Why Will So Few Fans Go See The Cleveland Indians Play?

Correction Sept. 19, 2013

In an earlier version of this story, we mistakenly said this season's Major League Baseball playoffs would be the first to feature two wild card teams in each league. It was actually the 2012 season that introduced the second wild card.

Robert Siegel talks to Terry Pluto, sports columnist at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, about why fan attendance is so low at Progressive Field when the Cleveland Indians are doing so well.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now, what's novel about this year's Major League Baseball playoffs, and what's the matter with Cleveland? Each league has two wild-card teams these days, in addition to three division winners. The wild cards will have a single-game playoff.

With more teams in contention, that should stoke fan interest in more cities than ever. For example, with 11 games to play, Washington's Nationals need a near-miraculous combination of favorable events to be the second National League wild-card team. And last night, over 28,000 fans turned out to watch them give it their best shot. But in Cleveland, the Indians are just barely out of the American League wild-card slot, but their home attendance has been in the 12,000 range.

Terry Pluto is a sports columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. And Terry, the Indians are a half-game out of the postseason. The other week, 9,000 fans showed up to watch them. It brings me back to where I started. What's the matter with Cleveland?

TERRY PLUTO: That's exactly what - sort of the Indians' ownership looks at it, and some of us who love baseball here wonder the same thing. Usually, your attendance in this current season is based a lot on how many season tickets you sold the year before. And three of the last four years, the Indians have been dismal - lost over 90 games, all that. But Robert, nonetheless, they're having a good year this year. And they are drawing slightly less than a year ago, when they were terrible.

SIEGEL: That makes no...

PLUTO: I would have thought at least they would have kicked it up a little bit.

SIEGEL: Yeah, that makes no sense.

PLUTO: No, it doesn't. And it defies logic because fans here have been moaning about ownership not spending money and bringing in free agents. Well, they went out, they signed Nick Swisher; they signed Michael Bourn, couple other guys. But those are two very big-ticket items - brought in the best free agent manager available in Terry Francona, a proven winner, and they've had a really nice season. You know, this will be their first winning record since 2007.

SIEGEL: Is being an Indians fan no longer a prominent part of the whole shtick of being from Cleveland?

PLUTO: Yeah. I think it's not cool anymore. I'm not sure what is. But first of all, you've got to understand, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is only 50 miles away, in Canton. You could put an empty orange helmet on the 50-yard line at Browns Stadium, and 50,000 people will pay 20 bucks apiece to stare at it. I mean, it is a football town. Baseball, usually, is like, if the team's winning and could win for a couple of years in a row, the attendance is pretty good.

Well, people will talk - well, in the late '90s, they set all kinds of attendance records. Well, at that point, two things happened. No. 1, the Indians had a good team and a brand-new ballpark. And No. 2, the Browns had actually moved to Baltimore. So they were the only show in town, at that point, because the Cavaliers were not a factor either. But Robert, I have to admit, to me, it's a very endearing team. It's not a great team or whatever, but it has some fun guys on it. And you go down there, and there's 9,000 - like there was the other night - or 12,000, it's baffling to me.

SIEGEL: Well, Terry, I hope you have some more company at the ballpark, when they get back to town.

PLUTO: Yes. Well, put it this way - I remember, you know, when I was a kid growing up in Cleveland, they always used to say, you know, that the motto of the team was, you know, "Good Seats Always Available."

SIEGEL: (Laughter) Yes. I once was there, and heard Bill Cosby say that you could go and develop a close, personal relationship with the guys on the field. It was a...

PLUTO: Yeah. And you know, the other line was, you call and ask the Indians what time's the game, they'd say, what time can you get here?

SIEGEL: (Laughter) OK. Well, I hope things look up there. And thanks for talking with us about it.

PLUTO: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's Terry Pluto, who's a sports columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLEVELAND ROCKS")

IAN HUNTER: (Singing) All the little kids growing up on the skids are goin' Cleveland rocks, Cleveland rocks...

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: