Tick-tock at Target Field


From all accounts, the new Twins stadium — Target Field — is a wonderful venue that will be popular for the fans, leaving behind the anger of stadium-debates past at the Capitol.

So far, it’s done its job of making the Twins more competitive. Catcher Joe Mauer will stay a Twin because the fans who are sure to buy most of the tickets available at the park this year will pay much more money during a game than they did at the Metrodome.

The Twins’ strategy is a carbon copy of the Cleveland Indians, who moved into Jacobs Field in 1994, right around the time the young players were developing. The infusion of cash from the new stadium, which was paid for with a cigarette and alcohol tax in Cuyahoga County, allowed the franchise to lock up its young players and, as a result, the team dominated the American League for the rest of the decade. The team sold out the stadium for more than five straight years for one reason: It was cool to go to the new park and even cooler to be seen going to the new park.


Fast forward to 2010. The stadium is now 14 years old, the big stars the team locked up have gone on to free agency and won championships elsewhere, the team is picked to finish last in the American League’s Central Division. Out of 30 teams in baseball, Cleveland finished 25th in attendance last year.

What happened? The novelty of a new stadium wore off and no longer played a significant part in the success of the team. Whether good baseball begets high attendance or high attendance begets good baseball is an argument never fully settled. But the strategy of building new stadiums embraces the latter.

How long can Minnesota expect the novelty of Target Field to attract enough fans to make the team contenders for a championship? About the length of Joe Mauer’s contract, according to a 2003 study by Dennis Coates, a professor of economics at the University of Maryland:

It appears, at least in baseball, that the novelty effect of a new stadium now has a much shorter duration than in the past. For example, in Pittsburgh, where PNC Park opened in 2001, attendance was down about 26.8% in the 2002 season from the 2001 level, almost back to its level from the last season in Three Rivers Stadium in 2000, and after 51 home dates in the 2003 season continued to decline another 9% from the 2002 season. In Detroit, where Comerica Park opened in April 2000, attendance was down 21.7% in 2002 relative to 2001, which was lower than the 2000 level, and even below the level for 1999, the last in Tiger Stadium.After 49 home dates in the 2003 season attendance continued to decline by another 9% from the 2002 season. In Milwaukee, where Miller Park opened in April 2001, generating a boost to Brewers’ attendance of 1.23 million over the 2000 season, attendance was down by 30% in 2002 relative to 2001, and after 54 home dates in 2003 continued to decline by 22% from the 2002 season. Admittedly, the national economy has been in, or sluggishly emerging from, a recession for the past few years, and the threat of a work stoppage hung over much of the 2002 season. However, attendance was only down 6.2% across all of Major League Baseball in 2002 and several teams experienced attendance growth.1 The Sports Business Journal highlighted these effects in an article by Frederick C. Klein (2002), suggesting that there has been a decline in the novelty effects of stadiums and that the decline has been worse for stadiums and arenas that are not placed “in a lively neighborhood, where people are happy to gather even on non-game days.”

The Twins are likely to experience a somewhat longer novelty effect because, unlike Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, the team is actually good on the day the new stadium opens and the stadium is part of downtown Minneapolis. And, at least so far, the team hasn’t pocketed the revenue increase, preferring to reinvest it in the team. On the other hand, it didn’t have much of a choice at this point. If Joe Mauer had been allowed to leave, the entire argument for the public subsidy for it in the first place would’ve collapsed in the first year of the stadium.

Last month, the Web site Baseball Daily Digest, looked at the payrolls of the 19 teams who’ve opened new stadiums since Camden Yards in Baltimore — the stadium that stated the stadium-building craze — opened.

While these teams’ salaries have skyrocketed as they move to their new homes, their winning percentages have remained virtually the same. Excluding the 2009 Twins of all the teams in the above table their collective record in the last season of their old homes was 1,421-1,430 for a winning percentage of .498. Their collective record in the first season of their new homes was 1,394-1,405 for a winning percentage of….498.

For now, however, the bubble is growing bigger. It’s cool to have tickets to Target Field, as the number of tweets and pictures posted online attest. It’s a good time to be a Twins fan. The future is bright in the new stadium. But this weekend, the clock starts ticking.