It’s time to accept casual fans.
The Cleveland Indians are continuing to make renovations around the ballpark. Across the board, these have been spectacular (excluding those shipping containers up in right field. What. Are. Those. But I digress.)
No, no “die-hard fan” needs the Corner Bar. No one needs to be able to pick from local dining options in addition to regular ballpark concessions. And no one needs the concourse to be opened up, so that the diamond is visible even if you aren’t in your seats.
But these renovations aren’t about the needs of the die-hard fans. They’re about the wants of the casual fan, who won’t be there every night, but will show up for weekend games and giveaway days, even though everyone in their party still thinks Grady Sizemore patrols the outfield for the Tribe. These are the fans who get drunk and yell out “You suck, 22,” after Jason Kipnis strikes out, because they have no idea who the Tribe’s second baseman is. They’re the families who spend more time cleaning up sticky cotton candy fingers and taking restroom breaks than actually watching the game itself.
Forgive my use of first-person, but I have a personal confession to make. I used to be one of those grumpy, old-fashioned fans who got made when spillover Browns fans piled into the stadium after the football game ended on Sundays. I used to roll my eyes at groups of college students too drunk to tell a popup from a home run, or the family whose children played video games the entire evening, rather than look up.
But sometime in the last season, I’ve come around to the realization that those people are the ones who keep my team in town. When I attend a baseball game, I’ve worked out a system. Snag peanuts for $2 on my way to the stadium, bring my own bottles of water, and artfully save my dinner purchase until the fifth inning – when, barring extra innings, I’m certain to be full until it’s time to go. I don’t stop at the team shop, and I don’t purchase scorecards and pencils and yearbooks from the vendors peddling them outside the gates. The Indians make very, very little profit off of my visit.
When those casual fans go, they want souvenirs. They don’t know you can bring your own food and drinks, so they spend a small fortune on snacks and meals throughout the night. They buy the overpriced combos that we regular attendees scoff at, and they actually order pictures from those pesky photographers that roam the ballpark. That’s where the team makes its money. That’s who they need to draw in, if we die-hard fans don’t want the team to move away.
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Progressive Field is a gorgeous stadium – perhaps one of the best views of any major league parks. But its concourse is dated. Newer stadiums don’t have so many concrete slabs blocking the views of the field, or as little variation in food as the Indians had up until last season. These changes – especially the bar – are helping to draw in more than just the fans who are passionate about the game itself.
It was very hard for me to accept that these casual, flippant fans could be just as important as someone who watches 162 games a year or purchases season tickets, but they are. Are we, the regular fans, going to start buying silly tourist photographs to commemorate our visit? Are we going to stop rationing how much we spend at the park, or visit the team shop every time we go? I know I’m not. I need these guys.
It’s time to stop picking on Progressive Field and the Indians for doing something to improve the stadium. Anyone who has ever been employed likely knows how budgets work – the building maintenance budget is not the same as the payroll. “Why don’t you spend money on the team instead?” is a tired, ridiculous query. They’re spending money on the stadium because it’s what those free-spending casual fans want, and it makes good business sense to listen to them. Season ticket holders and die-hard fans are important, but they can’t keep a team afloat on their own.