Cactus League Attendance: There's A New Engine-Room In Town

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 14: Fans follow the action on the baseball diamond between the Cincinnati Reds and the Colorodo Rockis during the spring training baseball game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on March 14, 2011 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The final tallies are in. With 189,737 fans, the Diamondbacks almost doubled last year's attendance of 99,698, and the Rockies more than did so, going from 78,638 to 169,571. Those numbers are responsible for all the increase in total spring attendance, which went up from 1.47 million to 1.59 million. The Chicago Cubs? Down by 13%, and finishing well back in fourth, behind not only Arizona and Colorado, but also San Francisco in attendance per game. Old and busted, meet the new hotness: "The Diamondbacks and Rockies accounted for about 22 percent of Cactus League attendance."

Hey, doesn't that mean we get to whine about how important we are and demand a new stadium?

The Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community announced today that Salt River Fields at Talking Stick set the all-time Major League Baseball Spring Training attendance record by drawing 359,308 fans this spring. Peoria Sports Complex held the previous MLB record for a two-team facility when the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres drew 230,146 fans in 2008.

The D-backs were the top attendance draw in the Major Leagues this spring after averaging 11,161 fans in 17 games at Salt River Fields, and finished ahead of the New York Yankees (10,854). Arizona's total attendance this spring also ranked as the third-highest total in Cactus League history, while the club's average attendance at Salt River Fields ranked fifth. The D-backs had sellouts in 11 of their 17 games.
  -- Diamondbacks Press Release

There's no doubt that Salt River Fields At Talking Stick has been an incredible success in its debut year, receiving glowing reviews from the vast majority of fans, press and players who experienced it [once they found somewhere to park, anyway...]. Part of that is, no doubt, due to the 'new park' sheen, and there is plenty of indication that attendance at SRF@TS was, in part, driven by siphoning fans away from other parks, and in particular from the West side of Phoenix. As well as the Cubs drop noted above, the Reds were down 19.5%, the Mariners 18%, and the Dodgers 17% lower.

Outside of the teams at SRF@TS, the only other franchise to see a per-game increase were the American League champion Texas Rangers, who increased 6.7%. I was surprised that the World Series champion Giants didn't get any kind of boost - the Diamondbacks' previous record attendance mark for spring was set in 2002, the year after we won it all. Instead, they dropped 3.4%, though still averaged a draw of more than ten thousand people per game to Scottsdale Stadium. Their total attendance was also higher, due to an increased number of "home" contests played.

But overall, as Phoenix Business Journals noted, "There’s a definite east-west split when it comes to Cactus League attendance this year." When they checked the numbers over the weekend, the six east teams were averaging 8,500 per game, compared to the 5,300 for the nine on the west side of Phoenix. They reckon it's because there is "a tendency for spring training fans to stay in Scottsdale and northeast Phoenix, where there are more resorts." But Big League Stew looked at the reasons keeping Dodgers fans away from Camelback. While their math might be off, there's some valid criticism there - not least the insane ticket prices there.

The play on the field may have been less than inspiring, causing Kevin Towers to comment, "We did some things well, but we didn't have too many clean games this spring... To me, it was kind of a disappointing spring. I was hoping to finish the last week or 10 days with some momentum going into the season but that didn't happen." However, that disappointment certainly wasn't the case with the new park, or the fans who turned out in droves to see the games there.

Said Derrick Hall, "We designed this facility with the fans in mind and I personally thank them for attending this beautiful setting. We wanted it to be inviting, comfortable and fan friendly. It is clear by these numbers that we accomplished what we set out to achieve and baseball fans from all over the country have let us know that Salt River Fields is their favorite destination. I could not be prouder of the results for us and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and look forward to routinely packing this stadium for many springs to come."

In other words: "Suck it, Cubs." :-)

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