Because it’s not enough that one website picked it up off a FSN Florida feed. Another did too, from the Dodgers’ 6-1 loss to Florida at Dodger Stadium all the way back on Saturday night:
Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:
THIS WEEK’S BEST BET:
NBA Finals Game 1: Dallas at Miami, Tuesday, 6 p.m., Channel 7:
Based on the (clean-language) trailer used in commercials, the only funny exchange in the new Cameron Diaz movie, “Bad Teacher,” might be Jason Segel as a middle school gym coach, in a heated debate with a kid while standing at the punch bowl table at a school dance: “There is no way that LeBron will ever be Jordan. Call me when LeBron has six championships.” The kid responds: “That’s your only argument?!” Segel screams back, eyes bulging: “It’s the only argument I need, Shawn!” Pay attention, Scottie Pippen. Here’s your decision: LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh may be “Hollywood as hell,” as Chicago’s Joakim Noah says, “but they’re a very good team.” And whether it’s predestined they combine their talents to get James the first of six (or more) NBA titles, maybe only Dirk Nowitzki can say (with Mark Cuban’s backing). Welcome to first NBA final since 1998 that has neither Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal nor Tim Duncan making an appearance, pitting two teams that have somehow both gone 12-3 so far in the postseason. Dallas won both regular-season meetings, and 14 in a row during the regular season against the Heat. But in between, the Heat won four of six in the 2006 NBA Finals against them. And before he signs off, we’ll check with TNT analyst Charles Barkley, who correctly predicted the Mavs’ win over the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals: “I think the Mavs have a really good chance and I think they’re going to win the series. Dirk Nowitzki is in the moment . . . Tyson Chandler, (DeShawn) Stevenson and (Brendan) Haywood . . . I like this Mavs team. The stuff that the Heat did against the Bulls won’t work (against the Mavericks).” Game 2 is in Miami (Thursday, 6 p.m., Channel 7), with Game 3 in Dallas (Sunday, 5 p.m., Channel 7)
MLB: Dodgers vs. Colorado, Dodger Stadium, 5 p.m., Prime:
Ubaldo Jimenez has followed up a Cy Young-like season in 2010 (19-8, 214 strike outs, 2.88 ERA, starting pitcher for the NL team in the All-Star game) with an 0-5 mark through nine games with a 5.86 ERA. (Yup, Cardinals second baseman Wilson Valdez has a better record than him, 1-0). The Rockies have also gone 1-9 in games he’s pitched. Unless something weird happens, he’s penciled in to pitch in the third game of this series (Wednesday, 7 p.m., Prime), a Don Mattingly bobblehead night, after tonight and Tuesday (7 p.m., Channel 9).
MLB: Angels at Kansas City, 1:10 p.m., FSW:
Unfortunately for the Angels, it’s a no-Vin situation. Royals relief pitcher Vin Mazzaro remains with the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers less than two weeks after allowing 14 earned runs in 2 2/3 innings during a 19-1 loss to Cleveland. Mazzaro’s teammates include former Crespi High and 16-year major-leaguer Jeff Suppan (4-4, 5.43 ERA), trying to get back to the bigs, and former Chatsworth High third baseman Mike Moustakas (.260, 8 HRs, 37 RBI in 43 games), trying to get there for the first time. The Angels lost three of four to the Royals in the season series opener, including 12-9 in 13 innings in the finale when catcher Matt Treanor hit a game-winning homer and took a shaving cream pie to the face afterward. This series moves on to Tuesday (5:10 p.m., FSW) and Wednesday (1:10 p.m., FSW).
MLB: San Francisco at St. Louis, 4 p.m., ESPN:
The Cards are just 2-9 in games started by ’05 Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter (1-5, 4.58 ERA).
NHL Stanley Cup Finals Game 1: Boston at Vancouver, 5 p.m., Channel 4:
The Canucks have taken the long way home, and kicked Supertramp out of Rogers Arena in the process. The rock band, celebrating its 40th anniversary with a tour of cities that have fans who may still remember them, has to give a little bit — it had booked the venue months ago for a gig, but the NHL decided this was the time and place to start the Stanley Cup finals. It’s logical. The Canucks, with eight days rest since eliminating San Jose in the Western Conference finals, return to the championship round for the first time since 1994 — they’re 0-for-40 years and running on an NHL title. They could be the first Canadian team to capture the cup since Montreal did it (against the Kings) in ’93. The Bruins, of course, haven’t won it all since ’72. Game 2 is Saturday at Vancouver (5 p.m., Channel 4).
MLS: Chivas vs. Vancouver, Home Depot Center, 7:30 p.m., FSW:
With the Whitecaps in L.A., maybe Supertramp would like to play at their Empire Stadium?
National Spelling Bee: 5:30 p.m., ESPN:
Eighteen years later, ESPN is still televising this event in Washington, D.C., where 275 kids from age 8 (that would be Ethan Cullen Ruggeri from Fredricksburg, Va.) to 15 are allowed to sweat it out on live TV. Seventeen of them are three-year repeat visitors. The semifinals are Wednesday at 5 a.m. on ESPN3.com, where the website will also have a second “play along” version feed that allows the user the option to watch without graphics. More info: www.spellingbee.com.
Golf: PGA Memorial, first round, noon, Golf Channel:
Justin Rose rose to the top in last year’s event with a 66 in the final round at Jack Nicklaus’ annual event in Dublin, Ohio, making for a seven-shot swing over runner-up and third-round leader Rickie Fowler. Just two more weeks to go before the U.S. Open in Maryland. Golf Channel has the second round (Friday, noon), while CBS has the final two rounds (Saturday, noon; Sunday, 11:30 a.m.).
MLB: Angels vs. New York Yankees, 7 p.m, FSW:
Here come the drama queens on their West Coast swing — with Mariano Rivera, still the only active player wearing No. 42, having just recorded his 1,000th career appearance and still possibly the game’s best closer at age 41. The Angels could use someone half his age with half his talent. The series continues Saturday (6 p.m., FSW) and Sunday (12:35 p.m., Channel 13).
MLB: Dodgers at Cincinnati, 4 p.m., Prime Ticket:
Dusty Baker’s star flame thrower, Aroldis Chapman, has been making Triple-A rehab assignments since going on the 15-day DL with a sore shoulder. He’s eligible to return for this series, which continues Saturday (1 p.m., Channel 11) and Sunday (10 a.m., Channel 9).
WNBA: Sparks vs. Minnesota, Staples Center, 8 p.m., Prime:
The team sponsored by the insurance company returns for their 15th season, but this year, the lettering is bigger and bolder so potential customers can see it from a greater distance during the 34-game schedule. Hey, these girls aren’t farmers, they are Sparks. But there’s no way around the need for chest exposure provided by Candace Parker, Tina Thompson, Noelle Quinn, Ebony Hoffman and Courtney Paris. And, yes, Kobe’s dad, Joe, remains an assistant. This is also the pro debut for No. 1 overall WNBA pick and two-time Naismith winner Maya Moore with the Lynx, who then get to play her first game at home on Sunday against the Sparks as well (12:30 p.m., Prime).
MLS: Galaxy vs. D.C. United, Home Depot Center, 8 p.m, Fox Soccer Channel:
“Winners of 12 major domestic and international titles, D. C. United is the most successful team in Major League Soccer history,” it says right on their official website. So there.
Tennis: French Open women’s final, 6 a.m., Channel 4:
After No. 1 Carolina Wozniacki and No. 2 Kim Clijsters limped away before the first weekend, it marked the first time in the Open era that neither of the top two seeds have reached the last 16 of a Grand Slam. Any way Serena and Venus Williams could jump in here right about now? The semifinals are Friday at 2 a.m. on Tennis Channel
MLS: Chivas vs. Portland, Home Depot Center, 7:30 p.m., Prime:
Lots of wood chopping will be heard.
Tennis: French Open men’s final, 6 a.m., Channel 4:
Through last Saturday, Rafael Nadal had a 41-1 record in this event and is closer to winning his sixth title (tying Bjorn Borg for the most ever). Second-seed Novak Djokovic, on his historic win streak, is bracketed to have to beat both Roger Federer and Nadal to keep the streak going.
Photo by Neil Liefer from his 2008 book, “Ballet In The Dirt: The Golden Age Of Baseball”
Roger Guenveur Smith holds out hope that, based on overwhelming audience response, a two-week run at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City with his one-man play, “Juan and John,” will be extended past Sunday’s closing night.
The cathartic performance he crafted based on his searing response to Juan Marichal attacking John Roseboro with a bat in the bottom of the third inning of a Giants-Dodgers game at Candlestick Park in August of 1965 plays off violence and forgiveness, conflict and redemption, and making peace – just as Roseboro did with Marichal man years later.
Smith, who ties his memories of the event to having been a 6-year old living through the Watts Riots just a week earlier, growing up a die-hard Dodgers fan (and despising all that is Giants related) and then dealing with divorce and a strained relationship with his own daughter, has already taken his play to New York, Santo Domingo, Pittsburgh, and Columbus, Ohio over the last two years. His “optimistic speculation” is that he can next visit Marichal territory — San Francisco.
Smith, still able to hear the echoes of the crowds at Dodger Stadium these days living in Echo Park, took the time to reflect on how the L.A. audiences have embraced his performance, how it relates to current events, and why the Dodgers from the early 1960s continues to live on his memory:
Question: Every night, when you stand in the lobby and receive immediate reaction from the audience, what kind of things do you hear from Dodgers or Giants fans who still envision that Marichal-Roseboro moment as if it was yesterday?
Smith: It’s funny because we’ve had a lot of San Francisco fans come and tell me how they saw this from a different perspective. Quite a few have actually said they were there in the park that day. It’s interesting to think if that incident were to happen this year, there’d be thousands of flip-camera versions of it on YouTube, all over TV, talk shows. But when you try to find footage of it today from Major League Baseball, the actual part of that happening the game has been taken out. Apparently it’s been destroyed because it was deemed inflammatory. We’re just coming off the biggest urban conflict in U.S. history the week before in L.A., and there’s a line in the play where I talk about how someone sent Marichal a letter warning him that he’d be picked off just like John Kennedy in Dallas (two years earlier) if he ever came to L.A., and if you know the typography of Dodger Stadium, you could actually imagine how someone could be sitting in the hills out there and in fact shoot him. That was a very serious moment.
Question: Can people look at it differently after they see you perform it, work through it, and come to your conclusions?
Smith: I know there are certain fans of a certain generation who are definitely still traumatized by it – like I was. I really had problems in particular when Marichal ended his career with the Dodgers in 1975. For me, that was unconscionable that they betrayed history in that way. Even though Roseboro, out of the goodness of his heart, having been retired five years earlier, called a press conference and told everyone, ‘I’ve forgiven him,’ I couldn’t do that.
When I met Marichal years later, I did so with great trepidation, knowing I was going to shake the hand of the No. 1 villain of my childhood. But even though the passion still reverberates, I was so move by what Marichal told me: ‘I apologize, and I hope you can forgive me.’
Question: But in the play, you say you reacted by telling him basically that you don’t accept his apology.
Smith: That’s some dramatic license. And I think it’s kind of a segue into the next tragedy we’re dealing with: The beating of Bryan Stow. It’s why we put the picture (the artists sketches of the two suspects in the recent Dodger Stadium Opening Day parking lot beating) up on the screen (in the play). I imagined that moment in the parking lot.
Question: Maybe in 20 years, there’ll be a play about Bryan Stow and how forgiveness and redemption will be the themes all over again, with a Dodgers-Giants angle?
Smith: Maybe I’ve already made that first chapter. I’m simply hoping there will be some resolution – first, that he’ll come out of his coma and live to see his children finish college, now courtesy of Barry Bonds.
I was there on Opening Day (at Dodger Stadium on March 31), and there were knuckleheads in my section, as there usually are. But think about it: there was also this implicit militarism and themes of violence at the game. There were nine cannons going off as each of the players were introduced. There was a stealth bomber flying by overhead. That’s no excuse for what was done – that barbaric savagery — but the game for whatever reason was couched in all this patriotism of the National Anthem and God Bless America and these cannons and the bombers flying, which is something I don’t think any child should have to be exposed to. It’s a glorification of war.
And we had a game that was usually started at 1 p.m. delayed until 5 p.m., giving people four more hours to drink. And now it’s a night game, and part of the Stow suit (against the Dodgers) is that the lighting in the parking lot was inferior. It’s tough enough sometimes coming out of the brightly lit stadium and negotiating the traffic in the parking lot without getting hit by a car, let alone by hoodlums.
Question: Has all that pushed you into not attending games this year after that incident?
Smith: Oh, sure. I think particularly because of the way the Stow tragedy was initially addressed. The Dodgers officials said that it was an aberration and everyone had a great time. Those who go on a regular basis know it’s not true. I mean, a few seasons ago a man was murdered in parking lot at Dodger Stadium after a Dodgers-Giants game. You can’t keep sweeping those things under the rug.
It brought up a lot of issues in terms of violence, not just at the stadium, but in our city, and our society in general, and why we shouldn’t need to feel that just because we’re going to a game we’re not exposed to violence on a daily basis. It’s not just happening to a 42-year-old white male baseball fan, but also to women and children in domestic abuse cases.
We have a serious problem within our communities. And that’s another thing I’m trying to address in this piece. It’s just simply Juan and John, but a reconciliation of all kinds of conflicts that stay with us as if we’ve been hit upside the head with a baseball bat.
I’d like to think the play is transformative for the writer and performer as well as the audience. I wasn’t just thinking of myself. The play is one thing, but taking action off stage is a whole other thing. For my daughter to tell ‘I don’t think I know anything about you except what I see you doing on stage’ is a damning comment from a child. We don’t want to be known through our performances. We want to be known and recognized and understood by our capabilities of communicating and acting in the most humanistic ways.
Question: Can you explain how the reaction to the audience has differed in all the places you’ve taken this play, and how it differed from the L.A. response?
Smith: Certainly, the L.A. audience was the most passionate, especially about the Dodgers of 1965. They know it very well. It was obvious that folks came to the theatre equipped to deal with that nostalgia, and that’s a great thing. But there were also people who came knowing nothing about baseball. I designed it that way to make it transcend the sport.
In New York, it was in a workshop environment. Juan and his wife and daughter saw it there, and it was a reunion for him and some of the Roseboro family who hadn’t seen each other since John’s memorial service (in 2002).. In Santo Domingo, with an audience wearing ear buds and listening to the translation, that was wonderful. In Pittsburgh, which is such a great baseball town, it was at the August Wilson Theatre for African American Culture, where it was so historically inspired, in a place named after the master who did plays about every decade in the 20th century from a different aspect of African American life. Columbus, Ohio, was close to Roseboro’s home turf (Ashland, Ohio), so there were more family.
If we can get this to San Francisco, I’m really looking forward to it because my daughter (Luna Ray) will be there, going to school, and it will take on a whole new perspective. She’s done her own documentary on our relationship (called “Coping” see video above).
Remember how when the incident happened, there were fans at Candlestick yelling to Roseboro that he deserved it. The passions were very high. And even though Marichal was contrite, the arch bishop of San Francisco condemned him as setting a bad example.
Question: What kind of person is Marichal after you get to know him better?
Smith: It’s crazy that as a young adult, I didn’t want to go along with whatever Roseboro was saying about Marichal, forgiving him. I thought it was just some kind of public relations thing. I was never going to forgive him.
But now, I sort of consider him as a father figure to me. He’s exceedingly gracious. It’s been a beautiful transformation. You still can anticipate what his obituary will say: ‘Juan Marichal, the dominating Hall of Fame pitcher from the 1960s and ’70s who is best remembered for . . . ”
He told me he couldn’t stand being enemies with one person. He’s so mild mannered. So highly respected, and understandably so in his homeland, for all he’s done in the Dominican Republic, working for the people to channel the new-found prosperity of the Dominican players in the major leagues.
He’s very prideful, and self-conscious, and very much wanting to tell his side of the story for the record. Both he and John transcended our stereotype of the mindless jock.
When I met Roseboro the first time (as a kid), he wasn’t a ball player, but someone who was interested in community affairs. He was kind enough to bend over and give me an autograph – which I still can’t find. It’s somewhere in my mom’s garage.
But (as is described in the play), that’s where I also did find this term paper that I did (at age 16) about the Watts Riots – but I had forgotten the fact that, before my dad and I went to Western Avenue to check on the hotel that he owned, we were at Dodger Stadium that Friday night watching a Dodgers-Pirates game. That says something about my dad, who would take his son, in the middle of this largest urban conflict in U.S. history, to a baseball game, trying to live a normal life, even as we could see flames all around the city. And then taking me down there, to expose me to something like that kind of madness. It was a teaching moment.
Question: At the end of the play, you hold up a Juan Marichal baseball card – like the one you said you took out of your collection, lit a match and burned up after he hit Roseboro. Is that the same card just like the one you had as a kid?
Smith: It’s the same card, 1965. I found it just a couple of years ago, somewhere at an autograph show in East L.A. where Marichal was there signing things. I wasn’t sure if I’d remember the image. But when I saw it, yeah, that’s the one I remember – that smiling face going up in flames.
I felt very blessed to see it again. It was a very magical moment. I had to look on the back of it again to make sure it was the same stats that went through 1964.
(As an aside: For us, this was the baseball card we couldn’t believe we were actually seeing: The 1976 Marichal card, as a Dodger. You could tell they did something to doctor the cap, to paint it blue and put an “LA” logo on it. As it turned out, Marichal was traded by the Giants to the Boston Red Sox after the 1973 season, where he went 11-15 but had a respectable 3.82 ERA as a 35-year-old. After one year with the Red Sox in ’74, (5-1, 4.87 ERA in 11 games), the Dodgers signed him to start the ’75 season. He lasted two starts — nine runs and 11 hits in six innings, five walks and one strikeout. We didn’t actually burn this card, but we didn’t include it with the rest of the Dodgers cards wrapped up in the rubber band inside the shoe box.
Question: There’s another line in the play where you get the audience to recall the entire Dodgers’ starting lineup from 1965 – and you get little trouble filling out the positions. Then you exclaim: ‘How do we remember this shit?’ Why do you think we remember all this?
Smith: The teams of our youth, that’s the thing. I couldn’t tell you the starting lineup from last night’s game, but I could tell you the team from August 22, 1965. The teams of our youth are something that we invested so much time, so much focus, so much pride, so much fantasy. And it never leaves us.
It’s why a play like this absolutely still resonates. But it’s also instructive for people who knew nothing about it, or were too young, or disinterested.
You come to find out that Marichal, at the end of his career, had to prove to the people of L.A. that he wasn’t a monster. He signed with the Dodgers. And in the end, it was Roseboro who came to the games and finally told him, ‘Hey man, you’re just not as intimidating people the way you used to.’ He didn’t want to hit any batters when he was pitching for the Dodgers. So he walked away after a couple of starts, but he did what he needed to do to go on with the rest of his life.
== More on Marichal and Roseboro:
== The Center Theatre Group website, for details of the “Juan and John” production and to order tickets (linked here)
== The play is reviewed by Backstage.com (linked here)
== A review of the play and a conversation with Smith from Michael Martinez of FoxSportsWest.com (linked here)
== A feature on Smith in the Los Angeles Times’ Calendar section before the play started in L.A. (linked here).
== An L.A. Times “Culture Monster” blog post about opening night and Dodgers from the past in attendance (linked here)
== Former Dodgers GM Fred Claire remembers the incident in a 2005 column for MLB.com (linked here)
If you polled 100 fans and asked them what a sellout of a sporting event meant to them, chances are all would say, “Every seat is the house was sold.”
In terms of Major League Baseball, sellout figures are often well below seating capacity.
Forbes has this explanation (linked here)
By Greg Risling
The Associated Press
When Frank McCourt bought the Dodgers in 2004 with his then-wife Jamie at his side, he promised to restore a treasured franchise that hadn’t made the playoffs in seven years and hemorrhaged tens of millions of dollars under its previous owner.
Indeed, the team has gone to the postseason four out of the past seven years. Yet the team’s financial woes have worsened so badly that Major League Baseball has appointed a monitor to oversee the Dodgers, and Jamie McCourt has asked judge presiding over the couple’s divorce trial to order the sale of the team.
That doesn’t even factor in a lawsuit filed by the family of a San Francisco Giants fan who was badly beaten on opening day in a Dodger Stadium parking lot.
Next Tuesday, Frank McCourt hits an important deadline — making Dodger payroll. If McCourt can’t come up with the money — he needed a $30 million loan from current television partner Fox to cover his bills earlier this year — MLB Commissioner Bud Selig could take over the team and put it up for sale.
“This is by far the darkest chapter in Dodger history these last couple of years,” said William McNeil, who wrote “The Dodgers Encyclopedia” and “Miracle in Chavez Ravine.” ”It’s the only period where the fans don’t have a good sense of optimism about the team.”
Spinning off from today’s story about sizing up how the Dodgers are attracting some 7,000 fewer fans per game this year after 25 dates compared to last year (linked here), some other things to note:
== More from David Carter, the executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute, a professor of sports business at the school, and principal of the Sports Business Group, which provides stragetic marking and business development services to the sports industry:
“The (Dodgers) brand will get them through this. The corporate sponsors will let this pass and know it can turn around with new ownership, and they don’t want to be on the outside when it happens. You have to be careful when you give up seats now.
“Still, you can’t turn on the news and constantly hear the drip of bad news. Women and mothers are big in making purchase decisions. When they’re asked to go to the game, I sense that the response is more, ‘Naw, let’s wait it out.’ That response is a real chllange going forward. Now kids aren’t coming out.
“Once the MLB comes in and new owners come, people will return to being faithful fans like you’ve never seen before and believe that happy days are here again. That’ll also give the new owners too much initial credit. Until they finish in fourth place.”
== More from Tom Leykis:
“I had my season seats a year but I didn’t go. I had them mostly to give to people or sell them off. But there was very little demand for them. When the team now is constantly offering deals and packages to get people to come, that’s a sign that the demand is soft. Just check StubHub — on any given night, they’ll have the $12 top-deck seats for $1. Sometimes the reserved seats are a low as $3-$4. Those are people who bought season-seat plans and tried to sell them at face value but now they’re down to nothing.
“The economic factors are big. The parking prices have hit people hard. Some day they’re now trying to charge $16 for some high-end beer. We’re not talking about this being the Lakers with half the home dates and more championships. Go back to the O’Malley days when, in good times and bad, it was always affordable.
“I finally let my season seats go (see Leykis’ blog posting on his back-and-forth with the Dodgers’ ticket department). When I first came to L.A. to live in 1988, the year of the Kirk Gibson home run, prior to that I was in Phoenix and Miami, and neither had a major-league team. I hadn’t lived in a major-league city, so the first thing I did when I got here was call about season seats and the woman laughed me off the phone. ‘Are you kidding? There’s a waiting list.’ And the Dodgers won the World Series and everyone was delirous. I got tickets in the early ’90s in the reserved section and went to a lot of games, but when they got rid of Mike Piazza, I was out. I took the money I saved on seats and got DirecTV. That was all the Fox ownership back then.
“But last year, when I had the season seats, there wasn’t even a demand for any of the home games against the Yankees. I couldn’t even sell them at face value. I lost money having seats last year.”
So this is how the McPerfect Storm has manifested itself.
As the Dodgers’ payroll department grinds toward a deadline to see if there’s anything left to cut end-of-the-month checks, a not-so-quirky thing is happening at Dodger Stadium.
Fans don’t appear to be buying in.
The Dodgers may be averaging a respectable 36,360 a game after 25 home dates, but it’s only ninth best in all of baseball, and they’re the only team in the top 10 that isn’t filling at least 75 percent of the stadium each night. In a 56,000-seat facility, they’re only filling it at about 65 percent rate.
Compared to the 2010 season, the Dodgers’ official attendance deficit thus far is more than 7,100 paid per game – the greatest drop for any of the 30 big-league teams (12 of which have actually seen increases). The Dodgers have dragged the overall MLB attendance average to where it would actually be about break even from a year ago rather than down by about 200 fans per game across the board through May 25.
Season seats sales, which once were capped to allow walk-up sales, are reportedly down from 27,000 to about 17,000.
Here is the BaseballReference.com comparisons of the 2011 season to the 2010 season in attendance (linked here).
And while tickets sold are the only figures reported, the tally of no-shows, which aren’t calculated for public consumption, can be guestimated at some 5,000-to-10,000 per contest.
As a three-game weekend series starts Friday night against Florida with another fireworks promotion, the Dodgers could reach 1 million paid by Monday’s Memorial Day contest against Colorado. But they’d still remain on pace to have their first sub-3 million season since the aftertaste of the 1994-’95 players strike, ending a streak of 14 consecutive seasons.
The Frank and Jamie McCourt backlash to their public divorce, where court documents revealed plans of cutting payroll and increasing ticket prices to go along with other unscrupulous business practices, sits uncomfortably at the top of the list of reasons why many frustrated fans are staying away.
Having to see police with guns in holsters milling around the park, trying to quell any safety issues, doesn’t add to the stadium ambiance.
Factor in the quality of play on the field, the lack of star power, the economy, the fact schools are still in session and the usual competition from the Lakers. It’s a darn good laundry list of excuses as to why the numbers stack up as they do.
Is it any one of them over another?
“I think it’s a culmination of all of them at a time when people are fed up and can choose do to do many other things,” said David Carter, the executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute, a professor of sports business at the school, and principal of the Sports Business Group, which provides stragetic marking and business development services to the sports industry.
“Analyzing attendance figures are interesting, but it might be more ceremonial than the other business indicators that are out there.
“Sure, empty seats don’t buy Dodger Dogs or impress advertisers or sponsors or the media, but it’s really a backstory of a perception that creates more of a challenge for the team to overcome.”
Television ratings for games on Prime Ticket and KCAL-Channel 9 have actually held steady from last year to this season – an indicator that fans have maintained interest, but are just waiting to see if MLB takes over and orchestrates the sale to a new owner.
“I watch every game – on TV,” said Tom Leykis, the former FM-radio shock jock who owned Dodgers field-level season seats until he didn’t renew last year when he realized he couldn’t even give them away free to friends anymore.
“Sometimes, I feel as if I’m literally the only one watching. When you watch a game and see all the empty seats – no matter what camera angle they use – and it looks like nobody’s going, then no one wants to go. You’d think by now they’d at least hire out-of-work actors as seat fillers like they do at the Grammy Awards. It just looks bad.
“Listen, I’m not enjoying any of this. I want Dodger Stadium to be a fun place. It’s such a great moment to go out to Opening Day every year. But it’s just gone downhill. I don’t want to see Dodger Stadium as the object of ridicule. And I don’t want to ridicule it. But until people stop spending, things will only get worse. There was a time when I didn’t care if the team was winning or losing, you just like to sit in the stadium and have a beer. That’s the way I felt about it. It was the experience. But when Dodger Stadium turned into Clockwork Orange, I’m sitting at home and listening to Vin Scully.”
Compare that to Los Angeles’ other team, the barely above-.500 Angels, averaging 38,834 a game, fourth best in the game. They could outdraw the Dodgers in home attendance for the first time ever – that goes back to the Angels’ creation 50 years ago.
Considering that in 2009, the Dodgers led all of baseball in paying customers with 3,761,653, an average of 46,440, filling the stadium at about 80 percent each game, today’s state of affairs lead to a variety of theories.
The line of least resistance should start with the most obvious.
== The McCourt jesters:
All the recent damage-control measures by Frank McCourt to tell everyone he’s recommitted to keeping the team, paying bills, and rectifying any mistakes he’s made in the past might be moot at this point.
Too many postings on Dodger fans sites, or calls into the “DodgerTalk” post-game radio shows, cite the McCourt factor as the reason they’ve decided to take a break from going out to games.
“Fans are tired of all the mess and they are not willing to spend their money to support McCourt,” said Roberto Baly, editor of the VinScullyIsMyHomeboy.com blog. “I do believe there is a McCourt boycott. It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s thousands of fans that are boycotting. And the team performance on the field kinda goes to the McCourt boycott. Most feel that the team is struggling because McCourt didn’t put a great team this season because he lacked the sources.”
Leykis said the release of information in the McCourt divorce papers about how their sons were being paid and how they avoided paying income taxes, more than anything was the last straw for many.
“Why should I invest money into that?” he said. “When you read about all their future plans, and no one has denied any of that, you see that all they cared about were themselves.
“There’s no doubt that Dodgers fans are voting with their feet.”
Now, it’s payback time.
== The Bryan Stow aftermath:
The Dodgers-Giants’ four-game series to start 2011 averaged more than 48,000 tickets sold, even as the news began to circulate about how Stow, the Giants’ fan, suffered a severe attack in the Dodger Stadium parking lot after Opening Day.
When the Giants came back to play two games at Dodger Stadium on April 18-19, the average was down by about 14,000 per game.
“The ballpark used to be a safe haven where you could take your kids, but I have noticed in my area a lot of unsavory characters in the past few years,” said John Utley, a Manhattan Beach resident who shares his season seats on the loge level near third base with seven other partners. “The last game we went to, it felt like being at a Raiders game. Even with the LAPD everywhere, a lot of guys spend the whole game drinking, and you notice by the third inning that the tone starts to change.”
Leykis, who is finalizing a deal that will officially recognize his $50,000 contribution to the reward money offered by the Los Angeles Police Department for information that leads to the capture of the two prime suspects in the beating, calls the Stow attack something that “accelerated a trend that had already existed.”
Says Baly: “Many of my friends don’t like the huge LAPD presence. They say they feel uncomfortable or it takes the joy out of the game. I disagree with that point. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t even pay attention to the LAPD.
“But sometimes you feel that there is more LAPD inside the park than fans.”
== Where’s the buzz?
In 2005, a season where the Dodgers finished at 20 games under .500, it still had the best attendance of all National League teams at 3.6 million.
The Dodger Stadium experience could sell itself if the team on the field couldn’t.
Andre Ethier’s 30-game hitting streak gained some traction, as did Matt Kemp’s fast start.
If only there was a third outfielder with some pop, dreadlocks, and the flair for the dramatic who could be added to the mix.
There’s no Eric Gagne to wait around for to save a game each night. Not even Jonathan Broxton, shelved with an injury, has been able to match it.
Clayton Kershaw? Here’s something to make your head wobble — not even his bobblehead night was close to the automatic sellouts that this promotion used to be.
The Kershaw giveaway drew only 42,138 on Tuesday May 17. That’s easily the smallest Dodgers home crowd for a bobblehead night since the very first one – a Tommy Lasorda statue in April, 2001 had just 34,000, well before the novelty caught on.
== The Purple and Gold:
The four smallest Dodger Stadium crowds this season have been on days when the Lakers had playoff games going head-to-head.
The worst was on a Sunday afternoon, April 17, against St. Louis – which ended with a Kemp walk-off homer. The paid attendance was 27,439. There were some 19,000 at Staples Center at the same time when the Lakers opened the NBA playoffs with a loss to New Orleans.
But the Lakers’ quick playoff exit – they disappeared on May 8 – should absolve them from being blamed for any more Dodger attendance damage.
== The economy:
When a family of four can’t get out of a game at Dodger Stadium without paying $226.36 for tickets, hot dogs, drinks and a souvenir – that, according to the latest Team Marketing Research project that determines the Fan Cost Index – how’s that going to fly?
The Dodgers rank No. 7 among all MLB teams in this matrix, above the league average of $197.35. The Angels are the fourth-best deal at $129.50 – about $100 less a game than the Dodgers.
Here is the Team Marketing Research annual project on determining the Fan Cost Index (linked here).
Mike Schwartz of Redondo Beach, a Kings’ season-seat holder and lifelong Dodgers fans who only attended a few games a season, decided recently to actually invest in a Dodgers season-seat package.
The new Dodger promotion package of games that involve all the major give-away nights at $12 a ticket “was just the incentive I needed to place my order,” he said.
Schwartz, who usually attends the games with his wife, has this perspective on the situation:
“Despite the tragedy that took place on opening day, I could see why fans would shy away from attendance. I had my concerns or my safety as well — until I attended my first game. The reality is that I’ve never felt safer at a Dodger game in the 20-plus I’ve been a fan.
“It is sad to see the attendance hit record lows. I’m not saying that McCourt is to blame for the current state of things. But if a change in leadership turns out to be just what this team needs right now, then I’m all for it.”
Illustration by Mike Browne at Celebrity Cartooning Blog (linked here).
Our favorite excerpt so far from “Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World of ESPN” by Jim Miller and Tom Shales ($27, Little, Brown & Co., 784 pages), on the hiring of Jim Rome to help the launch of ESPN2 in 1993:
== John Lack (a former vice president):
“In looking for elements for ESPN2, I wanted a good sports talk show aimed at a younger audience. . . . (ESPN) had Roy Firestone, who did interviews, but it was kind of bland stuff. So we looked around for a talk-show guy and the best ones are on the radio. On the West Coast, there was a guy named Jim Rome who had a hot sports talk show from San Diego that was just about to be syndicated on radio. . . I liked him a lot. He was brash and young and his dream was to be on some place like ESPN. He wasn’t a great TV personality at the time – he was kind of awkward – but he had a great voice, a great mind and he had the respect early of the trash-talking black and Hispanic audience. I thought he was good-looking enough to be an eventual star on television. So I told (executive editor John) Walsh . . . (and) he looked at tapes and went gaga; he thought this was going to be Waterloo, and he was going to fight this one because he thought it flew in the face of the journalistic ethics of ESPN. I kept saying, ‘It’s not about journalism, it’s about young people.’ He didn’t buy any of that psychological (bleep). All he cared about was, ‘This guy is too controversial and I don’t think that he’s smart enough.’
“(After another meeting, Walsh) says, ‘You’re going to ruin the journalistic integrity of this network, which we’ve built up all these years. We’re finally getting to a point where we are the real deal in sports journalism and this guy’s going to blow it all in a week on the air.’ . . . (Walsh eventually proclaims): ‘If Rome comes here, and Lack has the right to do that, then I’m quitting.”
== John Walsh:
“I never threatened to quit on the basis of any one decision. Throughout my career, I have always tried to make sure that I agreed with the vision, spirit and collegiality of whatever enterprise I was involved with, and if I didn’t, that became my breaking point. I doubted Lack’s vision, style and experience. I, along with many of my colleagues at the time, knew he wasn’t right for the company in so many ways, even though from time to time he would have a good thought or recommend a winning person.”
== David Zucker, VP of programming:
“Was there contentiousness between Walsh and Lack? Of course. There was contentiousness between Lack and everybody. Lack is a brilliant, smart, creative guy, but just a loose cannon — a bull in a china shop. I don’t know that he ever understood ESPN the way the old guard did.”
Looking back on all that: Lack was executive VP of marketing and programming at ESPN for just three years – 1992-’95.
Rome hosted “Talk2″ on ESPN2 from 1993-’98, went to Fox, came back to ESPN in 2003, and since ’05 has been on ESPN with a five-days-a-week “Jim Rome Is Burning” show.
Walsh remains as ESPN’s Executive Vice President and Executive Editor since joining the network in 1998.
And the book now sits in the No. 1 top seller spot on Amazon.com.
From Roberto Baly’s VinScullyIsMyHomeboy.com (linked here):
KXTG-FM (95.5 The Game), the radio home in Portand to the NBA’s Trail Blazers, the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, the MLS’ Timbers and the University of Oregon, will give L.A.-based Dave Smith and Mychal Thompson a on-air tryout this week as a possible morning-slot replacement for the syndicated Jim Rome show.
KXTG is a Fox Sports Radio affiliate, but it has dropped now most of the lineup that is heard in the L.A. market — Steve Hartman and Pat O’Brien, Petros Papadakis and Matt “Money” Smith, Tony Bruno and, earlier this month, Rome.
To fill the 10 a.m. to noon slot the station has been trying out several replacements. Smith and Thompson, who calls Lakers games for KSPN-AM (710) but was recently dropped from their talk-show lineup, will be on the air Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (station website linked here).
Meanwhile, the station will change locations to 750-AM, which has a wider saturation for its signal, on Thursday.
Smith, aka “The Sports God” and a former No. 1 pick on the Daily News annual best and worst of the L.A. sports talk show host poll, continues to write at his website (linked here).
More on Thompson, the former No. 1 overall pick of the Portland Trail Blazers before he came to the Lakers, from the Portland Tribune (linked here).