The Texas Rangers are doing their best to disprove two long-held adages about the franchise: The triple digit temperatures of a Texas summer make it too hot for the Rangers to win, and that the weather also is too hot to draw fans to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
The Rangers, in the midst of the most compelling season in franchise history and seemingly headed for the postseason for the first time since 1999, entered play Thursday, August 19 with the third-largest attendance increase in baseball. The Rangers are averaging 29,759 fans through 62 home dates, an average gain of 2,074 per game over last season.
During a five-game homestand against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox from August 10-15, the Rangers drew four crowds of 46,000 or more in the 49,170-seat capacity stadium even though Arlington was in the midst of 18 straight 100-degree days. That homestand marked the beginning of the “Stretch Drive” season ticket promotion in which fans could save up to 43 percent by buying tickets to the Rangers’ final 24 home games. Rangers spokesman John Blake said the team sold almost 2,500 of those packages.
Red Sox and Yankees fans are known for traveling well, but more than 38,000 fans walked through the turnstiles five times in seven games during the Rangers’ previous homestand July 22-29. Overall, the Rangers have played to a crowd of at least 38,000 fans 16 times—six more than last year, when the Rangers’ average attendance of 26,617 represented an increase of 2,596 fans from 2008.
“Team performance is going to dictate [attendance], for the most part,” Blake told TicketNews. “We were way up last year and the team played well [when the Rangers finished 87-75]. And obviously we’re up even more this year because the team is playing well.”
The Rangers have played well—their seven-game lead in the AL West through Thursday, August 19 is the largest in baseball—despite the distraction of playing much of the season under federal bankruptcy protection. Former owner Tom Hicks defaulted on more than $500 million in loans in March 2009, setting off a chain of events that led to the Rangers declaring bankruptcy this May.
Stability finally arrived in the early morning hours of Thursday, August 5, when a group headed by team president Nolan Ryan won the team in an auction. Ryan, a Texas native who threw the final two no-hitters of his legendary career with the Rangers and entered the Hall of Fame with a Rangers hat on his plaque, is wildly popular with Rangers fans.
“Nolan being the president of the team has really done wonders in terms of propping us up and giving us credibility at a time when we really needed it,” Blake said. “Now that the uncertainty of him staying and not being a part of this is over, I think that it will pay huge dividends for us. He is revered in Texas.”
The Ryan-led group engendered more goodwill by immediately cutting the prices of hot dogs, beer, soda, parking and some souvenirs. Ryan has also spoken of trying to reduce the effect of the heat at the Ballpark, though anything other than continuing to schedule most summer home games at night—37 of the Rangers’ 42 home games in June, July and August this year started at 7:05 p.m. local time—will likely be too expensive to implement.
“It’s well over $100 million to do a canopy, which gives you a little more shade,” Blake said. “Putting a total roof on it would cost a lot more than the stadium cost to build.”
The heat shouldn’t deter fans next year if the Rangers can avoid a late-season fade—the Rangers went 29-32 after August 1 last year and have had a winning record after August 1 just once since 2000—win the first playoff series in franchise history and bolster a season ticket base that Blake said has fallen below 10,000.
“Teams that draw well have a strong season ticket base—that’s something we really have to work on,” Blake said. “The interest is there as we play well. If we continue to have some success the rest of this season, that’s what we have to capitalize on and turn it into getting the season ticket sales for next year.”