Sports biz: Come here often?

Stewart Schley //August 1, 2012//

Sports biz: Come here often?

Stewart Schley //August 1, 2012//

In a sad Rockies baseball season, there’s one surprisingly bright statistic: attendance.

Somehow, in the middle of a year that’s as grey and sober as the team’s road uniforms, the Rockies averaged 34,055 fans at the All Star break. That’s enough to rank the Rox 13th out of 30 MLB teams, ahead of National League playoff contenders Atlanta (29,834), Washington (29,677) and the Cincinnati Reds (28,396). The 2012 Rockies, with a 33-52 record at mid-season, have managed to attract more fans to home games than the Pittsburgh Pirates, a young, resurgent team that was leading the NL Central at the break.

The numbers are interesting from an historic team vantage point. In 2009, the last year the Rockies made the playoffs, the team averaged home attendance of 32,902. That’s 3.5 percent lower than this year’s mid-season figure, when the Rockies owned a .388 winning percentage that ranked second-worst in all of baseball.

It seems especially curious considering that in the past, losing has hurt. In 2005, when the Rockies posted a team-worst record of 67-95, average attendance at Coors Field fell to 23,929. This year, as the Rockies threaten to crack the ignoble 100-loss milestone, 10,000 more people are coming to the games at a typical homestand.

So what gives?

“Coors Field is a bit of a conundrum,” says Robert McGowan, a Rockies season-ticket holder and a professor at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. He thinks the absence of a correlation between attendance and on-field performance reflects a number of inputs, from the weather to the baseball sensibilities of fans. Despite Colorado’s early summer heat wave, the weather isn’t nearly as stifling as the hot, muggy soup that often keeps East Coast fans at home, McGowan says. He has a point: Even the Miami Marlins, in a spiffy new ballpark, can’t match the Rockies’ attendance levels this year.

McGowan, who lectures on sports management at DU, also thinks – brace yourself for this, sports fan – many Denver-area fans lack the sort of nuanced appreciation for baseball that fans in St. Louis, New York and other baseball markets possess. In other words, don’t expect a lot of cursing when the Rockies fail to advance a runner on a bunt with one out in the fifth.

“A lot of them simply are there for the entertainment. I sit near home plate, and you’d be amazed how many people are chatting with friends or talking on cell phones throughout most of the game,” McGowan says.

A more forgiving view of the fan base suggests another explanation for the impressive attendance: the idea that the on-field product is compelling, regardless of pesky little details like who’s winning. But I doubt it. This year’s Rockies team not only plays baseball poorly at times, but lacks star power. Tulowitzki’s absence and the sad fade of longtime hero Todd Helton have left fans with little gravitational center. What’s more, too many home games this year have been lackluster affairs, with few moments of drama.

What else, then? Maybe the Coors Field “experience,” a factor co-owner Dick Monfort mentioned in a recent call to season-ticket holders, is so appealing that it doesn’t matter anymore what happens on the field. (That ripple in the universe you just felt was George Steinbrenner turning over in his grave.)

Or maybe it’s the price-value relationship. Monfort, during June’s conference call with ticket holders, noted that only in Oakland are average ticket prices lower than at Coors Field. And average concession prices at Coors Field are among the lowest three in Major League Baseball, he said. They may lose, these 2012 Rockies, but at least the suffering is cheaper than in Boston or Anaheim.

What do you think? Are you trekking faithfully to LoDo regardless of how awful these Colorado Rockies are? And why? We’ll publish selected answers in an upcoming column. Drop an email to [email protected]. Promise you: We’re gonna get to the bottom of this.