In most ways, 2014 marked a huge upturn in fortunes for the Memphis Redbirds baseball club.
The Triple-A operation, having dodged for a decade an immense financial burden that led to defaulted bonds and absentee ownership, a facilities manager taking over operations of AutoZone Park and even rumors of a possible move, felt that pressure relieved this spring when the St. Louis Cardinals’ purchase of the team and the City of Memphis’ ownership of the ballpark was formally completed.
On the field, the Redbirds soared, though not initially. On July 6, Memphis was eight games under .500, 6.5 games out of first place. It seemed a repeat of the last two seasons could be on the way, a period in which the club finished a discouraging total of 36 games under .500.
Instead, the 2014 team played tremendous baseball down the stretch, going 40-18 over the final two months to finish at 78-64 and win their division by 2.5 games. The Redbirds were called upon to provide a number of contributors to their parent in St. Louis in the final days, weakening the roster for the post-season.
Though Memphis fell to Omaha in the Pacific Coast League’s American Conference finals, it was a very successful season – except in one place – at the gate.
Despite every reason for local fans to get out and see Memphis’ best team since 2010, also the last season in which they made the playoffs, AZP’s turnstiles were relatively quiet.
Compared to 2013, Redbirds home attendance dropped a whopping 23 percent, from 498,000 to 381,000.
Averaging just under 5,700 per game in a park with a capacity of almost 14,400, Memphis finished ninth in the 16-team PCL in average attendance.
It was a stunning tumble, as Memphis had consistently drawn just under half a million in recent years. Back in 2005-2006, the club welcomed almost 700,000 fans both seasons, over 300,000 more than attended in 2014.
Though the pictured promotion was from 2012, not this, it is clear the new owners have their work cut out for them in terms of getting the community back to the ballpark.
With a full off-season to get ready for 2015, the challenge is clearly much greater than the product on the field alone.
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