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Monday, May 01, 2006 | Bob Bermingham went to about 25 San Diego Padres’ games last year.
It wasn’t unusual for a guy like Bermingham. The 33-year-old La Mesa resident loves baseball.
Growing up, his father took him to games at Candlestick Park and coached his little league team. It’s what bonded Bermingham to his father. It was their pastime.
After the games, Bermingham would venture over to the player’s parking lot, where he would hound his favorite stars for autographs. The experience sparked his passion for baseball and gave him a genuine appreciation for the game – a trait he now tries to impart to his 9-year-old son and the Lake Murray Little League Yankees, the team he now coaches.
Despite his commitment to baseball, Bermingham, just like many other fans, isn’t making his usual trips to Petco Park this year.
“It’s just an incredibly frustrating experience to watch,” Bermingham said. “You go to the ballpark and it’s a boring game.”
Bermingham is not alone in his disappointment. Turnout at Petco Park for the first month of the season is down about 15 percent from last year, and the Padres, along with other teams in the league that recently moved into new ballparks, are watching that figure slide annually.
Never mind that the team plays in a world-class ballpark. Forget that the Padres won a division championship last year. Bermingham said there is only one thing the Padres can do that will bring him back to the ballpark: “Start hitting.”
Through 12 home games, about 364,000 fans have attended Padres games, down from nearly 429,000 at this point last year.
The Padres average attendance so far this year is about 30,000 fans per game. Last year average attendance through 12 home games was 35,400. The 65,000-fan decrease over the first dozen games equals the attendance of about two full games of play.
At this point last year, Bermingham had already been to five games. Although he refuses to be defined as a “fair weather fan,” he’s attended only one game this year. He holds two half-season tickets and has passed on the other six games. At $45 per seat, per game, the lost tickets mean Bermingham’s missed out on $540 worth of baseball – and that’s only 12 home games into the season.
And when Bermingham can’t pass his tickets on to a co-worker, his 14th row seats along the first baseline remain empty altogether.
“When Petco first opened I could give them away in a heartbeat,” Bermingham said. “Now it’s becoming difficult to even give them away.”
He and his “surrogate grandmother,” Ruth Wilkerson, already decided that they will sell many of their tickets online. They just can’t bear to watch the Padres lose.
The team’s spokesman, Jeff Overton, said last week that this weekend’s series against the Los Angeles Dodgers should drive up the attendance numbers, and that it’s hard to tell this early in the season where a team’s attendance figure will land when all is said and done.
“Were not concerned about it,” Overton said. “Also though, we’re a team that our revenues are driven largely on ticketing so we take it very seriously – we monitor it.”
Although some of the leagues’ newest ballparks, such as Petco, are seeing turnout dwindle, Major League Baseball is setting all-time attendance records. Last year, a record of nearly 75 million fans turned out to enjoy the national pastime.
Petco’s attendance dropped last year, its second season in existence, by an average of about 2,000 per game. Overton said the first season in a new stadium undoubtedly produces higher fan-turnout.
When the Philadelphia Phillies opened their new ballpark in 2004, within days of Petco Park opening, the team averaged more than 40,500 fans per game. The following year, the team saw an average attendance of 33,316.
The Cincinnati Reds experienced the same trend since their stadium, Great American Ballpark, opened in 2003. The decline was gradual, from about 29,000 a game in 2003, to about 28,000 in 2004, to just less than 24,000 in 2005.
For Bermingham, who oftentimes has trouble giving away tickets to coworkers who are “over” Petco Park, he insists that the novelty has not worn off on him.
“It’s a beautiful park to watch a game in,” he said. “It’s obviously a huge improvement over Qualcomm.”
But when the Padres traded Mark Loretta in the off-season, Bermingham knew he would be more likely to watch the game from the comfort of his couch than haul himself downtown.
Overton hopes that the team, which reshaped its lineup considerably in the off season, will grow on San Diego. Despite winning a division championship last year, the team was only 82-80, and changes needed to be made.
“I think right now we’re trying to let this new team form together to see where it goes,” he said. “And I think the fans are doing the same thing.”
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