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Cardinals attendance lagging behind MLB again

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%
2010 73,061,763 2,430 30,067 2010 3,301,218 81 40,756

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)

MLB Attendance YTY
Cardinals Attendance YTY
2011 projected increase 2011 projected 3,100,000 -6.1%
2010 73,061,763 -0.5% 2010 3,301,218 -1.3%
2009 73,418,479 -6.6% 2009 3,343,252 -2.6%
2008 78,588,004 -1.2% 2008 3,432,917 -3.4%
2007 79,503,175 4.6% 2007 3,552,180 4.3%
2006 76,042,787 1.5% 2006 3,407,114 -3.7% Busch III
2005 74,926,174 2.6% 2005 3,538,948 16.1% Busch II
2004 73,022,969 2004 3,048,427

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.

What is the biggest factor in St. Louis' continued attendance decline?

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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41 Responses to “Cardinals attendance lagging behind MLB again”

  1. CariocaCardinal says:

    Not as concerned as to why as to what will be the result.

    Team realizes even with Pujols attendance can lag so no need to push to re-sign him?

    Team panics and overpays for Pujols in a desperate attempt to keep attendance from sliding further?

    Team uses lagging attendance as a reason for cutting payroll?

    Team thinks even with .500 record we will draw 3 million so we just need to spend enough to be mediocre?

    Several other possible scenarios as well.

    Maybe there needs to be a part 2 with another poll on this!

    • Brian Walton says:

      Darn you, CC. Reading my mind again… 😉

      • Brian Walton says:

        I see five primary scenarios. To keep it simple, I focus on Pujols while assuming Berkman would be tied to Albert and Carp’s option would be renegotiated down. What other options should I include in the poll?

        Overpay to keep Pujols, fill in with proven major leaguers while considerably increasing current payroll.

        Keep Pujols at a reasonable price, fill in with proven major leaguers while slightly increasing current payroll.

        Overpay to keep Pujols, fill in with minor leaguers and lower-cost veterans while slightly increasing current payroll.

        Don’t re-sign Pujols, fill in with other proven major leaguers and slightly increase current payroll.

        Don’t re-sign Pujols, fill in with minor leaguers and lower-cost veterans and reduce payroll.

    • Nutlaw says:

      Well, they clearly need to start winning again with some regularity in order to hold the interest of the fans.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        We won the World Series in 2006, and went down 3.7 percent. We won the division in 2009, and went down 2.6 percent. The actual data would suggest Cards fans are less enthused when the team wins. But this seems unlikely, so there are probably better explanations than fans stay away when the team wins.

        There are only a few years of data above. Its easy for a few years to be influenced by two factors. The big surge associated with the new stadium in 2005 that provided a peak from which to decline. And the Great Recession that started to bite during 2008.

        The Cards could have the best record in the division since 2005. They have not suffered the woes of the Astros or Cubs or Pirates, but been steadier across the years, thanks to studs like Pujols and Carpenter.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Jumbo, did you read the article? I clearly explained why 2006 attendance compared to 2005 was not an apples-to-apples situation. 2005 to 2006 was NOT included when analyzing the last five years.

          If you really want to get into the data, the likely reason for the 2007 increase was that it was the first year the new stadium had all seating available from the start of the season. Just as was at least part of the 2005 increase attributable to the final year of Busch II.

          Regarding the “Great Recession,” do you have any evidence that the Midwest was hit harder than the rest of the country? Why is the Cardinals’ attendance down 7% this year, while MLB is slightly up?

          Further, I thought I made it clear that the 2011 decline (based on the current trajectory) would be the greatest YTY percentage drop since DeWitt took over. The Cardinals’ rosy September outlook would make this the second-worst percentage decline under this ownership group. That is NOT “only a few years.”

          • JumboShrimp says:

            In 2004, the Cards had a great team and won the NL crown. In that year of great achievement, the Cards drew LESS than projected for 2011.
            Back in 2004, the economy was much better than 2008-2011. Its great testimony to our wonderful fans that we are on pace to outdraw the NL champs of 2004!

  2. easton714 says:

    Personally, I think that a long period of success has led unrealistic expectations for many of the younger (read: my) generation. People don’t seem to realize that you regularly lose games in baseball, regardless of how good you are and that a losing streak does not mean a lack of effort.

    Well, that and the organization insisting that bad players are good and betting the season on them. That doesn’t help either.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I don’t know, easton. There are certainly fan outliers with out of touch expectations, especially game to game and week to week. But looking at the bottom line, with Pujols and Carpenter in the prime years of their careers and a perpetually weak NL Central, it is unrealistic to expect more than one playoff berth every five years?

      Heck, as screwed up as the Cubs are, they have more playoff appearances in the last five years than do the Cardinals. So will Milwaukee assuming they don’t blow it in the next month.

      • easton714 says:

        I get what you are saying but I guess I don’t see it as a “commitment” (read: payroll) issue and that is where this conversation always goes for me.

        I just think we’ve made some really questionable personnel moves in the last, really, two years but yet we have still been a “contender”. The players still have to play.

        We did lose Wainwright and replace him with a subpar McClellan and the Brewers are on a tear. I am not sure there is anything we could have done as we approached the deadline this year to fix things – and I certainly despise the move we did make.

        But I have no idea who to blame for the bad moves and poor team construction. ALL signs point to Tony (rather than Mo) but I wonder if it is really that simple. It seems too easy. Obviously I can blame Tony for how he uses the roster given to him but who is to blame for the roster given to him?

        And this begs the question…

        Is Mo complicit or just doing what he has to do to keep Tony happy.

        And why is that a mandate of Mo? Or is it? Is DeWitt insisting that Mo keep Tony happy?

        Lots of questions – but they seem different than simply missing the playoffs a few times.

        I want a new regime, personally. If we don’t get one, I see no reason to expect things to improve.

        I do think there are a lot of people with unrealistic expectations, though.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Good points. A lot of variables.

          For me, personally, it is the bottom line. Making the playoffs is a good season. Missing is not a good season. Too many things can happen in the post-season to hang everything on that. But that is just me. Others certainly see it differently.

          • easton714 says:

            I guess I don’t see it that way. Different strokes.

            I am not going to give a pitcher kudos for going 15-7 if he pitched considerably worse than that and, vice-versa, I will not look down upon one who went 9-11 but pitched better than that.

            Although, now that I wrote that, I don’t think that says exactly what I want it to say. I am not saying we have won signficantly fewer games than we should have based on actual performances. I am saying we won fewer games than we should have if we had not made inexplicably bad personnel decisions.

            Regardless, my personal line of success/failure is muddier than that.

            One thing is for sure, this team has gotten a little painful to watch (and not just because of the broadcasters). I have, once recently, intentionally skipped an entire game just because Theriot was playing shortstop again….and I just didn’t think I could stomach it.

            • easton714 says:

              But, with all this said, I think we are a very fine line from being the team I think we need to get back on track – and I don’t think it would be particularly expensive to do so. We just need a manager who will let our GM do his job.

              We need to nontender Theriot, Schumaker, and McClellan. We don’t need any bullpen arms (I would be easily content to break camp with one lefty and no McClellan) unless a LOOGY opportunity presented itself.

              We need a shortstop, a centerfielder, and either Pujols or Berkman.

              I also think we’d be better, on several levels, if we could eat whatever it took to move Lohse and install Lynn.

              I don’t think that scenario is all that complicated…or expensive (sans Pujols but that is to be expected).

              • Nutlaw says:

                Easton, I’m entirely with you when you indicate that the team’s decision to sacrifice its middle infield defense despite carrying a groundball staff was a losing strategy from start.

                I’m not sure that I agree with your analysis of the players at fault, however. Theriot has been a waste offensively and defensively, clearly. Schumaker is batting .300 again, however. Does he not fit on the team in a reserve 2B/OF role? Who would take his place?

                McClellan has a 3.94 ERA on the year (2.70 as a reliever) and isn’t making much money. Lohse has a 3.72 ERA in 2011. Who would replace their production within the system? If Lynn joined the rotation, who would fill his bullpen role?

                • easton714 says:

                  I do not care about batting averages or ERAs.

                  Skip does not fit on any team for the price he will command in arbitration. He shouldn’t have even been on the team this year. His two-year contract was a mistake from the beginning. he is the type of player you keep around when he costs the league minimum but not when he reaches arbitration. What good is any player, regardless of batting average, who is not a competent defender anywhere the bat plays? He is tolerable defensively in the corner outfield but he doesn’t have the bat to play there. Shouldn’t a utility man be at least competent defensively? He wouldn’t have to be replaced by one player. Descalso and Jay replace him just fine.

                  McClellan is very similar. Competent middle reliever but his stuff is fringy in the pen and he has developed a reputation that he doesn’t deserve. He has the highest FIP/xFIP of any righty in our pen. He’s replaceable for someone who won’t cost but league minimum. This isn’t new, though. He has been like this all along. He is the type of guy you keep around. He had no business being made a starter and he was very lucky to end up with the baseball card results that he did. His peripherals teetered on the scary. He was the fireman trying to put out the fire with kerosene. This, too, was predictable. If you take an average fastball in the pen and stick it in the rotation, it loses 3-5 mph and becomes below average. If you take a solid-average (and occasionally plus) curveball in the pen and stick it in the rotation, it becomes average at best. Etc. Everything slides down. And it did.

                  We have tons of capable relievers and we don’t need to pay the worst one an arbitration salary just to keep him. That is fiscally irresponsible. Sanchez will be back soon (supposedly). Reifer will be back next year (and may have the best stuff of the whole bunch). Ottavino should be made a reliever. Kopp isn’t far behind. We have plenty.

                  • Nutlaw says:

                    Taking Skip to arbitration would probably be trouble, as he would earn more than he is worth. What if the team settled on a cheaper contract out of arbitration? That seems most likely to me. And while Descalso and Jay could take his playing time, they already have roster spots. Who replaces one of them if they replace Skip?

                    • friendmouse says:

                      Personally, I believe Skip is worth MORE than what he’d get in arbitration! I don’t understand how anyone can say that would tend to allow the player to be overpaid. Then arbitration is worthless. Very confusing to me. I thought that if player and club cannot agree on player’s salary, then the unbiased arbitrator decides what is most worthy. I suppose if one has a bias against a player, then pretty much whatever the salary, it’s too much? And I suppose the team can settle on a cheaper contract out of arbitration, but ONLY if the player agrees, correct? Just askin’.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      fm, arb-eligible players are non-tendered every year. The only reason is the clubs’ fear that the player could make more via arb than they believes he is worth. There is a potential cost in uncertainty.

                      For example, the Angels cut David Eckstein loose that way in 2004. The Cardinals then picked him up as a free agent.

              • Nutlaw says:

                Also, where do the new SS and CF come from? If Pujols is re-signed, that basically swallows up the savings from losing Berkman.

                • easton714 says:

                  I would like to see what Adron Chambers and Tyler Greene can do for the remainder but I don’t have the answer to that. I have no idea who is available in terms of trade. The free agent route is unimpressive but Coco Crisp would be better than Jay in pretty much all phases.

                  If Punto proves healthy, he is worth re-signing for cheap depth.

                  We don’t need much to be better than what we currently have in center and at short. And that is my point. Improving defensively should be priority number one. It was irresponsible to try to field a team of sinkerballers with below average defenders up the middle.

                • easton714 says:

                  There is no need for us to overvalue marginal players and undervalue others who may be more valuable.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            I side with Easton. I do not agree that anything less than first place is failure. That is way too negative an outlook and disrespects the great players we have enjoyed.
            If Pujols leaves, Cards fans and reporters will get to learn what it is like to root for the Astros, Pirates, or Cubs, who have many a poor season.

            • Brian Walton says:

              Jumbo, I suggested making the playoffs is a good season. There is also the wild card, so first place is not a requirement. Winning enough games is.

              I find it amazingly disrespectful to the other 24 players, the front office and ownership to assume a 2012 Cardinals team without Pujols would immediately become the Astros or Cubs. That is ridiculous even from you.

              • JumboShrimp says:

                There is no immutable law the Cards have to finish in 2nd or 3rd place every year. If we lose the finest player since Musial in his heyday, it will be felt. This is a good reason to be grateful for services rendered and to appreciate great players when we have them.

        • crdswmn says:

          I don’t have a lot of credibility on the Tony issue with some people because of my hard line stance on him, and I understand why. I can be a bulldog on an issue when I am passionate about it and I do have a tendency to go over the top with it. This is one of my shortcomings and I am fully aware of it. That said, while I do not put the entirety of the blame on Tony (no one person can be to blame for everything) I believe he is more to blame that many think he is. A team that consistently fails at the end of the season even with different personnel has to be influenced by some additional factor besides the talent level of the players and that factor has to be Tony. One has to question then whether that team could perform better with a different manager and I have to say that they can. Whether the next manager after Tony would be that manager is an open question, but we will never know the answer until it is tried. As Albert Einstein said, continuing to to do the same thing over and over expecting a different result is insanity and that seems to me to be what the organization is doing by keeping Tony year after year.

  3. CardinalFan4Ever says:


    Long time reader, but my first post (bare with me as I ramble a bit hehe)

    I reside in Springfield IL, and we have a bunch of Cardinal fans up here. I would have to agree with crdswmn that TLR is mostly to blame, but with a slight twist to it.

    The Cardinals (from what i understand at least), rely heavily on out of town attendance (moreso than the Cubs, Yankees, etc, big market teams of course) since they are a mid-market team. Now being in Springfield, many times my buddies and I have drove the 90+ miles each way to see a game and it didn’t mater if it was a weeknight or weekend game. We quit doing this for one main reason, the lineup. Why would we want to drive 180 miles round trip to see a AAA team out there on getaway day, or drive that far to see TLR have one of his brain melts and play some weird lineup, and sit the guys we paid good money to see. Sounds petty I know, but this really does factor in to people from a bit farther away actually goes to see the game. I am not saying to make a suttle change here or there once in a while in the lineup, but with TLR it is a total crapshoot. When they were winning, they always had the MV3 in there most of the time, and at the very least we would see 2/3 of that trio, but it seems TLR is getting worse and worse at trying to force some anemic lineup out to the field that any one of us sitting here knows wont win. It almost seems like he wants to team to fail.

    I don’t want to sound petty or dumb, and I am about as big a Card fan as you can get, but taking the extra time and money is not worth it (and will get much worse if they do in fact let AP walk).

    • Brian Walton says:

      Welcome, CF4E. I am glad you chose to comment and hope you continue.

      Your points are good ones and especially because of those who feel like you and your friends, it makes me wonder how they are going to improve attendance in September.

  4. Brian Walton says:

    Tuesday lineup: Jay CF, Berkman RF, Pujols 1B, Holliday LF, Freese 3B, Schumaker 2B, Furcal SS, Molina C, Jackson P.

  5. Brian Walton says:

    For those interested in the Cardinals’ AFL contingent, here is my article on the subject.

  6. T8Ball says:

    I understand Taveras being there, along with the pitchers that were chosen. I would have preferred Wong over either Jackson or Adams. Wong didn’t get nearly as many AB’s as those two. I think this may hurt Jackson, IMO. I could be wrong, probably am.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Don’t forget that Wong had already played a full college season…

      • T8Ball says:

        aye, I thought about that after my post, but if you figure in the 65-70 college games (twin bills are 7 inning games, right?) plus 30 games in QC, he’s still short on AB’s, plus overwhelmingly short on pro AB’s.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Wong had 209 ABs in 57 of Hawaii’s 59 games this spring. I bet we’ll see him in the AFL next year.

          Also remember that every team cannot send a player at every position. The five organizations that make up each AFL team have a give-and-take as far as who they assign so the roster doesn’t end up with five third basemen and no catchers, for example. Milwaukee and the Mets are sending second basemen already.

  7. blingboy says:

    Among Cardinal fans are those who know bad fundamentals, lack of hustle by some and generally ragged play when they see it often enough. Some find station to station wait for the homer offense unexciting. So for them, the entertainment value of the product on the field has been on a downslope. A winning, contending team draws other ticket buyers to offset, but an also ran doesn’t.

  8. JumboShrimp says:

    Nice win. Great game by Jackson, both pitching and hitting. Fine job by Salas to nail it down. Not easy to win in Milwaukee.

    • Nutlaw says:

      Ordinarily, I’d be disappointed with a win that involved the only two Cardinals runs having been on base in the first place due to misplayed grounders, but with everything being called a strike that didn’t reach the backstop, it seemed reasonable.

  9. Brian Walton says:

    The Business of Baseball’s projections posted today show MLB attendance slightly up, but they believe the Cards will go down to the 81st and last game in an attempt just to make 3 million.

    In other words, forget about the 3.1 number the team quoted to the P-D. It did not pass my sniff test from the start. My guess is we will see very aggressive promotions during the final month to try to get buns in seats at just about any reasonable price.

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