The Indians are dead last in MLB attendance, averaging about 19,250 fans per game. Chris Perez has been griping about this all season, and while it was a lot easier to agree with him when the Tribe was in first place and well above .500 rather than sitting three games behind the White Sox as we go into the second half of the season, Perez asks a valid question: Why aren’t Indians fans coming to games? It’s not as though the team stinks. By comparison, the Chicago Cubs are averaging 37,500 per game, and they have a .388 record. They suck this year, but the fans are there. Minnesota Twins? They’re in last place in the division with a .424 record, yet they average nearly 35,000 fans per game.
One of the complaints earlier this season was that the cool spring weather was keeping people away. Well, Minneapolis/St. Paul is generally colder than Cleveland and they’ve been pulling in the fans. Then people complained that it was too hot, but we’ve had plenty of night games where the weather was just fine. While the attendance has slowly been rising (a couple weeks ago it was 18,000 per game), it’s a far cry from what comparable teams are drawing.
The three biggest costs associated with going to a game (or at least the three main areas of complaint) are Tickets, Parking, and Food.
The average cost of an MLB ticket is $26.00. The average cost of a ticket to an Indians game is just over $20. Yes, some of the tickets carry a hefty price tags, but some don’t. Short of DVRing movies at home, ticket prices for a ball game are comparable to other forms of entertainment. Bleacher seats are always 10 bucks (the cost of a movie ticket), Upper Box are $18, and Mezzanine tickets are $20. (By contrast, the least expensive seat at Browns Stadium are $15 and put you much farther away than the bleachers at Progressive Field.) So, for instance, next weekend, you could buy Upper Box or Mezzanine tickets to see Travis Hafner and the Indians, or you could buy $20 lawn seats to hear the Cleveland Orchestra play Mozart’s Haffner Symphony (No. 35) during their all-Mozart program at Blossom Music Center. If classical isn’t your speed, on Monday, July 23rd, you could see the Indians play the Orioles at Progressive Field or you could go see Dawes at The Beachland Ballroom for the same price.
The average premium ticket price at Progressive Field is a hair under $66, which is well below the MLB average of $88. That will get you a great seat behind home plate or it’ll buy you a Pavilion seat at Blossom or the Q for one of the big summer tours. (And do you really want to see Rod Stewart and Stevie Nicks thirty years past their prime?) Once in a while, you splurge for a special occasion. For instance, on our anniversary, the husband and I went to a Sunday afternoon game and sprang for lower boxes, $44 each. We could have just as easily spent $43 each to go see Vampire Weekend at the House of Blues.
You do not need to pay to park for an Indians game. Honestly, you don’t. If you must drive (instead of taking the RTA to Public Square and going through the walkway), you can generally find free parking on the street if you don’t mind walking a couple of blocks. I typically park near CSU, Playhouse Square, or on Carnegie. As an added bonus, after the game, you aren’t stuck waiting in line to get out of the parking garage. The only time I’ve paid to park for an Indians game in the last couple years was when I took my daughter and two of my nieces to a night game. For that, I plunked down $15 for the parking garage at the corner of East 9th and Prospect because that seemed preferable to walking a couple of blocks with three tired children. Sometimes you have to choose your battles.
Food and Drinks (okay, beer)
Going to a baseball game is kind of like going to the grocery store: Don’t go hungry. You’re a captive audience, so yes, food and beverages are going to cost more than they will at a restaurant or bar. I’m not cheap, but I’m thrifty. If I’m going to a movie, I would rather stop at the drugstore and buy some candy and carry it in with me than pay twice as much for the same candy at a movie theater. No one said you had to eat dinner at the ballpark. And no one said you had to sit there and drink six $10 beers during a three-hour game. (It’s like when my father used to complain because my Grandmother and I had baked cookies. He didn’t have to eat them all, certainly not all at once.) There are scads a places to grab an inexpensive bite within a block or two of Progressive Field. For instance, you can go into Huron Point Tavern (formerly Alesci’s) and get a big slice of really good pizza and a draft beer for $7. And you can bring food into Progressive Field. You can’t bring in a big cooler, but you can bring “Small single-serving juice boxes and food items.” You can’t bring food into the premium seating areas, but if you’ve springing for those seats, this probably isn’t a concern.
We all have a limited amount of disposable income and want to use our money wisely, but the cost of going to a ballgame really is the same or less than the cost of comparable entertainment.
I suspect that the larger question of why people aren’t going to ballgames has less to do with the cost than with the feeling being once bitten, twice shy (with the Indians, it’s more like 47 times bitten, 48 times shy). But that’s the subject of another post.