September 2, 2013

On Baseball: Sea Dogs' 2013 attendance lowest in 20-year history

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.

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - They flocked into Hadlock Field Sunday afternoon, the second sellout in three days.

click image to enlarge

In this Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, fans keep an eye on a pop fly as the Portland Sea Dogs hosted the New Hampshire Fisher Cats at Hadlock Field. Despite good August numbers, the Sea Dogs experienced their lowest attendance numbers in 20 years this season.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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"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.

(Continued on page 2)

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