Two nights ago the Phillies won their 71st game of the season. According to Fangraphs.com, the Phillies will go 5-6 in the team’s last eleven games of the season, ending the season with a mark of 76-86. The Phillies beat the lowly Marlins, a team that will end up with the worst record in the National League. Very little of note happened during the game, aside from former Phillies outfielder Juan Pierre, who collected his 2,215th hit of his career, tying none other than Yankee’s great Joe DiMaggio.
As she does during each Phillies game, Phillies beat writer Mandy Housenick reported the attendance at Citizens Bank Park.
28,872 fans paid to come to CBP. Second fewest of the season.
— Mandy Housenick (@inthephilshouse) September 18, 2013
It doesn’t surprise anyone that attendance at Phillies games this season has dropped in comparison to recent years. Nothing brings fans to the ballpark more than winning, and with the Phillies lacking in the winning department, a natural dip in fans attending games at CBP follows suit. When it comes to the game of baseball the goal is to win, but in terms of the business end, victories come from consistently attracting fans to the ballpark.
When comparing the paid attendance of last night’s game to recent seasons, or even earlier in the season, nearly 30,000 fans seems like a gaunt number, but when considering the state of the present Phillies club, it actually seems quite impressive. That number becomes even more stunning when considering that this came on a chilly Tuesday night against the second worst team in baseball. Fortunately for the Phillies, despite their incessant losing, the team sports some big names, a great ballpark, and now more than ever, more affordable seats.
Overall this season, the Phillies have done well for a franchise that currently sits below the .500 mark, let alone far from the rapidly unfolding playoff picture. According to ESPN’s attendance figures for Major League Baseball, only one team with a losing record has performed better than the Phillies in average attendance. The San Francisco Giants, the aforementioned “other team” won the most recent World Series, and thus continue to draw fans, most of whom bought their tickets in March thinking the Giants would be playing more meaningful baseball in September. The Giants appear 2nd on the attendance list, drawing more than 41,000 fans to the ballpark on average. Given that Giants fans continue to bask in the afterglow of a World Series win, the attendance numbers at AT&T Park surprise no one.
The Phillies have now missed the playoffs for the second straight season, and haven’t been in the World Series, let alone won it, since 2009. Still, the Phillies, partially due to the names on the roster, continue to draw substantial crowds to the ballpark, once again proving that reputation matters. In the 1990′s the Phillies garnered a reputation, especially after the 1993 season, as a mediocre team at best, and with Veterans Stadium withering away, their stadium and attendance figures followed the same pattern. With the organizations success over the last decade, combined with a modern and comparatively awesome ballpark, the team still attracts lots of fans on a nightly basis.
According to those ESPN figures, the Phillies rank 7th out of 30 MLB teams in average home attendance this season. While they may not reach the 3,000,000 fan mark in 2013, this mark should invoke some pride. Nonetheless, the Phillies higher-ups should see this season and next season as a crucial time at which many fans will decide whether to continue the devotion they have shown over the last eight seasons, or to back away, waiting to see if the team can win before reopening their wallets to spend time and money at the ballpark. Right now, the loyalty remains, but with more time, more losses, and more disappointment, that loyalty won’t just quickly diminish, it will vanish.
When examining the worst six teams in attendance this season, you can see that only two of those six currently have losing
records. The Marlins and Astros, the two worst teams in baseball draw very few fans, but winning teams like the A’s, Rays, Royals, and Indians continue to attract meager crowds even though it is possible that three of those four teams could wind up in the postseason. The Rays and A’s have had issues drawing fans despite numerous recent winning seasons, but the Indians and Royals fail to attain lofty attendance numbers because the respective fan bases continue to lack confidence in their squads due to the many years of losing and disappointment that riddle both clubs’ histories.
At this point it seems very unlikely that the Phillies would join the ranks of the Indians and the Royals. The Phillies continue to spend large sums of money on their payroll, and have the ability to remain at least relevant enough to retain the critical mass of fans built up during the winning years. Still, this isn’t the story of Joseph in Egypt, we cannot store extra grain in the good years to satisfy us in the lean ones. Baseball, like so many other aspects of life, is a “what have you done for me lately?” business, and lately the Phillies have been an exciting winning baseball franchise.
The 9th and 13th team on the 2013 attendance list are the Red Sox and the Braves. One team plays in a historic ballpark with a small seating capacity, and the other currently has the best record in baseball. Both teams have winning records, name-recognizable players, and great chances of playing in the postseason. Still, the Phillies brought in more fans than either the Red Sox or the Braves, which underscores the point that the Phillies need to see last night’s attendance figure as a sign that the fans haven’t given up, but they should also not be taken for granted.
2014 could prove as the breaking point for the Phillies. For a team with few big-named prospects and little depth in the minor leagues, this offseason could mean the difference between holding steady in the top ten in attendance moving forward and falling towards the middle of the pack to join the likes of the Blue Jays and the Reds. The Phillies have everything they need to continue to draw huge crowds except for a winning formula. I’m proud of the nearly 30,000 fans that came out to watch Doc Halladay toss six innings against the Marlins, but with that pride comes apprehension at the possibility of impending change.