The St. Louis Cardinals front office has been faced with a serious attendance problem. After a glorious sellout inaugural first season at the new Busch Stadium and a successful 2007 campaign following the World Series Championship, 2008 is proving to be most difficult to bring fans to the stadium.
The weekend and evening games are almost always sellouts, but the "businessman special" day games in the middle of the week are a problem - and a growing one at that. Fans just aren't coming, and after countless Apprentice-like brainstorming sessions, the Cardinals might just have a solution on their hands.
There are 81 games scheduled to be played at Busch Stadium this year during the regular season. Eight of those games are the aforementioned problem child games. Throwing out Opening Day, which is always a sellout and monster revenue day at the stadium, leaves us with seven mid-week day games. Three of those seven are strategically played in April when temps are a bit cooler and fans aren't forced to roast in the St. Louis sun. School is also in session, so it makes field trips to the ballpark a viable option. Still, with nice weather and two of these day games complete, the books aren't telling a very good story – not the financial books, that is.
When the bean counters get involved, they quickly point out that those seven games make up roughly 9% of the season. That raises a few eyebrows and makes the DeWitts realize we're not exactly talking about a few pennies. Then you add in years of recent postseason millions and a current roster that doesn't exactly guarantee future playoff revenue, and the Cardinals bottom line seems light years from where it was just two years ago. And that just doesn't make any business owner happy.
In the first two day games this season, the upper deck was so barren, if that's all you saw from the street, you wouldn't have thought a game was being played. There was plenty of red in the stadium, except it wasn't fans sporting Cardinal red t-shirts - it was gleam of empty red seats. Yes, there definitely wasn't the normal Cardinal hustle and bustle downtown before and during the game. Just ask the scalpers on the street.
Jimmy "the Pink", ticket seller extraordinaire known for his illuminated pink faux fur Cardinals hat and animated bartering technique, has been selling tickets around Kiener Plaza for years. Jimmy had this to say about weekday baseball in the sun at Busch: "These day games are just killas out here. Most times I go home with half my tickets. It's crazy. Some fools even get me to sell them box seats for half the face value. I don't wanna do it, but I've got to put food on the table, you know what I mean?"
The Cardinals front office knows what he means. They now have more trouble selling out mid-week day games than downtown loft developers have finding new tenants. And for the tickets they do sell, mostly to season ticket holders, they're finding that only 60% of fans actually show up.
That means they're selling fewer hot dogs, fewer beers, fewer soft drinks, fewer ice cream treats. And it all means a lower bottom line and a potential slippery slope for Cardinals economics. Less profit means less money for salaries, which means weaker talent, which means fewer wins, which means disgruntled fans, which means even worse attendance at those once sold-out evening and weekend games. Next thing you know, you're the Kansas City Royals or the Pittsburgh Pirates.
With five such games remaining on the schedule, the Cardinals are going to experiment and try to get fans back to the park.
Just how are they going to do this? Make Busch Stadium the city's biggest happy hour venue. Starting this Wednesday with the April 30 game against the Cincinnati Reds, Cardinals management will be testing out a radical new idea.
The period of time between the last out of the third inning and the first note of the seventh inning stretch, the Cardinals will offer fans at the stadium free tap beer and fountain soft drinks. The only catch is that the first drink has to be paid for. Marketing manager Bonnie French said, "Fans just need to buy the first beer or pop to get a cup. Then it's bottomless until the crowd hears that magical first note of the seventh inning stretch. Once the music starts, normal pricing resumes. We do hope, though, that fans will be kind to the vendors and tip appropriately."
Cardinals public relations manager Gene Upshaw had this to say about the promotional plan: "The mid-week day game market is really hurting in St. Louis. Our plan is to get fans of all ages out of their offices and homes and into the stadium during the first three innings. Then, as the game progresses, we'll begin the city's largest happy hour. We want the game to be an event fans look forward to. And once they get a taste, they're gonna love this."
In response to comments regarding recent drinking and driving incidents involving Cardinals personnel, Upshaw commented, "We still expect adults who consume alcoholic beverages at the park to do so responsibly."
If all goes well on Wednesday, Cardinals management will continue the "Party at the Stadium" promotional plan with the final four mid-week day games of the year (5/15 vs. PIT, 6/19 vs. KC, 8/7 vs. LAD, and 9/25 vs. ARI).
Move over "Parties at the Plaza". Look out "Parties in the Park". Here comes "Party at the Stadium".
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