Brewers losing on field, winning at gate

I suppose it's not going to make anyone's list of 2009's biggest stories, but it's worth noting what the Brewers have accomplished this season. No, not in the standings. There, they're also-rans. Rather, at the box office:

    The Milwaukee Brewers may be out of the playoff race, but you wouldn't know it by the legions of fans showing up at Miller Park.
    What's more, the team is expected to announce soon that they have sold 3 million tickets this season. This weekend, the team expects big crowds for a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    Saturday and Sunday, the franchise expects crowds of 40,000 plus each.


    The Brewers currently rank 8th in attendance in Major League Baseball, a significant achievement for such a small market. The only franchises ahead of them are big markets such as New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago and baseball-mad St. Louis.

    How to explain all of this? First, there was the expectation, now dashed, that the Brewers would be in the playoff hunt this year. As a result, fans bought into the various partial season-ticket plans the Brewers offered going into the season.

    Second, the Brewers are very good at selling to groups. Large groups like to come to the ballpark knowing ahead of time that rainy weather won't cancel a game.

These "explanations" don't quite do it for me. Are playoff expectations a factor? Sure. But where expectations high throughout last season, when the Brewers also sold more than three million tickets? The Brewers had gone just 83-79 in 2007, and last year they just sort of piddled along until the middle of June. Oh, and that 2007 team sold nearly 3 million tickets and almost nobody thought that team was going anywhere.
I'm not saying it's not true. I'm just saying it's not obviously true, on its face.

As for rainy weather not cancelling games -- well, OK. The Brewers moved into Miller Park in 2001 and their attendance jumped to 2.8 million. But it fell below 2 million the next season, and didn't get impressive again until five years later.

I believe that attendance can basically be explained by four things: market size, performance, ballpark, and payroll. But one occasionally finds anomalies, and I believe those anomalies are worth more study. Because I don't think anyone's yet explained why the Brewers, an unexciting team in the 39th biggest metropolitan area in the United States can outdraw all but seven teams in the major leagues.