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Updated: May 30, 2022

Sophomore jump: WooSox attendance has increased 24%, now second best in minor leagues

Since this picture was taken, the City of Worcester has finished two plazas designed to transition people better into the ballpark: Rockland Trust Plaza and DCU Plaza.

Through their first 22 home games of the 2022 season, the Worcester Red Sox have averaged 7,638 fans per game, a 24% increase from their inaugural season and more fans than the team has seats at its new $160-million baseball stadium.

“The fact that they’ve gotten more than 7,500 fans per game while the weather has largely been bad and COVID numbers are still up has to be encouraging to the team,” said Victor Matheson, professor in sports economics at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. “It’s no surprise to see strong numbers here … That’s reflecting baseball in general.”

Dan Rea III, WooSox general manager & executive vice president

In 2021, the team’s first season after relocating from Pawtucket, R.I., the WooSox attendance was hampered by COVID-induced capacity restrictions for its first dozen home games, the fact the stadium wasn’t completed until near the season’s end, and a public hesitation to gather in confined spaces, which impacted live events throughout the globe.

For the entirety of that debut season, the WooSox averaged 6,145 fans, ranking sixth for attendance among the 120 minor league baseball teams, during a year in which attendance was down 39% on the minor league level and 32% on the major league level compared to 2019. The 2020 minor league season was canceled, and the major league games were played without fans in the stands.

Now, the WooSox rank second among all minor league teams through the first third of the 2022 season, at a time when baseball is seeing attendance returning toward 2019 levels.

“I expect the attendance to keep rising here,” said Dan Rea III, WooSox executive vice president and general manager. “I expect more games in the 8,000s and 9,000s in attendance.”

WooSox attendance

Connecting more with fans

At the end of the 2021 season, Rea vowed in an October interview with WBJ that the WooSox would increase their per-game attendance in 2022, despite historical evidence saying teams moving to new cities and stadiums see the greatest spike in attendance in their first year.

“We really focus on the grassroots marketing,” Rea said. “We just couldn’t do that for the 2021 season.”

COVID-19 created an unprecedented situation in 2021. Among the many ways the pandemic impacted the team’s ability to attract fans, Rea said the most frustrating was not knowing in late 2020 and early 2021 if the team would even play or when the first game would be. This impacted the WooSox's ability to engage with fans and potential partners, sell group tickets, plan events, and get an understanding of what people in the community expected from the team.

Top minor league attendance

“We do all sorts of marketing, but my favorite is the micromarketing, where we can meet individual people and fans to see what really drives them,” Rea said. “Now we’ve gotten out to about every possible community event.”

The team technically sold out 13 of the 22 home games it played through May 30 this year. The city-owned Polar Park has a capacity of 9,508 including the standing-room-only areas, but the ballpark has 7,236 seats. Any game in which the team sells more tickets than seats is considered a sellout, said WooSox spokesman Bill Wanless.

The stadium has reached its 9,508 capacity twice, both times in the 2021 season. For this season, its most-attended game so far was Friday, May 13 with an attendance of 9,188.

“I’ve been a critic of the stadium-financing deal the city used to bring the team to Worcester, but clearly the team knows what they are doing to actually attract people to the games,” Matheson said. “The group sales and events have been wildly useful for the team to increase those attendance numbers.”

Extended honeymoon

Major League teams were averaging about 28,000 fans per game in the 2019 season before that fell to about 19,000 in 2021, according to Matheson.

Through May 23, the average 2022 per-game attendance was 25,498, according to the sports website ESPN.

Victor Matheson, College of the Holy Cross

Likewise, attendance is rebounding in the minor leagues, where the 36 million total fans in attendance in 2019 fell to 22 million in 2021, said Matheson.

Historically, when a minor league team moves to a new stadium or city, the team has a honeymoon period of 10 years, where attendance is above average, Matheson said. The numbers will be highest in the first year and slowly decline as the novelty wears off.

“Maybe we delayed that honeymoon by a year,” said Matheson about COVID impacting the WooSox first season. “People’s thoughts about being out in large numbers have changed a lot in the last year.”

Rea said teams can extend their increased attendance for longer. He pointed to the only team above the WooSox in the 2022 attendance standings: the Dayton Dragons, which have sold out about 1,400 consecutive games.

“Many teams have struck a certain chord in their markets,” Rea said. “Everything we are seeing in the early going here shows we are likely going to have a good long run.”

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June 7, 2022
Kind of bogus statistics when you take into account that the first chunk of the 2021 season had capacity restrictions. It's only a 7% increase from the unrestricted 2021 attendance average. Still decent, but not 24%.
May 31, 2022
Sounds good but you are letting fans in on the 'cheap' concessions are the 'bread and butter' .....waiting lines for Coney Island dogs....but nowhere else.
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