Wednesday, October 6, 2010

9,327? Is That Good?

Did anyone notice something unique about yesterday, at least as it pertained to the world of sports?

TigerBlog didn't pick up on it until someone else in the office mentioned it. Since the Major League Baseball playoffs don't start until today, that left yesterday as one of those rarest of days, one without any regular-season or post-season games in any of the four major professional sports in America.

The days before and after the MLB all-star game also fit the bill. Aside from that, there aren't too many that TB can think of, as there are now NBA games on Christmas, an outdoor NHL game on New Year's Day and basically something every other day of the year as well. In fact, can it really be only the days around the all-star game and yesterday?

When TB worked at the newspaper, the days around the all-star game were awesome ones to work on the desk, since there were never any late games to have to worry about. Usually, when you worked the desk (which TB had to do in the summer), you'd have everything done for the early editions and then sub out advances or wire stories for the game stories that came in from the Yankees, Mets and Phillies.

Sometimes, when there would be an early story (something written before the game) or an early notes column, people on the desk would write things like "The Phillies led the Pirates 3-2 in the seventh inning at press time." TB always hated that, since when you got your paper, the game was long over.

Eventually, for the last edition, with a deadline then of around 2 a.m., you'd be waiting for box scores for MLB games from the West Coast. You'd also have to take the AP story and add it to the American League or National League wrap, which meant having to cut something out of the earlier entries to make it all fit.

And you had to do all this in the middle of the night, long after most of the rest of the newsroom had gone home (or out, which is what most of them did) and after one of the greatest cafeterias of all-time had closed for the day.

Except for the Monday before and Wednesday after the all-star game. On those days, it was an all-star preview, some stats, local American Legion and Little League baseball and wrap it up by 9 or so.

Of course, this was all in the pre-internet days, so getting late final scores (or even early ones) wasn't as easy as, say, looking at your phone (which in those days was mounted on your wall).

Those were the days, no?

The MLB playoffs used to start on Tuesdays, not Wednesdays, so sports world went from Monday Night Football to baseball playoffs.

Back when TB was in grade school, all of the postseason games were played during the day, and he can remember way back in 1973, when a teacher wheeled in a TV so that the class could watch the Mets-Reds in the NLCS.

TB isn't as interested in the 2010 playoffs. He's rooting against the Yankees, but he basically has nothing against any of the other seven teams. He has the Giants ranked just ahead of the Yankees in his rooting preference, since they knocked out the Padres.

His first choice would be the Braves, and his second was the Twins; TB doesn't see either winning in the first round.

So why isn't TB as into the playoffs as he used to be, when he would watch every game all the way through? Is it because he's older and has more important things to worry about?

Or is it because the sport of baseball has done basically everything it could do in the last 20 years to alienate its fan base?

Whether it's labor issues or steroids or 1-0 regular season games that go more than three hours or playoff games that end after 11:30 in the East or ticket prices that have destroyed the idea that baseball was affordable family entertainment or the staggering of playoff games to squeeze every nickel out of television or World Series games in November or any number of other decisions that baseball has made, it's no longer what it was back when TB was a kid, let alone when FatherBlog was growing up in the '40s and '50s in New York City.

What's the moral of the story? Don't assume that just because someone is interested in your product today means they're going to be interested tomorrow. The decisions you make have a huge impact.

TigerBlog can't imagine that Princeton fans feel the same about sports here as TB does about baseball. Perhaps some old-time football fans remember days when Palmer Stadium was routinely filled, but for the most part, Princeton athletics of today is providing as high a quality product - from a viewing standpoint - as it ever has.

Still, it took exactly one home football game here at Princeton this season for TigerBlog to be hit by the familiar conversation, which goes something like this:

"What was the attendance for the Lafayette game?"
"Is that good?"

Again, the question with no answer. A crowd of nearly 10,000? Was it a good crowd or a bad crowd? And how do the decisions that we continue to make here at Princeton impact the people who come or don't come?

It's a familiar theme for TB, who wrote a great deal about this very subject not long ago, with a Part I and a Part II.

The questions then are the same as they are now. One home game into the 2010 football season, and they haven't changed.

So now Princeton has three straight home games coming up, the first of which is Saturday against Colgate. Last year, attendance was 5,685 for a Thursday night. This year's forecast for Saturday is for sunny and 73 degrees; in other words, the weather will be perfect.

Coming up after that are back-to-back games against Brown and Harvard. All three games kick off at 1; the Lafayette game was at 6.

So what should attendance be? What would be considered good? What factors are playing into it? Is Princeton's marketing efforts working?

Michael Cross, now the Director of Athletics at Bradley, used to have discussions with TB all the time back when he worked at Princeton over whether or not it was important to set goals for attendance.

If you want to average, say, 12,000 fans per game but only average 10,000, are you unsuccessful? Or is working towards a goal a good thing? And if you are, what should that goal be?

Like all the other questions related to that subject, this one often went unanswered.

TB is not stating a goal for attendance for the next three weekends. He's in more of a "let-see-what-happens-and-if-it-teaches-us-anything" mode.

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