opening Days last season. Opening Day is Opening Day and nothing draws a crowd like a crowd. So, it’s the attendance at games following Opening Day which are more closely scrutinized and dissected. LWIB, Buster Olney mused about early season attendance. “There are lows being reported from Yankee Stadium to Cleveland to Wrigley Field, rows and rows of empty seats…” Buster did acknowledge the impact of the OH economy on Indians attendance but, more broadly, he wondered if social media is motivating more fans to watch at home, pointing to strong local TV ratings. The “Big 4” are all making investments to improve the “in stadium/arena” experience, boosting wireless capacities, installing new HD video boards and in the NFL, providing access to the “Red Zone” channel and (in some markets) the FanVision mobile device. Competing with HD broadcasts, the second and third screens and potentially 3D broadcasts (I’m sceptical) to lure fans out of our homes is a real challenge for all the “big 4”. Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which controls the digital rights for all MLB clubs, will determine if fans eventually see live streaming, alternate camera angles, replays, statistics, etc. delivered to their mobile devices when in the ballpark. In the immediate, I’m not so certain that baseball 2.0 is crucial to attendance. The MLB fan base skews older and less technologically reliant. Also, the fan dynamic is different than in the other “big 4”. MLB attracts a far greater number of more casually interested fans who attend games primarily to socialize with friends, family and co workers. For these fans, the game is secondary to the elixir of vacation, relaxation, conversation, sun, beer and eating. I suspect league wide attendance this season will be more impacted by the national economy and the price of gas than social media. Anyway, lets have a look at what some local scribes had to say about early attendance in their markets LWIB.

Paul Sullivan reported that the Cubs drew their smallest crowd in 9 years. He also noted that there were even empty seats Friday on Opening Day. I guess losing is less lovable in Chicago than in past years. Ed Sherman reported recently that Cubs TV ratings were down 39% last year and I recall that late last season Cubs ticket prices on the secondary market fell dramatically.

Neil deMause noticed that the Yankees …have set new records for lowest attendance at their new stadium for four games in a row… Neil attributes this to some combination of fans hating the new stadium, too pricy parking fees and a stand pat off season.

Joel Hammond reminded us that last season the Indians’ attendance was the lowest in MLB. Joel also told us that that was a drop of 21.5% over the previous year, when the club finished 25th in attendance. After the Indians opening weekend this season Joel painted a pretty gloomy picture. Despite extensive ticket discounting and opening on a weekend, as opposed to during the week last season, the Indians were still down about 8% for their 2nd & 3rd games over the same last season. Read the whole analysis here. In a separate post, Joel notes that the Nats opening weekend attendance was down 6.2% over last year.

The Toronto baseball media were impressed with the Blue Jays’ attendance for their opening weekend series vs. the Twins. Jeff Blair wrote, “Total attendance for the three games against the Twins was 110,683. Attendance for last season’s first home series was 69,098, but that needs to be put in context. Last season’s first home series started on a Monday as opposed to a weekend. This season’s three-game total was the most for any three-game series since Sept. 19-21, 2008, against the Boston Red Sox.”

EARLY TV RATINGS

Maybe fewer fans are showing up at the stadium (I would bet that, in the end, Selig’s prediction of an attendance increase this season will prove accurate) because of the “in stadium” experience or the price of gas or the state of the economy or HD TV or social media or some combination of all those factors but early local TV ratings for MLB are very strong. The Sports Media Watch blog reported that, “Several Major League Baseball teams earned strong numbers locally during the first week of the season.” SMW notes that the Orioles, Royals, Cards, Phillies and Rangers all posted boffo numbers. Ed Sherman noted that the Cubs earned their highest rating on WGN in nearly a year for a Cubs game. Joel Hammond noted that Indians TV ratings were up 20% over last year for the first five games of the season. (Joel quotes a SportsTime Ohio executive as saying that that has much to do with the Cavs playoff run of last season.) Dan Steinberg reported that Nats TV ratings for the first three games of the season were up 96% over the same last year.

SELECT READ MORE FOR EARLY TICKET PRICES AND THIS WEEK'S TIDBITS

EARLY TICKET PRICES

The secondary ticket market is viewed now as the barometer of fan interest in a team. On that note, LWIB Ed Sherman noted that there are some great deals on StubHub for Cubs tickets and Groupon has discounted “rooftop” seats. No doubt taking 2 of three from the Yanks this weekend will have changed the situation, but LWIB both Bloomberg and TicketNews.com noted that the Red Sox 0-6 start resulted in a drastic drop in ticket prices for games at Fenway. You might think that injuries to Greinke, Hart, Saito and Hawkins would dampen the early season enthusiasm of Brewers fans. Not so, as Don Walker reported that secondary ticket prices for games at Miller Park are very strong.

TIDBITS

  • Bill Shaikin reported that Frank McCourt has a deal in place with Fox to extend their rights to local Dodgers TV broadcasts. According to Bill, the deal is sufficiently large to allow Frank to settle his divorce with Jamie and right the ship, so to speak. The big question is if Commissioner Selig will approve the deal and, if he doesn’t, will McCourt sue MLB. You probably already read it but if you didn’t, here it is.
  • Darren Heitner of the SportsAgent blog deconstructs the Wade Davis deal. Darren notes that the Rays deal with Davis is very similar to the one they negotiated with James Shields in 08. I will add that the Rays took a similar approach with Evan Longoria (in hindsight, a great deal for Tampa) These sorts of deals, where the not yet arb eligible player swaps security for potentially more lucrative future paydays, have been discouraged by the MLBPA, which believes that some agents are leaving “money on the table”. Liz Mullen of the SportsBusiness Journal reported on this in November 08. It doesn’t appear that the PA has had much success in influencing agents in this matter.
  • According to the recipe, a brand new ballpark combined with a brand new team equals, at a minimum, great short term success at the box office. That has not been the case for the Gwinnett Braves. Josh Leventhal reported for Baseball America that the G Braves have struggled at the gate their first two seasons. For some reason(s) the “honeymoon period” that typically comes with the new stadium and new team never materialized for the franchise. In addition, the move closer to the parent club in Atlanta (the franchise was previously in Richmond) was expected to capitalize on local interest in the Braves. Evidently that hasn’t occurred either. Josh examines what went wrong and how the G Braves are addressing it.
  • Robin Berger of TVTechnology reported on the stat based innovations that ESPN is introducing to their MLB broadcasts. (HT Fang’s Bites)
  • In 08, MiLB and MLBAM partnered to form BIRCO (Baseball Interactive Rights Co.). I’ve noted here before that some minor league clubs resented relinquishing control over their web sites to BAM. LWIB it was announced that MiLB.TV will stream EVERY Triple A game over their site this season. As much as some owners pushed back against BIRCO there is no way this would have happened without it. How popular the offering will be….I don’t pretend to know. Eric Fisher of the SportsBusiness Journal has the details.
  • In February I blogged about the big changes being introduced to NCAA baseball this season, the most notable being the change in bat technology. This season bats must meet the “BBCOR” standard. In a nutshell the “BBCOR” standard was implemented to increase pitcher safety and decrease HRs. LWIB the AP reported that, with the NCAA season half complete, the new bat standard has resulted in the expected decrease in run scoring and HRs. The average Division I team is hitting 0.47 home runs a game and scoring 5.63 runs, compared with 0.85 home runs and 6.98 runs at a comparable point last season. As reviewed here in February, some in college baseball are concerned that the decrease in offence will also result in a decrease in fan interest. That same concern is expressed in the AP piece.
  • BAM announced a multiyear, exclusive deal with ad-serving provider Auditude. Read Todd Spangler at Multichannel News.

LWIB will return May 2


Pete Toms is senior writer for the Business of Sports Network, most notably, The Biz of Baseball. He looks forward to your comments and can be contacted through The Biz of Baseball.

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