In defense of Twins fans

New York Yankees’ Travis Hafner, right, beats the tag by pitcher Minnesota Twins pitcher Josh Roenicke to score on passed ball by catcher Ryan Doumit in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Monday, July 1, 2013 in Minneapolis. The Yankees won 10-4. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Under gorgeous skies last evening, 29,619 fans showed up at Target Field to watch a fairly bad ballclub play a fairly mediocre one. That’s pretty impressive unless you’re a sportswriter who gets into the games free.

Sports fans, most of whom work for a living, are unfairly targeted when times get tough. Last night’s tweet from Patrick Reusse is a perfect example, given that it suggests (a) Fans have an obligation to support a franchise with their hard-earned cash even when the product is substandard and (b) The 29,619 fans who showed up were little more than chum.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that fewer fans are showing up these days at Target Field. If the history of other new stadiums is any indication, the novelty of a new stadium is good for about three years. After that, team performance matters.

But Minnesota fans hardly deserve scorn. The team ranks 11th in attendance percentage this year (averaging only 1,000 more than Monday night’s crowd), just three positions lower than the vaunted Yankees. Think about that. Five million people live in the entire state of Minnesota; 8 million people live in New York City alone, yet the Twins are able to draw only 9,000 fewer fans on average than the Yankees.

Other than the Chicago Cubs, no other team ahead of Minnesota in the attendance rank has fewer wins than the Twins. But 22 other teams have better records. Yet the fans show up.

That’s despite a growing trend in professional sports to soak as much money from the fans as possible based on the reputation — if not the actual talent — of the team the Twins are playing.

A “Skyline Deck” ticket to tonight’s Yankees-Twins game will run you $47. The same ticket for the next Twins’ homestand against the Cleveland Indians, however, will cost $41. The Indians are in first place. The Yankees decidedly are not. Why the difference? Under premium pricing, the more popular teams are priced higher. If you raise the price of something, fewer people will buy it. That’s economics. We just socked it to smokers in Minnesota on that theory.

Thanks to Ruth, Gehrig, Winfield, Nettles, Jeter, and — unfortunately – ARod, the Yankees apparently merit a high cost to watch even though their present lineup, while enough to beat the Twins, isn’t particularly watchable. Just ask Zach Schonbrun of the New York Times, who writes today:

Through 41 home games this season, the Yankees have drawn nearly 106,000 fewer fans than at this point a year ago, a 6.1 percent drop that is almost twice as large as the overall decline in baseball. More than half a dozen other teams have had bigger attendance losses than the Yankees, but without exception they are teams that went from good to bad, at least for a while, or from bad to worse, or that play in cities without a notably intense fan base.

And it’s true that Minnesota’s attendance drop is 9 percent from last year. But to their credit, the Twins didn’t sugarcoat what this season was going to be like. The team was going to be bad this year — really bad. And yet the fans are showing up at Target Field in numbers higher than most other cities in Major League Baseball, even though the average ticket price is a dollar higher than the year Target Field opened.

On this date that year, the Twins were 44-36, and in first place by a game over the Tigers. A year ago on this date, they were dead last, a franchise in clear decline.

Of the 30 Major League franchises, however, Minnesota ranks 13th in the Fan Cost Index, which “comprises the prices of four adult average-price tickets, two small draft beers, four small soft drinks, four regular-size hot dogs, parking for one car, two game programs and two least expensive, adult-size adjustable caps.” That’s $221.36 for Target Field fans, just $4 less than a year ago.

And yet, Twins fans still show up. Good for them.

  • We were considering going on Wednesday, but changed our minds after seeing it was the Yankees. I dislike the Yankees, the Twins were unlikely to beat them, and you have to deal with Yankee fans. Yuck. Nothing about this series would lead me to spend extra on a ticket. The weather would be about it, but this is Minnesota, we have a lot of great out door activities where the beer doesn’t cost $9.

    I’ll go to several more Twins games this year. The stadium is fantastic and baseball will always be in my top 3 spectator sports. But I’ll always avoid the Yankees.

    • Jeff

      A true baseball fan will appreciate seeing 1 surefire Hall of Famer (Ichiro), 1 borderline Hall of Famer (Pettite), and the greatest relief pitcher in the history of baseball (Mariano Rivera). And that’s without Jeter in the lineup.

      • Nick

        Ahh yes, the true fan argument. Who wouldn’t want to pay $40 to see a 39-, 41- and 43-year-old with vastly deteriorated skills play against the hometown team that won’t compete for the playoffs. Especially since the only player worth seeing, Rivera, isn’t even guaranteed to pitch since he is the closer.

        • They’ve gone young players, too. Hafner is only 36. :*)

      • This “true” baseball fan also goes to 3-4 Saint games a year, is going to see the Mud Hens in two weeks, and randomly stops with his significant other to watch little league and high school games they stumble upon. Forget overpaid Hall of Famers. I just want to watch baseball and be outside when it’s nice out. 🙂

      • What kind of “true” baseball fan hasn’t seen Ichiro at this point anyway? He’s been coming to Minnesota for more than a decade!

  • Jeff

    29,000 is a nice crowd, but Reusse is right. Last night was what outdoor baseball is all about. Plus, the Twins are playing competitive baseball – after the last 2 seasons, this is all we could have hoped for.
    What bugged me the most were the thousands and thousands who walked out BEFORE Mariano Rivera threw a pitch. The few thousand left (including me) stood up and gave the greatest closer ever a round of applause.
    Regardless of allegiances, true baseball fans can appreciate the legends. Sad to say, the majority of Minnesota fans are either not true baseball fans or as Reusse said, they just don’t give a damn.

    • It was also a Monday night, which might be THE worst night to attend baseball games for people.

      Re: Rivera. I would have no problem waiving the 5 year rule to usher him immediately into the Hall of Fame. And his practice this year of meeting all the ushers and “little people,” signing autographs, and posing for pictures out of the glare of the media is about as classy as can be.

      By your standard of “true baseball fan’ by the way, there are only 8,000 of them in Minnesota — that’s the number that often went to the Metrodome to watch the team play during the truly lean years.

  • Dave

    Patrick’s tweet could be taken another way. Instead of making a point, he may have been confirming one. The team sucks and the fans have officially written them off. Tone-of-voice doesn’t transmit well over the internet.

    On the other hand, 29k+ is still big friggin money for the Pohlads. That’s really not that low of attendance for a worthless team. If they can keep the stadium that full with that shoddy a product, there is absolutely no incentive to raise payroll. None. They probably have more room to cut.

    Imagine if people were willing to pay $50,000 for the same Camry that really costs $19,000. Would Toyota drop the price and/or improve the car? Hell no.

    • I don’t see how the numbers indicate fans have “officially written them off.” Is the complaint that the park isn’t sold out? Because in a market of this one, being in the upper part of attendance seems pretty impressive.

      If you’re drawing 17,000 fans a night, like one certain first-place team, then I think Reusse’s observation makes more sense. If the observation is that it’s not 2010 anymore, well, OK, then. So noted.

      But I don’t think Twins fans have anything to apologize for in terms of support for the franchise this year. They’ve gone above and beyond.

      • Dave

        I don’t know. I’m not saying I agree with him. The thing is that he evidently equates “game attendance” with “Twins fans.” That’s specious reasoning. I am a Twins fan but haven’t been to Target Field since 2010. It costs more than I want to spend, but more importantly, I’m speaking with my wallet because the team sucks.

        On the other hand, I do still watch Twins games on TV (though not nearly as much as when they’re winning). A lot of hardcore baseball fans watch them — fans that, out of protest, won’t attend a game.

  • Nick

    If only you had your facts straight….Reusse actually is part of a group of 4 who has Legends Club season tickets….so…not going for free like you want to say.

    • Yes, I saw that on Twitter. And, of course, as a writer he gets a press pass when he works the game. So maybe he just had his pronouns mixed up regarding who’s giving up on the team.

  • As I pointed out, it’s fairly ridiculous to compare attendance figures in the early years of a new ballpark. It just is. So let’s compare it to how Twins fans supported the team in previous years, 2009, for example, the last year in the Metrodome. The year they won the Central Division. That year they drew 2.4 million fans, good for 14th on the list. On Tuesday July 7, against the Yankees, the team drew 29,540 fans; not quite 100 fewer than last night. They followed that up on Wed and Thrs with 35-40k. Pulling a Monday night game against the Yankees out of the hat to assert fans have given up is absurd. They weren’t giving up on the 2009 Twins, and they’re not failing to support a much more putrid version in 2013. That simply an undebateable fact. at this point.

    • 29,000 would have been an outstanding attendance during the bleak ’84 & ’85 seasons. I recall going to a game at the Dome in ’85 with fewer than 10,000 people in the stands (regardless of what the “announced” attendance was). Hrbek, Puckett, Blyleven, Brunansky, Viola, Gaetti, and Smalley were all on the team that year.

  • It just got real on Twitter. From Dick Bremer, Twins TV guy: “Apparently, the fewer games you go to, the more you know about baseball. Should have been a sports columnist.”

  • Not entirely the point of all of this, but I wanted to share this infographic about fan expectations at live events because it feels like it fit the general topic of sporting game attendance.

    57% of fans now say they prefer watching games at home.

    It makes sense. If you stay home, you can drink a six pack of your favorite beverage for the price of a single Miller Lite at the stadium. Seeing Mariano from 500 ft away in the outfield, you might be able to make out a facial expression. Sitting at home in front of your HD TV (which are increasingly affordable), you can count beads of sweat on Mariano’s head. You can stay home on a school-night/work night instead of dealing with traffic and parking, etc. etc.

    • All true, of course. But wouldn’t you have loved to have been in Great America Ballpark last night?

      • I wouldn’t trade attending a no-hitter for all the Big League Chew in baseball.

        Although I hope that Great America Ballpark has wifi that is at least as serviceable as Target Field. No-hitters are one of the rare sporting events that feels like my entire social network is watching the same thing — which can be a lot of fun if you like social media.

        Of course I wouldn’t spend my time at a no-hitter staring at my phone … but baseball more than any other sport offers a multitude of opportunities to steal glances away from the action. (Basketball is the worst)