Mike Harrington took on the Buffalo Bisons’ – the Mets’ soon-to-be-former triple-A affiliate – attendance in the Buffalo News over the weekend.
The most important point as far as I’m concerned is that Bisons attendance has been falling fairly steadily, since 1991. That’s over two decades of straight slipping. Some years, the declines are larger than others, but the declines are real and consistent.
You know what else has been declining in the last twenty one years? The Buffalo population, which is less than half of its 1950s peak. To be fair, the population of the other major Western New York cities like Syracuse and Rochester has been falling as well. Buffalo is a relatively poor city with a median household income of $30,043 as of the last census, well below the New York State median of $55,603. Perhaps more damning, 30% of Buffalo lived below the poverty level.
Of course, a declining city population and a poorer city are linked phenomenon. As people with the means to do so move out, the existing population becomes poorer. Then, once housing prices fall, in response to weak demand, the migrants into an area become, on average, poorer. This is nicely discussed over a lengthier time horizon for Buffalo here.
So, there are fewer people in Buffalo nearly every year, and the population that remains, is by New York standards, poor.
This is not a good environment for any business, especially one, such as a sports team that relies on citizens spending their disposable income.
Harringon believes that the Bisons’ likely pending affiliation with the Jays will help, but that “If the Bisons want to capitalize on 2013, they have to get back to baseball.”
I would argue that much of the success of minor league baseball in the last 20 years has been due to the reverse: there really is something for everyone at a game. Just about every stadium boasts a kids’ play area, which in some cases are extremely elaborate. And for the adults: solid food and beer that’s generally cheaper than in big league parks. The average minor league fan not only cannot name more than a handful of players on their own hometown team, but knows virtually nothing about the team’s opponents. In my experience, fans go to minor league games for good times with friends and family (or if the company is having a picnic) but not necessarily for the baseball. Real baseball fans stay home to watch their team, and all of the out-of-market games on high-def on their TV, ipads, laptops and everything else.
Harrington’s concrete suggestions:
More Baseball/Honor the Past
- Honor the great Buffalo teams and players of the past with large colorful concourse banners
- Put up the team’s championship banners
- Use the videoboard for “old clips of Bisons’ historical moments”
- “Publications needs to be upgraded (sic)… People will pay for a quality game program”
Color banners of the team’s history are a good call. They are relatively cheap and really do improve a stadium space.
More history on the video board is good, but I wonder how much old footage the Bisons have. Footage archives of even MLB teams are shaky. Only in the last few years, has hard drive storage reached a point where archiving everything is almost costless. Either way, this seems unlikely to bring fans to the park on a random Tuesday night.
Finally: publications. Fact: people do not pay for a quality game program. Many teams have stopped producing one because they were simply losing money on the product. Many teams now distribute a smaller program free of charge at the gate. Even for the teams that continue to sell a larger book-type program, it is not a major revenue source and most assuredly will not bring more fans back to the ballpark.
- Add line score via a new auxiliary scoreboard
- Add new seats. Replace some seats with new party decks/group areas
- Better lighting in fan areas
- Other: fix the bathroom sinks, add flat screen tvs at the concession stands, in-park wifi
This is all worthwhile stuff. The better a stadium looks and functions, the more fans are willing to come back. Of course, it all costs money too.
- Eliminate a $1 day of game ticket surcharge
- Move season seat holders from section 102 (right behind home plate to avoid empty seats on TV)
- Add Blue Jays gear to the team’s merchandise stand
Wait, you want to take the best seats away from season seat holders to avoid empty seats on TV and online streaming? Cart meet horse. Horse, pull cart.
Mike makes some reasonable suggestions. Touching up the stadium and making a more aesthetically appealing place is a really good idea. However, I suspect that even implementing all of his ideas, would result in a negligible effect on attendance.
The bottom line though is that the Bisons, and all of the Western New York teams, are facing a bad demographic environment. That unfortunately, is not anything the teams control.
Given what they can control, I suggest taking a long, hard look at price. For example, create promotional nights that offer not good value, but great value. In Savannah, the Sand Gnats’ biggest nights are Fireworks on Saturday, followed by Thirsty Thursday (2-for-1 drinks) and Dollar Monday ($1 tickets with coupon, $1 hot dogs, $1 sodas, $1 small Nattys).