By comparison, the Diamondbacks are a relatively young team, and longevity could be a significant factor in the overall economic health of the franchise.
While the focus is winning games and ultimately playing for a World Championship each season, the number of people who come out and watch the team, in its effort to reach the pinnacle of the game, remains an equally profound objective.
Right now, the Diamondbacks’ organization would like more fans in Chase Field and reach the stadium capacity saturation of teams like the Phillies, Red Sox, Yankees, Giants and Cubs.
That day may not be far off.
D-backs’ CEO Derrick Hall, taking time from recognizing Diamondbacks employees for their community service during a corporate function Tuesday afternoon, said he has began to see an important change in the team’s fan base.
“When I first came here (in May, 2005), and if we were playing the Cubs, I would look in the stands and see a dad with a Cubs shirt and his son with a Cubs shirt,” Hall said. “Now, I look down and see a dad with his Cubs shirt and his son with a D-backs shirt. If you look at the 15 and 16 year-olds in this market, the Diamondbacks are the only team they have known, so I see important changes.”
Building a fan base with little history remains a challenge facing Hall and his efforts to have the turnstiles at Chase Field turn with greater regularity.
The Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays are the last expansion teams and each was granted a franchise in 1995. When the Rays were assigned to the American League and the Arizona to the National League, play commenced for the 1998 season. Compare that longevity of other teams like the Phillies, established in 1883, the Giants, also in 1883, the Cardinals, established in 1882, the Cubs in 1870, the Reds in 1882 and starting playing professionally in 1869, and Cleveland and the White Sox, both in 1894.
Because Phoenix is considered a transient market, fans of professional teams have the challenge of establishing roots and forging tangible relationships with Arizona teams. It’s not uncommon for several thousand fans of opposing teams cheer against the D-backs or other Arizona-based clubs simply through previous loyalty.
The Diamondbacks have tried to compensate for lack of longevity by offering affordable tickets and ticket packages and create what Hall calls “a greater fan experience.”
Promotions certainly help, and the Diamondbacks continue to provide fans with bobbleheads, tee shirts, growth charts for kids, backpacks, and other goodies.
When Hall was with the Dodgers, giveaway nights occurred during the week because the Dodgers usually sold out on weekends. Now, Hall says, he wants to use these promotions on weekends so the fan experience can carry over to weekday games.
Active in season-ticket sales, Hall said the D-backs have sold about 80 percent of their season packages compared to last year. That’s in the 10,000-12,000 ticket range and Hall hopes for the D-backs to climb over the 2.1 million mark, a figure reached in the past few seasons.
By compassion, the D-backs best year was 3,200,103 in 2002, the season after the team defeated the Yankees in the 2001 World Series.
Attendance seems to spike after championship seasons.
In 2008, and following their 2007 West Division crown, the D-backs drew 2,509,058, their highest total in the past eight years. After winning the 2011 West Division crown, the Diamondbacks increased slightly to 2,177,617 in 2012, up from 2,107,087 for the 2011 season.
Hall and D-backs marketing department now need to draw a fine line between filling seats at Chase Field with winning or promotions. If the D-backs fall out of contention early or chase the West Division leaders for most of the summer, fans will recognize the mediocrity and stay away.
The Phoenix sports market tends to be “a band wagon town,” and as long as teams win, there will be bodies in the stands. Otherwise, fans tend to stay away from losers in this town, and the D-backs would need to show both a competitive spirit and wins in the standings to assure the turnstiles keep clicking at Chase Field.
Promotions can fill only a small number of seats.
Already listed for 2013, the popular bobble heads are back, and several are on the up-coming calendar.
The D-backs plan to have a Paul Goldschmidt bobble head night on Sat. June 8 against the Giants, a Miguel Montero bobble head night during Hispanic Heritage Weekend on Sat. Sept. 14 against the Rockies, and a Wade Miley Garden Gnome Night on Sat. April 27 against Colorado.
For now, Hall says the challenge remains to build both a stable and loyal fan base, as well give the Diamondbacks faithful the best fan experience in the game.