Ahhhh, how Josh Obeid, general manager of the Blue Mesa Grill, looks back with favor on last year’s baseball season.
The Texas Rangers had a winning record and were in the hunt for the playoffs, and fans were sweating it out at the ballpark — an average of about 39,000 per game. Happy hour was hopping.
Fast-foward to this year. After 48 games, the Rangers have one of the worst records in the major leagues and paid attendance at Globe Life Park in Arlington is down to about 35,000 — if they all show up.
For Obeid, whose restaurant is not far from the ballpark, the baseball team’s performance is hurting more than its win-loss record. With fewer people going to games, fewer Rangers fans are showing up for food and drinks.
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“I’ve seen a drop of 20 to 30 percent in business from happy hour last year to happy hour this year,” said Obeid, who added that the team’s official attendance numbers don’t reflect how many people actually show up. “We don’t see as many Rangers jerseys.”
When the seats are full, each Rangers game is estimated to pump about $1 million into the local economy. Fewer fans means that less money is flowing into the rest of the economy, including parking lots where teachers, college and high school students make extra money in the summer.
“Everyone feels it,” said Sharon Smith, owner of Stadium Parking, which controls about 600 spaces on the east side of the stadium. Things are so slow that she has hired two fewer people this season.
“It is interesting that all the Rangers-related businesses are seeing the same drop,” she said. “That just shows what the Rangers and AT&T Stadium bring to the local economy.”
Well aware that there are more empty seats in the stadium this year and of the ripple effect beyond the box scores, Rangers spokesman John Blake said the team is looking at what it can do to lure people back to the ballpark.
“It’s been a tough year,” Blake said. “We realize it has an effect on a lot of things and the last few years [attendance] has been an all-time high. So we’re working hard to get the fans to come out.”
The thrill of the grass
Make no mistake, you’ll still hear the roar of a crowd at a Rangers game.
Before last weekend’s homestand, the team posted paid attendance of 1,681,907 this season, for an average of 35,039 per game, ranking seventh in the majors behind powerhouses such as the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals, according to ESPN’s MLB.com.
But over the past two seasons fewer folks have gone through the turnstile at the ballpark. (The Rangers, by the way, don’t talk about the actual number of people who hit the bar as they walk through. If you hold a season ticket, or bought one ahead of time, it’s all the same to them.)
Last year, nearly 3.2 million were reported by the Rangers. This year the team, with 33 home games left and assuming the same average head count, is on pace to bring in 2.8 million fans, a drop of about 340,000. It’s a far cry from 2012, when the team ranked third in the majors with 3.46 million attendance.
The Rangers were expecting the thrill of the grass to draw 200,000 people to the ballpark for this homestand against the top-tier Oakland Athletics and the Yankees — about 40,000 for each game with future Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter’s farewell tour. But after that, it will be tough, Blake said.
“We have this homestand and then 10 days in August and then a bigger homestand in September,” Blake said. “Team performance has a role in this, but we’re not ready to throw in the towel.”
Some of those who bought tickets ahead of time are ready for the football season to start. The price of Rangers tickets on the secondary market, where brokers sell, has dropped 41 percent since the season started, according to TiqIQ, an event ticket search engine.
Before the season, Rangers tickets sold for an average $100.99. As the season went on and the team’s record tanked — a team that was supposed to contend became the worst team in the major leagues at the All-Star break — the price dropped to $59.78, TiqIQ reported.
“The decrease this year has already been significant and if they don’t turn it around dramatically it will continue to decrease,” said Jesse Lawrence, founder of TiqIQ. On the upside, if you do want to see the Rangers play Tampa Bay next month, admission may be pretty cheap.
“Brokers are hoping to get rid of the inventory they’ve got — ‘I’ll take a dollar, that is better than nothing,’ ” he said they might be thinking.
Widespread economic impact
In the newly remodeled Jason’s Deli in the Lincoln Square shopping center, a photo of the statue honoring Shannon Stone, the firefighter who died while trying to catch a ball for his son Cooper, is front and center. It is an art piece honoring the love of a father for his son, and for the game.
With that sepia-toned photo as a backdrop, John Hauf, general manager at Jason’s, is reluctant to blame his slight drop in business on just the Rangers. But he can’t discount it, either.
“I don’t want to say the Rangers are the reason we are down, but it’s a small part of it,” Hauf said. One Jason’s bestselling sandwiches is the New York Yankee, a 3/4-pound combo of hot corned beef and pastrami on rye. “We have more people at the stadium, we have more people here.”
A banner trumpeting the shuttle from Lincoln Square hangs over Blue Mesa, Sherlock’s Baker St. Pub & Grill and BoomerJack’s. A representative of the shopping center declined to talk about how many fans are taking it.
At J. Gilligan’s Bar & Grill, a hometown haunt in Arlington for real Ranger fans, general manager Rema Atiya said patrons are “die-hard fans” who go, win or lose. Still, the restaurant tried running a shuttle in the first two months of the season and found that it wasn’t worth the trouble.
At the Courtyard Marriott near the ballpark, front desk clerks Lorenzo Yelder and Melanie Forde haven’t seen a drop in business because fans for teams playing against the Rangers still check in.
“They come to see the Astros and the Yankees,” Forde said. “And they come here not just for the Rangers” but for the other attractions such as Six Flags and the AT&T Stadium.
Decima Cooper at the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau agrees, saying a study done by STR Global of hotel bookings shows that activity is up 6 percent since the season started in April.
“When the Rangers are not doing well it does have an impact. But what we do is target all of the markets for everything else we have in the city,” said Cooper. In essence, they say “If you are coming to see the Astros play, stay another day. We don’t want you to win, but stick around.”
City Budget Manager Mike Finley said Arlington hasn’t studied the economic impact of a Rangers game since 2006, when a study said it was $46.2 million — or about $600,000 a game — when attendance was about 29,000. With inflation and bigger crowds, it could now be $1 million.
“That is not revenue to the city; that is economic impact — ushers, parking, restaurants,” Finley said. “So it is significant. It is better for the city when the Rangers are winning and bringing in people.”
Obeid agreed and said he hopes the Rangers will finish the season on a winning note.
“It affects the entire entertainment district,” Obeid said. “We’re rooting for the Rangers to do better in the second half.”