Seattle Mariners Attendance

Come On Seattle, Support These Mariners!

I was fortunate enough to attend Derek Jeter’s final regular season game at Safeco last Thursday.  It’s a rare occasion to see a sure thing, first ballot, future hall of famer, live and in person.  And, while I could make a strong argument for Jeter as the greatest offensive shortstop of all time and enjoy the lively debate with Cal Ripken fans or the Rogers Hornsby diehards, that’s another article for another time.  This is a Mariners column, after all.

It was also informative to talk to people around me and get a sense of their perception of the Mariners’ season so far, which was surprisingly pessimistic given the Mariners are right in the thick of the wild card race.

But, I was pleasantly surprised to see the stands almost full, with an announced attendance of 40,596, which is 85.3% of capacity.  Sadly, though, I got the impression the majority of the attendees were Yankees’ fans.  The chants of “De – rek – Jee – ter” tipped me off.

So, I decided to take a look at Mariners’ attendance so far this season, and what I found left me a little depressed.

Through 35 home games, the Mariners rank 24th in the majors in total attendance with 840,800, ahead of Miami, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City, Oakland, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland.  Seattle ranks 23rd in average attendance at 24,022, ahead of all the teams just mentioned and Houston.  And, in terms of percentage of seats occupied, Seattle ranks 28th in the majors with 50.2% capacity per game.  Only the White Sox and the Indians have a greater percentage of empty seats.

Winning doesn’t seem to be the only factor driving attendance around MLB.  Of the top ten teams in total attendance, Boston and Philadelphia are playing .449 and .433 ball, respectively.  While in the bottom ten, Seattle, Miami, Kansas City, and Oakland are all .500 or above and in the hunt for a  playoff spot.

Is it possible that certain cities just aren’t “baseball towns” and no amount of winning will drive attendance, and that, conversely, no amount of losing will dampen attendance when it is a baseball town?  Probably a little bit yes and a little bit no.

Oakland certainly has a rich baseball history, having won four World Series (9 in A’s franchise history dating back to Philadelphia).  But, despite winning periodically, most notably in the “money ball” era, the A’s haven’t appeared in a World Series since 1989, and they play in one of the worst facilities in modern sports.  The fans should show up in September for the close of the pennant race, but it’s really not enticing to spend an evening in O.co Stadium during the summer.

Miami is a case and point of where the new facilities seem nice enough, if not a bit flamboyant, but the alternative – the Miami nightlife – trumps going to the ballpark.  That and Jeffrey Loria’s history of bait and switch has probably turned off the Marlins’ fan base for some time to come.

On the other end of the spectrum, it really comes as no surprise that the Red Sox and the Phillies are enjoying robust attendance despite poor on field performance.  Those franchises in those cities have long histories, spanning over a century, and the Sox and Phillies have enjoyed recent success.  As long as the Sox stay within ten or so and until the Phillies start selling off aging players like Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, Boston and Philadelphia fans will keep packing Fenway and Citizen’s Bank throughout the summer.

But what about Seattle?  Clearly there is fan support for the Seahawks and Sounders.  Selling a first born is about the only way to get a Seahawks’ ticket and the Sounders have set MLS attendance records five consecutive seasons.  But both the Seahawks and the Sounders have recent and current success going for them.

The Mariners have had just two winning seasons in the past ten years and haven’t made the playoffs since 2001.

Attendance in 2001, when the Mariners won a record 116 games, was first in the AL with 3,507,326, so Seattle will support winning baseball teams.  Attendance was 1st in the AL again in 2002, but has been dropping about a spot a year ever since, as the product on the field has been less than inspiring.  Last year the Mariners were 11th in attendance in the AL.

The key this year seems to be convincing a decade long beleaguered fan base that this team is different and is worth watching in person.  Perception is everything.

The Mariners are 4.5 games better overall than at this point last year, and 6 games better in the wild card race.  This year, despite poor offensive numbers (29th in OBP / 27th in Batting / 26th in Slugging, but 18th in Runs), the Mariners are just 1.5 games out of the wild card, even after enduring a 5 game losing streak.

The addition of Robinson Cano, the continued dominance of Felix Hernandez, and the emergence of exciting young players like James Jones, make Mariners’ games a good night’s entertainment. Twenty of the Mariners’ losses this season have been by 2 runs or fewer, so even when losing, the games are tight.

Management could go a long way to bringing the fan base back to Safeco by making a trade and acquiring another bat (or two) to push this surprising Mariners’ team over the top and back into the playoffs.

In the meantime, Mariners’ fans should shed their apprehension and start filling up Safeco.  While still flawed, this Mariners’ team should stay in the playoff race well into the summer and deserves the support of their home fans.

Brian Hight

About Brian Hight

Brian Hight is a freelance writer, amateur Sabermetrician, and longtime player of fantasy baseball and football. He’s excited as heck to have an opportunity to write for Oregon Sports News. No seriously. He is. He teaches Film and Media Studies online, but since moving to Seattle in early 2013 with his wife Kelly, he’s been looking for new opportunities in the exciting new world of social media. He has two personal blogs: Hight of Insanity where he writes about sports and entertainment, and Technology Accessibility where he writes about the user experience of the visually impaired.

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