Attracting Fans to Petco Park

Credit: AP Photo

Denis Poroy/Getty Images

It is early in the off-season, but the San Diego Padres have done little to improve the 2019 team. How can this team get better and how can they attract more fans to what is one of the most beautiful ballparks in the league, Petco Park?

The Padres biggest splash so far this offseason has been to sign a 36-year-old second baseman. One doubts that the acquisition of Ian Kinsler will put fannies in the seats in 2019. And last year’s performance (66-99 overall, 31-50 at home) gives fans little incentive to invest in parking, event tickets, and food.

Thanks to a team ranked last in starting pitcher ERA, and just about every batting stat, a fellow fan told me recently his family has decided to cut way back the on the season-ticket plan they’ve had since Petco Park opened. Collectively, they have found the team to be unwatchable. The front office’s promises of hot talent lava and competitive teams do not reassure them. One disgruntled family hardly makes news, but you can bet they have company.

Of course, Petco Park itself still has its charm, and that matters. Thanks to their pitiful ballpark, the Rays attracted far fewer fans (just 1,154,973) despite the fact that Tampa Bay had a better record than the Padres, as well as a lower payroll.

The quality of concessions undoubtedly matters also to some fans. More than any other sport, the atmosphere at Major League Baseball games is conducive to sampling different foods (not that San Diego has much in the way of other sports right now).

Petco Park boasts a wide variety of food and drink, including gourmet sausages, tri-tip sandwiches, barbeque (including Randy Jones BBQ), pizza, and, of course, beer, including large samplings from craft brewers. Although most of the offerings are heavy on the meat, a few concession stands sell veggie burgers and hot dogs as well as salads.

In case you worry about food safety, Petco Park also excels in that area. On Sunday, Bryce Miller of the San Diego Union-Tribune broke the news that Petco ranked very low in “high-level violations” that could result in foodborne ailments. We can even feel superior to the New York Yankees in that regard, but I doubt fans will be dancing in the streets at the news.

However, the Padres cannot feel superior in terms of on-field performance or other ways of attracting fans, like promotional items. According to Matt Snyder of cbssports.com, the quality of promotions leaves much to be desired. He rated the Padres last in 2017 and 2016 in the quality of team giveaways. To add insult to injury, this year the team had to stop handing out beach hats and confiscate those that had been passed out thanks to grain beetles found in packaging.

Credit: USA Today Sports

But what about that “Five-Win-Pass”? The pass, available for $99, allowed ticket holders to attend games until the team achieved five wins or the season came to an end. In an article entitled “The San Diego Padres Found a Way to Monetize Bad Baseball” in The Atlantic (of all publications) Jeremy Venook panned the pass: “a fan who bought in early could have gotten 12 extra tickets for their investment—a great deal, as long as they didn’t mind watching awful baseball.”

For the first and only time, attendance at Padres’ games topped 3 million in 2004. But that occurred the year the Petco Park opened. Since then, attendance has dipped. In 2009, attendance fell below 2 million, but rebounded to 2.459,762 in 2015.  Under the current management group, attendance has been below league average every year.

In 2018, the Padres ranked 18th at 2,147,000. At the other end of the spectrum, the Dodgers ranked first at 3,857,500, the Yankees second at 3,482,855. Of course, both cities have larger populations and stadiums.  Even more important though, both teams made it to the playoffs.

Atmosphere and food and other factors may attract some fans, but winning fills ballparks. The acquisition of a player like Noah Syndergaard would have also greased the turnstiles. However, the rumor that the pitcher might end up a Padre in a three-team trade died earlier this month.

This offseason, the Padres cannot settle for Ian Kinsler and otherwise make do with the current roster. The team has the prospects to acquire a quality starting pitcher and third baseman, and hoarding them should not be an option. San Diego fans deserve a team that is at least watchable.

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Diane Calkins
Baseball has been a part of Diane's life since her father played professionally (mostly at the minor league level). She has written for a number of publications and concentrated on companion animal welfare. She welcomes the opportunity to write about the sport she loves. Diane shares her home with her husband and a house full of rescued animals.

15 thoughts on “Attracting Fans to Petco Park

  1. I worked for the San Diego Padres for almost 30 years. 1984-2010. Yes we were told that the Padres would be contenders for many years to come. What happened, I’ll tell you same old story every year. Why does San Diego suck when it comes to professional sports. It’s called owner management its sad but true. You won’t get your stands full with a losing team. I have not been to a game since I left the organization. If i need to go to a game i will go watch the storm play. Good luck san Diego. You should of never let Bruce Bochy go. Think about it.

    1. Hi Paul,
      You obviously have a very unique outlook having been involved for that period of time. In the more recent history do you think Moores would have stayed committed to the team if he hadn’t cheated his way into a divorce?
      Diane

  2. Wow, you pay $40 some odd dollars just to get in and receive a random “free” baseball trinket. Then you have the privilege to pay for over priced beer and food. On top of all that you get to see unwatchable baseball. Where do I sign up? Bobble heads, blankets and t-shirts are plentiful online or in stores and they don’t charge an admission fee. Beer…lots of micro brews around town. Food, there’s little Italy, the gas-lamp and numerous other options at fair prices. Baseball, watch who you want with the MLB package for the cost of less than three Padres games. Or, the Padres are still on cable.

    To me, It’s about watching a competitive team that has a chance for a division title. You go there to watch baseball!!! I like Preller’s plan that is soon to bear fruit. Having a minor league system that regularly infuses MLB talent is the only way to keep a team competitive over a span of several years. Then, occasionally you mix in a few free agents. Don’t blow it up now, be patient. Who the heck wants to start over again! Anything else is just lipstick on a pig!

    1. Hi Bill, I did not advocate blowing it up. However, a deep farm system allows a team to make trades for quality players. It takes something to get something. Padres fans deserve a team that at least has a chance in any given game. Thanks for reading and commenting.
      Diane

  3. Another good article, Diane. One of the sweetest ballparks, with one of the worst teams.
    It’s hard to be proud to be a fan when…
    Insulted by the seemingly endless stream of fatuous pronouncements by Ron Fowler. A fan chosen at random would know more about baseball than he does.
    Embarrassed by keeping the only twice-suspended executive in the sport. Why was he not fired?
    Tarred by the steroid brush by seeing lyin’ Mark McGwire wear the Padres uniform. This is a spit in the eye to every player who ever wore the brown, from Gwynn and Winfield right on down to every ball girl and janitor who work in any fashion for the organization. Disgusting.
    They annually move the goalposts on when we will see a good team. It was 2015, but Preller had no clue and so it was 2018, oops I mean 2019, no wait 2020, but definitely 2021.
    They take our money, in the form of ticket prices, merchandise, concessions, tv viewership, and most importantly, public financing of the ballpark and what do they return?
    For another perspective on this: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/08/the-san-diego-padres-and-monetizing-bad-baseball/568912/
    It does not seem unfair to say 5 years of lousy baseball is enough (and it’s been a lot longer). If the team doesn’t reach .500 in 2019 A.J. Preller should be replaced.
    .500 or bust.

  4. You should be excited about the best farm team in the league and see guys like Margot, Urias, Lucchesi etc. comming into the MLB and getting better
    NOT trading them away now to get a few more fans this season,
    NOT change the lineup every game and don’t give the youngsters the games they need to develope to be a bit more watchable and get a few more people in the stadium!

    1. Hi Mario, Thanks for reading and reacting. Of course it’s a plus to have the highest rated farm system. However, prospects are suspects until they perform. They are not only valuable for what they can do on the field but for the return the team can get in a trade. Are you telling me you wouldn’t be excited to see a real ace start opening day? You have to give quality to get quality. Since the farm system is deep in talent, the Padres would not have to give up Tatis or Urias. Margot had a very average season. Luccesi is not an ace. In the end, what’s the point of even having a team if fans don’t want to watch the team?

      1. Diane, do you think ONE Ace and a 3rd baseman are the missing pieces for the Playoffs?
        I agree you can and have to trade talent when the time is right, but in my opinion that’s not this season.
        As painful as it (again) might be this season is for me (again) do give talented players as much playing time as possible to see if they’ll be a piece we need when we try to contend and more in “x” years.
        There are great pitchers becoming FAs next season or dk they could also sign Keuchel for example for the right conditions this year but for me there is, at the stage where we are, no reason to trade for an (injuryproven) ace at the moment.

        1. If you wait until a team is good enough just from prospects to compete, and only then add in FAs, you’ll be waiting forever.

  5. Sometimes winning matters, but not in San Diego. I remember 2010, when the Padres were trying to hold off the charging Giants for the NL West. The Pads probably had a one game lead in the standings and I went to a mid week September game. This is the time of year baseball fans dream of. There were 17,000 people at the game.
    Do San Diegans only go when the team makes the playoffs ? Promotions are the only thing that fills seats. Taco Tuesday this year was a big hit. If they could have more food promotions, I think that would also help. Tourism brings fans and so does summertime. But competitive baseball … I don’t think it’s a difference maker

    1. Hi Paul, I appreciate the comments but have to disagree. In 1998 San Diego baseball fans filled the Q (which is a whole lot bigger than Petco Park). At the time reporters from other cities said they’d never heard the likes of the din filling that stadium. The team had true stars then including Tony Gwynn, but also guys like Kevin Brown and Ken Caminiti a fan favorite. But you have to give fans something to cheer, and this franchise under multiple owners has failed to deliver. So, you have to rebuild the fan base with an exciting, competitive team.
      Diane

    2. Paul, you bring up an excellent point. We saw a 50 % jump in attendance the year Petco opened, from 2.0 mil to 3.0 mil. Otherwise the standard is that attendance will increase the year after a winning team, IF that next year’s team is also good. So two good years in a row is key. As you must remember, the 2009 team was bad, and the 2010 team made a flukey run. So attendance increase was minimal, about 11%.
      The other driver for people going to the park is excitement. 2015 saw a 12% bump due to just such excitement. But that team was awful and numbers have drifted back down to the 2014, pre-Preller level.
      The blame can hardly rest with the fans who are reluctant to pay to see such crappy teams. Instead it belongs squarely to the ownership and front office who have prioritized profit over performance, and rationales over results.

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