SBJ/19980525/This Week's Issue

Yanks' attendance is on record pace

If George Steinbrenner wanted evidence that the Bronx is a horrible place to play baseball, he may want to forget his team's latest mid-May home series. More than 115,000 fans attended a recent three-game weekend series with the sputtering Minnesota Twins, including nearly 50,000 for David Wells' perfect game on Beanie Baby Day.

In fact, the first-place Yankees are now on a pace to break the 3 million mark in attendance, which would be a franchise record. All this while Steinbrenner and New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani badmouth the Bronx in an effort to build a ballpark in Manhattan.

Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, who is trying to keep the Yankees in the Bronx, crowed the morning after Wells' gem.

"David Wells' perfect game shed light on the much maligned attendance at Yankee Stadium," Ferrer, a mayoral hopeful, said in a statement. "The fast start by the Yankees has attracted more fans. In 16 home dates, the Yankees have drawn 486,851 fans, 26 percent above last year's comparative total of 385,670."

Less than a week earlier, Steinbrenner himself vented on the attendance issue after only 16,606 fans showed up for a midweek game against the Texas Rangers.

"It's hard to come to any conclusion other than the fact we have an outmoded stadium in a location that people don't want to go to see a game," he said. And almost anticipating the following weekend's gate, Steinbrenner added: "Sure, we'll get some big crowds, but only if it's a major event, like Boston or Baltimore, or a major promotion."

While only the Anaheim Angels have seen a bigger percentage gate increase this year, 11 teams thus far this season are averaging more fans per game than the Yankees, despite New York's second-best start in club history.

The Baltimore Orioles draw 4.4 million fans a year, and the Cleveland Indians 4.1 million annually, said Joe Perello, head of business development for the Yankees. Even if the Yankees reached the 3-million-fan threshold, he added, the club would fall far short of the other elite teams.

Every 50,000 attendees means $500,000 in revenue just from ticket sales, Perello said. That means if the Yankees attracted an additional 1 million fans in a new ballpark, the club would enjoy at least an extra $10 million annually from ticket sales.

"There is a perception about the Bronx that is difficult to overcome," Perello said. "That is a big obstacle for us as marketers."

But two Sundays ago, all was well in the Bronx. The more than 22,000 children who attended the Beanie Baby Day pleased Perello, who is trying to increase attendance in that demographic group. Memories of Wells' masterpiece could make them fans for life, Perello said hopefully.

But just in case they need more motivation, another Beanie Baby Day is scheduled for Aug. 9.

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