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Los Angeles Dodgers seek turnaround in attendance
For decades, the Los Angeles Dodgers were the closest thing Major League Baseball had to a monarchy — a family-run team that preached patience and continuity and carried itself in regal fashion. From 1954 through 1995, the Dodgers had two managers, and under Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda, they won six World Series and 11 National League pennants while reaching the playoffs 14 times and suffering through just eight losing seasons.
Now, the Dodgers are a sporting synonym for chaos, with almost as many managers since 1996 (seven) as playoff wins (nine). The disarray in the dugout is nothing compared to the tumult in the owner's box, where the divorce saga of Frank McCourt — who rescued the Dodgers from Fox ownership in 2004 — dominated the front pages of Los Angeles newspapers last season.
This season began with a pair of Dodgers fans nearly beating a San Francisco Giants fan to death in the Dodger Stadium parking lot on Opening Day Thursday, March 31. McCourt, who fired the Dodgers' head of security over the winter, told reporters afterward that even the presence of "…2,000 policemen there…[was] not going to change that random act of violence."
After McCourt reportedly needed a $30 million loan from Fox — which still televises Dodgers games — to make payroll, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced Wednesday, April 20 he would appoint someone to take over all operations of the Dodgers. He put former Texas Rangers executive Tom Schieffer in charge Monday, April 25, after which McCourt held a press conference in Manhattan and declared he would "protect his rights" as he tried to get back control of the team.
The turmoil — coupled with the Dodgers' slow start — is beginning to make a negative impact at the box office. The Dodgers rank third in the National League in attendance at 37,562 per game at 57,099-seat Dodger Stadium, but their average is down a resounding 6,390 per game — most in the NL and second-most in baseball ahead of only the Seattle Mariners, who lost 100 games last year for the second time in three seasons.
At their current rate, the Dodgers would not only finish lower than second in the NL in attendance for the first time since 2002 but would be in danger of drawing fewer than 3 million fans for the first time since 2000 (they are on pace to draw slightly more than 3.04 million people).
But if the first homestand following MLB's takeover is any indication, the Dodgers may have trouble maintaining even the middling pace they set through the season's first month. The Dodgers dropped two of three games against the San Diego Padres from Friday, April 29 through Sunday, May 1, during which the average crowd was 37,064 — down more than 600 fans from the 37,687 the Dodgers averaged in their first 12 home dates.
Still, Gary Lee, the director of marketing at Los Angeles-based VIP Tickets, believes the news may not be all bad for the Dodgers in the long-term. With the McCourt-caused headlines still fresh in the minds of fans — as well as the NBA's Lakers dominating attention and the ticket market in Los Angeles — Lee is hopeful the Dodgers will begin making a comeback at the gate over the summer, especially if the team begins playing better.
"This town right now is [all about] Lakers playoffs — those tickets are extremely hot, and in this economic time people are trying to save money with gas prices so high," Lee told TicketNews. "And luxuries like this, they want to make sure they spend their money wisely. So they might want to spend more of the money on Lakers tickets, if that's the only ticket they can buy now."
The Dodgers also have a handful of young stars who could help the franchise turn things around, on and off the field. Outfielder Andre Ethier has a 27-game hitting streak, the longest by a Dodger since the team moved to Los Angeles, while fellow outfielder Matt Kemp is hitting .373. Starting pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, meanwhile, both have ace potential.
The Dodgers fell to 14-15 with their loss to the Padres Sunday, May 1 and are in second place in the NL West, 4.5 games behind the Colorado Rockies in the NL West. That's tied for the biggest deficit faced by a second-place team, but only four teams in the NL have a winning record through Sunday, so it may not take much of a hot streak for the Dodgers to get into the playoff race.
"They're not great, they're not bad, but the thing is I think a lot of the fans believe the Dodgers are on the brink of being really good again," Lee said. "I think the fans believe that there are pieces on this team to make this team really good.
"It's not an ideal situation for the Dodgers [but] they're making the most out of it. They really are making efforts to show the fans that it's safe to come back to the park and [are trying to] put a good product out there. I think when the stories go away, people are going to come back to the park."