Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dolan Family: Lessons from Bill Veeck On Building Attendance

Bill Veeck was the colorful owner of the Cleveland Indians from 1946 - 1949. When he took over the club around mid-season of 1946 the Indians had drawn 289,000 fans but ended the year with an attendance of 1,052,289.  It was the first time the Indians had ever drawn over 1 million fans. The closest the team had ever come to drawing 1 million fans was 1920 when they drew 912,832 and in 1940 when they drew 902,576. Over the next 3 years of his ownership attendance increased in 1947 (1,512,978), 1948 (2,620,627), and 1949 (2,233,771).

Bill Veeck in his own words descibes how to draw fans (from the book Veeck as in Wreck):

The best way to tell you what we did to draw these crowds is to tell you what we did not do. We did not open the ticket window and expect the citizenry to come rushing  up with their money in their fists. We have never operated on the theory that a city owes anything to the owner of a baseball franchise, out of civic pride, patriotic fervor, or compelling national interest.

Baseball has sold itself as a civic monument for so long that it has come to believe its own propaganda. There is nothing owed to you. A baseball team is a commercial venture, operating for a profit. The idea that you don't have to package your product, and hustle your product the way General Motors hustles its product, is baseball's most pernicious enemy.

Despite having one of the most accessible, beautiful, and fan friendly baseball stadiums in all of major league baseball the Indians haven't finished higher than 5th in the American League in attendance since the 2002.  They have only finished ranked as high as 9th in any season since 2003.  Yes, there are arguments that point to a declining economy, there is a certain amount of dejection after living the high life of the late 90's and early 2000's, and the Indians have struggled to produce back-to-back above .500 seasons since 2000-2001. 

Could all the attendance problems be wiped away with consistent winning and a couple of playoff appearances? My guess is yes, but until that time the topic will be the gap between the fans of the Cleveland Indians and the Dolan family.

It struck me while reading Bill Veeck's biography Veeck as in Wreck that he seemed to be describing the Dolan Marketing Plan when suggesting what he didn't do to sell tickets. Maybe I'm wrong but is this the perception surrounding the Dolan's? If so, what could the family do to reverse this opinion?

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