With October baseball looming in the distance, the St. Louis Cardinals are still in playoff contention. Regardless of how they finish their season, the Cardinals can find solace in knowing that fans still showed up to Busch Stadium in 2019.
According to a proprietary attendance-modelling formula from Two Circles, WPP’s sports property-facing agency, St. Louis had an average home attendance of 42,019 in 2018 – a decline of roughly 1.2% year-over-year. This season, not only are the Cardinals expected to have home attendance numbers rise to 42,686 – a 2% increase year-over-year – they will retake their position behind the Los Angeles Dodgers as the second most-attended team in MLB.
Reflecting on that attendance decline last offseason, Joe Strohm, St. Louis’ vice president of ticket sales, said much was discussed by the team during the 2018 offseason to address Busch Stadium’s fan amenities. Since opening in April 2006, the venue had undergone few renovations.Heading into 2019, Strohm mentioned that offseason improvements were made to the stadium’s premium suites and exclusive areas. With 3,000 tickets per game in those areas that include food, beverage, and access to private areas, Strohm wanted to provide a more modern in-stadium experience to visitors.
Most importantly though, Strohm didn’t want Cardinals’ tickets in 2019 to be cost prohibitive. With the MLB average ticket price up to $32.99, he and the Cardinals created unique, fan-friendly ticketing deals.
According to Strohm, the 2018 Cardinals offered game day tickets ranging in price from $5 to $10. Strohm estimates that 90% of these games had tickets selling under $10, and continued this into 2019.
St. Louis also renewed its partnership with KMOX 1120 AM, the team radio station, to bring back the “First Pitch Tickets” program. Held at every regular-season game day, the first 275 fans to arrive at the ballpark’s Eighth Street ticket window are able to purchase a pair of tickets to that day or evening’s game for $11.20.
Not only did fans could spend little on tickets, but they could also avoid spending more on concessions. According to Strohm, Busch Stadium is one of the few MLB stadiums that allows fans to bring food and drinks inside. When factoring that into the low ticket prices, Strohm says that this helps fans attend games on a low budget – while maintaining a quality experience.“Our philosophy here in St. Louis, from a ticketing perspective, is that we believe in maximizing revenue by maximizing sales,” said Strohm. “We think any unsold ticket is a missed opportunity to grow our brand. We do not want the price of a ticket to be a reason for not coming to the ballpark at Busch stadium. There may be other reasons people choose not to come, but we do not want the price of the ticket to be a factor in not coming to the ballpark.”
Sam Yardley, Two Circles senior vice president of consulting, said that the Cardinals’ emphasis on topics such as fan experience, flexible ticketing options, and its brand have helped them thrive attendance-wise while MLB continues to struggle. By better managing these, Yardley says that the Cardinals – despite not making the playoffs since 2015 – should be used by other teams as a model on how to attract fans to games.
“Their record on the field is not fantastic, yet they still consistently come in the top two or three nationwide in terms of [average home] attendances,” said Yardley. “That tells me that the brand of the Cardinals is really, really strong on people. I think they’ve done a great job in terms of the brand of the Cardinals and the tangible elements of that, which I think are really important – and a lot of other teams can learn from.”
As of August 14, the Cardinals – at 62-55 – are still in the hunt for a playoff berth. If the season ended today, they would hold the second wild-card spot and square off against the Washington Nationals in a one-game playoff to advance to the National League Divisional Series.
Even if its 2019 campaign doesn’t extend beyond September, Strohm believes that the team’s loyal – and wire-spread – fanbase will stick by its side – now, and for seasons to come.“We have a fan base that’s basically throughout the United States because you know how baseball it – it’s generational, passed down from one generation to the other,” said Strohm. “You put all that together, being a regionally drawn team, it makes it a little bit unique over some other markets that are out there.”