I almost don’t feel qualified to do this anymore because I attended so few games this season, for various reasons. But the problem the Shorebirds had was that fewer people in general made it out – their attendance for the campaign was a franchise-low 206,772.
But before you panic about our team going the way of the Hagerstown Suns – who are apparently thisclose to a deal to relocate to Fredericksburg, Virginia for the 2015 season – bear in mind that the main reason for the decline was a league-low 62 openings. This summer’s rainy weather seemed to time itself to the middle of a weekend homestand, so attendance looks worse than it was – in fact, the 3.335 per-game average was slightly higher than last year’s 3,303. But with 70 openings last year, the team drew over 230,000. This year’s average was the best since 2009, despite yet another poor on-field product mostly bereft of top Oriole prospects.
Still, there is the question about just how some of these dates were lost. It seemed that a few of these rainouts came as a result of storms which had passed through hours before but had rendered the field unplayable. I’m not sure just what the answer is, but perhaps there needs to be a thorough examination of the field composition and drainage system, since I believe most fields are now designed to take several inches of rain before conditions become unplayable. Ours seems to be toast after about 15 drops.
The other physical issue which should be addressed as soon as possible is the information section under the scoreboard, which did not work at all this year. Normally you would at least have the batter’s name and position in there, and in years past they even included the stat line as of the start of the game – that way you could heckle Joe Schmoe of the opposition if he came in hitting a buck-fifty. But now, nothing – just a blank space under the scoreboard.
Aside from that, though, the stadium seemed to be holding up well after 17 years and about 5 million or so fans. Moreover, the trend toward improvement in the culinary department accelerated this year with some tasty new offerings. No, I didn’t try the giant pretzel but I have to admit the “tater dog” was pretty good. I might have to try and grill my own this winter. Even better, they more or less held the line on prices.
While a lot of my comments from 2012 are still to be addressed, I have to say the staff at the ballpark is still top-notch.
So I guess my question going forward isn’t one of the product, but the prospects for support and growth.
Over the last few years I’ve noticed a trend – and it may be one which exists throughout minor league baseball – where certain promotions have replaced others. Mind you, I’m not the biggest fan of the Zooperstars, Reggy, and other such entertainers, but it seems like the Shorebirds used to have something along that line about a half-dozen times a season and now it might be one or two. Instead, they now rely on fireworks (14 dates scheduled this past season) and giveaways (15 dates.) These mainly fell on Thursday through Saturday nights, with the Shorebirds having reduced price ticket deals of some variety from Sunday-Tuesday and Silver Slugger nights on Wednesdays – a ticket package for seniors 55 and over. (Can we make it 50 for next year?)
Obviously the key driver of that change is money – these acts don’t work cheap, and what happens if you have a rainout or threatening weather? With a giveaway you can always put the items back in the storage closet, so I think that’s a trend here to stay. The entertainment will be pretty much of an in-house variety, so they need a couple new wrinkles. Maybe some different sponsors will have new ideas so they can retire the bikes and the tug-of-war rope. (How about our own version of “win it in a minute?”) And when does Sherman get some new threads?
When the topic of the Shorebirds comes up, I often hear people say that they don’t go as much as they used to. Now that could be in comparison to 15 years ago when the team drew over 300,000 annually, but I suspect that the meaning is that of just the last couple years. And it may be the same for season ticket holders – sure, most of the corporate ones renew year after year, but I’m betting there are more and more who go from the full-season to half-season, or from the half-season to 22-game plans. For many people, it gets to a point where you can’t even give away tickets. (Yet they do by the thousands as part of “Hit the Books”; to be more specific a sponsor buys them, probably at a reduced rate.)
Sadly, the charitable endeavors the Shorebirds participate in are taking care of the people who used to be their casual, one or two game per year fans, but can no longer afford even the general admission tickets because the electric bill is overdue or someone was laid off. As the economy continues to struggle both locally and nationally it’s going to be a challenge for the Shorebirds to keep their attendance above 200,000 a season. I’ll certainly try and do my part because I am, above all, a baseball fan who truthfully enjoys the Tuesday nights with 400 people in the stands more than the fireworks nights where 5,000 people who could care less about the game itself show up. (Maybe I’d be at home in Hagerstown?) But then again that 5,000 makes the cash registers jingle and keeps Seventh Inning Stretch LLC happy.
Honestly, I’m hoping it gets better both on and off the field. We need something locally to get excited about again, and I think a playoff team in 2014 would do the trick. Based on the schedule for next year, we will again have September baseball at Perdue Stadium. But think of how it would be to continue playing after the regular season ends on Labor Day.
That would be the ultimate pick.