Fan Confidence: the Downward Curve

PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 01: General view as the Arizona Diamondbacks take batting practice before the Major League Baseball game against the Chicago Cubs at Chase Field on May 1, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks defeated the Cubs 4-3. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

It’s a month into 2011 and the season is already the same as 2010.  The bullpen still isn’t very good, though it isn’t historically bad.  The offense is still scoring a ton of runs, but not as many as the team is giving up.  Some players are surprisingly en fuego, while others are ice cold.  Last year it was Kelly Johnson, Chris Young and Miguel Montero for the former, Justin Upton for the latter.  This year it’s Justin Upton, Ryan Roberts, and Willie Bloomquist (so far) who are hot.  It’s Chris Young and Kelly Johnson who are not. 

But 12-15 isn’t so bad, and neither is being in fourth place in the NL West after two straight years in the cellar.  Then you remember that last year on May 1st the Diamondbacks were 11-12, and in fourth place in the division.  I guess things never change.

It was May that sank any hope last year, and May lurks again. 

The Diamondbacks this year haven’t given a sign that they have such a bad month in them, but they haven’t shown that they have any upward ambition.   

Hope is a trailing indicator.  It doesn’t matter right now that the Indians have the best record in baseball; fans aren’t going to the park because they’re thinking about the previous two 70 win seasons.

As an amusing aside, there is academic work suggesting that unpredictability of a game's outcome can positively affect attendance.  Apparently fans want to know their team will win, but not be too certain of the fact (for more, read "The Demand of Major League Baseball" by Knowles, Sherony, and Haupert).

Arizona has one thing to anticipate over other struggling teams: the All-Star Game.  Unfortunately, if the frequent calls for ticket sales are any indication, Phoenix fans aren’t buying into the game either.  Sure, it’s expensive, but there certainly should be enough people to fill Chase Field.  Of course, perhaps the Diamondbacks are advertising because they only have a thousand or two seats left to fill.

Much has been made about Phoenix being a frontrunner city.  It’s true, but the statement isn’t remarkable.   Nearly every city is a frontrunner city, because the consumer has a large demand for entertainment options with only a limited supply of entertainment dollars.  Baseball is basketball is a blockbuster movie is going out to dinner.  Why would a consumer use some of its hard earned money on a product it feels is inferior, when it has other, interchangeable options?

Fans at the Snakepit seem to be more confident, but we’re a self-selected group.  Of course we’re going to go to games; the very act of choosing to find a site dedicated to the team suggests a higher level of interest.

Even for dedicated Diamondbacks fans there are replacement goods.  Why, a hypothetical straw man might ask, would I drive all the way to Chase Field and pay big league prices to watch a marginal team, when I can watch a winning ASU or UA baseball program?  Or the Tucson Padres for the price of peanuts?  Or just stay home and watch on TV?

We go to games for the game, yes, but we also go because it shakes us from our comfort.  It reminds us of our communal nature, that we are not just atomized parts of a larger body.  The walls of the ballpark provide sanctuary from a fractured existence.  We have no reason to be confident, not this year, and yet here we are.  The walls fuse together proud individuals into the semblance of a community, only to spill us back out on to the streets again, to face it all on our own.

There’s nothing left to expect except more misery, so even though things are the same as last year, it feels like a brand new day.

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