Dodger Stadium, shown during an exhibition game last week, is sold out for… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
The gates at Dodger Stadium open Tuesday at 10 a.m. and fans will descend upon the storied Chavez Ravine ballpark for the sold-out home opener. There will be a celebration to mark the stadium’s 50th anniversary. The Beach Boys will play.
And then what happens the next day?
The organization, the team, and all of baseball are wondering if the fans will return this season, now that Frank McCourt has agreed to sell the franchise.
Will all be easily forgiven? Will the new Magic Johnson-led ownership group mean the automatic return of the faithful?
The Dodgers have historically had some of the best and most loyal fans in baseball. Nine of the top 22 single-season crowds in National League history belong to the Dodgers. They hold the Major League Baseball record for most years (25) with over 3 million in attendance.
Only last year attendance plummeted. Officially, attendance was down 18%, but it was actually much more severe. MLB attendance figures are for tickets sold, not fans in attendance. And last season the number of no-shows was stunning to the point of embarrassment.
Maybe some stayed away because of the economy or because they were frightened after the Bryan Stow beating on opening day or put off by the strong police presence afterward.
But there is little doubt the vast majority stayed away because they were simply fed up with McCourt’s ownership. Without any actual organization, they boycotted in jaw-dropping numbers. There were some games at which there appeared to be fewer than 10,000 in actual attendance.
Now that Guggenheim Baseball Management is scheduled to take over the team, will fans automatically queue up in traditional numbers? Or will some stay away through April until McCourt is gone? Or will some continue to boycott because he retained half ownership in the parking lots? Or will some simply have fallen out of the habit of going to a Dodger game?
Certainly, attendance will rise, but to what degree is uncertain. McCourt attempted to encourage a return to more typical Dodgers attendance numbers by slashing ticket prices this season. According to Team Marketing Report, the Dodgers have cut the average ticket price by 24%.
An early prediction: Attendance will return to respectable numbers, but still fall far short of their glory years. If the Dodgers contend, however, there will be the typical bump.
Attendance is the biggest question of the season for the Dodgers. And, like everything else associated with McCourt and the Dodgers, little about it is simple. Wounds heal, but how quickly?
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