The Portland Sea Dogs have plummeted from first to worst in the Eastern League standings, but that hasn’t kept fans away from Hadlock Field.

The Double-A baseball franchise, which will host the Eastern League All-Star game Wednesday, is seeing an attendance increase for the second consecutive summer after six seasons of decline.

Portland averaged 4,976 fans in 44 dates at Hadlock through Monday, ranking third in the 12-team league, where the average crowd has been 4,294. That is roughly the same pace for Portland as last year, when big-name Boston Red Sox prospects littered the lineup and the team had its best record (88-54).

The 2014 Sea Dogs ended up averaging 5,530 fans. This year, despite a 32-59 record that includes a mere 13 home victories, the team has seen a 15 percent increase in advance ticket sales for the rest of the summer, when crowds are typically much larger as the weather warms up and tourists come out in force, according to Sea Dogs General Manager Geoff Iacuessa.

“Our staff does an amazing job going out and getting groups, scheduling great promotions to get people to want to come,” Iacuessa said. “And I think we’re so lucky to have the fan base that we have. Our market is one of the smallest in the league, yet we’re always in the top four or five in attendance.”

This weekend provided a perfect example. The Sea Dogs lost all four home games to the Binghamton Mets, but 6,935 fans came on Friday night to be entertained by the popular “Zooperstars.”


The team recorded its sixth sellout of the season (7,368) on a sweltering Sunday afternoon, matching the number at this point last season, when it ended up playing before 14 packed houses. Monday’s matinee even drew 5,568, about half of them by reaching out to sell tickets to children in summer recreational programs.

If local baseball fans are fed up with losing, it’s not showing at the turnstiles.

“It’s funny,” Iacuessa said. “You talk to so many people, and maybe they’re just being nice, but they say, ‘Hey, how are the Sea Dogs doing this year?’ They never quite know exactly what the record is. Winning is nice, there’s no doubt, everybody likes to go home after a win. But I think the experience they have at the ballpark is the most important thing for many fans.”

Steve Saucier and his 6-year-old daughter, Emi, are a case in point.

The Westbrook resident is admittedly not much of a baseball fan, but a friend offered two free tickets in a skybox being rented by Cross Insurance, so he decided to bring Emi to her first game.

Emi wasn’t sure what to expect, but seemed intrigued by the prospect an hour before Friday’s first pitch.


“Will there be cheerleaders here?” she asked her dad.

“I don’t think baseball has cheerleaders, but there’s going to be some other things to watch,” Saucier assured her. “Slugger (the mascot) will be doing things and I think there will be some other puppets (the Zooperstars).”

“Is there going to be the lobster?” Emi wondered, referring to the mascot of the Maine Red Claws basketball team.

Told there would not be, she let out a relieved sigh. “Good, good,” she said and headed on her way.

Saucier said how much his daughter enjoyed the game would determine whether they’ll be back for more.

“I’m not sure what Zooperstars are, but I know that’s going to help,” he said.


It is promotions like that, and not the team’s on-field record, that are the key for expanding a fan base, Iacuessa said.

The biggest crowds come for the team’s five planned fireworks nights, including after Wednesday’s All-Star game, which was 25 seats shy of a sellout as of Monday afternoon.

The Sea Dogs are holding three bobblehead giveaways this year, and those are still a hit with the collectors.

The annual “Star Wars” night scheduled for Aug. 15 has become extremely popular, and the long-running “Field of Dreams” homage, always on the second-to-last home game of the season, has never lost its appeal.

In addition, the Sea Dogs have branched out to attract other groups of fans, such as in their “Throwback Thursday” promotions, which next week will include a pregame parade of antique cars. The participants in that will stay to watch the game and, hopefully, keep coming back.

Attendance at Hadlock peaked in 2007 at 6,483 fans per game. That was a season when the Red Sox won a second World Series in four years, which no doubt heightened baseball fever in the region. The Sea Dogs have a signed affiliation agreement with the Red Sox through 2018. Iacuessa expects that next year that will be extended through 2020.


The slow decline in attendance also began as the economy grew sluggish and tourism suffered, a trend that is finally turning around as evidenced by a spike in traffic on the Maine Turnpike the past two summers.

Iacuessa said the Sea Dogs typically see a rise in walk-up ticket sales in the summer as tourists look for activities to fill a sunny evening. Those are the fans that complement the roughly 2,000 season-ticket holders the team has always been able to rely upon.

“We try to give a reason why everyone in the family would want to come,” Iacuessa said. “So if you have a family of four, maybe one person wants to come because of the baseball; one other for the on-field promotions; one, it’s the food; and one for Slugger. Our focus is if someone in the family says, ‘Hey, I want to go to the Sea Dogs tonight,’ everyone in the family says, ‘What a great idea,’ But they all have their own reason.”


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