QUESTION: It's shocking to see so many empty seats for a first-place Cardinals team playing great baseball in September. How much of that is a product of the state of sports attendance everywhere, and how much is some residual skepticism about the Cards after 3 years of middling performance?
GOOLD: There are a number of factors when it comes to empty seats, and we’ll get to one surprise one later, but first let’s get this out of the way: Yes, no-shows bother ownership and thus are something that the front office takes stock in. No, it’s not always a referendum on the current team.
Let’s talk ticket trends because I find them fascinating and helpful in this regard. When it comes to moving tickets at this time of year school starting and the weather work against the sales and the shows. So, in some of the recent days you’re dealing with it being both a school night and also some pretty questionable weather. A few years ago, the Cardinals had no-shows late in the season when they were fading from contention and the connection was rightly made that the team’s performance on the field and the overall style of play wasn’t as appealing as the fans expected. Ownership took note. Now the team is playing a more appealing brand of baseball and it’s in first place, so the commonalities are now back to school and weather.
The Cardinals have already done two things that officials tell me help boost ticket sales for the season:
• They won 20 of their first 30 games and that goosed early-season ticket sales for later in the summer because of the optimism that brought for this year’s team. A team that wins early and wins often early is going to spur ticket sales, especially in this market.
• They went on a run in August as a prelude to September to get people re-energized for a postseason race. That timing alone added another boost to ticket sales and should carry them past 3.4 million for the season. They were already trending that direction.
The tickets are being sold. Are the fans showing up? Well, this season will be the real test to show if last year’s were an indictment on the quality of team or just a reflection of the weather, school, and, of course, opponents. The Cardinals have series coming up against Milwaukee and the Cubs, two strong draws and two rivals for the division title. The ticket sales will reflect the importance of the game, and if the butts-in-seats don’t match then it’s something more than success of the team and the opponent. It’s back to weather and school. If the Cardinals had the Reds and Pirates or Rockies and Padres to close the season, the no-show rate would likely spike, regardless of where the Cardinals are in the standings; that’s just the reality.
And that brings us back to a curious thing that contributed to the no-shows this past week, and I’d be interested to find out how many. Giveaways are adding to the no-shows. I heard stories and I saw evidence of people arriving for Monday’s game with a handful of tickets and getting armfuls of the Yadier Molina Funko POP! giveaway and then bolting. One gentleman was said to have purchased 17 tickets, received 17 of the giveaways, and then made his getaway. Even if he stayed for the game, that’s 16 no-shows. There were others with seven, and that's six no-shows. And if someone purchases 15 and doesn’t go that’s 15 no-shows. There were large tracts of the stadium in the cheaper seats without fans, and we can connect the dots.
I’m not sure what that says about the team – or if it says more about the marketplace for giveaways. Either way it has to be factor, and the litmus test is coming. If there are no-shows for that finale against the Cubs and both teams are in contention, then the Cardinals have an issue. If the Cardinals are out of contention and there are no-shows from their fans, then the fans have made their point.