It is early in the off-season, but the San Diego Padres have done little to improve the 2019 team. How can this team get better and how can they attract more fans to what is one of the most beautiful ballparks in the league, Petco Park?
The Padres biggest splash so far this offseason has been to sign a 36-year-old second baseman. One doubts that the acquisition of Ian Kinsler will put fannies in the seats in 2019. And last year’s performance (66-99 overall, 31-50 at home) gives fans little incentive to invest in parking, event tickets, and food.
Thanks to a team ranked last in starting pitcher ERA, and just about every batting stat, a fellow fan told me recently his family has decided to cut way back the on the season-ticket plan they’ve had since Petco Park opened. Collectively, they have found the team to be unwatchable. The front office’s promises of hot talent lava and competitive teams do not reassure them. One disgruntled family hardly makes news, but you can bet they have company.
Of course, Petco Park itself still has its charm, and that matters. Thanks to their pitiful ballpark, the Rays attracted far fewer fans (just 1,154,973) despite the fact that Tampa Bay had a better record than the Padres, as well as a lower payroll.
The quality of concessions undoubtedly matters also to some fans. More than any other sport, the atmosphere at Major League Baseball games is conducive to sampling different foods (not that San Diego has much in the way of other sports right now).
Petco Park boasts a wide variety of food and drink, including gourmet sausages, tri-tip sandwiches, barbeque (including Randy Jones BBQ), pizza, and, of course, beer, including large samplings from craft brewers. Although most of the offerings are heavy on the meat, a few concession stands sell veggie burgers and hot dogs as well as salads.
In case you worry about food safety, Petco Park also excels in that area. On Sunday, Bryce Miller of the San Diego Union-Tribune broke the news that Petco ranked very low in “high-level violations” that could result in foodborne ailments. We can even feel superior to the New York Yankees in that regard, but I doubt fans will be dancing in the streets at the news.
However, the Padres cannot feel superior in terms of on-field performance or other ways of attracting fans, like promotional items. According to Matt Snyder of cbssports.com, the quality of promotions leaves much to be desired. He rated the Padres last in 2017 and 2016 in the quality of team giveaways. To add insult to injury, this year the team had to stop handing out beach hats and confiscate those that had been passed out thanks to grain beetles found in packaging.
But what about that “Five-Win-Pass”? The pass, available for $99, allowed ticket holders to attend games until the team achieved five wins or the season came to an end. In an article entitled “The San Diego Padres Found a Way to Monetize Bad Baseball” in The Atlantic (of all publications) Jeremy Venook panned the pass: “a fan who bought in early could have gotten 12 extra tickets for their investment—a great deal, as long as they didn’t mind watching awful baseball.”
For the first and only time, attendance at Padres’ games topped 3 million in 2004. But that occurred the year the Petco Park opened. Since then, attendance has dipped. In 2009, attendance fell below 2 million, but rebounded to 2.459,762 in 2015. Under the current management group, attendance has been below league average every year.
In 2018, the Padres ranked 18th at 2,147,000. At the other end of the spectrum, the Dodgers ranked first at 3,857,500, the Yankees second at 3,482,855. Of course, both cities have larger populations and stadiums. Even more important though, both teams made it to the playoffs.
Atmosphere and food and other factors may attract some fans, but winning fills ballparks. The acquisition of a player like Noah Syndergaard would have also greased the turnstiles. However, the rumor that the pitcher might end up a Padre in a three-team trade died earlier this month.
This offseason, the Padres cannot settle for Ian Kinsler and otherwise make do with the current roster. The team has the prospects to acquire a quality starting pitcher and third baseman, and hoarding them should not be an option. San Diego fans deserve a team that is at least watchable.