Wednesday, February 6, 2013

MYTH-ZOU: SEC Crowds

Myth #3:  There's no way Mizzou Baseball can draw the kind of crowds other SEC baseball programs draw.
Taylor Stadium
Photo by Ensign Beedril flickr.com

FACT:  Taylor Stadium is NOT the smallest ballpark in the SEC, but it does have the worst average attendance in the SEC.
Kentucky's Cliff Hagan Stadium lists an official capacity of 3,000, compared to Taylor Stadium's 3,031.  Kentucky is in the planning stages for a new $32 million baseball stadium
OK, so Mizzou avoids being at the bottom by 31 aluminum bleacher seats.  It should be noted, though, that Cliff Hagan counts 2,000 chair-back seats among its 3000 capacity, while Taylor Stadium contains only 537 seat-back chairs out 3,031.

In a ballpark where the weather is frequently cold in the early part of the season (and sometimes in the late part), aluminum bleacher seating does not provide the warmest fan experience possible.

Weather is always the first topic that comes up in any discussion of poor attendance at Mizzou Baseball games.  While those of us who are long-time fans take a sort of perverse pleasure in braving the cold for a baseball game (much as football fans revel in "great football weather"), most people have been conditioned to connect the game of baseball with warm summer days.

On the other hand, the average temperature at Fayetteville, Arkansas, is only slightly warmer than CoMo during March, April and May (see a comparative listing of average temps at all SEC locations at SEC Dixie-nary: W is for Weather), yet the Razorbacks have a large minor-leage quality stadium featuring 10,737 seats with 8,237 of those coming from chair backs and 34 luxury boxes (details at Baum Stadium at Cole Field), and they came in second for average attendance in 2012 with 7,873 fans per game. (2012 Division I Baseball Attendance, NCBWA)

The #1 attendance leader in 2012 was LSU (10,601 avg), as they are every year. Mizzou is unlikely to ever approach those heights in attendance.

It's unlikely, actually, that Mizzou will any time soon approach the top 10 in Division I attendance, a list that include 6 SEC schools in 2012.

But after the Top 10, the attendance numbers drop pretty quickly. #10 (TCU) averaged 4,161, while #20 (Wichita State)averaged 2,897.

If Wichita State - a school in a more comparable climate to mid-Missouri, can pull in those kind of numbers, why can't Missouri? In fact, Nebraska came in at #12 (3,605), and Creighton at #18 (3,075). Fellow near-north SEC schools Tennessee and Kentucky both averaged a little over 1,800 in 2012.

It would make sense that Missouri should - without any remodeling or expansion to Taylor Stadium, match Kentucky in attendance, given the similar seating capacity.

FACT: Missouri's 2012 Average Attendance: 824
Past Years' Regular Season Home Attendance
2012: Total: 26,357; Average: 824
2011: Total: 13,334; Average: 476
2010: Total: 19,310; Average: 715
2009: Total: 23,848; Average: 852
2008: Total: 30,687; Average: 1,136
2007: Total: 14,190; Average: 645
2006: Total: 23,906; Average: 885
2005: Total: 16,965; Average: 707
So, how can the Missouri Tigers start pulling in larger crowds, increase their support among the community, both campus and town?

First, a mini-myth (a sub-myth to Myth #3):  You gotta allow beer at the ballpark, like the other SEC schools do.

I don't know how many times I've hard people tell me they'd come to Mizzou Baseball games "if only they'd sell beer.  Beer and Baseball go together, they say.  Every major league and minor league stadium sells beer.  And, they add, the SEC knows this, and you can get beer at SEC ballparks.

And they point to the most watched college baseball video this past season:




Some people watch that video and think, Wow, that looks like a blast!  Others would want to make sure their seats are nowhere near that crowd.  But there's something you should know:

FACT:  Only a few SEC ballparks allow beer, and of those that do, several allow it "unofficially" in beyond the stadium walls berms or fields or other informal viewing areas.

As best I can tell, beer is a regular part of the ballpark experience at Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama, and Arkansas.  Kentucky and Vanderbilt may allow some liquor - or maybe not (I've read conflicting stories on this).  But LSU, South Carolina, Florida, Auburn, Texas A&M, Georgia, and Tennessee do not allow alcohol at the ballpark.

And Mizzou.

Notice that LSU, the perennial attendance leader in college baseball, is among the "dry" stadiums.  Apparently it is possible to draw a crowd without getting them drunk.

So what can Missouri Baseball do to build the fanbase and draw a crowd to the games?

GOAL #1:  Catch up to the SEC lower tier (Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia)
  • For the second year in a row, the long-range forecast for Missouri in March-April-May is for above average temperatures.  This could present a unique opportunity to draw in new fans during Mizzou's first season in the SEC.  Grab them this season, not next season, while the SEC is new and the weather is good.  From experience I can testify that once you grab the average baseball fans attention toward college baseball, it's hard to lose that attention.

  • The MU Strategic Communications office started getting creative and ramping up the promotion of Mizzou Baseball last year, and I hear they have plans to build interest even more this season.  That's good -  promotion and publicity for Baseball has frankly sucked for a very long time.  With predicted good weather and the excitement of SEC competition, the right promotions can bring in the crowds.

  • Win.  That's really the only sure-fire way to build excitement and build attendance.  When you look at those Mizzou attendance figures for the past several years, the 2008 spike came after the Tigers went to a Super Regional in 2006 and then hosted a Regional in 2007.  If you WIN it, people will come  
GOAL #2:  Do what it takes to continue expanding the fan base and attendance

  • Mizzou Baseball shouldn't even concern itself with competing with SEC teams in the national Top 10 (LSU, Arkansas, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M).  It might happen some day, but don't count on it.  But the Tigers could aim for consistently bring in 3,000 or more to games.
  • This would require a ballpark that has more and better seating, with better amenities for the fans.  When any venue consistently reaches 75% of capacity, attendance will continue to cycle through growth and retraction.  An average crowd of 3,000 needs a capacity of at least 4,000.  And if you're going to try to get that many fannies in the seats, more of those seats need to be comfortable and warmer than aluminum bleachers.  And there will need to be more restrooms, more parking, more concessions, more open space to walk and stand and mingle.
  • There's just no way Taylor Stadium could ever be expanded and renovated to meet those needs without literally taking over either the Walton Soccer/Track Stadium or the football practice field.  Or both.  So, if Mizzou Baseball manages to achieve Goal #1 (above), there's probably going to have to be a new ballpark in a new location.
And there's another good reason to look at sprucing up the stadium or building a new one:  If you build it, recruits will come.  Or will they?  Myth #4 is tomorrow.


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