What's Next For The Phils?
If the Phillies continue to falter, will their attendance emulate Cleveland's or Chicago's?
What's Next For The Phils?
Frank Fitzpatrick, Inquirer Sports Columnist
The Cubs? Or the Indians?
Which model will the fallen Phillies follow?
Let's assume that what we've watched from the Phillies these first 108 games of 2012 is no aberration and that the entertaining, successful and profitable mini-dynasty we've all watched these last six seasons is at an end.
How will the aftermath play out among what is a much larger but also, one suspects, much more shallow fan base than ever before?
It's hard to say right now how many will abandon the bandwagon. A younger generation of Philadelphians -- seemingly more willing than their ancestors to measure their ballpark satisfaction by something other than wins and losses -- is heavily invested, literally and figuratively, in Phillies baseball.
For these merchandise-wearing throngs, it appears, a Phillies game is a social outing, more akin to a night at the movies or the bar than an occasion for traditional sports spectating. As long as there are tailgate parties, drinking games and Ashburn Alley, who cares if the bullpen blows another lead? They're not likely to jump ship any time soon.
What happened when the Phillies declined in the past? Well, the only other time the franchise enjoyed a sustained run of success like this, from 1976 through 1984, they drew an average of nearly 2.5 million a season to cavernous Veterans Stadium.
Between 1985 and their next postseason appearance in 1993, their yearly attendance fell off, but not as dramatically as we might want to believe. The Phils never drew fewer than 1.8 million in those eight seasons and topped the 2 million mark three times, in 1987, 1989 and 1991. The average attendance for those years was 1.9 million
After the pennant-winning Phils attracted a Vet-record 3.1 million in '93, the dropoff was more profound. By 1997, when Terry Francona's last-place Phils lost 94 games, attendance had dipped to 1.4 million, the lowest total since the multi-purpose stadium's second season, 1972. Attendance stayed below 2 million until 2003, when the Vet's final year and a decent Phillies team (86-76) combined to bump it up to 2.2 million.
Then came Citizens Bank Park and the formula and expectations for attendance success changed forever.
But if the Phils should remain out of contention next year and beyond, what happens?
Remember, Manuel's old team, the Cleveland Indians, once sold out 454 games in a row -- the Phils current sttreak is at xxx. They moved into new Jacobs Field in 1994 and from June of 1995 and April of 2001 there were no empty seats.
The two situations, however, might not be as similar as they appear. The Indians, after all, had never drawn as consistently well as the Phillies during bad years. Between 1950 and 1993, their last season at old Municipal Stadium, Cleveland never once drew 2 million fans, never even reached 1.5 million.
So maybe the Phils will go the way of the Cubs, a team that, for a variety of reasons that aren't all related to baseball, maintains strong attendance even in dismal seasons like this one.
The Cubs have drawn 3 million plus to Wrigley Field every year since 2003, even though only two ended with a postseason appearance.
Granted, Citizens Bank Park isn't Wrigley, but then again it's not the Vet either.