April 23, 2015
The Phillies got smoked by the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park earlier today, which isn’t really of great importance. They’re not a good team (some would even say a bad team), and most of us have already made peace with that. What is a little more interesting, at least in a morbid way, is that the Phillies got smoked by the Marlins in front of practically nobody. Most of us may have also made peace with the sparse crowds, but it’s still jarring to see pictures like this:
It's clear that Philadelphia businessmen and women now feel more special putting in a full day of work rather than coming to CBP. #blueseats— Bob Brookover (@brookob) April 23, 2015
That is a shot of 17,097 announced fans, which means it is a shot of far less than 17,097 fans. In the 11-year history of Citizens Bank Park, it was the smallest crowd the Phillies have ever seen, “bottoming” the 19,047 people that took in a Friday night ballgame against the Washington Nationals a couple of weeks ago. On the season, the Phillies are averaging 26,715 fans, which is still good for 20th in Major League Baseball. In all honesty, I was pretty surprised that they’re still ranked above 10 teams, which may or may not be an indictment on baseball as a whole.
Dan McQuade wrote for Philadelphia Magazine about the lack of fan support down at the ballpark. In the post, he compiled the average attendance numbers for the last decade at CBP. When the park opened in 2004, it initially drew well but then fell back to about 34,000 fans per night over the next two seasons as the new car smell wore off. After that, attendance took off between 2007-2012 when the team became a juggernaut. Between ’09-’12, the Phillies averaged a sellout every night.
I think the takeaway is pretty clear: Fans will show up in droves for a great team, but there are going to be a lot of empty seats when the product is so bad.
After steep declines in attendance each of the last two years, what might have been the best atmosphere in baseball just four years ago should be a relative ghost town until the Phillies start to show some life again. More people generally show up in the summer when it’s warmer outside (and to be fair the Phils, the weather was garbage this afternoon), but it still won’t be that many.
The Phillies still have the 8th-highest payroll in baseball, and their litany of poor drafting and personnel decisions is costing them dearly. In 2013, Matt Gelb estimated that the franchise was going to lose $25 million per year on average when they started off with 36,000 fans per game as opposed to 45,0000. That number didn’t even factor in the concession and merchandise revenue in the ballpark, either. Do some rough math and a 26,000-person average means that the Phillies would be losing at least double that $25 million figure when compared to the end of their attendance heyday in 2012, perhaps even more.
Again, that seems like a pretty rough estimate. Whatever the actual number is, the Phillies are losing a sizable amount of revenue, and it’s all because the team is struggling so much on the field.