Cleveland’s Glory Days Are Over, But That’s To Be Expected

Looks like people are concerned about the declining attendance of Cleveland Indians games this year.

Just for fun, let’s rewind even further, to another weekday night game in April at Jacobs/Progressive Field. This one on April 23, 1996. The game-time temperature that night was 38 degrees, with a 20 mph wind, which computes to a wind chill factor of 17 degrees. According to the official box score, that game started in a drizzle.

Oh yeah, and there was one other factor that night. The Indians’ won-loss record: 12-6.

The attendance that night: 40,770.

Hmmmmm …

Now we have tonight’s game. A weekday night game in April. The Indians will go into the game with a record of 2-5.

In other words, plenty of good sections are still available.

All of which does not bode well for Cleveland’s American League Baseball Club. You know, the one that is so dependent on ticket sales in order to bolster the talent level.

As the Indians embark on their first homestand of the season, and moving forward through this season as a whole, what we have here is a perfect storm for attendance infamy. You have a bad team off to a bad start coming off a bad season, playing in frequently bad early season weather, in a bad economy.

The fears became reality Wednesday night when Progressive Field drew its smallest crowd in history of 10,071. The graph below shows the trend of Cleveland’s attendance and winning since 1996.

Attendance Graph

There is a strong association between winning, attendance, and revenue; however even when the Indians were winning a few years ago, they weren’t drawing crowds consistent with those in the 1990s. That attendance has not hit the levels it had in the 1990s does not surprise me. The late-90s Indians had the perfect storm of a good team and a new stadium—the latter quality is key. Economists have identified that new sports stadiums typically experience a “honeymoon effect,” which lasts between 6 to 10 years. During the honeymoon phase, fans go to the park for the park, not to see the team. That’s something that the Indians aren’t going to get back.

Looking at the recent past, when the Indians have been good fans have responded. In 2005, when the Indians won 93 games, attendance increased by 11% over the previous year. In 2007, when the team won 96 games, attendance increased by 14%. It’s also interesting to note that after these good season, attendance doesn’t drop off as much as the teamed gained from improving. But if you don’t stay good you can loose fans. In 2009—two years removed from the their AL Central title—attendance was down 19% when they won 68 games.

While low attendance isn’t a good thing, I don’t think the club should be disappointed because it’s attendance isn’t what it once was. The Indians shouldn’t expect numbers comparable to the 1990s, even in winning times, because those numbers were influenced by the honeymoon effect, which can’t be improved without a new stadium. But please, don’t even think about it.

7 Responses “Cleveland’s Glory Days Are Over, But That’s To Be Expected”

  1. Dan says:

    Do you think other sports have an impact? The Browns didn’t exist in the late ’90s, and the Cavs were a joke. Now that Cleveland is in love with LeBron and the Browns are back, does that eat into the Indians’ attendance as well? Is there any way to quantify that?

  2. Cyril Morong says:

    Does the economy matter? What is the unemployment rate around Cleveland? Maybe incomes are down. Maybe there is some kind of interaction effect between losing and the economy.

  3. David says:

    Look at Pittsburgh and DC, though. The Pirates Saw a nice spike in attendance with their new stadium up to 2.4 million in 2001, but they haven’t topped 2 million attendees since, and even then, they never topped 11th in attendance in the NL in PNC park.

    The Nationals got as high as 8th in the NL in attendance in 2005, when they started hot and ended the season with a .500 record. As they continue to get worse, the new stadium can barely help – aside from 2008, the first year of Nationals Park, they actually had more attendance at RFK, though it is much more expensive without those $5 outfield seats and with little parking available near the stadium.

  4. Alain says:

    The Jays were also able to reach their all time low the other night in the Rogers Centre. The honeymoon effect has long since passed, as have the glory days. I’m just curious, how low can we go?

  5. Marc Schneider says:


    Great job on the show. People are so ignorant about the actual effects of the stadiums. We are still waiting in DC for the “revitalization” of the area around the new Nats park. I suspect we will be waiting a long time.

    What about the Braves’ attendence? My understanding is that it is difficult to get to Turner Field due to lack of public transit and so on. For a while after the Braves started winning, they were selling out at the old stadium, but now it seems unlikely that, even with a good team, they will ever reach 3 million again.

  6. JC says:

    Thanks Marc,

    Turner Field is difficult to get to (What isn’t difficult to get to in Atlanta? 😉 ) I don’t think public transit is much of an issue. Both Phillips Arena and the GA Dome have Metro stops, but have trouble attracting fans even with winning teams. Turner Field’s honeymoon phase is over, just as it is for Camden Yards and the SkyDome.

  7. Marc Schneider says:

    Do you think there is some kind of “natural limit” on attendence based on demographics or some such? Obviously, population and economics is a factor, but Atlanta has a relatively good economy (at least compared to places like Cleveland) yet none of the teams seem to draw all that well, even when winning. I do recall that Atlanta is very spread out so that the suburban population is pretty far away from the arenas. Are some cities simply “better sports towns” for whatever reason. Have there been any scholarly studies of this?