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Taking Cactus League Attendance: Some Teams Up, But Most Down

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Fans gather to watch the inaugural game at the new Salt River Fields between the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona..  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Fans gather to watch the inaugural game at the new Salt River Fields between the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona.. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- About half the Cactus League season is gone and, as you know, I have mentioned the low attendance at Cubs spring games so far. Of the ten dates at HoHoKam Park thus far in the 2011 spring season, not one has been a sellout -- in fact, only three of the dates so far have drawn over 10,000, which is still about 20% below a sellout. HoHoKam Park's official capacity is, according to the Cubs website, 13,074. In 2009, seven Cubs dates drew over 13,000, but it doesn't seem like that will happen this season. Only one game -- the March 24 game vs. the White Sox -- is sold out, and only one other -- the March 20 game vs. the Giants -- has no lawn tickets available.

This Arizona Republic article runs down some of the other numbers:

The Cactus League drew 1.47 million fans last year in 219 games.

Attendance totals through Sunday were at 736,358 for the first 126 games, with another 113 left to play.

The Chicago Cubs' attendance at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa is down 29 percent through Sunday for an average of 7,854 fans at each of the 10 games.

Meanwhile, attendance at Diamondbacks and Rockies games in their shiny new complex, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, is way up. This is no surprise -- the "new stadium smell" often attracts casual fans checking things out, and of course, now Diamondbacks fans who live in the Phoenix area can see their team play locally instead of having to make the two-hour drive down I-10 to Tucson for spring games. Incidentally, that number from the AZ Republic regarding Cubs attendance is incorrect. Their 10th home date did not occur until yesterday. Total attendance at HoHoKam through Tuesday is 77,723 -- an average of 7,772 for the first 10 dates, which is still way down.

The article quotes Robert Brinton, past president of the Cactus League, as saying total attendance will get "close" to 1.4 million, which would still be down from last year's total of 1.47 million in 219 total dates (the AZ Republic article indicates there will be more dates this year, 239, so the per-game average will be even lower). Why is this happening? Some ideas, after the jump.

As mentioned earlier, the new stadium near Scottsdale has a lot to do with shifting attendance patterns in the Cactus League. Casual baseball fans who might not have a strong team allegiance might be checking out the new place. Also, as mentioned above, Diamondbacks fans are flocking to their new, local, easy-to-get-in-and-out-of (take note, other Cactus League parks!) stadium. But it's not just the D'backs who are drawing well there -- the Rockies have drawn 83,531 to their nine home dates so far, an average of 9,281.

Other teams, though, are down this year, with the exception of the World Champion Giants, who have drawn 90,544 to nine dates, an average of 10,060. Why the drop? One reason is the earlier start to the spring season. This year's games began on Feb. 25; last year's on March 3. Spring breakers may be arriving in town now, or this weekend. If so, attendance should begin to rise.

Some teams, including the Cubs, are likely down because the team has not played well for a while. The Mariners appear to be a victim of this, as do the Indians. The Reds' lack of attendance may be economic -- it's a long haul to get to Phoenix from Cincinnati, with few nonstop flights.

The state of the economy is another reason. It appears that all over the Valley, things are a bit less crowded than they usually would be this time of year. People are simply not traveling as much as they used to. Anecdotally, it would also appear that sales of souvenirs -- overpriced at HoHoKam, a bit less so at other venues -- are down. I don't see as many people wearing current year spring training caps or shirts as in previous years.

It has to be worrisome and a cautionary tale to some teams. To date, 47 spring training games in the Cactus League have drawn fewer than 4,000. For a similar number of dates last year, that number was only 25. Further, even with the addition of the new complex, the number of games drawing 10,000 or more is flat -- 24 in 2010, 22 in 2011. What does this mean for attendance during the regular season, if anything?