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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Yankees last in 2015 road attendance through May 15. SF Giants are first, Cubs second, Colorado Rockies third-NY Times

5/16/15, "Yankees’ Road Show Isn’t Pulling in Fans the Way It Has in the Past," NY Times, Billy Witz (5/17 print ed., pg. SP5, NY edition), Kansas City, Mo.

"Michael Pineda seemed on the verge of wiggling out of a jam Friday night, when the Royals’ Omar Infante belted a 1-2 pitch into the left-center gap in the sixth inning. His race to third base was accompanied by an unusual road soundtrack for the Yankees this season — an energetic roar from a near-capacity crowd.

The Yankees may be baseball’s marquee franchise, with their record 27 World Series championships, a rich history and a fan base that has tentacles reaching every pocket of the country.

But this season, the Yankees have been baseball’s least popular attraction. Entering Saturday, the Yankees were last in road attendance, averaging 22,820 fans.

It may be unlikely that the Yankees will remain at the bottom for a variety of reasons, but the drop-off is jarring, given that they have led the major leagues in road attendance in four of the last five seasons. Their road attendance since 2001 has not been below 33,000, or fifth over all.

There seem to be several contributing factors for the drop. With the retirements of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera in the last two seasons, the Yankees lost two widely popular and respected figures who were the last links to their dynastic years. Jeter’s jersey was highest-selling jersey in baseball over the second half of last season.

“People would come just to see them,” Yankees pitcher C. C. Sabathia said.

They have also missed the playoffs the last two seasons, and despite their despite their strong start, they were widely viewed as a team in transition, one with too many veterans past their prime serving as placeholders until prospects were ready.

Alex Rodriguez’s return from a yearlong suspension might have provided the Yankees with a villainous character on the road. But unlike Barry Bonds in the early 2000s, Rodriguez is no longer such a dominant player that he is an attraction unto himself.

Still, the decline is jarring.

“It would surprise anyone,” Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. “They still have a really good team, regardless of Jeter being gone. They’ve got some guys that can definitely play baseball, and that’s all you can ask as a fan.”

Attendance figures can be somewhat tricky, since they generally reflect tickets sold or distributed, not the actual numbers of fans in the seats. The Yankees have seen a negligible dip in their early-season home attendance, fewer than 1,000 total fans through the same number of games (17) from last year. 

Road attendance reflect the vagaries of the schedule. While it is not surprising that the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants are leading baseball in road attendance, or that the Chicago Cubs, with their prospects bright and their diaspora of fans, are second, it would seem surprising that the Colorado Rockies are third.

Through Friday, the Rockies had the fewest wins in baseball, but of their 19 games away from home, they had played five games against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who led baseball in home attendance, and three against the Giants, who were third.

The schedule has not helped the Yankees. They have played a heavy dose of night games in cold-weather cities — Boston, Baltimore and Detroit, where one game was played during a brief outbreak of snow flurries. They have also played two series in Tampa Bay and another in Toronto, cities that are generally lukewarm to baseball.

The atmosphere for the most recent series at Tampa Bay was particularly abysmal. The Yankees, because there are so many transplanted New Yorkers in the area, which is also their spring training site, have enjoyed solid support there. But the four-game series drew 44,937 fans in all — fewer than the Yankees played before at home on opening day.

Pitcher Adam Warren said he prefers to pitch at night, when the crowds are typically bigger and more boisterous. But most Yankees said it did not matter. And with so many recent newcomers from places like Arizona (Didi Gregorius), Miami (Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Jones) and San Diego (Chase Headley), some players are not accustomed to regularly playing before large audiences.

“We try to concentrate on the things we can control,” outfielder Carlos Beltran said. “All those things we don’t think about.”

At the moment, that would include getting their offense going and winning games. The Yankees lost their fourth game in a row Friday night, a season high, before winning Saturday, 5-1.

If there was a consolation on Friday, at least they lost in an engaging environment. The fans in Kansas City have taken to their team, which came close to winning the World Series. The Royals’ home attendance is up more than 10,000 per game since last season, by far the biggest jump in baseball.

“Friday night. Baseball season. Fireworks,” Sabathia said Friday night. “That’s what it’s about. If we start playing well, if we start winning, people will come.”"

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