Where Have All the Fans Gone?

Much has been spoken and written in the local media outlets regarding the attendance at Arizona Diamondbacks games. The sports radio talking heads have been calling out fans for months for their lack of commitment that is being shown by the fans at Chase Field. Newspaper columns have likewise complained of the lukewarm reception that the Diamondbacks receive from the local fans. The Arizona Republic has gone as far as to request answers from fans as to why they are not showing up to support their team. The answers given have been enlightening and in many cases comical. The paper armed with these responses have gone back to the Diamondbacks to demand responses to these comments as if the team is somehow driving fans away from the ballpark. For the most part I have remained relatively neutral to the arguments.

On one hand I am somewhat grateful for the smaller crowds that have come to Chase Field. It has made getting into and out of the stadium much easier especially during all of the construction that is occurring around the downtown area. It is painful enough to try and find an open road that is not under construction or blocked to allow building construction when there are 20,000 fans in attendance. I don’t want to even think about what it would be like if 48,000 people regularly came to the ballpark. I usually park at the Science Center parking garage a couple of blocks from the stadium. It is a short walk down the gauntlet of street vendors trying to sell me semi-frozen bottles of water, peanuts, kettle corn, and scalper tickets. It is also adjacent to the construction of the Phoenix Civic Plaza and the light rail. As a result it takes me between 30 and 45 minutes every game to get out of the parking garage and onto the one lane road to get to a street that will take me to a freeway. If traffic were to double my wait time could quite honestly equal the time it took to play the game. Once in the stadium; having smaller crowds is sometimes advantageous especially when waiting in line to purchase food or when shopping at the team shop. I kind of like being able to go into the team shop during batting practice and picking up a program, pin, or shirt without standing in line. This is especially true in the upper deck where there are times when I am the only customer in the store. Compare that to the hour wait that I had during the Boston Red Sox series and it is easy to see why small crowds are better. When the game starts and you are finally in your seat, it’s sometimes kind of nice to have an empty seat between yourself and the person sitting next to you. It gives you a chance to get a little more comfortable and not have to fight over the cup holders. According to the newspaper responses comfort was a big thing to people being named several times by fans as to why they do not attend a game at Chase Field in person. There’s something to be said about lounging on the couch, and going to the refrigerator whenever you want a cold drink without having to walk over 10-15 people to get to an aisle.

The question I had was, are people disinterested in the Diamondbacks or are they disinterested in going to the stadium? I hypothesize that it is a lack of interest in Chase Field and not in the team itself. This morning I received a press release from Fox Sports.


Although Brandon’s Webb’s pursuit of Major League Baseball’s all-time scoreless innings streak came to an end in the first inning, Phoenix television viewers didn’t look elsewhere for something to watch last night.

As the case has been lately, the D-backs were again the hottest show on television and according to Nielsen Media Research, the Aug. 22 Arizona Diamondbacks/Milwaukee Brewers game was the most watched program for the entire day in the Phoenix market. The game registered a 6.7 rating/11 share, which means that an average of 115,575 homes in Phoenix watched the FSN Arizona cable telecast. As the D-backs were holding on to their 3-2 win during the 8:45 – 9:00 p.m. quarter hour, the rating peaked at an 8.1/12 share (139,725 households).

Ratings for the Arizona Diamondbacks on FSN Arizona in the month of August are up 30% over the team’s ratings in July. Through 11 games this month, the D-backs are averaging a 6.0/11 share.

In Phoenix, one rating point represents 17,250 households. A rating is the percentage of all television households in a market, while the share is the percentage of those television sets in use that were tuned into the game.

The D-backs return to FSN Arizona on Friday night when they host National League Central leading Chicago Cubs. The network’s coverage gets started at 6 p.m. with the Arizona Ford Diamondbacks Live pre-game show. First pitch is set for 6:40 p.m. and the Qwest Diamondbacks Live post-game show follows immediately from Chase Field.

FSN Arizona, which is celebrating its 10th year on the air, is the home of 78 Arizona Diamondbacks games this season and will become the exclusive home of the D-backs beginning in 2008. Combined with the live game telecasts, the network offers the most extensive D-backs coverage on television via the Arizona Ford Diamondbacks Live pre-game show, Qwest Diamondbacks Live post-game show, D-backs Insider and The Eric Byrnes Show, Presented by Alltel. FSN Arizona televises the most regional sports action in the state and is the exclusive cable television home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Phoenix Coyotes, Phoenix Suns, Arizona Cardinals, Arizona State University, University of Arizona, Arizona Rattlers and Phoenix Mercury. FSN Arizona is currently seen in 2.8 million households in Arizona & New Mexico and can also be seen across the country via home satellite services.

First let me congratulate Fox Sports for the outstanding work they do on their broadcasts. They make the game very enjoyable and fun to watch. I especially enjoy the banter that announcers Daron Sutton and Mark Grace get into. It feels as though you are in the stands with a couple of friends who are discussing baseball which is much more engaging than the negativity that we endured during the end of the Thom Brennaman era. This press release would tend to suggest that there is a lot of interest in Diamondbacks baseball meaning that the lack of fans in the stands is more an issue with the stadium than with the team. Team officials have publicly stated that attendance figures are ahead of last season and are beating expectations. I am not sure whether to be glad that fans are more involved than the team planned or worried that the team expected the stadium to be more than half empty on any given night. Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall and his staff have done a great job to try and get fans out to see a game and their efforts are paying slight dividends as attendance figures are getting slightly better as of late. But there are still a lot of empty seats at each game.

Comments to the newspaper articles and callers to the sports talk radio shows would have you believe that the cost of taking a family to the ballgame are the single biggest problem. I don’t think I necessarily agree with that. I can attest that it is quite affordable and an entertainment value. It has been my experience that you can take a family to a Diamondbacks game for a lot less money than it would cost to go to a movie. There are a lot of upper deck seats that can be purchased for $5 each. You can feed your family prior to going to the game to reduce costs or there are also plenty of alternatives within the ballpark that are a good value. Children’s hot dogs for example can be purchased for $1.50 or if you go to Wednesday games during the summer kids under 12 eat for free. I challenge you to find a movie theater willing to give your kid a hot dog, soda, and popcorn free when they attend an evening at the movies with their parents. Besides baseball there are other activities around the stadium to keep the kids occupied. There is Futures Field, batting cages, playground equipment, and an arcade for kids when their interest in the game waivers. The Diamondbacks allow food items to be brought into the stadium as well as water. Try taking your own popcorn and drink to a theater and see how well that goes over. It’s easy to point to cost as a detriment to attending a game but with a little preplanning that is definitely not an issue.

So if cost is not the reason, what is keeping people from attending a game in person? Other comments included changing the colors from purple to red and not resigning Luis Gonzalez. If those were valid reasons we should expect that the number of people watching the games on television should be down as well but that does not seem to be the case. I find it hard to believe that people are so unhappy with the Sedona Red decision that they are unwilling to go to Chase Field but they are not so outraged that they won’t watch the game on television. I guess it is possible that their televisions are so out of whack that the team appears to be purple at home on television but Sedona Red in person. If that is the case perhaps it is time they go to Best Buy and look at a new television. Boycotting the games as a result of not resigning a player also seems implausible given that people are willing to watch televised games but not games in person. I propose that the reason people are watching games on television but not going to Chase Field in person is a difference in the quality of the game experience. When you are at home you are provided with a much more rounded and fulfilling experience. With the introduction of high definition television the picture quality and sound quality that you receive is equivalent to actually being there in person. No longer are we confined to watching a game on a small tube television of dubious quality. Now it is possible to watch a game in widescreen 720p or 1080i resolution with surround sound. You can see so much detail that it is as if you were there in person. Adding to this experience you have the ability to see instant replay that is not shown in stadium. This is a much bigger deal that many people realize. As a society we have become accustomed to being given a lot of data and now our expectations are that we can have that information delivered to us regardless of where we are. So if you happen to be sitting in the stands and a close play occurs at first base you want to see what you missed. Unfortunately Major League baseball doesn’t agree with the general public. They don’t want the umpires questioned by the JumboTron and therefore they do not allow these plays to be shown. Television broadcasts include more than just instant replay though. There are interactive graphics showing pitch location, speed, and many other nuances of the game. When you are at the stadium you don’t have that information. It’s not that you couldn’t have it, just that the team has chosen not to provide it. Major League Baseball has installed a series of cameras at Chase Field that they use on their mlb.com gameday broadcasts to show pitch location, amount of break, type of pitch, etc. These could be provided through the JumboTron or via the interactive board signage at Chase Field. The Houston Astros have begun experimenting with this system so precedent has been set to make this available. In the case of Fox Sports and their telecast of the games, they have the interaction between Daron Sutton and Mark Grace coupled with the in-game comments and stories by Todd Walsh. These are extremely entertaining and sometimes even educational. Compare this to attending a Diamondbacks game in person where you have Mike and Vanessa your in-game hosts whose job it is to welcome you to Chase Field and then get you excited to want to stand up hoping someone will hit you with an oversized T-shirt shot from a gun. Not exactly the same level of information or entertainment although there is something to be said for the element of danger seeing someone pummeled by an errant T-shirt gone wrong.

The key to getting people into the stands is to make the in-person ballpark experience more interactive and complete than what can be accomplished by staying home. Fans will gravitate to where they feel they are getting the best experience. If that happens to be in the comfort of their living room then the Diamondbacks will continue to see good television ratings accompanied by adequate attendance figures.

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