New Houston Astros owner Jim Crane will give the team’s fans lower ticket prices as a parting gift for their final season in the National League.
Although the new structure hasn’t been announced yet, Crane, who purchased the team this month from Drayton McLane for $610 million, has said lowering prices is at the top of his agenda.
“I think that’s one of the first things we’re going to do,” Crane told the Houston Chronicle. “We want to do whatever we can to get the people back.”
Some would argue it’s the least Crane could do after the worst season in franchise history. Additionally, Crane fired the team’s general manager and its president, yesterday, November 27.
Houston lost a team-record 106 games last year, and the team averaged 25,518 fans per game at Minute Maid Park, the third-worst attendance in the NL. Performance was not reflected in pricing, though, as the Astros’ average ticket price ($30.84) was the ninth-highest in Major League Baseball.
Crane had the team purchase price lowered by $70 million by agreeing to move it from the National League — where it has been since the franchise began as the Houston Colt .45s in 1962 — to the American League in 2013.
The Astros will move to the AL West, which will create a balanced 15-team AL and NL.
Randy Cohen, owner of Texas-based TicketCity, told TicketNews on November 17 that the move “will be a boon for the division and for the secondary market” because of the intrastate rivalry that has been created with the AL West’s Texas Rangers. The Rangers are located 250 miles north of Houston in Arlington, TX.
While the move to the AL strengthens the existing Texas rivalry, it will also bring in big draws such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox to Minute Maid Park.
However, a good portion of Astros fans aren’t pleased with playing a lame-duck season in the NL and the subsequent move to the AL.
Some aren’t happy with the team playing in a division where three of the five teams are in the Pacific Time Zone (the Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics). Nor are they happy that the Astros will have to adapt to a new style of play, with a designated hitter, after 50 years following NL baseball regulations.
A Houston Chronicle poll was running 76 percent against the move. Some fans have even started movements to boycott the team.
“I think lowering the ticket prices will probably help sell some tickets,” Charlie Essmeier, an Astros fan since 1969, told TicketNews. Essmeier, who said he spends “a few thousand dollars a year to see the Astros play,” created the Web site Boycotthoustonbaseball.com.
“The price of tickets isn’t my complaint, nor is it anyone else’s, I suspect,” Essmeier said. “My complaint is that [baseball commissioner] Bud Selig wanted to move an NL team to the AL. All teams refused. So he twisted the arm of Jim Crane to get him to agree to the move as a condition of sale — the fans’s wishes, the team’s history, and whatever else it meant to baseball as a whole be damned.”
The Astros’ NL history doesn’t include a lot of success on the field. They’ve made nine playoff appearances in 50 years and reached the World Series once, in 2005.
Crane sees the Rangers not only as a rival, but as a model for the Astros. Texas is coming off back-to-back World Series appearances, and it has built a cost-conscious winner by building up its minor league system.
The addition of a second Wild Card team in both the AL and NL, perhaps as soon as 2012, gives teams such as the Astros hope of a quicker path back to the playoffs.
Houston’s payroll was 20th in MLB at the beginning of last season at $70 million and was lowered through late-season trades for minor league prospects. It will likely go even lower next season as the rebuilding continues.