- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2002

PITTSBURGH (AP) Envious baseball owners watched the Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles revive their franchises, pad their revenues and win a lot more games with snazzy new ballparks that excited their old fans and brought in legions of new ones.
Build it, the owners agreed, and they will come.
So in a construction splurge unlike that seen before in a sport where generations-old ballparks once were as common as Sunday doubleheaders, they built in Atlanta and Denver, Houston and Texas, San Francisco and Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Detroit and Seattle, too. Even now, they're building in Cincinnati, Philadelphia and San Diego.
Only the rules have changed. Now it's build it and they will come for a year.
In Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, the story is the same as it was a year ago in Detroit. Call it the Terrible Twos when the flaws start to show, the enthusiasm wanes, and visitors no longer come as often to "ooh" and "aah."
The Pirates, for example, are drawing about 23,000 per game in their second season in much-praised PNC Park, down about 8,000 from last year's club-record 30,837. The Brewers' falloff is even more severe, from 34,704 to about 24,300.
What's of growing concern to the Detroit Tigers is their big second-year decline at Comerica Park from 30,106 in 2000 to 24,016 in 2001 has been followed by an equally steep drop to 18,800 this year, a falloff of 12,000 per game in just two years. Some days this summer, the Tigers' Class AAA Toledo club drew as many fans as they did.
Build it and they will come? Sure they will come but, once they do, will they ever come back?
"Comerica Park is a beautiful ballpark, but it doesn't bring people to the park by itself," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "You have to have the team to draw people back. You have to have a formula for when you move into a ballpark. The ballpark is a big part of the foundation, but it's not the total solution."
Perhaps that's why some owners were misled as they watched the Orioles and Indians grow their attendance in the second years in their new parks, the Orioles in 1993 and the Indians in 1995. What they overlooked was that the Orioles and Indians were getting good at the same time their ballparks were going up. In Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Detroit, the opposite was true there, bad teams were getting even worse when their ballparks opened.
In their first season in PNC Park, the Pirates lost 100 games for the first time in 16 years. Detroit and Milwaukee almost certainly will lose 100 this year. It's not just a few years' worth of losing, either; the Pirates and Brewers are both enduring their 10th consecutive losing seasons.
"It's not like these teams are having down years mixed in with good years," Dombrowski said.
A number of factors led Pittsburgh postman Tony Zannino to attend only 25 games this season after going to 65 in 2001: the economy, the widening disparity between baseball's haves and have-nots, a much-despised ticket price increase that brought the fans' wrath upon Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy. The Pirates lost 7,000 of their 17,000 season ticket-holders from last season.
But to Zannino, the losing is the biggest factor.
"I go to the ballpark to see my team have a chance of winning every game," said Zannino, 34. "Sure, a new ballpark is great, but it doesn't keep the fans coming back. I go to a game to watch the game, not to see the ballpark. I go to see the Pirates and to see them win."
He's only echoing what Dombrowski and Brewers manager Jerry Royster hear every day.
"The first year in a new stadium, people are going to show up," Royster said. "Last year was special for Milwaukee. Of course, it's down [in 2002] from the unbelievable but, as far as I'm concerned, the fans are showing up great for a team that's bound to lose 100 games."
The Terrible Twos syndrome isn't limited to just Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Detroit. Except for Baltimore, Cleveland and Colorado, the other franchises that built new ballparks all saw attendance slump during the second season.
Texas' average attendance dropped from 43,916 in 1994 to 27,582 in post-strike 1995 at the Ballpark at Arlington. Arizona's attendance at Bank One Ballpark slipped from 44,571 in 1998 to 37,234 in 1999 and to 33,766 in 2001 before climbing back to 39,417 this season following a World Series championship. Houston's crowds slumped from 37,730 in the former Enron Field to 31,880 a year later.
The shine is off even the crown jewels of the game. Baltimore's average attendance has fallen from 45,816 in 1997 to 32,920; Cleveland's is down from 42,820 in 1999 to 32,400; and Atlanta's crowds have dropped each season in Turner Field (although the Braves keep winning), from 42,771 in 1997 to 32,400 this season.
Overall, major league attendance is off about 6 percent following months of uncertainty whether a labor dispute would shut down the season. It is the biggest such decline since overall attendance plummeted in 1995, after the sport's longest labor dispute ever prematurely cut short the 1994 season.
To Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon, the labor situation is just one of many reasons why two-thirds of the major league clubs have seen attendance drop from a year ago.
"It's a combination of a lot of different things," McClendon said. "September 11 was economically devastating to a lot of people. When the economy's down, attendance will be down. And, historically, if you want to put people back in the stands, you've got to put a winning product on the field."
Of course, not every team can win every season. But the wide-as-the-Grand Canyon revenue gap between the Yankees ($215million) and the Expos ($63million) won't be cured by baseball's new labor pact, and that has some fans fretting their teams will never catch up, even as the Twins and Athletics prove big payrolls and winning aren't always synonymous.
Still, it's not like any team with a relatively new ballpark is willing to give it back. As Brewers vice president Laurel Prieb said, no team is likely to see attendance slip to the point where it would have been better off staying in its old ballpark.
The Pirates, for example, are drawing 2 times what they drew in their worst-attended season in Three Rivers Stadium; the Orioles, even with their decline, are drawing three times what they once did in Memorial Stadium. And all the new parks have far more revenue-generating luxury boxes and suites than the old parks did.
"Miller Park has raised the bar," Prieb said. "Regardless of whether we have a world championship team or a 100-loss team, we will always draw hundreds of thousands more fans than we ever would have drawn at County Stadium."

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