With the coming of fall goes the end of the baseball season.
The Springfield Cardinals finished 60-79 this year, but another story is what’s happening in the stands.
Attendance figures for the Double-A team declined year-to-year for the seventh time in the last decade, according to Minor League Baseball data.
In total, 5,000 fewer fans passed through the Hammons Field gates during the 2018 season, which ended Sept. 3. While the full-year numbers are down, the average game attendance is up 1.5 percent to 4,871 fans for the Springfield club.
Dan Reiter, the Springfield Cardinals vice president and general manager, said he emphasizes the number of fans at each game - totaling 326,362 fans yearlong.
“I always look at average attendance instead of the overall attendance. Part of what affects the total attendance is rain,” he said.
Reiter and officials from the St. Louis Cardinals declined to disclose ticket sales revenue on the year.
Rained out games play a factor in attendance, along with the interests of fans.
“I think consumer behavior values flexibility way more than before,” Reiter said. “I think people are more averse to commitment. Part of our league meetings, everyone’s talking about that season tickets have fallen and what are we going to do.”
Overall Texas League attendance numbers are down, as well, to 2.68 million in 2018, a 1.18 percent drop from the prior season, according to Springfield Business Journal’s research of MiLB attendance numbers. Ten years ago, 3.12 million fans attended Texas League games, representing a 14 percent slide in that time.
Even the league’s long-standing attendance leader, the Frisco RoughRiders in Texas, is dealing with sluggish numbers.
According to the MiLB data, the Frisco club’s 10-year average is 7,972 fans per game. This past season, the highest league average was the RoughRiders at 6,886 per game.
By comparison, the Springfield club’s peak average game attendance was 7,523 per game in 2005, its inaugural year in town.
“Every team is trying to figure out how to change a program that’s been in existence for decades to adapt to new consumer behavior,” Reiter said.
The last time the Cardinals were in the top three in average league attendance was in 2009, with 5,835 walking through the gates each game, according to MiLB attendance numbers.
The team has adopted a new plan to get people into the stadium for the 2019 season. It’s called Red Access, and the program moves away from season tickets to membership sales.
“We are so excited for that program because we think it’s going to be innovative in this community, innovative in the Texas League and innovative across all of baseball,” Reiter said.
The staff came up with the program through surveys with current and former season ticket holders, Reiter said, noting fans wanted more flexible season ticket plans. Now, they’ll have the ability to trade out ticket dates to fit their schedules.
“The core of the Red Access is that word, access,” Reiter said. “It is to make sure that people understand that once you’re a member with us, you’re welcome inside these gates whenever we have a Cardinals game.”
Red Access membership provides general admission access to every regular season home game through the new Bypass Gate, in addition to at least two games per month in the same reserved stadium seat, according to the program’s pamphlet. Fans using the Bypass Gate do not receive pregame giveaways.
Other benefits the club touts are pre-exchange and post-exchange ticket privileges.
“Right when we launched it, we had some people who had never bought season tickets buy memberships,” Reiter said. “That was a great indicator for us that this program will be invigorating for the city of Springfield.”
The program has three membership tiers, each with six seating options and multiple payment plans.
The lowest package, called Base Hit membership, starts at $19 per month for access to 10 games in reserved seating, and the most expensive package, the MVP, starts at $127 per month for all 70 games in field box seats.
“Our goal for this year is to stay flat. I know that might sound crazy but when season tickets are on the decline across all sports, if you stay flat for a year we think it’s going to be a victory,” Reiter said, adding that he wouldn’t mind seeing growth as well.
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