Attendance issues for Reds
By Kyle Nagel
Saturday, June 14, 2008
CINCINNATI — The gates opened earlier than usual, as the first of 38,855 spectators entered Great American Ball Park near 5 p.m. Robert Jungy and 8-year-old son Anthony of Hamilton were two of the first to line the wall, near the Cincinnati Reds dugout.
Across the way, a much larger group of fans waited for the Boston Red Sox players to exit the clubhouse.
"I bet a lot of those are even Reds fans," Jungy said. "They just want to see something unusual, something exciting."
So far, the Reds haven't piqued the fans' excitement on their own, judging by the butts in the seats. With the defending World Series champion and American League East Division-leading Red Sox in Cincinnati for a highly anticipated weekend series and a big three-day gate, the Reds are averaging 24,228 in attendance per game. That number, sixth worst in baseball, was better than only Florida, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Oakland and Texas.
For Boston, however, GABP was nearly filled, proving again that opponents such as the Red Sox, Indians, Yankees and Cubs can inspire large crowds on the banks of the Ohio River. But Reds baseball, on its own, doesn't seem to be enough.
"You're craving a winner, and Boston's a winner right now," said Sean Casey, one of the most popular Reds players in recent memory who signed with the Red Sox in the offseason. "People are going to come out when you win; that's the bottom line. I think (Reds owners) the Castellinis are moving in the right direction and trying to bring good players in here and develop players in the minor leagues.
"Once they start winning in Cincinnati, you'll see the fans come back."
It's been done
In 2003, Cincinnati opened Great American Ball Park and jumped from 21st to 13th on baseball's attendance list as 29,077 people per game came to watch the Reds. The next season, the daily draw dropped by 800 before falling to 23,989 in 2005.
In the midst of seven straight losing seasons — which could eventually be eight, as the Reds stand 33-36 and last in the National League Central — the team has continued to struggle in drawing fans. The Reds have sold out two games this season, Opening Day against the Arizona Diamondbacks and their May 17 game against Cleveland, when fans received a Brandon Phillips bobblehead.
Most agree that giveaways and fireworks can boost attendance, but what really works is winning.
"There's so much tradition and history here, it shouldn't take much to get people back once things go better," said Paul Bako, the Reds catcher who experienced baseball mania while playing for the Chicago Cubs.
On the field, the fans haven't seen .500 baseball. Since 2001, when the team finished 27-54 at home, the Reds have a 257-262 record in Cincinnati while playing mostly out of contention. Opposing teams aren't nervous about visiting GABP.
"This is Cincinnati; this isn't the World Series," said Kevin Youkilis, the Boston first baseman and Cincinnati native, when asked Friday if he was anxious to play in front of his hometown crowd. "I've played in the World Series before and in the playoffs and that's a little more pressure than playing in Cincinnati."
Fighting for interest
Some booed in the second inning Friday when the first of several "Let's go Red Sox" cheers began. A similar situation occurs when the Cubs visit and the crowd turns heavily in Chicago's favor.
After such games, fans call columnists or talk-radio shows to voice their disgust.
Plenty of seats, however, are available.
Some feel that could change with the excitement about General Manager Walt Jocketty and manager Dusty Baker, as well as a burgeoning list of promising young players, including Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Paul Janish, Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto.
"Any time young kids come up that look like they're really good players and look like they're good kids, I love that," said Terry Francona, the Red Sox manager, of Bruce. "I also hope he doesn't make a name for himself this weekend."
It's weekends like these that give the Reds a chance to win back some fans who more often choose to stay home. With rising gas prices, a questionable economic outlook and an upcoming home schedule that includes visits from not-as-exciting names such as Pittsburgh, Washington, the New York Mets, San Diego and Colorado through July, fans might need more convincing when it comes to opening wallets at the ballpark.
At his dressing stall Friday, Casey recalled the most electric atmosphere in his Reds tenure from 1998-2005.
"Ninety-nine, when we had the one-game playoff against the Mets and there were 50,000 or something walk-ups," Casey said. "That whole year, the city was buzzing. It gives me chills to think about it even now. I think we revitalized baseball a little bit that season because we won, and that can happen again."
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-7389 or knagel@DaytonDailyNews.com.
Novelty of new park wearing off
In 2003, the Cincinnati Reds saw a two-season attendance boost after opening Great American Ball Park. Five years later, they've slipped to the bottom third of baseball.
Year Avg. Rank
2001 23,794 22
2002 23,197 21
2003 29,077 13
2004 28,237 18
2005 23,989 25
2006 26,351 22
2007 25,388 24
2008* 24,228 24
* Through 33 games
Winning isn't drawing fans
The first game of the Cincinnati Reds' anticipated weekend series with the Boston Red Sox brought 38,855 people to Great American Ball Park on Friday, June 13. But those numbers aren't the norm. Through 33 home games, the Reds are drawing about 500 fewer fans per game than they did a year ago, despite winning 21 of those games.
Year Total Avg. Home record
2004 939,115 28,458 22-11
2005 770,691 23,354 18-15
2006 802,536 24,319 17-16
2007 819,400 24,830 13-20
2008 799,516 24,228 21-12