Why Can’t the Padres Capture Our Imagination (and Money)?

I’m working on my Padres preview for Hardball Times, and one question that confounds me is this: Why won’t San Diego get behind the Padres? I don’t have an answer, but I’d love to hear some theories.

While you’re thinking about that, here’s a nice table for your viewing pleasure:

Padres Winning Percentage and Home Attendance, 2004 – 2007
Year W-L Pct Att/G
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
2004 87-75 .537 37,244
2005 82-80 .506 35,429
2006 88-74 .543 32,837
2007 89-74 .546 34,445

This marks the first time the Padres have enjoyed more than two consecutive winning seasons. They also reached the playoffs two straight years (and came within one strike of making it three straight) for the first time in franchise history.

I get that it’s popular to bash the club for not being aggressive in the free-agent market (only somewhat warranted, IMO, given the nature of said market) or the amateur draft (a problem that I agree needs to be addressed), but we literally are looking at unprecedented success from this organization and yet, attendance has fallen by 7.5% since the Padres moved downtown.

To be fair, the Padres saw tremendous growth on moving into Petco Park, but still. Here’s that table again, with their final year at Qualcomm thrown in for good measure:

Padres Winning Percentage and Home Attendance, 2003 – 2007
Year W-L Pct Att/G
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
2003 64-98 .395 25,063
2004 87-75 .537 37,244
2005 82-80 .506 35,429
2006 88-74 .543 32,837
2007 89-74 .546 34,445

You see, perhaps, why teams are anxious to build new stadiums? A club coming off a 98-loss season can reap tremendous rewards (especially if taxpayers help flip the bill, which is another issue altogether). Meanwhile, a club that wins 82-89 games a year struggles to keep bodies in seats.

Why is that?

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124 Responses »

  1. the perception that Moores is more concerned about profit than winning is garbage.

    Why would people think that? How about the fact that in order to fill gaping holes in the team (backup CF and injury replacement for Edmonds, a rotation that may need 30 more starts out of their top 5) they are using minimum salary players or non-roster invites? There was a cheap, better alternative in Kyle Lohse available for around $4m yet the Padres would rather have Germano, Rusch, Estes fill those starts. Other then to save money what other motivation could there be? Lohse was better then all of them last year, is coming into his prime, and has the benefit of gaining a draft pick when he signs with another team for 2009.

    Same thing with the pick of Schmidt over Porcello. The only explanation is that the Padres wanted to save money (although with their track record of developing young players it might be smart to save money but that’s a whole other problem).

  2. 84: You misspelled Angels… if you want to be the spelling police haha

  3. 87: You could add Michael Young to that list

  4. 102: N/M I get it

  5. 96/Neyer: Don’t want to paste everything, obviously, as Neyer reads DS. He listed his answer(s) to Geoff’s original question: They have not established a winning tradition, they play in a relatively small market, they’re not sexy. That was the main gist of it. If you want to know anything else, let me know.

  6. 101: I’m not sure that signing Kyle Loshe would have done much to change the public’s perception about FA.

    I hate to say it, but I don’t think the public will even react to “reasonable” or “intelligent” FA signings. They’ll always be accused of being cheap if they do that.

    Then, the second we over-spend on a FA, everyone will be going back to the Nevin/Klesko debaucle.

  7. I don’t see any problem with attendance. Like The Fathers mentioned, those gigantic attendance at Jack Murphy was driven by the giveaway and the specials (Sky show, 4th of July, $5 Mondays etc.)
    Take those away, I bet Jack Murphy attendance is far fewer than the averages suggest. I average 40-50 games in 97-99 and there are nights when only about 9K-11K people at the games and yet, the average for those years were above 22K, I believe. I think Petco averages higher than 11K even with limited sold-out capacity. Jack Murphy was hosting about 50K-65K for special nights.

    The reason I don’t go to more games at Petco are:
    - more travelling time (I used to work 3 miles from Jack Murphy) trying to get to Petco during traffic rushhour is no fun,
    - more expensive tickets (walk-up that cost $2 more/ticket),
    however, when I go it’s quite easy to get in and out of the area, certainly not any harder than getting in and out of Jack Murphy,
    - catch games on radio/TV is pretty easy during the week.

    None of my reasons are due to the team but there are plenty of fans who are disgruntled by the construction of the team.
    Low scoring games for an extended period of home games seem to really bug the casual fans. I’ve had arguments against this notion but to no avail. They’d rather the team ‘tried’ for the big name players than for the alternatives who may be more suited to the ballpark and team. These people, I simply cannot convince that the team has been winning with the new philosophy and are not willing to give the team a chance. I believe that El Hombre and Mashing Macedonian are going to be the sluggers the team needed in the lineup along with the flawed Khalil Thabit Greene.

    Even my optimistic outlook on the Padres cannot blind me to the flaws in the roster. I believe the team still needs more pitching and defense, and I have yet to see those addressed. I’m willing to wait breathlessly to see if the plethora of OFs and suspect arms will pan out. This uncertainty is also a reason for some fans not to turn out at the ballpark. Perception of the team not trying to win is hard to shake off short of the team going on a winning streak early and often which really is not what the team has shown since moving to Petco (slow April, hot May, slow June).

    I have no answer on how the team can sell out every home game as I don’t believe they will do that even the year after winning the WS.

    Good news: 2 weeks until Opening Day 2008.

  8. Sorry, busy day at work. I just wanted to respond to a something. My problem is not with a lack of scoring. My significant issues are cost and lack of passion, both fans and players.

  9. 105 … Thanks, MB … that’s exactly what I wanted … and I buy each of Neyer’s points … and I think they are establishing a “winning tradition” (but still need being to establish a “winning in the post-season tradition”) … and doing that will go a long ways towards making them “sexy” … a lot further than OG’s behavior has gotten them, anyway ;-)

  10. My 2 cents:
    Petco better for anyone to watch a game that had to deal with the supposed ADA seating at Qualcomm, and for me, cheaper!

    Access to Petco better but not perfect. And although I do occasionally eat at the park, the chance to eat outside the park is great.
    Product on the field better – I’ve been attending games since 1975 and four winning seasons is great – not that I don’t want more.

    Re: Star players – One reason that Adrian, and likely Chase should he live up to expectations, will never be “big” stars is that this is tiny media market. Players in LA, and even SF, play in cities where media exposure is huge, even if it’s 3 hours behind NY. LA is likely the most paparazzi ridden city in the US, if not the world. Being seen with Alyssa Milano will raise your notoriety whatever the reason. San Diego is a place that Hoffa could come to disappear and no one would notice, and it’s been like that forever.

    Re: San Diego fans – I believe that one reason San Diego has a smaller group of die hard fans for the Padres (and even the Chargers, but I digress), it that professional baseball came to SD so late – not in the heyday of baseball. The east coast teams, even the ones that are now bad, have multi-generational families of fans. They have the tradition of being fans of the Red Sox, or the Yankees or the Cardinals. And even native born San Diegans don’t have more than 3 generations (and that’s pushing it). I have heard that rooting for a team is a bit like the music of high school – for most people that is the music they are connected to them most strongly regardless of how old they are. And it is the teams of the youth and young adult years that often hold the most significance for fans even after they have moved away. Did 1996 and 1998 effect who is now buying tickets?

    Sorry for the long post – I got in a lot for my 2 cents. I leave tomorrow for Peoria.

  11. CY with a good outing today …

    http://sandiego.padres.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080317&content_id=2439991&vkey=spt2008news&fext=.jsp&c_id=sd

    … including working with Barrett to catch a base stealer! Woo-Hoo!

  12. LM, Sorry I didn’t follow up with you about Neyer’s post; just got too busy, but MB summed it up pretty well.

  13. At the Murph, I could walk up and buy a ticket on the field level between the bases and the cost would be $27.00. Add in two beers at $5.50 each, a couple of dogs at $1.50 each and park the truck for $5.00. I could have an entire day of fun for less than $50.00 bucks.

    If I want to sit on the field level between the bases the first stop I have to make is at the ticket broker web site or enter some stupid auction for tickets. Then there is the good old cattle car ride on the big red thing, through Encanto or Barrio Logan at 10:00 PM. Cost = $$$Holy Crap$$$ not to mention the possibility of being mugged, shot, stabbed, raped, assaulted or any combination of the above

    Because I’m a poor uneducated working stiff I find the following much more cost effective: Channel 4 Padres – HDTV – Matty V and Mud cutting up and having a good time.

    I only go to the park for day games on weekends now.

  14. 113 … I assume someone has figured out that attendence is higher for night games, but I prefer day games (I like baseball in the sun, and evenings @ Petco have been pretty chilly the few I’ve been to) … it especially grieves and confuses me when “Opening Day” is at *night*! It’s a game that’s going to sell out no matter what … so why not play it during the *day*? OK, OK … now that I do a post-rant think about it, it’s for the TV ratings … eh … OK …

  15. re 101:

    I’m sorry, but I have to agree with Phantom on Kyle Lohse. He is not a big name player and most San Diego fans have never heard of him. If the Padres chose to allocate their payroll resources elsewhere, then question those moves so that Lohse could be brought in. Same with Edmonds; criticize the team’s allocation and provide alternatives available at the time, and please don’t say Andruw Jones or Torii Hunter – they did not fit within the budget without gutting too many other areas of need so as to stay within resource limits.

    If the team is not making a profit and is putting all of its money into its product at one level of another, by my logical reasoning it cannot be cheap, unless you redefine cheap to require the ownership to continuously take big operating losses.

    Your point regarding Porcello over Schmidt relates to resource allocation and also the attempt at ownership solidarity in terms of not paying more than slot (a collective bargaining and draft fairness related ploy), not whether or not the team is cheap. On resource allocation, I would have preferred the Padres invested more in the draft, and less in retread pitchers for the 40 man roster. On the slot issue, that is designed to allow the non-big market teams to at least try to level the playing field more in the draft; the more defectors from the slot issue there are, the more that benefits Boras clients and the big market teams. I still would have preferred them taking Porcello over Schmidt, but imo that has nothing to do with the organization being cheap.

  16. 110: Great post Mary! Have fun at ST!!

  17. I think Padres fans want to see the team go for broke instead of shooting for a healthy long-term plan. The problem is that the team isn’t that good, in my opinion. They’re good enough to make the playoffs if things go well, but they don’t have a realistic chance of really doing damage once they get there. I think the fans sense this.

    Not that this means anything, but I bought MLB 2K8 for my 360. Playing with the Padres is depressing. The national perception is that the Padres offense is terrible, and they don’t make up for it with a lot of athleticism or fire. You can only say “Check out their home/road splits” so many times before people start to ignore you and think you’re crazy.

  18. One last point from me on “Woe is the Padres, for they cannot capture our money.”

    Attendance has gone up significantly, and ticket prices are much higher than at Jack Murphy. The average ticket price in 2003 was $16. The average ticket price in 2007 was $22. Just in tickets alone – leaving aside concessions, any money the team gets from parking, etc – that’s a bump of 4.5 million. If they’d maintained the 2004 attendance levels the bump would have been 5.8, not very big. Those are average ticket prices, not actual tickets sold, but it should track.

    If the concern is that the Padres need more community support, I don’t see it. An extra 1.3 million in attendance revenue wouldn’t change the 25 man roster one bit, or change who we draft. The difference in attendance money between 2004 and 2007 is a drop in the bucket compared to the increased revenue from the national media deals and MLBAM.

    115: The big market teams aren’t benefiting from “defecting.” The real beneficiaries are the small and mid-market teams who realize that every dollar they spend in the draft is worth a hundred dollars spent on mediocre free agents.

  19. Maybe in the short run, the small and mid market teams who defect benefit, but all such systems inevitably break down as the defectors overrun the system, the agents recognize this, and the big market teams’ market resources overpower other teams. As long as there are defectors, a smart agent will go to the later drafting big market teams to set the value of the player, which can always increase if earlier drafting teams are willing to meet that price.

    Now, if you can convince me that only the Padres will defect, and that all other teams will follow slot, then I am all for the Padres defecting.

    IMO, they need a mandatory slot draft system to provide all teams a fairer chance and to eliminate defections, similar to what is done in the NFL, with the understanding that unlike the NFL, these players, particularly high round picks, usually don’t see the major leagues their first year.

  20. and I sure was surprised to see the small market Tigers get Rick Porcello in the draft. Oh wait . . . ;)

  21. 119: You can’t predict that at all. Agents don’t set the player values in a vacuum. If ALL teams were willing to make their own assessments of value, it would be a lot closer to Marvin Miller’s nightmare of universal free agency. Instead we have an artificially low demand.

    All teams have an absolutely fair chance right now, without any tweaks other than eliminating MLB’s ability to “punish” slot offenders. The Pirates wouldn’t go over slot in the 2007 draft, but the commissioner’s office (and slot-fans) don’t question them spending 9 million on Matt Morris. No, not just 9 million. About 3 million last year, 9.5 million this year, and at least 1 million in 2009. Yes, that’s a much better investment for a perennial last place team than a 3.5 bonus to Porcello that could push it to 7 million. Talk about penny-wise and pound absolutely idiotic.

    It’s amazing how owners will howl about their rights to engage in capitalistic activity while a certain percentage of those owners want to saddle would-be employees with the most anti-capitalistic obstacles possible. They consistently want to be mandated to act in a certain way rather than simply acting intelligently.

    Porcello was far from the only player who signed over slot, and I don’t see how Detroit is “big market.” 11th largest TV market, which overlaps a region that has been economically savaged over the last couple of years. A lot of smaller market teams went over slot and benefited. Any of the teams picking before Detroit could have afforded Porcello without breaking a sweat.

  22. I’d say it’s pretty simple: 9 out of 10 people in San Diego are not from San Diego.

  23. Living on the East Coast and Midwest, I rarely heard about the Padres because their games didn’t start until 10:30PM EST. There was no mention in the morning papers because the games did not finish before the publishing deadline. On the morning news, you might hear how the star players performed for the Giants or Dodgers. Since San Diego usually does not have the big names, you essentially never hear about them in the major media markets east of the Mississippi. This makes it tough for transplants to relate to their new home team. I was lucky because I moved here in September of 1998 as the Padres worked their way into the World Series. It was hard not to get caught up in the hoopla. Let’s hope that happens again in 2008!

  24. I cant believe you downplay the Padres not spending any money this year. we have a good year and miss the playoffs because our closer is washed up and then we sit back and watch everyone else in the division get better except for us. We have no outfield and we need a quality bat in the lineup so we go out and get a has been oft injured center fielder and we hang on to our closer who cant close any more. I am a baseball fan and I think both Trevor Hoffman and Jim Edmonds were awesome but I want to keep this winning tradition going and management doesnt want to spend the money to make it happen. Of course they have no problem raising ticket and concession prices. I almost didnt renew my season tickets I was so mad; but here I am and have watched two blown saves and 4 or 5 plays in centerfield drop that Cameron would have made and I wonder if anyone in the organization cares??