SBJ/May 23-29, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Rain washing away some MLB ticket revenue

A spate of rainouts thus far in the MLB season has blunted walk-up ticket sales in many local markets and threatens Commissioner Bud Selig’s projection of an end to the league’s three-year ticket slide.

Through games last Wednesday, roughly a quarter into the season, MLB had recorded 30 rainouts, including four alone last Tuesday. The 30 is already nine more than all of the 2010 season, and is near full-season totals for other recent years (see chart), putting the league on pace for its highest rainout total in the past decade.

The near-constant run of soggy, gloomy weather in the Northeast and Midwest has also hurt ticket sales at many of the games that have been played. Walk-up ticket sales can often exceed 10 percent of total attendance for an MLB team, but many games that typically would attract 2,000 to 4,000 walk-up buyers instead are getting crowds in the hundreds or even dozens. MLB attendance overall is down 2.1 percent thus far through last Wednesday’s games.

“There’s no question there’s been a real sales impact,” said Frank Coonelly, president of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who at midweek last week were tied with the Chicago Cubs for the league lead with three home rainouts. “We’re still up overall in our attendance, but with more normal weather patterns, I’m confident we’d be seeing even more people here.”

The Pirates’ situation mirrors those in Kansas City and Cleveland, where on the field the teams have outperformed preseason predictions. The Indians, in particular, have raced to an early AL Central division lead after two consecutive seasons with more than 90 losses. But none has been able to take full advantage in terms of sales.

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Colorado is among the 16 clubs that had lost at least one game to rain as of May 18.
“People in our market are conditioned to wait until closer to game time to make a buying decision, and those late-afternoon, early-evening windows are when the weather most often has been bad,” said Mike Bucek, Royals vice president of marketing and business development. “I simply can’t remember a spring like this. It doesn’t even feel like baseball season yet.”

MLB started the 2011 season March 31, several days earlier than normal, in an attempt to end the season before the end of October. Playing more games in April exposed the league to more weather risk in a traditionally cool, wet month, but a rainy May has been just as much of a problem.

For the Indians, May’s rain came after a raw April that saw eight of 14 home games played in sub-50-degree weather.

“On the good-weather days, we’re still doing OK, but obviously there haven’t been enough of them,” said Vic Gregovits, Indians senior vice president of sales and marketing.

Katy Feeney, MLB’s senior vice president of scheduling and club relations, has begun work on the 2012 slate. She said no significant changes are planned as a result of the run of early rain this year.

“Can you predict the weather? You do the best you can and be fair to everybody like always,” Feeney said. “It’s never any fun to have to reschedule games, but believe it or not, it has been worse before.”

Coonelly said he will likely request more weekday afternoon games next year, in hopes of avoiding the late-afternoon storms that have been frequent this spring.
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