The View From Pluto: The Indians Spent Big and Fans Are Buying In

Feb 22, 2017

The Cleveland Indians have been big spenders in the offseason, and now fans seem to be buying in. The Indians, who usually rank near the bottom in attendance, have already sold more than one million tickets for the upcoming season. WKSU commentator Terry Pluto talks to Amanda Rabinowitz about the Tribe's big winter. 

It took the Indians until Memorial Day last season to sell one million tickets.

“The Indians decided, after going to the World Series this past year, that this was their opportunity to not only go back to the World Series, but to spend some money and test the idea, will fans respond?”

Doubling down

Pluto says it began around Christmas, when the Indians agreed to the biggest contract in franchise history -- $60 million for Edwin Encarnacion. Then they signed relief pitcher Boone Logan. “And more importantly, they didn’t get rid of people that weren’t making a whole lot of money,” Pluto says.

The Indians grew their payroll to the biggest they’ve ever had -- $130 million, up from $95 million the previous season. That’s approaching the middle of the pack in the American League.

“Usually they’ve been in the bottom 20 percent in payroll and bottom 20 percent in attendance. But when you look at the Cleveland market, which includes all of Northeast Ohio, it is the smallest market in the country with a major league baseball team, an NBA team and an NFL team.

I have had people tell me that one of their fears is that if the population continues to decline, not just Cleveland proper but the [whole] area, that at some point the Indians or the Cavs might not make it – not now, but over the next 20 to 30 years. One of the feelings are, the Indians the previous four years had winning records and there they were, ranking between 28th and 30th in attendance out of 30 teams.

Last season, the Indians were ranked 28th…they drew 1.6 million fans.

Money coming in

Pluto says the other factor is revenue. The Indians, along with most other teams, have implemented dynamic pricing. You’ll pay more for a weekend game in June than a weekday game in April.

“For example, in 2012, the Indians lost 90 games. In 2013, they won 92 games. Their attendance was flat. But I had someone high-up with the Indians tell me that their revenue was up 15 to 18 percent, because at the end of the season they were winning and demand for tickets was going up.

Right now, all of the Indians weekend games in the summer, the lower bowl -- 18,000 seats – are sold out. And you know those are not discount tickets.

I still think you’ll be able to get cheap tickets, but it’s not going to be the game you want.”

Pluto says it shows that fans responded when the team went to the World Series and then doubled down and signed Encarnacion.

“It shows a heartbeat, a pulse. I don’t know if they go back to the World Series or not, but this is going to be a good team. This is not a fluke. They’re going to be good for the next couple years, partly because ownership said, ‘We gotta keep this baby going.’ So, they spent.”


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