Monday, September 15, 2008

When Did We Stop Caring?

Congratulations to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, International League champions.

The first two games of the Governors' Cup were played in Moosic, where attendance was around 3,000 each night. That's awful.

I do realize that attendance peaks in the summer-- when the nights are warm and the kids are out of school. Local baseball doesn't do well in the spring and the fall. Still, 3,000 for championship series baseball games is embarrassing.

Now, there's talk of building a new stadium for the local AAA team. Lackawanna County Stadium (I dislike using the corporate name) is 19 years old, and it clearly has some problems. I honestly don't know if the stadium is shot, so let's look at the new stadium as a concept, not a necessity.

Yankees attendance this year failed to crack the 500,000 mark. Local attendance is at the lower end of the middle of the International League pack. Please remember that the attendance numbers reflect tickets told, not the actual number of people who came through the turnstiles. Real attendance is lower than the numbers released to the public. The new Yankees affiliation was good for an attendance bounce lasting exactly one year. One.

A new stadium will likely produce a similar bounce, hopefully lasting longer than one year. The trend is to build smaller ballparks, with more luxury boxes and amenities. Tickets will cost more. Guaranteed.

Allentown's new stadium has around 8,000 seats. Another 2,000 can fit beyond the outfield and in party decks. The new stadium that opens in Columbus, OH in the spring has only 7,600 "fixed" seats. The Richmond Braves will re-locate to Gwinnett County, GA in the spring. The new stadium there seats just over 10,000.

A new affiliation and a new stadium are only window dressing. You have to look at the core issue. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is the smallest metropolitan area in the International League. Can this area support AAA baseball? Do we want to support AAA baseball? If you look at the attendance and interest in the team, there's significant evidence to indicate the answer is "no."