Amid recession, baseball tries to entice fans
Wake up and batter up. For the moment, it seems, the Tampa Bay Rays are defying the crushing economy's impact on attendance at spring training games. (Photo of Ray's Elliot Johnson in last Friday's game by Brian Cassella of the St. Petersburg Times.)
Major League Baseball clubs, concerned by a 12 percent drop in spring-training attendance in Florida and Arizona, already are trying to find ways to avert a similar downturn in the regular season, says USA Today. But the same story also breaks down the winners and losers in spring training attendance.
Rays fans will like this look at attendance for the first 11 days of spring training:
* Tampa Bay Rays, up 67 percent.
* Los Angeles Dodgers, up 53 percent.
* Colorado Rockies, up 25 percent.
And then there are the teams that are taking big hits:
* Los Angeles Angels, down 46 percent.
* Detroit Tigers, down 41 percent.
* Seattle Mariners, down 34 percent.
The start of the 2009 baseball season, specifically spring training, is the first fresh measure of how pro sports will measure the response of dollar-strapped fans in this nasty recession. So far, things look good the for Rays -- riding the 2008 historic worst-to-first trip to the World Series -- but overall the message is for tough times. According to USA Today, some teams are preparing to offer deals and boost friendly service. The Los Angeles Angels are putting their people through a customer-service seminar. The Baltimore Orioles, playing off the Walt Disney idea, will offer free tickets to fans celebrating their birthdays that month. The Toronto Blue Jays are offering a $95 pass for 81 home games -- that's $1.17 a game! -- in their upper deck.
Fortune magazine notes that the Arizona Diamondbacks, worried about losing the lower- and middle-income fan, now sell upper-deck tickets for as little as $5. The team's also instituted "kids' pricing" for concessions -- $1.50 for a hot dog or popcorn or milk -- and fans can buy caps for $7 and T-shirts for $8, about a third of what some other teams charge.
As for the Rays, they will bask for awhile in the spotlight of a trip to the World Series. But as a recent NPR report suggests, it won't last if the team is not sharp. So far, the Rays marketing message is focused on building season ticket holders. Check out one of the Rays' ticket offers here, nine games for the price of eight (9=8, get it?).
Here's my favorite. The Minnesota Twins, playing their final games in the Metrodome, are pricing select tickets on Monday games the close of the Dow Jones industrial average. If the Dow closes in the 7000s, the $21 tickets will cost $7. The Dow is in the 6,000s now so, the tickets would be $6 and some say we may be headed for the 5,000's. You get the idea. It's called Market Monday.
Just remember, no matter how low the Dow may go, there's no crying in baseball.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist