Optimism surrounding the start of the baseball season has been clouded with the reality that traditional Opening Day sellouts may soon be followed by an expanse of empty seats around big league ballparks.
The Orioles sold out today’s opener against the Yankees, but the club remains concerned that its string of decreasing annual attendance will be exacerbated by the economic downturn, the Baltimore Sun reports today. The team is introducing a variety of promotions to lure fans to what is still one of finest venues in pro sports but has become less of a destination after years of losing seasons. The team is offering free admission to kids 10-and-under every Thursday and fans can catch a game for free during their birthday month.
The Blue Jays are realistic about 2009, the Globe and Mail reports, that the team isn’t likely to contend and that attendance not continue to increase as it did every season when Paul Godfrey was at the helm.
A sign of the times? Cactus League attendance was down across Arizona from 7,436 in 2008 to 6,396 this spring.
By JJ Cooper
Considering the state of the economy, the 2009 season looks to be a survival test for independent leagues, but the recession has already claimed its first victims.
The Can-Am League’s Atlantic City Surf announced in late March that they were shutting down after a deal to sell the team to a new ownership group fell through. The after effects of that decision were quickly felt in Ottawa. The Voyageurs, which had been taken over by the league after an unsuccessful first season as the Rapidz, were quickly shut down as well, leaving the Can-Am League with only six teams and a completely reworked schedule.
“It’s not one of the great days for the Can-Am League,” said league commissioner Miles Wolff from Ottawa, where he had to inform seven full-time staff members that they were losing their jobs immediately.
“In the fall, people have time to get jobs. In this case nobody saw it coming. Some 40 ballplayers (for Ottawa and Atlantic City) had jobs that now don’t. Now with every (affiliated )team in spring training releasing players, there are some 500 players out there without jobs. A month ago, most of these guys would have gotten picked up, now . . . “
The battle for the Bay Area just took an interesting twist.
The Giants and high Class A San Jose are set to announce at a press conference on Thursday that the big league club is purchasing a 25 percent stake in its California League affiliate. The team will have an option to purchase another 30 percent in 2010.
The timing of the announcement with Oakland’s renewed interest in building a big league ballpark in the Giants’ territory of Santa Clara County is likely a little more than coincidental, however the sides first began discussing a possible sale in Oct. 2005. They signed a letter of intent on Dec. 24, 2008, and the Giants due diligence period expired on March 31.
San Jose’s motivations are obvious: partnering with the Giants provides San Jose with capital for ballpark improvements while also raising its profile to expand the fan and corporate bases. A merger will provide San Jose the opportunity to partner with San Francisco on events like fanfests, bringing the 40-man roster to Municipal Field and having games broadcast on Comcast Sportsnet–in which San Francisco has an ownership stake.
"Those types of things have tremendous benefits to us," Giants CEO Jim Weyermann said in an interview late Wednesday night. "They can help us develop more capital partnerships with the city. In this case the Giants bring some economic leverage with untraditional city funding."
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