a fantastic regarding the Expos attendance saga of late and why the deserve to stay in Montreal:
Here's Number 1:
MLB should contract the Expos" said a longtime Braves fan in a disgusted voice.
"Baseball will never work in Montreal" said a sportswriter from Cleveland.
"The Expos would be better off in Washington" said a fan of the defunct Washington Senators, hoping to get baseball back in the US capital.
The irony in these statements is obvious enough to anyone who has had to take a ninth grade English class which studied literary techniques. Yet, in the wide world of sports, fans have short memories and sportswriters have even shorter ones. How else can you explain Skip Carrey attacking Expos fans for poor attendance during a Braves-Expos match when Atlanta was the epitome of lackluster fan support throughout the 70s and 80s?
The reasons why the Expos routinely drawing under 5,000 fans a game and crack 5 digits less often than a part of the Big Owe falls off are well known; The longest playoff drought in professional sports (checking in at 19 years), 90 loss season after 90 loss season, fire sale after fire sale, unstable ownership, and baseball's worst stadium, to name a few of the more common excuses. However, the point of this article is not to determine why the Expos draw small crowds; anyone who understands the situation this franchise is in can figure that out. The point of this article is to concretely look at the cold, hard attendance numbers of the Expos and other teams in Major League Baseball to show that, while fans may stay away from the Expos, they have stayed away from many others teams in the past and these teams have gone on to become some of the biggest drawers in the league. Hopefully, this will convince the doubters of the validity of baseball in Montreal, that the fans in Montreal have supported the team in the past and that they will support them in the future under better circumstances. Hopefully, this will convince them that Montreal does in fact deserve a major league baseball team.
To start things off, the Expos have drawn just a tad over 45.5 million fans since they burst on to the scene in 1969 for an average of 1,422,487 fans a season. Obviously, things have gotten worse over the past couple of years so let's break things down into nice little chunks:
Jarry Park (69-76): 1,111,424
Big O with Bronfman running team (77-89): 1,745,780
Big O with Brochu/Loria in charge (90-2000): 1,266,640
All things considered the Jarry Park numbers aren't terrible. The league average for that period was around 1.39 million so, considering the terrible teams the Expos had and the AAA stadium, coming close to those numbers is fairly good. The first 13 years at the Big O were attended solidly, even more so if you look at the 77-83 period when the team was winning and they drew an average of 1,906,374 fans a year. Although the crowds started dropping off in the late 80s, the numbers during that 13 year stretch were still better than six of the other NL teams over that span; Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Pittsburgh, San Diego, and San Francisco. The Expos continued to draw respectably in the early 90s but fire sales and losing seasons plummeted the crowds to what Anne Robinson would call a humiliating, embarrassing, disgusting, pathetic, 1,173,066 fans a year on average between '95 and 2000. Most people would assume that this number is miles bellow the next lowest mark in MLB because of the constant abuse the Expos take in the media but in fact, Minnesota has checked in at 1,212,608 per year over that stretch and the 2000 AL West champion Oakland A's have drawn 1,309,600 a season on average. Yet, despite the shortcomings of these teams in the late 90s, they do not even come close to the low crowds drawn by some other teams in the history of MLB.
Everyone's favourite example is the Cleveland Indians. This is a team which recently had a league record, 455 game sellout streak come to an end. This is a team which has drawn over 3 million fans for 5 years in a row. This is also a team which was the laughing stock of MLB prior to that (We all saw Major League, right?). During their years at Cleveland Stadium from 1969 to 1993, the Indians average a whooping (get ready for this): 990,345 fans a year. While a lot has been made about the Expos drawing under a million fans last season, imagine averaging under a million fans a year for a 20+ year stretch. Not surprisingly, over that same time, Cleveland had the AL's worst attendance 10 times. That's about a third of the time. And for those of you who think the Expos have been their NL counterparts, last year was just the 4th time in their history that the Expos have had the NL's worst attendance, a mark exceeded by Atlanta (7), Pittsburgh (7), San Diego (5), and matched by San Francisco.
Of course, as you probably all know, things turned around in Cleveland fairly quickly. In fact, since moving into Jacobs Field, the Indians have seen their attendance more than triple over their Cleveland Stadium numbers. And while I know the following number has almost no relevance, if you increase the Expos Big O average attendance by the 217% Cleveland's has jumped, you get a team who would draw 4,837,972 fans a season. Obviously that would never happen but you have to figure that a new stadium help out quite a bit, especially when you consider the attendance hikes in Atlanta (60%), San Francisco (86%), and Houston (71%) compared to the 10 year periods before they moved in; 10 year periods, I might add, which all featured at least 2 playoff teams.
So is it just a stadium thing? Let's face it, there are only 3 domed stadiums left in MLB and all three cities were coincidentally among the 4 lowest attendances in MLB last year. The Minnesota Twins, one of the so-called lame brother small market teams of the Expos, feel that their domed stadium, the Metrodome, has outlived it's usefulness. The Twins have averaged a respectable 1,627,732 during their 19 seasons at the Metronome. In comparison, the Expos drew 1,626,284 first 19 years at Big O or 18 less fans a game (The all-time Big O average is 1,526,174 a year). Wondering how some other doomed domes did? The Mariners averaged 1,211,004 their first 19 years in the Kingdome (1,435,303 total), the Astros averaged 1,420,366 their first 19 seasons in the mother of all domes (1,620,877 total), and, after drawing 2.5 million fans their inaugural season, the Devil Rays have averaged 1,506,250 fans their past two years.
Still, even though the Expos numbers match up well with these other domed teams, in the end it comes down to a "what have you done for me lately approach?". As it was previously mentioned, the Expos have had trouble drawing fans since 1994, averaging just under 1.2 million over that stretch. While I could rattle off a series of teams who have averaged worse crowds than that over a 5 year period (we previously mentioned Cleveland doing this over a 25 year period), it is true that crowds have increased around MLB so we should look at the Expos crowd relative to the MLB average to get a good idea of just how bad the situation in Montreal really is. From 1995 to 2000, the Expos have drawn 54% of the MLB average. Now, you're probably wondering if anyone else has sunk to this dubious low in the past and the answer is...yes. Take the '85-'90 Braves who drew 13,993 a match over that span for a cool 57% of the MLB average. Or the '80-'85 Indians who drew 52% of the MLB average. And don't get me started on the '81-'86 Pirates who drew 54% of the MLB average. And then there were those 6 years in the 70s when the Giants drew 55% of the MLB average. Or that stretch between '75-'81 when the Braves drew exactly half of the MLB average, making them prime contraction material. And in the "how low can you go?" category, between 1975 and 1980, the Oakland A's drew crowds which were 41% of the MLB average! Not one of these teams were contracted or moved, and 4 of those 5 franchises have been able to assure their futures with new stadiums in the past decade. And remember that in the first example, the Braves of the late 80s, it took them all of one season to turn things around and start drawing 2 million + on a routine basis. Maybe all the Expos need is a worst to first season to start packing the Big Owe to pre-fire sale levels again. Food for thought.
And no attendance comparison would be complete without mention of the chick relocation candidate these days: Washington DC. This is a team which finished dead last in AL attendance in 1955. While that in itself isn't bad, it should be noted that the Senators' rank in 1956 was a resounding...dead last. How about 1957, you ask? Yup, you guessed it. Or 1958? Last. While I could go on, I do want to get this article finished while the Expos are still in Montreal so I'll just say that between 1955 and 1961, the Senators were dead last in AL attendance every single year. From '55 to '66, they were last or second to last every season when it came to bringing fans out to the ballpark.To put this into perspective, the Expos have been one of the two worst drawing teams in their league four years in a row. To match DC's record of futility, they would need to be one of the worst two drawing teams in the NL until 2008. And we all know that, one way or the other, that isn't going to happen. Also, in the 80 years that DC has baseball, they only hit the league average on 5 occasions. That's an incredible 6% of the time. Wow! I'm surprised DC isn't fighting off half a dozen teams trying to get into this baseball hotbed. Now, just for the record, I'm not saying baseball wouldn't work in DC now since my whole argument is that teams draw poorly when they are placed in bad situations and that they can easily turn things around, as witnessed by Atlanta, Cleveland and a number of other cities. I'm just saying that Montreal has supported their team in the past whereas DC, well, in a word, hasn't.
Is 4,300 fans for a game embarasing? Yes, it is. Would I like the Expos to draw bigger crowds? Yes, I would. Do these small crowds make Montreal a bad baseball town? Absolutely not. What the Expos have been through the past couple of years is nothing compared to Cleveland, Atlanta, Washington or a handful of other cities. The fact is, all cities go through good and bad times attendance-wise, and the Expos are going through a bad time right about now. Even the mighty New York Mets have struggled drawing fans in the past; the Expos outdrew them 3 times in the 90s. But just like the bulk of the other teams who have struggled in the past, Montreal is fully capable of turning it around, they just need to get out of their domed stadium (as we've seen, domed stadiums appear to be the kiss of death for attendance) and to start winning a few more games. However, until that happens, Montreal and it's baseball fans should not be blamed for failing to support their team.
They played the Braves last night to a crowd of 11,855. They are starting to come back now that we've had a good first half, and if the second half goes well numbers will still rise, and if they win the wild card we should see 20,000-30,000+ easlily through a playoff run.
There's a strong rumour that the Bronfman family may be considering leading a new group to purchase the team. yes, its a rumour, but let's hope there's some truth to it.