With flagging performance and ticket sales, loss of control of day-to-day operations and a bankruptcy filing, this summer has seen the further deterioration of a team that was once one of the premier franchises of Major League Baseball (MLB).
And now, it looks like the Los Angeles Dodgers are the target of a two-pronged boycott by frustrated fans.
On July 9, the protest site Markcubansavethedodgers.com organized a one day boycott of the Dodgers-San Diego Padres game. The man behind the site, Mark Arrieta, planned the protest as a message to owner Frank McCourt that Dodger fans are fed up with the money he has squandered and his poor guidance of the team, with the hope that he will ultimately sell the club. Attendance for that day topped off at 29,744, just 53 percent of capacity and the lowest numbers for any Saturday game to that point. The protest had fans, a number of whom were previous season ticket holders, carrying anti-McCourt signs and wearing similarly sloganed tees, and the Fox network featured the action during their coverage of the game.
Arrieta’s organization plans yet another boycott for August 27, when the Dodgers meet the Colorado Rockies in another Fox-televised match up.
But these organized protests are not the only fan actions that are hurting attendance. Although difficult to pin down details, there is speculation that a “soft” boycott of Dodgers games, begun last year after the circus of the McCourt divorce unfolded and continuing through this summer, is a big reason why the stadium seems to be emptying out this summer.
Attendance numbers do seem to suggest that fans are taking action for some reason, whether it is disgust with McCourt’s financial shenanigans and his divorce from Jaime, the team having a below .500 season, or all of the above. By early August, the average attendance for Dodgers home games was at 36,731, a drop of 7,902 per game over last year’s numbers. And many have speculated that the stark absence of fans from the stands must mean that a significant number of season ticket holders are not attending, which digs into concession and parking fees upon which the team and related entities rely.
Just this week, the Los Angeles Times reported that numbers revealed in the Dodgers bankruptcy hearings translate into an average attendance drop this season to below 50 percent capacity. And with this season’s turnstile count projected to be between 2.2 million and 2.3 million, that constitutes a drop of at least 37 percent from the team’s heyday in the early ’80s.
This all spells more financial troubles for McCourt, who needed revenue to increase in order to sustain the Dodgers organization, according to a financial plan released last year. Figures in this plan assumed a significant revenue increase over the coming years, from $295 million in 2008 to $529 million in 2018.
But numbers released in last week’s bankruptcy filing hold out little hope for that kind of rise. Since the McCourt’s 2009 separation alone, revenues have dropped from $282 million in that year to $265 million in 2010, and half-year earnings for this year stand at $120 million. This is in addition to the damage that the couple did prior to their separation, borrowing $100 million from Dodger-related interests since their takeover in 2004.
While possibly not directly affecting attendance numbers, the near-fatal beating of a San Francisco Giants fan by two Dodgers fans on opening day further diminished the luster of the team and increased worries about security at the stadium in the weeks following.
MLB finally stepped in on April 20 of this year, when in a rare move Commissioner Bud Selig appointed former Texas Rangers President Tom Schieffer to monitor the team and manage daily operations. After MLB shot down McCourt’s payroll-saving Fox TV offer in late June, McCourt countered by filing for bankruptcy, likely in a last ditch effort to keep the League’s hands off the team, with proceedings continuing this summer.