Saturday, May 05, 2001

Reds attendance off 21 percent

        Junior Griffey's novelty has worn off, and his hamstring has given out. Ticket prices have gone up, and gas prices have gone insane. The kids are still in school — or at least they ought to be — and the pennant race has yet to take shape.

        The Cincinnati Reds' attendance problems can be easily rationalized, but they're exceedingly hard to stomach. Through their first 13 home dates — including Friday's soiree with the San Diego Padres — Reds crowds are down nearly 21 percent from the same stage of last season, an average shortfall of 6,191 spectators a game.

        Yes, there are fewer seats to sell because of construction on Great American Ball Park. No, that shouldn't matter this much.

        Graced with three glorious spring nights, a limited engagement with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the much-hyped homecoming of Deion Sanders, the Reds filled barely half the seats in their downsized ballpark this week. The three-game series drew 61,167, fewer fans than any home series the Reds played during the 2000 season.

Far-reaching problem<9>         The Dodgers are no longer the Reds' chief adversaries — realignment has eroded the rivalry — but they're still the Dodgers. They still need to be booed, no?

        Color John Allen concerned.

        “I'm not saying the sky is falling,” the Reds chief operating officer said Friday afternoon. “It's way too early to be panicked, but it certainly has gotten our notice. We've already talked about it (internally): "What do we need to do?'”

        Healing Griffey's hamstring would be helpful, but the problem is probably more profound than the availability of any particular player. Some of it may be related to last season's traffic nightmares. Some of it may be the residue of last month's riots. Some of it may be attributable to corporate layoffs and the NASDAQ's nosedive, developments that have left many fans with fewer discretionary dollars.

        Yet part of the problem would appear to be baseball-specific and industry-wide. It has to do with the gnawing notion that baseball's regular season has become a charade; that only the richest franchises can presume to compete for the pennant.

Things are tough all over

        Despite the opening of new ballparks in Milwaukee and Pittsburgh and the heartening success of the Minnesota Twins, 16 of the 30 major-league clubs were experiencing turnstile deficits through Thursday's games. Both the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies are drawing fewer fans as first-place teams than they did last year while finishing last.

        Imagine that. Then try to explain it.

        “If we win, people will come out,” Reds general manager Jim Bowden said. “Eventually, people are going to realize this is a good, young team.”

        Because of their price increases, the Reds are actually generating more ticket revenue this season despite fewer spectators. Allen also has received two $27 checks from a guilt-ridden fan who confessed to moving into better seats than he purchased.

        Allen appreciates the gesture. What worries him is that a lot of good seats are still sitting empty.

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