When the Phillies suck, the working man suffers

The team is terrible. That means attendance is down. And that means the stadium's workaday folks feel the pain.

By Randy LoBasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Aug. 20, 2014

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Nice stadium. But who's buying the beer?

Photo by Ffooter/Shutterstock.com

Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is counting himself lucky tonight. He’s getting an award he claims he doesn’t really care about, and, in a rare showing of fan support this season, virtually all the seats in Citizens Bank Park are filled.

“I was here nine years, and nine years went by real fast,” says Manuel, who stands on a stage in the infield, speaking jovially into a microphone. “We had some great teams, and everybody played a part in those teams.”

Manuel—who led the Phillies to five straight division championships, two World Series appearances and one World Series win between 2007 and 2011—is being honored with a plaque on the “Wall of Fame” beyond Center Field in Citizens Bank Park, where an etching of his mug will be on display next to Phillies greats like John Kruk and Steve Carlton—both of whom are physically standing on stage with Manuel, along with several other Phillies legends.

There are 39,153 fans here—the fourth highest home attendance of the year—to watch it happen.

Manuel’s got a blue and white, checkered button-down shirt on underneath his Phillies jersey. His face is beet red, and the view from the large screen shows he’s begun sweating as he rambles through an obviously-unprepared speech, in which he accidentally calls Broad Street “Broadway,” in a reference to the 2008 World Series victory parade.

Fans cheer anyway.

Beer vendors strut up and down the aisles, too, calling out brands from Miller Lite and Coors Light to Stella Artois to Bud Light Raz-Ber-Rita, the latter of which the stadium began providing this year. Many beer sellers seem eager at the prospect of an extra hour to move their product.

“When you go to events like that, when they come to town, we look forward to working harder, working more, sweating more and pushing more,” says Andrew W. Reddin, a beer vendor who sells Miller Light, aisle-to-aisle, “but it’s stuff like that that’s drawing crowds. Not the team.”

The Phillies 2014 season is a wash, as is, really, any upcoming season in the near future. And, as vendors note, it’s actually been bad for a while. Of everyone associated with the Phillies’ 180-degree turn from first to worst, it’s actually the beer vendors whose pockets are directly impacted by the team’s suckitude.

“As far as vendors are concerned, the last three years have been pretty much consistently . . . you can call it bad,” says Reddin.

For many of Citizens Bank Park’s workers, it’s simple trickle-down economics: pay rises and falls with the team’s fortune. These workers, who vend beer section-by-section, aisle-by-aisle, are paid based on tips and commission. Poor teams mean fewer fans. Fewer fans means less product moved. Less product means less pay—and as the team gets worse, for lots of these workers, their wallets get emptier.

We got a reality check in June, when Emory University in Georgia released a study analyzing Major League Baseball fans, attempting to show the correlation of “attendance sensitivity to performance and prices”—meaning, they conducted a scholarly study to find out which city’s fans were least likely to show up if ticket prices went up and winning percentage went down, using data from 1998 to 2013.

If you’re a Phillies season ticket holder, the results were not shocking.

“The most demanding MLB fans live in Philadelphia,” wrote Manish Tripathi, a professor of marketing at Emory, who conducted the study. “This fits the stereotype of Philadelphia fans as aggressive, demanding fans that are willing to cheer injuries and boo Santa. The numbers say that Philadelphia fans require their team to perform or they won’t show up.”

Despite the tired, clichéd, stupid example of “booing Santa” and the fact that he cited data which revolved around one of the two historic World Series wins, Tripathi has a point.

In 2009, the year after the Phillies won the World Series, Philadelphia had the third-highest attendance in baseball, averaging 44,453. They only lagged behind the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.

In 2010, attendance went up, and so did our ranking: 45,027 fans per game, ranked second in the majors. 2011: First in the MLB; 45,440 per game. In 2012, we were first again (largely due to pre-season ticket sales), averaging 44,021 fans per game.

Then things changed. The Phillies missed the Wild Card in 2012, and the reign of powerhouse players like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins was largely declared over, even though all three received large, extended contracts.

Last year, the team slipped to eighth in attendance. So far in 2014, we’re ranked 15th, averaging just 30,289 fans per homegame, the biggest one-year drop in Major League Baseball. And things are looking down.

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