GreenJackets record crowds worth a deeper look

The problem with so many 5,000+ attendance games is they're coming in a stadium that, according to the team's own website, has a seating capacity of 4,822.  Billy Byler/Staff
Billy Byler/Staff
The problem with so many 5,000+ attendance games is they're coming in a stadium that, according to the team's own website, has a seating capacity of 4,822.

A hundred years from now Augusta GreenJackets historians (it'll take six of them to handle the current role held by Bill Kirby) will look back on Saturday, May 26, 2012 as a glorious day in minor league baseball. Officially (the note at the bottom of the box score proves it) the recorded attendance for the game was 5,931 fans - a Lake Olmstead Stadium record, breaking the previous mark of 5,858 set exactly six weeks earlier on another big Saturday night at the ballpark.


In fact, future historians will look back on the first half of the 2012 season as the year fans inexplicably started pouring into Augusta's 17-year-old stadium in record numbers. After experiencing per game attendance growth in just one of the previous three seasons, the GreenJackets are off to a dynamite 2012. Through the first 23 games of the season, the stadium has had five games of 5,000 fans or more. That means (on paper) the stadium has seen more 5,000+ nights in the last 23 home games than the previous 133 home games. Impressive.


The problem with so many 5,000+ attendance games is they're coming in a stadium that, according to the team's own website, has a seating capacity of 4,822. That number includes just under 1,000 box seats, 830 reserved seats, 2,500 general admission seats and seating for 500 at the party pavilion down the right field line. I was told by at least two people with knowledge of the stadium and the team that it is physically impossible to fit 5,858 people in Lake Olmstead Stadium. So how could this possibly happen? Allow me to explain.


First, this isn't a suggestion of corruption or foul play. It's more about the policies of attendance reporting. My intention here is not to expose any wrongdoing or scandal but to educate my readers on some misconceptions of minor league attendance numbers and the difference between reported paid attendance and actual people at games.


When a minor league team (and often many college sports programs) report attendance numbers, they're reporting the official paid attendance - the number of tickets the team sold to the game regardless of whether they were used or not. This is the policy explained to me by four executives who have either past or current experience as general managers in minor league baseball.


So a team may have a big promotion planned for a specific night (postgame fireworks seem to be a big draw in Augusta these days) and sell 5,000 tickets. But if a drenching downpour with lightning and thunder rock the ballpark a half hour before the game and only 1,000 of those ticket buyers actually show up, the official attendance reported for that night's game is still 5,000.


Fortunately for the GreenJackets, weather hasn't been much of an issue this year. But it does appear that the front office staff is selling more tickets than previous seasons. Group sales have certainly helped. Programs within the local school systems also have helped elevate sales. Example: a reading program introduced by the team includes awarding a ticket to a child who reads a certain number of books. While a few thousand children may earn the prizes and get the tickets, only a few hundred may cash in and attend the game. But those unused tickets still get counted toward paid attendance. The same goes for all season ticket holders, regardless of whether they show up.


So that's why last Saturday the team broke the stadium's single-game record with a paid attendance of 5,931 despite being more than 1,000 over capacity. What was the actual number of people in attendance? Who knows? It was certainly crowded on a night when the reading book program and postgame fireworks filled the ballpark. But a record-breaking crowd? Hardly. Entire rows were empty down the left field line and in the reserved seating just below the press box. Just from me eyeballing it, I'd say there were certainly fewer people there than the 5,858 reported six weeks ago and absolutely fewer people at either game than three seasons ago when John Smoltz made a rehab appearance on a Thirsty Thursday (reported paid attendance 5,828). In my opinion, the Smoltz appearance drew the largest actual crowd ever for a Lake Olmstead Stadium game.


The largest attendance (probably both reported and actual) came in 1991 when David Justice made a rehab appearance at Heaton Stadium (the old ballpark replaced by Lake Olmstead Stadium in 1995). Though I wasn't around for that game, I'm told the reported attendance of 6,231 included fans smushed into every nook and cranny of a park with a listed capacity of 3,600-3,800.


And before some of my more opinionated readers start chirping in the comments section about how this impacts the need or lack thereof for a new downtown ballpark, let me add something. In my opinion, attendance has nothing to do with whether a town or team needs a new stadium. The same people who would try to use poor attendance numbers to say, "Look, no one's going to that dinky, old, rundown ballpark. We need a new one." are the same who would look at record numbers and say, "We've outgrown the old ballpark. We need a new one!"


One final, unrelated thought: the GreenJackets are on the road this week with a chance to break a South Atlantic League record that has nothing to do with attendance. The team, a dismal 13 games out of first with a 21-28 record and current three-game losing streak, has managed to play seven consecutive games without committing an error. One more game of error-free ball tonight in Lexington, Ky. would break the league record set in 1994 by the Charleston (W. Va.) Wheelers.


The GreenJackets will return home a week from today, June 5, for a three-game series with the Greensboro Grasshoppers.

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Little Lamb
Little Lamb 05/29/12 - 01:42 pm
I was there when Justice came

I was there when Justice came to town. It truly was standing room only. Justice did not disappoint. He cracked one out of the stadium to right field.

Right on
Right on 05/29/12 - 02:26 pm
Same kind of statistics as

Same kind of statistics as were done to create the stadium on the Golf and Gardens property. If they were to do a study to determine the highest and best use of the property vs a study to determine the feasibility, it would show two total different opinions. Same as the stadium numbers. It's all how you look at it.

bdouglas 05/29/12 - 04:53 pm
I haven't been to many

I haven't been to many Greenjackets games in the time I've lived here. But I have taken advantage of the new "Feed Your Face Monday" promotion for 2 of the 3 Monday night games this year so far because you can't beat the deal. But I must say that on both of those nights with weather that was breezy and comfortable with no rain, there couldn't have been more than 300 people total in the stands each night. It was a shame really.

On the attendance numbers note... What about 'vouchers' for tickets? I work at a very large employer who offers vouchers to employees for 7 bucks each that get you into any game and a free hat. If my employer bought, say, 5000 of those vouchers before the season started, does that mean they're also dividing those 5000 over all the home games and adding that number to each game's attendance? Or do they have to be exchanged for a real ticket before they get counted? Curious, since I'm sure lots of other employers in the area do this as well.

And if the attendance numbers are actually for the number of tickets sold, regardless of how many show up; I wouldn't think the front office would care as much how many actually show up if they got paid for them. Then again, less income from concessions I guess.

nocnoc 09/02/12 - 09:34 am
deleted by the author

deleted by the author

itsanotherday1 05/30/12 - 10:17 am
bdouglas, I'm 99% sure those

bdouglas, I'm 99% sure those vouchers count towards paid attendance since your company "paid" for them.

It is SOP for all minor league sports, including our own Riverhawks hockey team. They count tickets issued, not tickets scanned.

bdouglas 05/30/12 - 02:06 pm
@itsanotherday1 I was curious

@itsanotherday1 I was curious because the voucher has to be exchanged for an actual ticket to the game at the box office before you go in. So it's not clear whether--in voucher form--that would be counted as a ticket issued or not until it is redeemed for a ticket proper at the box office. I'm just thinking in terms of my company being one of the largest employers in the area in combination with the many, many others who also participate in some form of promotion with the Greenjackets like this. Seems like they could not sell a single ticket at the gate and still have a stellar attendance record if it works that way when you add in season ticket holders.

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