PORTLAND – They flocked into Hadlock Field Sunday afternoon, the second sellout in three days.
“It’s been a good way to finish up the season on a high note,” said Sea Dogs General Manager Geoff Iacuessa said. “The sun is out. People are having a good time.
“Gives us reason for optimism and moving forward.”
Sunday’s sellout follows the Sea Dogs’ best August attendance in four years. But those numbers could not compensate for what has been the lowest average attendance in the team’s 20-year history.
Through Sunday, the Sea Dogs are averaging 5,095 fans. A sellout in Monday’s final game would increase the average to 5,129.
The previous low was last year’s mark of 5,434.
First, let’s look at the obvious factors: schedule and weather.
Portland usually has 25 or 26 home games combined in April and May — when the weather is the coldest and school is still in session. This year, the Sea Dogs had 31 games in April and May, plus games on June 1 and 2.
Then there was the rain. It kept coming, postponing games or keeping the crowds away.
“We knew going in, with 33 games through June 2, it was going to be a challenge,” Iacuessa said. “When we get an exceptionally wet spring, it definitely hurts. And a rainy summer hurts the walk-up.”
Chris Cameron, Sea Dogs assistant general manager/media relations, keeps a count on how many times the staff has to pull the tarp onto the field because of rainy weather. It happened a record 74 times in 2013.
NEXT YEAR’S schedule has not yet been announced, but Iacuessa said “it’s not as heavily front-loaded as this year.”
As for the weather? Who knows? But this is New England. It will be cold early. It’s the front office’s job to sell the Sea Dogs product.
“The weather is beyond our control,” Iacuessa said. “But if we go out and market the team and give people a reason to buy tickets in advance … .”
OTHER FACTORS that may affect attendance are prices, the team, and the overall experience.
The Sea Dogs raised their ticket prices for the first time in five years, but their tickets are still the lowest in the Eastern League — $10 for box seats, $9 for reserved seats and $8 for general admission, with senior citizens and children paying $9, $8 and $5. Concession items can cost $3 or more. The famous Sea Dog Biscuit ice cream sandwich is now $3.25.
“It gets expensive,” said Nell O’Connell of South Portland. She and her husband Dan, along with sons Finn, 9, and Owen, 7, were waiting in line for a recent home game. “We’re dropping 80 bucks every time we come.”
But the O’Connells keep coming, attending 5-6 games a year.
They are like most fans we’ve talked to. They would like to see the Sea Dogs win more games, but they still plan to keep attending.
“I much rather come here than a Red Sox game,” said Larry Day of North Conway, N.H. He attends about 8-10 games a year. “It’s easy to get to, less expensive, and there’s not a bad seat in the house.”
PROMOTIONS ON the field have been upgraded to include a popular race with kids on bouncy horses. Plus there is the new Maine Event race between four mascot characters which has drawn a lot of crowd response.
But the extra number of promotions and between-inning activities has bumped out time for Red Sox highlights on the video board.
Those highlights used to be a mainstay of Sea Dogs games and were always greeted with cheers.
“It’s something we’re making sure we’re going to get back in,” Iacuessa said.
There is also the board itself. It is 10 years old and could use an update. Iacuessa would only say he and his staff are looking at all areas that need improvement.
ONE PROMOTION that needs to be changed is when a staff member brings out a small inflatable cow. Fans, especially kids, go crazy and cheer, wanting to receive the “valuable” prize.
But the promotion takes place during the game and not between innings. It makes for a strange scene. Fans are cheering, regardless of what is happening on the field (a recent game featured the fans at their loudest while a Sea Dogs player struck out).
THE SEA DOGS remain one of the most popular teams in the 12-team Eastern League. They ranked fourth in attendance last year and will be fourth or fifth this year. It’s impressive, considering that Portland has one of the league’s smallest population bases and is the northernmost city.
But the Sea Dogs’ staff hopes to see bigger crowds, maybe even some day getting back to the glory days of 2007 (and the record 6,483 average).
It will take good marketing, an improved schedule, better weather, continued innovations and (maybe) a few more wins.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: