Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Right on Target

On Monday, for the third time in three weeks, the Minnesota Twins had a scheduled game at Target Field postponed due to inclement weather. And like Pavlov's dog salivating upon hearing a dinner bell, a fair number of Twins fans commenced with the incessant complaints about how the organization screwed up by not having a stadium with at least a retractable roof, if not a permanent covering. Not only are expressions of pro-roof sentiments a futile exercise (there will never, ever be a roof placed on Target Field), the arguments against an open-air ballpark are ignorant and incredibly short-sighted.

Yes, the month of April in Minnesota has a chance to be quite cold and snowy. Nevertheless, when a baseball season is just getting started, pretty much every team's fans come out in strong numbers the first home stand. Thus far this season, the Twins have averaged about 26,500 tickets sold over the first seven home games. In the final nine seasons playing in the Metrodome (2001 thru 2009) when Twins had a winning record in eight of those years and made the postseason five times, ticket sales weren't even that good in the early going. But where the biggest difference lies is in the Summer months. Again, even with the Twins' track record those final seasons in the Dome, people did not exactly turn out in large numbers in June, July and August. Why? Quite simply, Minnesotans were not all that eager to sit inside an unsightly monstrosity like the Metrodome on a beautiful Summer evening. But in a beautiful outdoor ballpark like Target Field during those precious few Summer days/evenings? For the first two seasons, the Twins were close to capacity (just over 39,000) for tickets sold, and quite often sold out of Standing Room Only tickets. Yes, even when the team struggled in the Summers of 2011 and 2012, game day walk up sales in the those months were much more brisk than for a winning team playing in an indoor park. Bottom line is when attendance lags in April and May, the pace will definitely pick up come Summer.

The overall comparison isn't even close. For the first three seasons at Target Field, there were just over 9 million tickets sold. The Metrodome has never had a three year stretch even get within a million of that figure.

Probably the most popular chanting point is how the stadium should have come with a retractable roof, resulting in fans getting the best of both worlds. The most popular example of that is our neighbors to the east. The Milwaukee Brewers' stadium, Miller Park (one of the more aesthetically unpleasing ballparks, IMO), was built with a retractable roof. But even with the roof open (on the seemingly rare occasion that takes place), one still has the impression of being in an indoor facility.

Regardless, the Twins opting not to have a roof of any kind was due in large part to keeping costs down. While the taxpayers of Hennepin County were dinged via an extra 0.15% sales tax (which was slated to cover $392 million of the estimated $522 million project), the Twins organization was to cover the rest ($125-$130 million). Bottom line is there was no way the MN State Legislature was going to assess an extra $100 million burden onto the taxpayers, which was the estimated cost for a roof. And since the Twins were unwilling to pony up, the stadium would thus be open-air.

What amazed me most about reactions on Monday was the Twitter activity directed at Twins President Dave St. Peter. With Monday's game being called at about Noon (approximately seven hours before first pitch), many fans inquired with St. Peter if the Metrodome could possibly be made baseball ready. Alas, that is no longer an option. However, the mere suggestion of such a thing by so many fans elicited the following response from St. Peter:

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the entire point. Enough people are likely to endure cold weather in April for the opportunity to indulge in a beautiful Summer evening game in May, June or July. The Metrodome offered no variety in climate or atmosphere, thus making it, at times, a tedious experience. As a result, fans really didn't take an interest in the Dome years until August, and that's only if the Twins were in postseason contention. But in the Target Field era, fans are more likely to make a snap decision to attend a game on the day of, even if the team is not playing all that well.

I guess I shouldn't be too hard on the "roofers" who lament games having to be rescheduled or have to endure early season games in the cold. But I guarantee that the "we need a roof" chanting point will be dissipated by the first 70 degree day of the season.


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