To be perfectly frank and honest, this could be a very short entry because I read last year’s version and the wish list is exactly the same. Attendance was up 3,358 from last season’s all-time low, but we filled three more dates (65 openings vs. 62) so the average attendance per opening declined by 102 patrons, or 3 percent. Out of the last ten years (where records are handily accessible) the average is the third-lowest.
It’s interesting to me that the team’s support has deviated so little over the last decade despite the poor economy we’ve been saddled with, arguably since around 2007. From 2009 to 2011 the average plummeted 14%, but that’s the extent of the difference as the Shorebirds have averaged no fewer than 3,072 per game nor any more than 3,576 per contest in that span of a decade. Over the course of a year that translates to about 35,000 extra fans but we’re always at the mercy of the elements – I’m sure Shorebirds GM Chris Bitters prays for the stormy weather to hit here during roadtrips, or at the very worst on a Thursday night when maybe 1,500 are rattling around the stadium.
Instead, what happened this year was that storms seemed to hit on the nights fireworks or other events were scheduled – witness the August weekend where two games were lost due to wet grounds. If I recall correctly, the first was Faith and Family Night (always a packed house) and the other day was the Float for the Fund date where local celebrities scoop root beer floats for the Shorebirds’ charity. Both had to be rescheduled, and that’s a hassle. It’s why we had Sunday evening fireworks on Labor Day weekend.
As it turned out, many of the games I attended were at the tail end of the schedule and I just got the sense that a lot of people around the place were relieved the season was almost over. On the other hand, I wish we had back the old Maryland Fall League (which existed for one year, 1998) and its Delmarva Rockfish.
But since I have no new complaints, I want to bring up a couple points.
Consider, for example, that the Shorebirds will be celebrating their twentieth season next year. Although they’re not the oldest franchise in the South Atlantic League (eight of the other thirteen are longer-established), Perdue Stadium is roughly in the middle of its expected lifespan in this day and age. Seventeen of the thirty major league parks were opened in 1996 or later, with one of those (in Atlanta) already slated for replacement in the next few years.
A new stadium is not in the cards anytime soon for us, and the prospect of a downtown stadium like many other cities have doesn’t seem to fit Salisbury. But there should be some thought given to long-range planning for a new facility, perhaps in the same location. Once there were plans to replace the Civic Center with a new building next door to Perdue Stadium so it could share parking and I think that’s a superb idea. Many communities have adopted the idea of having sports facilities share those same common resources – Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Detroit are just a few examples where NFL teams exist close by their MLB counterparts. It may be a problem once or twice a season, but generally the arrangement works well. Similarly, my birthplace of Toledo did the same with its Huntington Center – home of the Walleye hockey team – which is just a block from Fifth Third Field and the Mud Hens. Between the two, there’s only one “dead” month – the Mud Hens play from April-September while the Walleye play from October-April.
I understand that the focus of Salisbury city leaders is the revitalization of downtown, but there’s potential for another entertainment district on the outskirts of town. As part of extending water lines to the area just down Hobbs Road from the stadium, parcels of land along Hobbs were annexed to the city a few years ago – so development would be a shot in the arm for our town.
The to-do list I’ve had for Perdue Stadium and the Shorebirds’ operations is one thing, but it wouldn’t hurt attendance to make the area around Perdue Stadium more than just a one-stop destination. The concessionaires of Ovations may lose a portion of their sales in the short run, but that could be made up if we get back to the days of 250 or even 300 thousand making it out to see the Shorebirds. We’ve done well to keep a team 20 years, but there are always greener pastures beckoning. Let’s work to keep the Shorebirds here for generations to come.