Despite the fact that they have spent most of the season in first place, the Cardinals have suffered the fourth-largest attendance drop in baseball.
According to figures released by Major League Baseball, the Redbirds have averaged 37,685 tickets sold per game this season. That's 3,070 less than they attracted in 2010 when they collapsed in the second half of the season.
I'm still scratching my head over those figures.
The only clubs ahead of the Cardinals in the attenance drop are the Rays -- who lost their best player Carl Crawford to division rival Boston over the winter, the Mariners -- who are stumbling through another terrible season and the extremely disappointing White Sox.
Sure, there has been bad weather. There have been at least two Cardinals home games this season that have been interrupted by Tornado warnings -- including the one on Good Friday when a twister tore up Lambert International Airport. It rained a year worth of precipitation in May alone and Mother Nature seems to have given us another year of rain in June.
Ticket prices are high and the economy is bad. But tell me something new. Ticket prices were high and the economy was bad last year, too.
Considering that the team is more competitive than last year, one would logically expect that it would be easier to sell tickets than it was last year. In the past the offer of Cardinals tickets to someone got about the same reaction as if you had offered them a $100 bill. You had to be careful to avoid paper cuts as the tickets were snatched out of your hand. This season I couldn't find anyone to take tickets to a Sunday game against the Cubs.
The best I can figure is that fans are put off by the Albert Pujols uncertainty. Loyal St. Louis rooters seem to be reluctant to emotionally invest in a team that may disintegrate before their eyese -- and beyond their control -- at the end of the year. Baseball in St. Louis isn't a bandwagon proposition. Most fans are with the team through thick and thin, not just if they're winning or losing. So a major change in the future direction of the club is a lot more likely to impact fan interest than the team's win and loss record at any give time.
The decreased demand for tickets is no mirage. And it's something that the home team is going to have to be prepared for if it can't sign Pujols to a longtem contract before he departs as a free agent. I sure hope the Cardinals don't try get scared away from re-signing Pujols by the attendance numbers. Sometimes you have to spend some money to make money.