The 2017 Cleveland Indians are on target to have the franchise’s best attendance mark since 2008. For the first time since 2011, the Indians won’t be one of Major League Baseball’s three-worst teams in terms of attendance average. So, what exactly happened?
Crain’s Cleveland’s Kevin Kleps has been one of the best reporters on the topic of Cleveland Indians attendance at Progressive Field. As the 2016 Indians made their spectacular run to the World Series, he was reporting frequently on the buzz around future ticket sales. In all, it made a gigantic dent in the team’s flailing season-ticket-holder base.
In 2012, the Indians only had about 6,000 tickets sold for the entire season (also known as full-season equivalents, in some league-wide reporting requirements). That abysmal number led to five home openings where total attendance was under 10,000 and 13 where attendance was below 12,000.
With a season-ticket-holder base lower than that of many minor league franchises – just look at the Single-A Dayton Dragons, who sell out Fifth Third Field each night – the bad days were very, very bad at Progressive Field. There was no blanket to cover up the empty seats. With no solid base to lean upon, the Indians struggled mightily to get a decent crowd on most nights.
In 2017, the Indians have brought their season-ticket-holder base all the way up to the mid-12,000s. It’s been a steady climb, but one that was most precipitous around the time of last fall’s playoff stretch. That enables the cold early-season games to have a much higher floor, while also bringing about even bigger boosts for the marquee games on the calendar.
Annual attendance mirrors the ebbs and flows of the season-ticket-holder base. Back in 2008, the Indians had 15,000 buyers! That number then fell by 60 percent in a matter of just four years. Now, in the most recent five years, they’ve doubled back up to a far more reasonable number again. And lo and behold, the team’s attendance figures are their best in a decade.
You can toggle around with Indians attendance from 2003 through Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, in the interactive Tableau grid below:
From 2010-16, the Indians averaged 15,898 on non-home opener weekday games and 22,607 on non-home opener weekends. They averaged 16,312 in games through the month of May and 21,832 in June through August.
In 2017, the Indians have averaged 20,547 on non-home opener weekday games and 28,515 on non-home opener weekends. They averaged 21,210 in games through the month of May and 26,633 in June through August (with Wednesday through Sunday’s games still remaining).
It’s quite easy to see that the season-ticket-holder increase is making a sizeable dent in these averages. The Indians are no longer at the very, very bottom of the league attendance standings (heck, they’re not even at the very bottom of Ohio, with the Cincinnati Reds averaging 600 fans fewer per game this season). Franchises like Tampa Bay, Oakland and Miami (just recently sold) undoubtedly have far worse marketing situations.
One final note, from WFNY’s Michael Bode: Attendance does seem to frequently dip a bit once school resumes in late August / early September. The September/October regular season drop-off was smaller in playoff seasons (only about 1,150 in 2007, 2013 and 2016) compared to non-playoff seasons (over 3,000). But it is something to keep in mind for final attendance projections.
Past articles where I’ve talked about Northeast Ohio baseball attendance:
- Daniel McGraw, The Guardian – The Cleveland Indians have been hot all year. So why is nobody watching? [September 20, 2016]
- WFNY – Let’s talk about Cleveland Indians attendance: While We’re Waiting [August 25, 2016]
- Kevin Kleps, Crain’s Cleveland – Attendance figures tell remarkable story of Akron RubberDucks’ resurgence [September 9, 2014]
- WFNY – Why we shouldn’t be surprised by the Indians attendance [August 3, 2013]
- WFNY – The Diff: Baseball attendance in April, sellout streaks [April 17, 2013]
- WFNY – The Diff: Market saturation and Indians attendance [February 27, 2013]
Sports-related articles I’ve read over the past three weeks:
- The Fallout From Sportswriting’s Filthiest Fuck-Up [Jeff Pearlman/Deadspin]
- How SB Nation Profits Off An Army Of Exploited Workers [Laura Wagner/Deadspin]
- How Doris Burke Became The Best Damn Basketball Broadcaster There Is [Lyndsey D’Arcangelo/Deadspin]
- The Women Who Are Changing the Face of the NFL [Jenny Vrentas/The MMQB]
- As He Chases a Ted Williams Record, Joey Votto Keeps Building a Strong Hall of Fame Case [Jay Jaffe/Sports Illustrated]
- The Perfect NFL Roster [Bill Barnwell/ESPN.com]
- ‘Skunk in the outfield’: How the most epic trick play in history broke baseball [Sam Miller/ESPN.com]
- With the new movie ‘Crown Heights,’ Nnamdi Asomugha relies on everything he learned from football [Kelley L. Carter/The Undefeated]
- The Last American Baseball-Glove Maker Refuses to Die [Andrew Mayeda/Bloomberg]