My Take – “Where are all the Fans?”

As the team made the shortest trek in the Northwest League (four and a half hours to the Tri-Cities of Pasco, Kennewick, and Richland, Wash.), it gave me some time to think about the rant I had early on in Saturday’s 12-6 victory over the Spokane Indians.  After last night’s 2-1 loss to Tri-City (before a crowd of 1,372 fans in a market of 200,000), I thought even harder and came up with this.

To put it bluntly – Where are all the fans?

For my nearly decade with the ball club – Friday nights always meant a sellout crowd, Saturday nights were always near capacity, with the rough nights coming on Sundays and Mondays (and even then, the Hawks would put 1,700-2,000 fans in the seats).

During the past homestand, only 2,700 fans showed up for a great fireworks show on a Friday night – even though temperatures were below 90 degrees, and only 2,470 fans showed up to recognize the accomplishments of Idaho legend Harmon Killebrew.  That’s never happened before.

The question in my mind is, What is going on?

The conspiracy theories that run through me are across the board.

1.  FANS THINK THE HAWKS ARE LEAVING – and don’t want to support a business leaving the valley. Let me be blunt – the Hawks AREN’T GOING ANYWHERE.   I blame the Treasure Valley media for this one.  I am very good friends with all of the television reporters, newspaper writers, and radio personalities, but I feel all have dropped the ball on the “stadium issue” – creating a panic among Treasure Valley baseball fans that it is imminent that the team is leaving town.  Much of it stems from the Chicago Cubs, who have made it VERY clear that if progress in a new stadium in Boise isn’t made by the end of this season, that they will consider moving their short-season affiliation.  But what all seem to forget is that the Boise franchise is GUARANTEED another team to replace the Cubs if they leave.  I heard Jeff Caves talk about “independent baseball” returning if the Cubs leave – which was ludicrous (since that is not allowed these days in the minors), but with outstanding listenership to Idaho Sports Talk (including me every day) – fans believe it, and turn away.  No fewer than 17 of the 24 short-season affiliates have their Player Development Contracts come up at the end of 2012, with only Vancouver in the NWL (Blue Jays) locked in until 2014, so shuffling could occur. They focused on – Yakima is moving to Hillsboro, what’s keeping the Hawks from leaving (or more bluntly – are the Hawks leaving)?  Move to where – Medford, Bend, Walla Walla, Bellingham, Victoria, Coos Bay, Hoquiam, Wenatchee, or Lewiston?  The NWL has tried and failed in all eight cities – none of which has the size of a population base as Boise.  Milwaukie (Ore.) wants a franchise – but is years away due to a public vote (ask Vancouver WA about that one), and even then, it would be unclear if the NWL would allow three franchises in the same territory (Hillsboro/Milwaukie/Salem-Keizer).  Each of the TV stations came out to the yard, but seemed to focus on the stadium issue instead of the game itself – if fans think the team is leaving, they won’t show (Yakima is a prime example as the Bears have drawn over 2,000 fans just once this season).  KTVB did a walk-through of the bowels of the stadium, but what does that compare too?  Come with us to Spokane, come to Eugene, come to Salem, come to the Tri-Cities, or even come to Yakima, to see what the other teams in the league have that we don’t in Boise (or what we have in Boise that they don’t).  They would be shocked (ask Troy Oppie at KBOI after he saw what Vancouver had) as their visiting clubhouse is better than either clubhouse at Memorial Stadium.

2. GAS PRICES HAVE FALLEN – for a few years, gas prices each summer have hovered around the $4.00 mark and fans came to the park as part of a “Staycation”.  Now that prices are closing in on $3.50 and lower, overnight trips, adventures, and true vacations are back on the map for the average fan – cutting into their budget to come to the games.

3. THE ECONOMY – Memorial Stadium as the most affordable family outing in the Treasure Valley ($1 tickets some nights, $1 food options, great entertainment) – in comparison to other sports and entertainment options in the market.  However, though a family may take advantage of it, big groups and events are still slow in coming back to the ballpark,, as corporations and businesses have cut back on group nights and parties, which change the bottom line.  On a Wednesday, you could get four tickets (shade seats), four hot dogs, a popcorn, and two sno-cones for about the same price for one ticket to a Bronco football game, or Sunday’s, get four shade seats, four hot dogs, and four sodas for $34 – and people think that the cheap seats are in the sun?

4. LES BOIS PARK – I give a lot of credit to the new investors at the horse track, they have done an outstanding job in renovating the facility, making it a destination place on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  However, it has become a direct competitor of the Hawks – which will be interesting to see how Wednesday Dollar Nights will go when competing against Les Bois’ Ladies Nights.  My thought is that the two entities should work together on some cross promotional ideas (similar to what the Idaho Stampede and Idaho Steelheads have done).

5. WE ARE NOT ALONE – looking at the attendance numbers in the Northwest League, it is scary to think that the Hawks rank #4 in the league in attendance, despite averaging just 2,480 fans a game.  Spokane, Eugene, and Vancouver – the top three teams in attendance, have all seen a decline in attendance over the first three weeks of the season, as has Everett, Salem-Keizer, and Yakima.  Tri-City is the lone team that has stayed on course, but the Dust Devils have also seen attendance spikes to the positive in each of the last five seasons.  The NWL, in comparison to its sister league (NY Penn), is in the middle of the pack – as teams like the Brooklyn Cyclones (6,923), Aberdeen IronBirds (6,491), and the Lowell Spinners (5,053) draw well, but the Batavia Muckdogs (811), Jamestown Jammers (1,265), and Auburn Doubledays (1,789) draw less than Yakima.  What’s tough is that Ogden (3,839) or Billings (3,638) would be #3 in the NWL in attendance, while Idaho Falls has outdrawn the Hawks each of the last three seasons since the city invested in Melaluca Field.  However – everyone in the NWL outdraws the Appalachian League (highest attendance is 1,200), while the Hawks would be #7 in the 14-team South Atlantic League and #10 in attendance in the 16-team Midwest League (but they play 140 games).  But this is not a trend in just the NWL or baseball in general.  Sports across the country are finding declining ticket sales.  Major league level sports are understandable due to the cost and the amount of coverage on HDTV’s.  But when you hear the “average guy” wanting relief in this tough economy, why are minor league sports, who live by the creed of “affordable entertainment”, suffering.  It is a mystery.

What can we (as the Boise Hawks) do?  Is it that baseball isn’t cool like going to a BSU football game or floating the Boise River? Are the casual fans boycotting the team due to the stadium issue or is the stadium the issue in why they aren’t coming (don’t want to sit in the sun?). Is baseball too slow of a game for the average person to watch?  I guess things have definitely changed since the days of staying up past my bedtime with my radio under my covers, listening to Dave Niehaus call Seattle Mariners games or Bob Robertson call Tacoma Tigers games on the AM dial.

I’d love to hear your comments on this – either here on the blog or via my Twitter account @BoiseHawksRadio.


  1. Kevin

    I don’t know much about the Boise area, but I’ve been around minor league baseball all my life. There is a Double-A Reds affiliate here in Chattanooga, and I’ve been to minor league parks all over the Southeast. My brother, Kyler Burke, played in Boise a couple of different times. Once as a hitter, and then last season as a pitcher. I visited three times during those two seasons, and to this day Boise remains one of my favorite places to watch a baseball game. The atmosphere is perfect – just like right out of an old baseball movie. If you haven’t been to a Hawks game, you should go! Oh, do they still have the Beer Batter?

    • GAHillbilly

      The AA team at Chattanooga used to be a Reds’ affiliate but it’s been a Dodgers’ affiliate for the last several years.

      • Kevin

        Yes, you are correct GAHillbilly. They were a Reds affiliate essentially my entire life, and I didn’t even think to change then when writing the post.

      • Kevin

        My point was, after going to hundreds of AA games here in Chattanooga, along with dozens of other major and minor league parks, Boise ranks among my favorite places to watch a game!

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  3. Mike

    I think the media deserves part of the blame – or more pointedly, the appetite for media by Boise area fans is to blame. Some of it is the focus on the stadium as you have said, but in reality Bronco Football dominates the media, even in the summer because that is what generates readers/viewers. The Hawks are relegated to the back of the newscast (right behind any news of any athlete with any remote ties to the Treasure Valley) with a canned highlight from the first two innings and a score update. Boise is event oriented and baseball is just seen as something that happens 40 some odd nights of the year. So yes, in comparison to BSU Football, it is a little bit of a status thing.
    Two things will help revitalize attendance. 1: Winning…all towns love a winner, but Boise fandom seems to be even more influenced by the barometer of winning. 2: Boise loves a story — a big national name, or a kid with local ties, or a high draft pick. The local media saturates us with information when a big story is available and that eventually draws fans to the stadium. You can see some of that this year with Dunston Jr and maybe that will gain steam.

    • Daniel Lawson

      Chicago would like to that that Bronco football team for their excellent DE/OLB McClellin. Been watching some MiLB on checking out some of the future for my Cubbies and I have to say you guys are top notch. The video is better then most AAA teams your announcers are really good (hear worse in the majors).

  4. Gordon

    Agree that much of this is the media’s fault. I would have thought having Bill Buckner involved, the new power hitting and strong starting pitching this year would have made a serious difference in attendance, or at least kept it steady from year’s past. In concentrating on the negative (Cub’s ultimatum) and the lack of enthusiasm for a new stadium, the media have almost OK’ed folks not coming out and have done their unintentional best to sever the connection between the fans and the teams. Les Bois may be making a difference, as well as gas prices, but we have had those distractions before.

  5. Julie Fanselow

    I recently moved from Boise to the Bay Area, and I love living somewhere with two MLB teams. When I was back in town this past weekend, going to a Hawks game was high on my list of things to do. Still, you have to really love baseball to sit in the fairly cramped 3B seats – fortunately, there’s usually room to spread out. I much prefer the bleacher-style yet comfy 1B seats, but not when it’s 95 at game time!

    Mike and Todd, I don’t know what to tell you. We live in a fast-paced world with many entertainment options. Personally, I feel there’s little better than a baseball game that unfolds at its own pace, giving you time to visit with friends ore comfortable and enjoy the great Foothills scenery. I am a lifelong baseball fan, and I’d go see any team, any time, anywhere … but most people want to be comfortable.

    Given the nature of Hawks Stadium, I think tickets are a bit overpriced. Case in point: I paid $15 for an Oakland A’s-Boston Red Sox group/Value Deck ticket for tonight – including $6 credit at the concession stands! – and my 3B seat at the Hawks last Saturday was $12. There’s something a bit off if I can go to a MLB game, even at a substandard stadium, for the same price as a short season Single A game.

    If a game experience is truly great in every way – as it is at AT&T Park in SF, for example – people will gladly pay premium prices. I can only go to AT&T a few times a season because it’s going to cost me $45 or $55 for a cheap seat, but it’s so worth it because AT&T rocks everything from fan experience, entertainment, sight lines, the amazing Bay view, etc etc

    The A’s, by contrast, understand that if you want to draw people to an anachronistic barn of a ballpark – and Coliseum is way uglier than Hawks Stadium! – you need to sweeten the deal. Great marketing helps, too; the A’s have a “Green Collar Baseball” motto that totally fits Oakland and the East Bay. “Hawkstown USA” has never really done anything for me as a fan.

    One more factor: Lots of times, people just like to listen on the radio. I can’t go to many games at AT&T, but I listen to the Giants on KNBR nearly every day. However, the Giants don’t need me to be there to make their franchise a success. As a small-market team, the Hawks DO need people to come out and support the team and baseball in Boise at least a few times a season.

    I wish you guys a spiffy new ballpark so you can draw more fair-weather fans, and a better PR team to sell what you have. Oh, and does anyone else still miss Afro Joe?

  6. Jenn

    As a native Boisean and BSU alum, I feel I can say this. I think many people in this area are bandwagon fans. If the team isn’t winning and isn’t Boise State then the people stop coming. I think this also relates to the Steelheads. It’s ridiculous. I enjoy the games (attendee since the Hawks played at Wigle Field), love the atmosphere and its very affordable.

  7. Zorag

    I am a life long Cubs fan and now live in Albuquerque. We go to the Isotopes games, especially when Iowa comes to town. I work over the road, and try to go to any Minor League game I can, or independent leagues. We went out of our way to go see Peoria from St Louis.

    I will be in Boise today, and would love to have caught a game, but I have to be in Portland tomorrow. (Too bad they have no team.)

    My family and I may make the 950 mile drive to watch a Boise game. I don’t know why locals aren’t coming.

  8. John

    I went to my first Hawks game on opening night after living here for four years. 1, the local TV news sportscasters barely talk about the Hawks except for opening day or if someone is moving up in the league. 2, advertising on a consistant basis would be good with reminders of upcoming home games, not just at the beginning of the season. 3, stir up more rivalry or even loyalty by talking about who the visiting team is affiliated with, I had no idea my Giants had affiliation with S.K. and I can’t stand the Rockies (Tri-Cities). 4. More info/opportunity for meeting players like Dunston Jr. (and coaches) “Bill Buckner” and getting autographs. I follow on facebook and twitter and don’t see anything about autograph signings or meeting players. 5. I learned this at my first game this year and it’s still happening, the stadium staff need to get people in the gate quicker and not use it as an opportunity to chat up cute girls. Standing in line for over a half hour in 90+ degree heat is a good way to turn people off. Just my opinion from going to a few games now and I do want to support the local team.

  9. 9inningknowitall

    I can tell you that attendance here in Salem-Keizer with the Volcanoes has been a little bit of a head scratcher. I know the weather has affected things a little, the past two seasons we were lucky with nice weather every game and already a few of this season games have had rain coming down through out the game. Other then that though a lot of loyal fans just haven’t come out like they normally do. It is a shame too because a lot of great ball players are getting their start in the Northwest League and fans are missing their chances to watch the furture All-Stars before they become All-Stars.

  10. Lois

    To be honest, I will support the Boise Hawks, but not by attending games. I am too old and uncomfortable to spend the day sitting in the hot sun on the 1st base side, where the host houses sit. The seats have metal bars between them, which are painful and when those get hot it is not good at all. Could they remove those bars and maybe put up a shade sail or something to lessen the heat of the sun? The women’s restrooms are always dirty and broken up so I try to avoid them, but I do like a cold beer, so have to suffer through if I attend. I have thought about what new folks to the part think and can imagine their comments about the shape of the park are not positive. The good part of the field is the actual grass. Well done Zamzow’s! I love the team and will keep on assisting with the fine young men who come to play there, but probably will not attend until it is a bit nicer.

  11. Brodie Tyler

    I think it was a couple of years back… The Hawk’s coach was being interviewed and basically said that the team is not on the field to win. Instead, they were there to work the players and get them ready for the next level. Now, what appeal is that to a fan? I don’t want to watch “tryouts.” I’m there for the competition. Perhaps the Cubs affiliation is hurting more than it’s helping the Hawks organization??

  12. Larry S.

    I love baseball, but to me the atmosphere is a little on the flat side. Perhaps it is the heat (it is very uncomfortable sitting on the 1st base side), but the fans just do not seem to be paying attention. It doesn’t help that the organist seems to be watching a different game, because why else would they play the ‘charge’ tune while the visiting team is up to bat?

    I enjoyed the 2010 season while assisting with the team photography efforts, but I now only manage to make it to a small number of games per season. It is quite a drive from Nampa, and the games start rather late on work nights.

    I would like to see Monday thru Thursday games starting no later than 7:00, and Sunday games no later than 6:00. I would like to see an extra beer batter inning tossed in (I am not a big drinker, but face it: beer drinkers make louder fans), or perhaps a beer inning (if the Hawks score a run, then dollar beers for 15 minutes, but NOT until the inning has completed so that there are still some fans left if/when the Hawks are still putting up runs). 🙂

    One more things: any chance that the broadcast team can include a ‘color’ commentator? I do not mean to knock Mike, but having an extra voice to help with the slow times would really make it more pleasant to listen to and thus follow the team.

    Best of luck …


  13. Gordon

    Mike I think you are courageous to take a stand here. I honestly think some of the fans may be a bit tired of the Cubs connection and need a change. The Cubs are awful, and talent is a big part of that. The new GM may or may not make a difference but the owner used exactly the wrong approach here in Boise. We don’t like being preached to or threatened. The new stadium PR campaign did not have a strong plan B that I could detect, that being “fix the stadium.” In short: ABC (Anybody But the Cubs). We are not what I would call a sophisticated Baseball town, so it takes a winner to get folks out to the park. The Cubs are a broken organization, and the Ricketts family must be at the root of the problem…everything else has changed over the years, except them. The results have been consistent – losers.

    Yes first base side is awful, and I cannot imagine it would be that difficult to install a sun shade. We never sit on that side anymore until the sun goes down. Prices have climbed for food, and that can’t be helping, even with the new menu choices. $4.50 for a single slice of mediocre pizza? Even the folks at the counter have begun to apologize for that.

    PR – I can’t remember the last time I heard of an effort to connect with the robust girls fastpitch softball organizations in the Treasure Valley. There appears to be plenty of effort devoted to the baseball leagues, but maybe more could be done there. As evidence of a dropoff in kids attendance, I can remember days when the crowd of kids singing on the field during the 7th inning stretch was 50 or more, and the line running around the bases at the end took 10 minutes. Perhaps there aren’t as many kids begging mom or dad to take them out to the game anymore. More emphasis in the media on the Kid’s Club would be good. The Statesmen’s coverage has suffered as well – the 38 home game effort of a few years ago was fascinating. Maybe its time for a great article on the Dominican Republic and their fanatical devotion to the game…since 30% of the team hails from there now.

    We will come regardless. Its a great kids park, the view is amazing, parking is good and the staff is good. I have never, ever had a bad moment at the park…but I am a baseball nut. We feel for the players who endure the awful facilities, we feel for you in that lame excuse for a press box and we feel for the fans who fry on the first base side. All of that screams “management doesn’t care.”

    Hard to know where to start, but here is my to do list:

    1. Install the sun shade and upgrade the locker rooms
    2. Change MLB affiliation – and at least try to get us to low A
    3. Work harder through the robust fastpitch softball leagues in the valley (untouched near as I can tell) and the baseball leagues.

    Oh yeah – as was said above, fix/train the organist. It really is weird to hear “charge” when you are out in the field.

    • Dale

      “…the Ricketts family must be at the root of the problem…everything else has changed over the years, except them….”

      Newsflash: The Ricketts family purchased the Cubs in 2009. The organization was in disarray at the time and Tom and family are doing what they can to turn it around in a responsible manner.

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  15. Gordon

    Mike – just read Todd’s letter to the fans and was impressed with what he had to say, though it could have been more timely. But in his defense we have only had 8 home games so perhaps it took awhile to determine there was a problem. Hopefully this will clear it up. This year’s team is exciting and a bit different than the last few years (serious power at the plate, excellent starting pitching, some great individual stories), despite the road woes. Go Hawks!

  16. Peg

    I agree with the above comments in the most part. Get the right chants and songs at the right time. DO more community activities like meet the players. I am a people person and would love to have the opportunity to meet these young men. Also I am unable to climb stairs and have no problem with the handicap seating (the other people there are friendly and fun.) BUT we could not afford season tickets so bought 2 15 game packages. By the time I stand in line to get in early enough to get a seat in 3rd base handicap I am in such pain.,. Why can the park not open earlier to avoid the long lines.. I love baseball but standing long periods to wait for the door to open is a major deterent to us older fans. Advertise other activities better like the freshman baseball, we would have come but knew NOTHING about it until it was over. ALso the prices for concessions especially water are ridiculous…Older people are more likely to bring our grandkids etc if we can bring them at a decent prices without them being fried on first base side. An awning would be a great idea.

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  18. Tony

    I agree that everything said here has been a factor in declining attendance. But if we look at attendance in the mid 1990s, when the valley’s population was much smaller, we see that what’s billed as a “sellout” today was merely average attendance back then. What’s changed? Management and affiliation. Clearly Diamond Sports did a better job of getting people out to the ballpark and making it a positive experience they wanted to repeat. Those 90 ‘s teams also featured better players who kept the team in contention nearly every season. The Cubs are perennial losers for a good reason. The local media is as lousy as it’s ever been, and as all media does, it follows; it does not lead. And what media follows is winners.

  19. Carl

    OK, I’m going tonight and I’ll go again. I normally make 3 – 4 games every year. I love Baseball and need to support my local team. I love the park and have been to many Pro games. The Hawks still make for a great game no matter what!

  20. John

    As we visited the other night, Mike Prader, of the Statesman pretty much hit the nail on the head. We are season ticket holders and enjoy the ball park atmosphere. The Hawks are capable of winning games and Mark is capable of coaching a winning team but the Cubs culture is not allowing it to happen. I firmly believe that winning will bring the fans back. See you when you are back in town

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