Sunday, February 14, 2010

Baseball FanFests and the Power of Free

Teams around Major League Baseball have been holding FanFests ahead of spring training. The events allow fans to chat up the players, walk around the field, and see the mascots, among other things.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports:
Padres officials expected close to 10,000 people to come to the park after the gates opened at 10 a.m. (9 a.m. for season-ticket holders). Just before 4 p.m., some 10,500 people had come through — more than any previous FanFest, said club President Tom Garfinkel. The gates closed at 5 p.m.
If this is in fact the largest turnout ever, it is a bit puzzling. The Padres finished fourth out of five teams in the National League last year. It's not their worst season by far, but they're only four years removed from back-to-back playoff runs. If we assume that San Diego's population and intensity of baseball fandom have been held relatively constant, it's surprising to see such a surge in attendance at the event this year.

The event is free, and I think that's the crucial factor. Of course, nothing is "free," as the event requires time to attend and gas money to get there, but these things are also required for many alternative activities. But with 12.4-percent unemployment in California and a global recession, perhaps the price tag was enough to compel some people to substitute away from things like movies or mall shopping in favor of a free event.

In other sports news, the number of people watching the Opening Ceremonies at the Olympics was up 47% from four years ago. Of course, watching television is also essentially free (once you've bought a TV and paid that month's bill, which most people would have done anyway).