Scott Ellis 9:46 p.m., April 22
Price Slashes, Improved Team Haven't Helped Padres
The San Diego Padres play their last two 2010 games at home today and tomorrow with an average attendance of 26,251. The team has a record of 87-70 and all season has been in the running for the playoffs. Last year's record was 75-82 and the team was out of the running early. Attendance last year averaged 23,699. The 2010 average attendance is hardly impressive, particularly since the team slashed prices this year. Going into the season, the Padres's Fan Cost Index compiled by Team Marketing Report was second lowest in Major League Baseball at $120.60 for four tickets, two beers, four soft drinks, four hot dogs, parking for one car, two programs and two adult-sized hats. The Padres had slashed the prices 30% from 2009. The price index had been above $200 in 2008.
This year's attendance lags behind attendance at Qualcomm. (John Moores had said the team could not survive economically at Qualcomm.) In 2002 at Qualcomm, the team had a miserable 66-96 record, but averaged 27,415 attendees. In 2001 and 2000, when the Padres had losing seasons, Qualcomm attendance averaged more than 29,000. As is typical, attendance was strong when Petco opened: 37,244 in 2004 and 35,429 in 2005. Then it began dropping off.
Other contending big league teams such as the Tampa Bay Rays, Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves have had disappointing attendance this year, according to a story in today's (Sept. 29) New York Times. Obviously, the recession is a factor. But the Padres have to engage in serious introspection: are logistics (downtown parking, traffic jams, etc.) the major problem? And if so, was the building of Petco Park a mistake? (It certainly was a mistake for the City of San Diego, which is being drained to the tune of more than $20 million a year, beyond the original $300 million subsidy.) Qualcomm is one of the best-located stadiums in pro sports -- near expressways with lots of parking. Now the Chargers, too, want to leave there and go downtown. Football has a short season (10 home games, mostly on Sundays) and parking might not be such a problem. But is anybody noodling this out?
It's difficult to make profit estimates of pro sports teams (Moores's divorce makes estimates even harder), but one figure stands out. Forbes Magazine estimates that the Padres are worth $408 million, 15th highest of the 30 teams. But this year's Padres payroll, estimated at $37.8 million, is among a handful of the lowest in Major League Baseball. It certainly looks like somebody is making out very well. SOMEBODY is noodling these numbers out, but pro sports won't let any figures become public. There is a good reason for that: an embarrassment of riches.