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Daily News: Muckdog attendence lagging

By Howard B. Owens

The Rochester Red Wings have done everything that the team was told was needed to improve attendence at Batavia Muckdogs games, General Manager Dave Wellenzohn tells David Hibbard of the Daily News, and the team is drawing no better this year than last.

Fireworks don't help. A better field doesn't help. More marketing hasn't helped. Even a winning record and exciting pennant race aren't putting more people in more seats.

In May, Wellenzohn predicted that 60,000 people would pay to see the Muckdogs this year. At the current rate, only about 45,000 people will come through the gates.

"They've kept their word. They've invested a lot of money into the franchise," Wellenzohn said. "Rochester's (Red Wings) kept their promise 100 percent, even more. They're spending more money than I thought they would -- an maybe even should. Because they're thinking, 'Well, maybe if we do this, this will trigger more attendance.' It hasn't."

Wellenzohn says the team is likely to stay in Batavia next season, but if attendance doesn't improve, he isn't sure how long the Red Wings will keep investing in the team.

So here's the thing: Batavia is damn fortunate to have a minor league baseball team. In fact, having lived in major league cities, I'm not sure Batavians realize how fortunate they are to have a minor league baseball team.  It's a hell of a lot of fun to watch these developing players in a small venue with your friends and neighbors.

So what will it take to get Batavians to support their home town team?

We've been trying to do our part -- The Batavian is a team sponsor and we carry as much team coverage as we can -- because we believe sports teams serve a civic purpose of promoting community and local pride. 

In an era of high gas prices and higher and higher costs of everything, isn't a $5 general admission ticket quite a bargain for such great entertainment?

So what else can we do, what can we all to do, get more people at the games?

And, FWIW, kudos to Hibbard for a fine article.

Russ Stresing

Its the hometown attitude that keeps the Muckdogs from drawing more. GCC sent a women's basketball team to the Junior College nationals, but the audience at a regular season home game consists of more fans from the visiting team than native Genesseans. Most people around here have little interest in transient students and pro ball players.

That's not to say your average person from around here isn't a sports fan. High school football, basketball (both boys and girls) and baseball are <b>very</b> well attended because there's more of a local rooting interest. The numerous Christmas season basketball tournaments draw very well because the players are sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and neighbors. The connection between the local fans and the Muckdogs' players is fairly negligible and not enough to make them "our hometown team".

Aug 13, 2008, 3:27pm Permalink
Howard B. Owens

Russ, if the Muckdog's players were more involved with the community, would that help?

Or what if one, two or three "good enough" local players cold be found to add to the roster (not that the Cardinals would allow that, I'm just asking) help?

I think you're points are probably right on target.

It's probably a problem in a lot of minor league towns. There was a time when the minor leagues weren't just a farm system, so you could have local players, or a few players who spent more than one season with the team.

Just wonder how the Muckdogs/Red Wings could fix that, and if it would make a difference.

Aug 13, 2008, 3:55pm Permalink
Russ Stresing

It would be interesting to see what the attendance figures were like when Ricky Williams spent a season here. That's the sort of notoriety a player would have to have to make a difference. Its almost definite, in my opinion, that a local player on the roster would generate some enthusiasm.

The Muckdogs season starts too late, but if they played a few "double feature" games with local high school teams in the first game, that might help. Or a Genesee Region All-Star league with local stars from the high schools playing a mini-season with a playoff series at the end. It might help the Dogs piggyback off of the local enthusiasm for high school sports. Maybe a softball series. Most of your really good young ballplayers are in summer travel leagues, but its something to think about.

Aug 13, 2008, 5:20pm Permalink
Howard B. Owens

What if the Muckdogs sponsors a summer league for 16 to 20 year olds (HS and community college players, essentially) ... if a four-team Western New York league could be put together ... and as often as possible the games be played before Muckdog games? They could even be required to use wooden bats, like the Cape Cod league.

Aug 13, 2008, 5:35pm Permalink
Russ Stresing

That's the sort of thing that might create more local allegiance to the team. If you went much younger than that, people would lose interest and you wouldn't draw as many hardcore baseball fan. And it would help the sport of baseball in general on a local basis.

Aug 13, 2008, 6:42pm Permalink
Howard B. Owens

Well, there's also the developmental aspect ... it would serve the purpose of the Cardinals, etc., to help these players develop ... just like the Cape Cod league.

I'm not sure how realistic from a monetary aspect ...

And to your earlier point -- how much would it hurt the Cardinals to ensure that at least two or three local ball players made the team each year? They may not be stars. They might not even be starters. But they would have roots.

Aug 13, 2008, 8:50pm Permalink
Bea McManis

I'm all for seeing more player involvement in the community.
Learning good public relation skills is just as important to their future in the game as their skills on the field.
Each of the senior citizen complexes could 'adopt' a player and follow his progress throughout the season. It would bring more people to the stadium; some who might just be discovering minor league baseball and others who have forgotten the fun of sitting in the stadium cheering on their team and their favorite player.
In return the "adopted" player could hone his skills with the public.

Aug 13, 2008, 9:09pm Permalink
John Roach

During the debate earlier this year over Dwyer Stadium, many tried to point out that Batavia is not a baseball town anymore. Times changed.

First, the older, loyal fans still go, that’s your base.

Many younger people are not that interested in the sport. Soccer, football, and basketball are more popular.

The Buffalo Bison and Rochester Red Wings draw off some fans. They don’t cost that much more to see and with the high cost of gas, depending where you live, you have to pick between AAA or single A ball.

The population is dropping in the area and the many of the ones with extra money are moving out to where the jobs are (can you spell “Texas”?).

The City population the team relies on continues to move into the towns and villages where property taxes are lower and just don’t feel like driving even 10 miles to watch baseball. Take a look around the City. Many new residents are poor, with no extra money.

TV. Let’s face it. There are a lot of people who get home from work and just want to watch their cable TV.

There may be interest in baseball, but not the “team”. Very few players even come from NY State. We never have a chance to watch them before they get here and they are not here that long to get a player fan base.

What to do? This is hard. We can’t stop the population drop and lack of extra income, even for a baseball game. We can not compete against the Bison’s or Red Wings either.

I would suggest that an effort be made to get the Muckdogs into every store window in the City. Pass out some of the tickets to every game to local merchants and medical offices. They would not sell them, but pass them out to be paid for at the gate (They could be marked or a different color to make it easier). Maybe if people had a ticket in their hand, they would go. Ask stores all over town to put up “Go Muckdogs” signs in their windows. Drive home the idea that the team is here.

Also, if you’re reading this, go to a game.

Aug 14, 2008, 5:41am Permalink
Timothy Paine

Howard, I to agree with you that Mr. Hibbard did a great job. First, I sit on the BRRC as of this year. However, even though I've been told the past members got free tickets I pay for my season pair. I agree with the points made about lack of community involvement. I think some of the above suggestions are FANtastic ideas. I also feel that other things may be having an impact on public perception. Frankly, I'm a little suprised that sales have matched years past. After enduring such drawn out ordeals over losing baseball forever and the youth football debate I wouldn't have been suprised if ticket sales slumped. I'm very happy I was wrong. I think weather has had a bigger impact then might be expected. Even though the games were played. Many times the day didn't look like it work out. I even missed a few that I thought weren't going to happen. I think next year wiil be a better gauge then this season. A one season recovery is a tall order. It may take some time to rebuild public trust. I will say that the Red Wings organization has done a wonderful job. Naomi Silver is a friendly, intelligent and a great conversational companion. I felt her interview was quite positive even with the current attendance record. I can't say the same about Mr. Wellenzohn. I felt he was a little negative. I got the impression that he was saying, " this needs to change, or else". I hope I'm wrong, again, but I feel it's too soon to threaten us with losing the team already. I think it was very ambitious of him to gaurantee a 33.3% increase in attendance in a community that just dealt with so much controversy. Of course I want the team to succeed and with them having a great season I feel it can only help in the future. I also feel Mr. Wellenzohn and his staff will have greater success next year with 6 more months to promote the team. I'm very optomistic about the future of the Muckdogs and Batavia. Hard work and dedication will lead to success and the current poeple in place have demonstrated those qualities. (P.S. I know several kids[including my own] that are wondering when Maxwell T. Chomper will return?). I ask everybody to come to a game and get a taste of the fun. I myself was an now and then fan before I became a season ticket holder. You'll never know until you go.

Aug 14, 2008, 7:59am Permalink
Russ Stresing

Beatrice's sound suggestion made me think about the fact that the management and coaches in the Muckdogs organization are the people who will mostly likely enjoy the longest seasonal stay in the area, so it would probably also be a good idea if the manager and the coaches get out to the local ball teams and offer some pointers or pep talks. And what about a Muckdogs baseball clinic? With coaches and players already in town, the cost could be kept down and could bring in some dollars for a charity organization. The logistics would need to be hammered out, but the Batavia High School football coaches and athletic staff did a bangup job hosting hundreds of football players during their NFL develpment camp this past July, so a professional sports organization should have an easy time of it.

Aug 14, 2008, 8:53am Permalink
Bea McManis

Why not give kids (14 and under) free admission with a paid adult admission? The kids could get specially marked merchant "knot hole" tickets.
Also, if a senior citizen is allowed a dollar discount for general admission, and those attending special events are given an admission discount, then why aren't seniors allowed a discount for box seats?
If box seats were at a premium I could see not offering a senior discount. However, there are far too many empty box seats. Why not fill them with the seniors who make up the bulk of the loyal fan base?
It would appear that the numbers game (season attendance) will be a factor in determining the fate of the Muckdogs.
It would be in the best interest of the management to look at the most obvious...the young and the young at heart, to fill those seats.

Aug 14, 2008, 10:16am Permalink
Russ Stresing

Beatrice combines the ideas of discount tickets, expanding the youth base, and recruiting local business participation in one nice, neat package. They could offer the free ticket as a bonus with any qualifying purchase. The ticket would have their business logo on it (at their expense or combined with ballpark advertising?) so that the club would get a definite read on how the program is working and give the merchants concrete feedback on their advertising expenditure.

I'm surprised there isn't already a seniors' discount.

Aug 14, 2008, 11:02am Permalink
Bea McManis

Thanks for the compliment, but I have to admit that the "knot hole" tickets were the idea of Bob Clark, who happen to be reading this thread over my shoulder. It was he, not me, who put it all together in one neat package.
Weather permitting, we'll be at the game tomorrow night. Hopefully, there will be a full house.

Aug 14, 2008, 1:38pm Permalink
wayne bell

I have gone to Muckdog games for years, my son was a batboy for 1 season and I helped selling peanuts in the stands for years. I also worked in the concession areas on a as needed basis so I feel that my perspetive might be a little different than some. I do not see the same people that I have in the past. Some feel as though the prices in the food and drink areas have gone up to much. Others with families can't afford the cost of a ticket/dog/drink for the entire family. This may just be the rising cost of everything in life, but it is a big increase over past years. The changes being made are ones that do work in Rochester, but Batavia is not Rochester. This area does not have the base of fans. We are a commuting type fan and I will not blame the price of gas as the only reason for the drop in attendence, I thinkif you concider all the factors that have occured this,prices in the stadium, cost of living, and the increase in things to do for our kids. Some time the parent has to say no to something and maybe this year it is a night out at Dwyer Stadium. Having a winning team is not that large of a factor for many in the stands. Those that love baseball are there for the game and would be there anyway. Plus finally....What else is there to do in Batavia on anyother night?

Aug 15, 2008, 12:10am Permalink
Bea McManis

Wayne wrote, "Some feel as though the prices in the food and drink areas have gone up to much. Others with families can't afford the cost of a ticket/dog/drink for the entire family. This may just be the rising cost of everything in life, but it is a big increase over past years.".
The discretionary dollars can only go so far. Whether it is a family or those on fixed incomes, a night at Dwyer Stadium is no longer always feasible.
Adults can pass up a stop at the concession stands, but stadium food is a staple of the kid experience at a ball game.
Just out of curiosity, how many paid admissions are needed to open the doors? What is the breakdown (percentage) of admissions - general, box seats, etc. on a nightly basis and how many are adult tickets?
On another note, why is it okay for the children at the stadium to witness adults drinking alcohol anywhere in the stands, but smokers are sent out of the facility?

Aug 15, 2008, 7:49am Permalink
Mark Potwora

My take on all this...If 15,000 people live in Batavia,and 1500 show up at a muckdog game.That means that 10% of the city population is there.In all of Genesse county there is only 56,000 people.I just don't think that there is enough population to support a higher attendance number..With the price of gas,someone living at one end of the county would have to spend at least 10 dollars for gas..going to a game for a family of four could easily reach 50 or 60 dollars..I dont think the muckdogs have ever had high attendance numbers.I'll bet you even if it was free to go ,attendance wouldn't be much higher..Fact is we are just to small of a population to support baseball on this level.Cost are just to great....

Aug 15, 2008, 12:39pm Permalink
Amanda Cragg

If I could retort - the average attendance is 1226. Even this number is misleading. Yes, the July 4th attendance was record-breaking, but a standard night falls far less than that. A single night's attendance counts season ticket holders, whether they are in the seats or not. If you were to count the literal number of people in the park on an regular night, I'll bet you're looking at nearer to 750 -900 people. It baffles me that going to a Muckdogs game to support the team and to watch future stars (like Ryan Howard & Chase Utley) as they are learning the sport doesn't draw a crowd to the gates. In light of the economy and the popularity of the "stay-cation", going to a game for $5 GA and whatever the gas to get here totally overrules spending hundreds elsewhere. You would be stimulating the local economy and thus helping yourself in the long-run. Everyone forgets that if we lose the team, taxpayers will then be forced to pay for an empty Dwyer Stadium. Right now, it's giving back to our community and we as residents of the area should be doing all we can to support the team and their longevity in our backyard. Politics and financial issues aside, going to a Muckdogs' game is just plain fun and good for you.

Aug 15, 2008, 1:00pm Permalink
Timothy Paine

Beatrice has given a great package of ideas. You're right Russ. In case some didn't knows this. There are selected nights that offer a package of 4 seats; 4 hot dogs; 4 drinks and a program for $25. A couple of hours of entertainment and food for a family of 4 for $25 is a pretty good deal. In fact, that's exactly what led me to be a season ticket holder. We went a few times the first year and just kept going more often over time. I now buy 2 season passes and my 2 kids split up what games they want. (What's great for me is I get to go to 95% of the games) I personally like the kids free with a paid adult. Thanks for your ideas Beatrice.

Aug 15, 2008, 4:31pm Permalink

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