When selling a product, you have to have a hook. Something that sinks deep into the consumer, reels them in, then keeps them coming back. In baseball that can be a winning season, a nightly gimmick (usually pretty ineffective), or a player that simply puts butts in the seats.
As I sat at the Diamondbacks vs. Dodgers game last night, I couldn’t help but think how little I cared about either team. Sure the Dodgers are a circus side show of off-the-field issues, and the Dbacks are in contention after a terrible 2010 campaign. But still, I didn’t care about any of that as I sat among the 28,000 other fans.
What made this game so interesting to me were the players. I came to the park excited to see Matt Kemp and Andre Either. I was excited to see Justin Upton swing the bat and Chris Young play the outfield. These players may not be superstars (Matt Kemp is sure on his way though), but they are definitely stars. They are the types of players that help sell tickets and bring casual fans to the park. And Matt Kemp didn’t disappoint as he blasted a laser shot off the middle of the center field hitter’s backdrop.
As I watched these players and the reactions they drew from fans, I thought about the star power of other teams. Or lack thereof. The Yankees have plenty of players who could probably draw on their own. The Red Sox have Big Papi and Adrian Gonzalez. The Phillies have Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee among others. The Rangers have Josh Hamilton. Most teams have someone they can call their star, but what do the Padres have?
Heath Bell is the biggest star for San Diego, but he is a reliever. His child-like love of the game, his playful attitude, and his intensity on the mound make him a fan favorite. The problem is in the unpredictability of his appearances. With most stars, fans know day in and day out they can come to the park and see that player. The Padres don’t have that.
Adrian Gonzalez was that player last year. Jake Peavy before that. Now though, Ryan Ludwick is arguably the best player on the roster. And he will be gone soon if all reports are accurate. Even still, I don’t see Ludwick as that seat filling star. Not like his former teammate Albert Pujols.
How has this lack of true star power translated to attendance? Last year, the Padres finished 11th out of 16 NL teams in attendance, and that was with Adrian Gonzalez. This year, they are currently ranked 12th in attendance. Not much of a change for losing their biggest star.
Yet, when I think of an average fan, not someone like me who would sit through a 1-0 pitchers duel between the Royals and A’s, going to a game, I wonder if a lack of stars is going to fill the seats. With the price of tickets, concessions, and parking, it’s no wonder why some teams struggle to fill the seats.
While I’ll always enjoy going to ball games, give the fans some star power so spending an arm and a leg is a little more justifiable.