Monday, June 23, 2008

CWS 2008: Where'd Everybody Go?

The big news about this year's College World Series is the attendance...or more accurately, the lack of attendance. It's tough to blame any one factor, but I think it's safe to point out several factors.
  • Price of Gas and the Economy
  • Weather
  • ESPN
  • Stadium Debate Fatigue
To be sure, it's one think to drive hundreds (thousands?) of miles at $2.50 a gallon. It's another matter to drive that same distance at $4 a gallon. It will be interesting to hear what area hotels report; I'm expecting to hear that they weren't as busy this year as usual. And with many people watching their budgets and worrying about their jobs, many people probably are choosing to sit this year out.

Rain on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night meant delays and postponements of games, and many fans, especially ones with general admission tickets, decided to not chance getting soaked. That's kept the bleachers surprisingly empty.

The biggest factor in my opinion is the recent changes pushed by ESPN. In the past, CWS games started at 7 or 7:30 pm. Then ESPN pushed them back to 6:30 pm. Now it's 6 pm. Only problem with that is that on weekdays, many folks have trouble just getting home by 6 pm.... let alone get home, pick up the kids, and head to the game. The 6 pm starts seemed to be ok the last couple of years, but then ESPN decided to add a few more wrinkles. The opening games got moved from Friday to Saturday, and an extra off-day was added to the schedule... on a weekend, no less. Now the CWS lasts nearly two weeks, from the Friday opening ceremonies to a potential Wednesday final game 12 days later. Good for ESPN's programming department...bad for fans who simply can't afford to devote that much time.

Especially when you can sit on your couch and catch the game in high definition on your TV set, and let ESPN bring you all of the back stories of players and how they got to Omaha. Plus with Omaha set to host the US Olympic swimming trials next week, people are simply metering out their time.

And there's the final bit...all of the discord from the stadium debate carries a price, and I really think this year's series is paying it. It didn't help things when Mayor Fahey tried to remove David Sokol during the series. It's going to take time for people to get over all of the ugliness.

Is this a long term trend? Hard to say. We don't know whether $4 gas is going to be the rule, going to be the high point, or look like a bargain in the future. We don't know if the NCAA will tell ESPN that the previous schedule is coming back...or better yet, abandon the "two bracket" system and go back to the original 8 team double-elimination format. It was abandoned when CBS wanted a single championship game, but now that CBS is out of the picture, we don't have a single championship game anyway. And by eliminating the two bracket system, the matchups vary and we won't see North Carolina and Fresno State play three games against each other.

In recent years, the weather always seemed to clear up when the CWS hits town, so there is a good chance that this year could just be an aberration. And while we'll be slowly saying goodbye to Rosenblatt, the discord of the debate should start quieting down. I still think that in the end, the new stadium will help things out long term. But it might be a little bumpy until we get there.


AJ said...

Completely disagree.

Although weather and gas are factors...this is the city's brightest shining event. Although a large contingent of out-of-town folks come to games, 85% of the series is local.

I don't think the stadium debate had much to do with it, because all but a few South O yokels were for the plan to move downtown...if anything, it would make people want to go to Rosenblatt MORE...just to soak it all in.

No, this is on the NCAA 100% pure and simple. Their Nazi-esque lust for greed and power has done exactly what they've done to every other championship event....ruined it for the sake of money and TV coverage. I've told you and others this for nearly a decade...and I'll say it to your readers again: The NCAA doesn't give a rat's ass about Omaha. They could care less about "tradition", sunshine, lollipops and Tom Shatel's annual trip down CWS memory lane, where everybody holds hands, says hello to each otehr on the street, and looks like they came out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

The NCAA will do ANYTHING to increase their earning power, and make themselves look better. Look no further than the "don't blame it on us" clause they gave Mayor Fehey back when the whole stadium debate started.

So when you look at it, it's pretty easy to see: People don't want to see the 7 of the same 14 teams every year, listening to the same songs on the organ, seeing the same people, eating the same things year after year after year. It gets gets stale...and the fact that a power-hungry group of well dressed (and yet somwhow beloved) thugs is holding the city hostage.

Good thing we've got only another 28 years until we have some bargaining power back.

Josh said...

If there is a big problem with attendance, then how did the series set its all-time attendance record? Either the NCAA is inflating its statistics, or someone is blowing a few empty seats in the stands way out of proportion. (My money's on both.)