NL playoff series struggling with poor attendance
Updated: Friday October 19, 2001 10:11 PM
ATLANTA (AP) -- College student Adam Brand didn't have to wheel and deal with scalpers or flip through the newspaper to find a ticket to the NL championship series.
All he had to do was stroll up to the sales booth at Turner Field. No lines. No waiting. Plenty of good seats available.
"In 1992, I went to Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS and it was packed," said Brand, a junior at Georgia State University. "We got our tickets through one of my dad's customers. There was no other way to get a ticket.
"Now, everybody is so used to winning."There were several thousand empty seats Friday night for Game 3 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, even with near-perfect, 64-degree conditions.
"The fact that they've drawn so well during the regular season is what makes this so difficult for me to understand," said baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who attended the game. "I don't know all the factors. I'm not here all the time. But it does surprise me."
The Braves still had 12,000 unsold tickets for Saturday's game, 14,000 for Sunday.
"The customer is always right," Braves president Stan Kasten said. "There's a lot of things going on right now. Whether it's the team or the economy or security issues -- I just don't know what to attribute it to."
While the Braves are the most glaring example of fan apathy, they are hardly the only offenders this postseason.
Houston had more than 7,000 tickets available for each of its two playoff games at Enron Field. Arizona failed to sell out any of its three opening-round games or Game 1 of the NLCS. The Diamondbacks finally had a full house for Game 2.
In all, only three of the first 10 games in the NL playoffs were sold out. The numbers will only get worse with a weekend of empty blue seats at Turner Field.
What's going on here? Have high prices driven away all but the most devoted fans, especially with a slumping economy? Has baseball diluted its showcase events by adding an extra round of playoffs? How many people would prefer to watch on television rather than deal with parking, concession lines and other annoyances?
"Economics are something that consume me every day," Kasten said. "The prices we have are there for a reason, but there's no question that the cost of tickets, merchandise and food concern me a lot."
Brand and a friend, Kenny Williams, had to find an automatic banking machine when they realized they didn't bring enough money for NLCS tickets, which are $45 or $60 apiece.
"Money has got to be a concern," Williams said. "You take a family of four to a game, you're looking at $200 just for the tickets. Then you've got pay for food and parking. That's a lot of money to see a baseball game, when you can just stay home or go to the sports bar to watch it."
The cost of tickets jumps even higher for the World Series, where prime tickets are $175 and even nosebleed seats go for $125.
Selig said he wasn't bothered by all those unsold tickets.
"Some of those were day games, and that can be tough for fans," he said. "St. Louis sold out its games, the games at Yankee Stadium were sold out, so we've done well in a lot of places."
In Atlanta, team officials have to deal with the perception that they've done it all before. Since 1991, the Braves have been to the playoffs every season, winning five NL championships and one World Series title.
"The 10th time you do anything, it's not going to seem like the first time you did it," Kasten said. "I'd also like to think that some of our fans believe if they miss a playoff game this year, they can catch more in the future. Not every city's fans can say that."
Still, playoff attendance is a microcosm of baseball's larger concerns.
Atlanta's crowds have dropped steadily since Turner Field opened in 1997, slumping more than 14 percent this season even though the Braves won an unprecedented 10th straight division title.
There are similar concerns in Phoenix, where the 4-year-old Diamondbacks drew about 3.6 million fans as an expansion team but 900,000 fewer this season as a division winner.
"I think Phoenix is in its adolescence as a baseball town," 22-game winner Curt Schilling said. "That would be the safest way to put it."
In an attempt to boost attendance, the Diamondbacks plan to televise fewer home games in 2002.
"It is disappointing that the fans haven't turned out more," Schilling said. "With everything that's been going on in the last four, five, six weeks, I guess there's some understanding from the players' standpoint. But it would be nice to have a packed and a loud house."
The Braves are appreciative of fans who show up.
"Over the past month, we've had some of our smaller crowds," reliever Mike Remlinger said. "But if you look at the intensity of the crowds and how they were into the game, I think it's been some of the best fans we've had.
"I've been pleasantly surprised with the intensity they've brought."