Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Spinning turnstiles bode well for Reds

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Reds' great start this season has been tempered by what happened last year, when the team, which fell short of planned attendance revenues, traded away players such as Aaron Boone, Jose Guillen and Scott Williamson to save money.

"Everyone is a little cynical now," shortstop Barry Larkin said.

But the club's unexpected success - the Reds lead the National League Central by 1 1/2 games - has the team ahead of internal attendance projections.

That means that even though the Reds might not add a $3 million reliever, there's no exigent need for a salary dump.

"Any player-personnel decisions we make won't be based strictly on attendance," chief operating officer John Allen said. "You're always looking to improve your team."

Reds sources say the club's projected attendance for Great American Ball Park this year was 1.8 million. Allen would not confirm that figure but said the Reds are on pace to top last year's attendance of 2,355,259.

After 22 home dates this season, the Reds were averaging 26,081 a game. At that point last season, they were averaging 25,979.

The increase, Allen said, is tenuous. Big series against Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants, or last weekend's with Roger Clemens and the Houston Astros, were major draws that boosted walk-up sales.

But after this three-game series against the Florida Marlins, attendance is likely to fall back behind last year's pace.

So Allen isn't promising wine and roses in July and August.

The good news?

The Reds aren't likely to see a situation such as last year when Boone, Williamson, Guillen, Gabe White, Scott Sullivan, Kelly Stinnett and Kent Mercker were traded to the tune of about $4 million in payroll savings.

The better news?

The Reds started last season with a payroll of $59.3 million; they effectively ended the year with a payroll in the $55 million range.

This year, they started with a $46.6 million payroll. So, if they draw even close to last year's 2.3 million, it would seem they not only could keep the players they have but possibly add players - if they stay in the race into the summer.

"Any time you're doing better with attendance, it puts you in a better position," Allen said. "Everyone is so hung up on the size of our payroll. A lot of factors go into that - not just attendance. But drawing better certainly can't hurt."


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