For the first time in six years, minor league baseball did not set an attendance record.
The economic slowdown proved too great for even the debut of six new ballparks to overcome. Final overall attendance is expected to be announced later this week, but MILB spokesman Steve Densa confirmed today that a new record was not reached in 2009.
Replacing failing markets with new ones, and swapping aging ballparks with state-of-the-art facilities has been at the heart of minor league baseball’s recent growth. Last year, the sport rode the coattails of three new ballparks to overcome the recession and set a new standard by drawing 43,263,740.
Optimism remained that a similar model could work this year, even as the minors began its first full season in the economic slowdown. Six new ballparks debuted in 2009 (a seventh expected opening, in Winston-Salem, was pushed back until next season due to financing complications).
Three new Triple-A ballparks opened this year, with Columbus (International) replacing Cooper Stadium with brand new Huntington Park, and Gwinnett (International) and Reno (Pacific Coast) replacing markets in Richmond and Tucson, respectively. The Rays moved their high Class A Florida State League affiliate from Vero to a new ballpark in Charlotte. Low Class A Fort Wayne (Midwest) unveiled a new facility and low Class A Bowling Green (South Atlantic) took over the floundering Columbus (Ga.) affiliate.
The Clippers were clearly the class of the new ballparks, as Columbus drew a minor league baseball-best 666,797 fans this season, knocking Triple-A Sacramento out of the top spot for the first time in the organization’s 10-year history. Columbus went from the seventh-best draw in the IL last year to No. 1 in all of the minors this season.
Columbus was hardly the only success story, as is evidenced in the chart below. Charlotte topped the FSL after drawing 171,314 while Fort Wayne trailed only Dayton and Kane County in the Midwest League after bringing 378,529 fans through the gate.
Gwinnett drew 423,556 and finished third from last in the 14-team International League. Reno placed eighth in the PCL after drawing 466,606. Bowling Green placed seventh overall in the 16-team South Atlantic League with 232,987 fans.
Below is a look at how each team fared in their new ballpark compared to last year. Remember, Gwinnett, Reno, Charlotte and Bowling Green are each playing in new markets.
|Team||2009 Attendance||2008 Attendance|
Charlotte (Hi A)
|Bowling Green (Lo A)||232,987||61,290|
|Fort Wayne (Lo A)||378,529||237,966|
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