Many St. Louis Cardinals fans know their club is en route to missing the post-season for the fourth time in five years. Those who think attendance isn’t suffering as a result should pay close attention to what follows.
In a recent Post-Dispatch article, Cardinals vice president of ticket sales Joe Strohm predicted the Cardinals will draw 3,100,000 fans this season, or a decline of about 2,500 per game compared to last year.
No one outside the Cardinals organization knows the impact, if any, of the new dynamic pricing policy put into effect for 2011.
Did the higher prices exacted for popular games increase revenue for contests that would have been sold out anyway or did some fans stay home, balking at the price bumps?
Did lower prices for less popular games increase attendance at those contests, with the benefits of lucrative concessions flowing?
One has to wonder about the answers to these questions against the backdrop of an underperforming team that looked to be out of the playoff hunt before the kids returned to school.
The bottom line on the field is not particularly encouraging as the Cardinals have barely managed a winning record at Busch Stadium in 2011, currently at 35-31.
It has been an odd year for attendance across Major League Baseball. Cool, rainy weather and a week earlier start than usual combined to generate lower than expected attendance in April and widespread media concern.
As the weather warmed up, overall MLB attendance moved to a more traditional track and the public worries evaporated. In fact, as early as May 3, Commissioner Bud Selig predicted an increase in total attendance across MLB this season over last.
Rather than accept Selig’s words at face value, I looked at average attendance per game across MLB this year to date compared to 2010 and sure enough, it is currently up by the thinnest of margins – three-tenths of one percent. With September ahead, holding that year-to-year improvement may be difficult.
Yet the Cardinals actually expect to improve during the final month of the season. Strom noted future promotions that give the team confidence they can cut back their current seven percent annual decline to 6.1 percent by season’s end. Especially considering the standings, that feels overly optimistic.
Average attendance per game, Major League Baseball and St. Louis Cardinals, 2010 vs. 2011 through August 28
|MLB||Attendance||Dates||Per Game||YTY||Cardinals||Attendance||Dates||Per Game||YTY|
|Thru 8/28/2011||60,219,329||1,996||30,170||0.3%||Thru 8/28/2011||2,500,848||66||37,892||-7.0%|
The Cardinals’ projection of 3.1 million fans would be the team’s lowest total since 2004. If the year-to-year decline remains on its current trajectory and ends up being 6.9 percent or more, it would be the team’s largest annual percentage decline in the DeWitt ownership years. (The previous worst was a 6.8 percent drop from 2000 to 2001.)
Not only will 2011 be St. Louis’ fourth consecutive year of decline, it would be the fourth year in the last five in which the Cardinals performed more poorly year-to-year than MLB in total. The only season during that time when the Cardinals’ percentage drop was smaller than MLB was 2009. Perhaps not coincidentally, that also was St. Louis’ only playoff season in the last five years.
Here are the MLB and Cardinals numbers since 2004.
Total season attendance, Major League Baseball and St. Louis Cardinals, 2004-2011 (projected)
|2011 projected||increase||2011 projected||3,100,000||-6.1%|
As a side note, I left 2005 and 2006 out of the discussions above as there were unique circumstances. The Cardinals’ bump up in 2005 – the final season for the old Busch Stadium – is understandable. Same with the dip in 2006. Some seats in the new park were not open in time for the opening dates and Busch III has a lower capacity than the prior stadium, Busch II.
Though the economy has hit many hard over the past few years, one has to suspect the continued slide in Cardinals attendance has a direct relationship to the numerous on-field disappointments since the 2006 World Championship.
What do you think is the major culprit? Vote below.