Sit back and let your imagination take over: It’s April 25, 2015. You’re listening to the Colorado Rockies take on the San Francisco Giants, and because ROOT sports went bankrupt after its lowest rating in years attributable to the pregame/postgame debacle that is Joel Klatt you are forced to listen to the game the old-fashioned way — 850 AM KOA. This year the everlasting Jack Corrigan is joined by the freshly hired Drew Goodman in the booth and the soothing sound waves reach out to you……
“Welcome to the beautiful and newly christened Coors Dome here in Denver, Colorado for the 3rd meeting this year between the Colorado Rockies and the San Francisco Giants. It has been a miserable spring here in Colorado, and today is no different as the first pitch temp is bending toward 15 degrees with about 7 inches of fresh wet snow on the ground. Yes we’re talking Fahrenheit people, because just like Congress still can’t pass a budget the good ol’ USA refuses to use the reliable metric system. But that’s neither here or there because inside the friendly confines of the dome we are a tropical 65 degrees and the Rockies will be working in front of their 12th straight sell out crowd of the year. It is a great day for baseball and here comes Max Scherzer with the first pitch… A called strike!”
How did that feel? Pretty darn good I bet. A little taken aback by a vision of Scherzer tossing heat in a Rockies uniform? We’ll get to that.
Every year in April there is a raging debate on just what a dome could add or take away from good old-fashioned outdoor baseball, and I find myself on each side of the fence at times. Most baseball traditionalists come down on the side of leaving outdoor ballparks alone; that teams just have to deal with the adverse weather. I like that side. I can appreciate that sometimes you just have to succumb to awful weather, be a man, and play ball. One of the best games I’ve ever seen was Game 3 of the 2007 NLCS vs Arizona. Remember the pouring rain that threatened to call the game for hours and hours? I’ll never forget the 3-run long ball Yorvit Torrealba launched that ended up being the game winner. Playing baseball in the cold, or rain, or wind is just that: baseball. But really what would it be like to have a dome? What amenities would that afford a team in a small-to-mid sized market like Denver?
First of all what would be the cost of building a dome? Obviously for a city that sees sunshine 300 days out of the year this dome would need to be retractable, no doubt. In my best estimation the cost of a retractable roof is something like $200 million, or so I have read. The most obvious upside to having a dome is simple: no canceled games at Coors. This doesn’t seem like a big deal but considering all the roster issues the Rockies have had so far with an over-worked bullpen and other injuries, you have to wonder if these players had been on a routine schedule would there be the same issues?
The secondary benefit to a dome/roof comes in the direct form of free cash flow. Ticket sales baby. I am not the only one who has watched the dismal crowds on TV lately from the warmth of my living room couch. There may have been 1000 fans total at the night game last week against the Mets. The daytime temperature for the DH this week against the Braves was the coldest in Coors Field history. On top of it all, the fans that do trek out in heavy winter attire are mostly the opposing team’s fans. Rockies fans are more likely to say “Hey, a game in July sounds way better — I’ll pass, thanks”. But what if the climate could be controlled and early season baseball could be played in comfort?
The Brewers absolutely mandated that they would have a retractable roof on the new Miller Park in Milwaukee when it was built in 2001. I’m sure getting the tax dollar help and seeing the project through may have been bolstered by having the commissioner of baseball behind it. But facts are facts and Miller Park has seen on average 32,000 fans per game in their first 12 home games of 2013. The Rockies are reporting just over 28,000 fans per game in the same first 12 game span.. Ha! Yeah right. But ok, because that is the reported number we will use it. The Twins, who have battled very similar weather issues as the Rockies to start the year, have seen 26,000 fans per game in home games so far… I am going to use this as a comparison as well because it is probably closer to correct.
Sidebar: We all know that clubs pad their attendance numbers by tickets sold not an actual gate count. That gate count really does matter for the bottom line because concessions make up a huge part of revenue… but we use what we have.
So the Brewers are averaging 4-6 THOUSAND more people at a game this year than Colorado or Minnesota. The average cost of a ticket is $20, using the low side because the lower priced tickets will be bought up ahead of the higher priced tickets. That equates to $120,000 per game in extra ticket sales. Adding in concessions (the average fan gets at least buys a $4 bag of peanuts and a $6 coke, right?) we’ll say that attendance discrepancy would add in another $90,000. So each game at Coors is literally costing the team somewhere near $200,000 in the cold weather months of April and May. The Rox play between 22 and 25 games before Mid-May each year… that adds up to $5.25 MILLION dollars in revenue lost each year. In 20 years of baseball that means the Rockies have lost in the ballpark of $105 million, just by not having fans in the ballpark.
The reality, again, is that these attendance numbers as stated are padded. Sure the tickets were sold, but the concessions weren’t 28,000 fans/game busy. The Brewers — and other roofed teams — are actually getting that fan attendance while the Rockies are only touting. In seriousness the attendance at home games in Denver so far probably has been closer to 8,000 fans per game… and in just concessions alone that difference from the touted attendance number adds another $3 to $6 million to the $5 million a year in revenue that is already substantiated. At $10 million per year in extra revenue, over 20 years of baseball, the Rockies would have paid the cost of a retractable roof.
Ok, ok, I hear you. We’re playing hypotheticals. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked out as well as it played it out in my head. Perhaps it would be a much smaller gain. And would we as fans really love having a roof, retracted as it may be, towering over us on a beautiful Colorado June night? Probably not. But as fans we must also acknowledge that in a small market our team must scrap for every dollar it gets. And an extra $10 million greenbacks each year wouldn’t hurt the Rockies at all. Would the Rox be able to pull in a top-tier pitcher with that extra money, a la Max Scherzer (who is arbitration eligible in 2014)? Again, probably not. But it sure is fun to imagine…..
“Well Drew, the Rockies appear to have finally broken out of the Curse of the Bay and have trounced the Giants for the third straight time, 7-1. Starting pitcher Max Scherzer pitched a beautiful three-hit complete game and the big bats of the revived Blake Street Bombers provided all the run support he needed. What a huge turnaround for the Rockies as they have cruised out to their 3rd straight April of 14 wins or more, boy they sure look tough this year. Stay warm out there folks; I’m Jack Corrigan saying ‘So long’ from the Coors Dome.”
Here is a link to ballpark attendance numbers: Baseball Attendance.