Empty seats and declining ratings. Via the Times today -
At dusk on the first day of summer at Yankee Stadium, there was a gentle breeze blowing to left field as a rim of fading sunlight marched across the bleachers in right. It was, in every respect, a sweet Friday night for baseball, with the Yankees taking on a formidable division rival, the Tampa Bay Rays.
The only thing wrong with the picture was the number of empty seats that remained visible in the stands as the game progressed — and the missing names from the Yankees’ lineup.
The attendance for the game was announced as being slightly more than 41,000, or about 9,000 short of capacity. That was a solid number for a regular-season game but not as robust as it might have been in other seasons in the Bronx, where the Yankees usually reign as the most distinguished name in American sports.
Through 41 home games this season, the Yankees have drawn nearly 106,000 fewer fans than at this point a year ago, a 6.1 percent drop that is almost twice as large as the overall decline in baseball. More than half a dozen other teams have had bigger attendance losses than the Yankees, but without exception they are teams that went from good to bad, at least for a while, or from bad to worse, or that play in cities without a notably intense fan base.
The Yankees do not fit in any of those categories, which makes their attendance falloff more intriguing. And while they also experienced a decrease in attendance the last two years, the one this season is more pronounced.
Even more sobering for the team: the television ratings for their games have plummeted. Through June 25, the ratings on their YES Network were down 40 percent to 2.52 from 4.17 at this point last season, and from 4.08, 4.50 and 4.72 in the three previous seasons, with each rating point this year representing 73,843 households.
Yet the sizable drop in the number of people watching the Yankees is not reflected by the team’s performance. Battered by injuries to many of their stars, they have, for the most part, played admirably, holding on to first place until late May. Even now, while in a slump, they remain in contention with a lineup filled with castoffs and call-ups, although that could be a reason fewer people are paying attention.
For now, it is left to Levine, the forceful team president, to argue that whatever the ratings and attendance figures show, there is no cause for alarm. He has presided as the Yankees’ president for the last 13 ½ years, a period in which the team’s attendance soared to more than four million for four straight seasons, then leveled off when the newer, smaller, higher-priced stadium opened during the recession.
Last fall the Yankees failed to sell out several playoff games, although that was generally attributed to the fact that the team had to play five postseason games in a row at home, without a day off, leaving fans overwhelmed.
In addressing the current numbers, Levine noted the numerous instances of bad weather in April and May, the attendance drop-offs in baseball-strong cities like Boston and Philadelphia, and the Yankees’ decision to spurn StubHub and establish their own online ticket resale operation with Ticketmaster. The move was intended to encourage fans to buy more tickets directly from the Yankees, and Levine said it was paying dividends but that the initial adjustment might have hurt attendance.
As for the larger point, the need for big names in the Bronx, he seemed as confident as Jeter normally is before a big at-bat.
“This is the Yankees,” he said. “We’ve been around a lot of years. There will be more stars.”
But not just yet. And when the Yankees return home Friday to begin a 10-day homestand that will carry them into the All-Star Game break, there may still be a noticeable number of empty seats at Yankee Stadium and too few viewers turning on the TV. In every respect, it has been an unusual season in the Bronx.
The only interesting part left to this is finding out who will be the fall guy amongst the Yankees front office.