When the off-season began the Phillies had a clear mandate from the broader Philadelphia sports fan base. Those many fans who lie beyond the hardcore baseball fans who the team can count on every year, win or lose.
The fans who have made Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz their favorite players on the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. The fans who have trusted the process and are fully behind Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons now that the 76ers have become legitimate NBA contenders.
What the Phillies are after is a re-capturing of the fan base who had the club’s full attention for more than a decade, a period that came to a sudden, crashing end approximately six years ago.
Along with that attention, owner John Middleton also hopes to re-capture the dollars spent by those fans. From 2007 through 2013, the last year or two riding a wave of hope established by the success of earlier Phillies teams, those fans flooded into Citizens Bank Park at a pace of well over three million each season.
In recent years, those attendance figures have come crashing down. The turnstiles have spun far less frequently as the product on the field deteriorated. Philly fans have stayed away in droves, with attendance not even reaching the two million mark for three straight seasons from 2015-17.
There was a slight increase this past season to 2.1 million, or approximately 200,000 more total fans than in the previous three years. That is roughly 3,000 more per game. Those fans were lured in by a team that made an unexpected run to the top of the division in mid-summer. But their interest faded over the final month or so as the team faded in the standings.
The per-game attendance of 26,644 ranked just 12th of 15 National League ball clubs. And it pales in comparison to the 44-45,000 per game who packed the beautiful ballpark in South Philly during the relatively recent heydays.
So, what will it take to re-ignite that broader fan base? Those other one million or so paying customers who actually came out to the park, spending their hard-earned money on tickets, parking, concessions, and merchandise?
It is going to take what they believe to be sustainable winning. And it is going to take relatable star power. Despite the additions of good players in Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura the Phillies are not there yet.
And here is another prediction that might make the club tremble at the thought of handing him something like $350 million or more of their dollars for the next decade – Manny Machado will not get them there either.
Machado is a fine player. By all statistical measures he is a genuine superstar. He fits a lineup need perfectly. But he comes with baggage of the type that does not usually play well in Philly. You can argue the numbers all you want. And I’ll watch and say I told you so, just as I did with Carlos Santana.
There is only one player available on the free agent market this off-season who will genuinely excite the Philadelphia sports fan base. Only one who will sell big numbers of jerseys and shirseys. Who will light up the phone lines down on Pattison Avenue. Who will increase visits to the website to purchase tickets.
I am not going to say that the Phillies off-season will be a complete failure if they do not sign Bryce Harper. They could very well put together a winning team that might even push for a Wildcard playoff berth. But there is no other player who will put the fannies in the seats the way that he would.
I wrote at the beginning of the Winter Meetings that the Phillies were one of the front-runners for Harper’s services. That remains true today. Don’t expect any significant movement from any team regarding the star outfielder until after Machado signs.
MORE FROM PHILLIES NATION:
- Machado to visit Philadelphia on Thursday during his free agency tour
- The right price could change Machado’s mind about playing third base
- Klentak ties future to growing arms internally by not offering extra years in free agency
- Phillies reportedly in touch with Texas Rangers regarding lefty pitcher Mike Minor
- In search for elite relief pitching, Phillies have reportedly been aggressive on Zach Britton