Cheney got $30 million of renovations, so where is everybody?
I have been a vocal critic of the renovated Cheney Stadium since it opened in 2011. I wrote this in a review of the ballpark in 2011…
“I fear that the upgrades won’t be enough to get people out to more games in the long run and that this ‘new’ stadium will end up being an outdated Triple-A ballpark in 10 years if it isn’t already outdated now and we will be right back where we started. I keep thinking about places like Buffalo or Indianapolis or Rochester or even Syracuse and Cheney just isn’t on the same level as those ballparks despite the beautiful views and the improvements. I don’t see enough of an upgrade to Cheney to think that people will think that much differently of it and make it the destination that the Rainiers would like it to be. It’s still just old Cheney Stadium, but slightly fancier.”
Two years later, attendance numbers are proving me right…
2013: 208,308 – 4,166 per game (15th of 16)
2012: 352,032 – 4,889 per game (13th of 16)
2011: 378,518 – 5,331 per game (10th of 16)
2010: 351,095 – 5,163 per game (12th of 16)
2009: 352,450 – 4,964 per game (13th of 16)
2008: 327,871 – 4,752 per game (14th of 16)
2007: 345,538 – 4,867 per game (13th of 16)
2006: 313,031 – 4,537 per game (14th of 16)
2005: 335,031 – 4,786 per game (12th of 16)
The Tacoma Rainiers are only averaging 4,166 fans per game through 50 openings this season and are on pace to post their worst attendance over the past ten years. Attendance is sure to pick up a little bit with four more weekend series scheduled but last year on the same date through 52 openings, the Rainiers were averaging 4,631 fans.
The Rainiers are 28th of 30 triple-A teams averaging more than just the Tucson Padres and the Charlotte Knights, both teams playing in bad situations that will be on the move. Charlotte currently plays in an outdated and unpopular ballpark in Fort Mill, South Carolina and will move into a $54 million ballpark in the heart of Charlotte in 2014 and Tucson is a lame-duck franchise that will move to a brand new $60 million ballpark in downtown El Paso next season. It is entirely possible that Tacoma will have the worst attendance in triple-A in the 2014 season.
Cheney Stadium’s $30 million improvements were necessary to keep triple-A baseball in town and they greatly improved the revenue generating potential for the Rainiers with luxury boxes and party areas. But for the average fan, the stadium is potentially worse. Tickets, concessions and merchandise are all more expensive than they were and you don’t even have a roof over your head. And with the removal of the general admission section, the $7 GA ticket only buys you a spot on a grass berm that is one of the worst situated grass berms that I have been to at any Minor League Baseball stadium.
The $30 million could have been better spent, especially when you compare new Cheney to triple-A parks built in Papillion, Nebraska and Moosic, Pennsylvania. Both parks were built for roughly the same amount as Cheney Stadium ($36 and $32 million respectively) and features more for the average fan and outstanding corporate facilities and were vast improvements over their previous homes.
Cheney Stadium doesn’t have the amenities for the average fan that a modern triple-A ballpark should have. For example, the concourse should be open to the action instead of buried under the stadium and should wrap around the ballpark with places for fans to hang out and watch the game. A decent area for families would be nice – the grass berm is poor and the kids area is a joke, and a bigger merchandise shop – though the Rainiers current boring look doesn’t necessitate more merchandise.
Cheney Stadium is a good place to watch a game but it isn’t special. It isn’t a destination like it should be and this quick decline in attendance is backing that up. Tacoma deserved more.
UPDATE: The Rainiers drew 6,384 on Thursday night thanks to Sounders FC night, Thirsty Thursday and a Taijuan Walker start. Their average attendance increased to 4,210 per game.