Filling the Seats

Earlier in the season, I wondered aloud whether the Senators were making a mistake by throwing all of their marketing eggs into the Stephen Strasburg basket. Even with a newly renovated Metro Bank Park, I was skeptical about the fan support in the area after the phenom took his right arm to Syracuse and beyond.

I’m here to tell you I was wrong.

Through the Senators’ last home game on June 6th (and removing the outliers of the Strasburg Effect from his three home games), the Senators have increased their attendance 16% over the same time period last year. In their 28 home games without Strasburg taking the mound, they have averaged 3,652 fans coming through the turnstiles on a nightly basis.

Here are some of the reasons why…

Metro Bank Park’s Facelift

I have spoken with a number of fans that hadn’t been to a game on the Island in a number of years because of the aged condition of the stadium, but returned to check out the impressive changes and upgrades. Don’t get me wrong…I still have complaints about the concession stands and parking, but the park itself is beautiful, comfortable, and a million miles ahead of where it used to be.

Scheduling Changes

Before the 2009 season, changes were made to the schedule that continue to have a positive impact on the attendance figures. Almost an hour was added to the start times of games (6:05pm to 7:00pm for night games and 1:05pm to 2:00pm for Sunday games). Converting three of the Business Person’s Specials to School Kids’ Days, which averaged 4,340 per game this year, have also increased the overall attendance.

The Weekend Bump

Metro Bank Park is seeing a huge turnout on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays so far this season. Through 13 dates without Strasburg pitching, the Senators have averaged 4,599 fans for each weekend game. This is a 22% increase over last year’s 3,784 per game average over the same time period. Is it the flat screen TV giveaways? Or maybe fireworks added to more dates? I have no idea. I can also tell you from first-hand experience on Saturdays, this jump in attendance has come largely without the picnic area being utilized.

Thank You, Al Gore

The early months of last season were mostly marred by a rainy and miserable spring that accounted for multiple rainouts. So far, we’ve been very fortunate to have had nice weather as it hit in the 80s on the thermometer at the start of 9 games already.

What about the Baseball?

One of my concerns about this year’s attendance was based on the Senators’ play on the field and offensive woes early in the season. Well, after a sluggish start the team has started playing better and finds itself in contention for a playoff spot in the Eastern League’s Western Division. This can only help getting more butts in the seats.

So, What’s Next?

Typically, attendance figures throughout baseball increase dramatically heading into summer due to the improving weather and school dismissals for the year. Very few people want to sit out in the elements at the ballpark when the weather is still cold and drizzly. Last year, the Senators’ saw a bump in attendance that increased by almost 22% after June 6th. Extrapolating that rate out, we should see the average attendance rise to 4,440 for the rest of the 40 home dates. If we actually see that same kind of increase this season, Harrisburg would break the 300,000 barrier which would easily surpass the team record. Even if you conservatively estimate only a 10% increase over the next three months, the final figures still break the 2001 single-season record of 279,691 for the franchise.

All of this is pretty amazing when you consider that two short years ago the Senators only drew an abysmal 164,010 fans. I think we can all agree it has been quite the turnaround and transformation of more than just the ballpark on City Island.

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