In 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies won the franchise’s first World Series since 1980 and only its second in more than 100 years of existence. With six weeks to play this season, the Phillies could be on the verge of a similarly rare accomplishment.
The Phillies lead the National League in average attendance (44,953) through the games of Sunday, August 22. Should the Phillies hang on, it would mark the first time since 1950 — and only the third time in the last century — that the team has led the Senior Circuit in attendance. The Phillies enjoy a narrow advantage over the Los Angeles Dodgers (44,796) even though Citizens Bank Park has a far smaller capacity (43,000) than Dodger Stadium (56,000).
At least two factors are working in the Phillies’ favor as they try to fend off the Dodgers. The Phillies, who won 14 of their first 19 games in August, ended play August 22 with a two-game lead in the NL wild card race while the Dodgers were eight games behind the Phillies and 12 games behind the San Diego Padres in the NL West.
The Phillies can also sell to fans the chance to be a part of history. The Phillies recorded their 100th straight sellout at Citizens Bank Park Thursday, August 19, making them just the second team in baseball with an active sellout streak of 100 games or more.
Should the Phillies finish the season atop the NL in attendance, it would cap a climb that has been the baseball equivalent of a song or movie that slowly builds to blockbuster status. The Phillies finished second in the NL in attendance during their first year at Citizens Bank Park in 2004 but fell to ninth in 2005.
Since then, though, the Phillies have finished seventh, sixth, fourth and second. The increase in attendance has coincided with the Phillies’ emergence as the best and most consistent team in the National League.
The Phillies finished with a winning record just three times in a 19-season span from 1984 through 2002, during which attendance sagged at Veterans Stadium. From 1996 through 2003, the Phillies never ranked higher than ninth in the NL in attendance and finished last in what was then a 14-team league in both 1997 and 1998. Such meager fan support was nothing new for the Phillies, who have finished last in the NL in attendance 25 times — including 10 straight years from 1932 through 1941.
But the Phillies began rebuilding through the draft at the turn of the century, a philosophy that has yielded stars such as former MVPs Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins as well as the likes of Chase Utley and Cole Hamels. All-Star outfielders Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth were plucked from other organizations as overlooked minor leaguers.
The success of the Phillies on the field — they are 12 wins shy of clinching an eighth straight winning season, the longest streak in the NL, and are one of just three big league teams to reach the playoffs each of the last three years — and at the gate has allowed management to acquire pitchers Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt in blockbuster trades in the last 13 months.
Even if they finish the season atop the National League in attendance, the Phillies may not be done making history. With a lineup that has scored the third-most runs in the NL and Halladay (acquired for Lee last winter) and Oswalt heading a formidable rotation, the Phillies could become the first NL team in the expansion era — and the first since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals — to win three straight pennants. Such a feat would surely pay off in ticket sales next year as the once-unthinkable — capacity crowds for Phillies games — continues to become routine.