The New York based consulting firm Brand Keys ranks Mariners dead last among 30 major-league teams in its annual Sports Fan Loyalty Index, continuing a drop that started for the Mariners in the survey in the last decade.
Inside sports business
Brad Bailey loves a Mariners home opener and was at Safeco Field on Friday in a group of 49 friends and acquaintances.
Each year, Bailey, 40, and pals gather en masse for their annual rite of spring, regardless of whether the Mariners are billed as contenders. He admits that, as a diehard fan from West Seattle, he’d probably attend more than his dozen or so games annually if they had greater meaning.
“When the team’s better, you go to more games,’’ he said. “You want to be a part of it. The atmosphere is a lot better when you go, instead of there being 5,000 people there.’’
Still, he’ll likely see more games this season than others in his group Friday, some of whom he doubts will return beyond the opener. Bailey says Mariners fans he converses with have grown more “educated” and won’t be as eager to part with their money unless the team improves.
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Call it “fickle” as Bailey does, or maybe fans just becoming more discerning, but the Mariners have increasingly tested their supporters’ loyalty. A season-opening 2-4 record comes at a critical juncture for a team with the longest playoff drought in the majors.
The New York based consulting firm Brand Keys last week unveiled its 24th annual Sports Fan Loyalty Index for baseball. And for the first time ever, it ranked the Mariners last among 30 MLB teams in generating fan loyalty.
“When you look at them, what have they really done that would make fans stay loyal?’’ said Brand Keys president Robert Passikoff. “They’ve never won a World Series. They’ve never won a pennant. They haven’t been to the playoffs in over a decade and they’ve had a revolving door where they change managers every other year.’’
Passikoff said the survey of 250 “hard core” sports fans in each market who identify most with their local MLB team, provides a strong gauge of future ticket and merchandise sales. It measures entertainment value for fans, their confidence in the front office, ability to bond with players and how proud they feel of the team’s historical legacy.
“This isn’t some New York guy going ‘I hate the Mariners!’ ’’ Passikoff said. “This is what their own fans have told us.’’
In 2001, the Mariners consistently ranked top-10 in the survey, but slipped to the middle-of-the-pack after failing to reach the playoffs in 2002.
By the end of 2006, after three consecutive losing seasons, the team dropped to the bottom-third. Then, after 101-loss seasons in 2008 and 2010, it fell to bottom-five.
Passikoff says it’s tough for teams to move too dramatically in the loyalty rankings based on a single season’s performance.
Instead, it’s been a sustained Mariners plunge to the bottom, borne of a pattern easily identified and supported by additional surveys published last week. The Mariners charge fans top-tier money, spend only mid-tier on payroll and consistently perform in the bottom tier of baseball’s standings.
A study by GOBankingRates.com labeled Safeco Field the fifth most expensive MLB ballpark to attend a game. It studied median prices for two tickets on team websites, and costs of parking, two hot dogs and two beers at the ballpark.
Based off that, the price of two people attending a Mariners game was $94.71. The only teams more expensive were the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays, which all play in historic ballparks or made the playoffs last season.
The Mariners were the only team of the top-nine most expensive to not make the playoffs within the past three seasons.
As for payroll, The Associated Press annual opening day salary survey had the Mariners ranked No. 12 at $143.1 million. Despite a $20 million payroll jump from last April, the team actually fell one spot from last year’s No. 11 ranking on opening day because of salary inflation.
The Mariners for years insisted their payroll was enough to win. And for years, they’ve been wrong: It hasn’t been enough, despite four different general managers and eight managers since 2001.
New general manager Jerry Dipoto’s roster overhaul means Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Charlie Furbush, Kyle Seager and Franklin Gutierrez are the lone holdovers from former GM Jack Zduriencik’s 2010-2013 rebuilding phase — where fans swallowed payroll cutting seasons of 101, 95, 87 and 91 losses in the name of a youth movement that failed to deliver.
Brand Keys president Passikoff says constant changes have the team lacking a “Derek Jeter effect’’ of a star franchise position player fans can latch on to year-in and year-out. Hernandez pitches every fifth day while Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz were free-agent pickups not yet here long enough to forge a Jeter-like bond with fans.
But Mariners fan Randy Wilson, 40, of Sammamish, who attended Friday’s opener with his wife, daughter, stepdaughter, and a buddy, feels the player pieces are there for fans to connect.
“The Mariners have always had exciting players,’’ he said. “I can’t really think of a time in their history when they haven’t had at least one or two exciting players.’’
Of course, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner and Ichiro actually won some games. Perhaps these Mariners making the playoffs will strengthen that bond Passikoff feels is lacking.
Wilson adores the family atmosphere of baseball and will go to more games this year hoping things change. He enjoys the “journey’’ of trying to make the playoffs, feeling it will taste extra sweet if the Mariners do.
But he agrees even “exciting players” eventually have to contend for something to motivate him to keep coming by late summer.
“I went to more games in ’01 than I did last year,’’ he said. “And I went to more games in 2014 than I did in 2015, especially towards the end.’’
And if Brand Keys is right, loyalty-tested Mariners fans will likely become less optimistic much quicker. Still, as evidenced in 2014, even the Mariners getting close to the playoffs can bring fans back in droves — albeit nowhere near levels of 15 years ago.
The Mariners have to hope that holds, because they aren’t returning to 2001 levels of loyalty overnight. Right now, they need some consistently good seasons merely to reverse their 15-year slide to rock bottom.
And they need to do it before any lingering loyalty runs out.
|No bargain at Safeco Field|
|2016 most expensive MLB home games (2 tickets, parking, beer, hot dogs)|
|1. Boston Red Sox||$157.00|
|2. Chicago Cubs||$116.06|
|3. New York Yankees||$109.40|
|4. Toronto Blue Jays||$109.38|
|5. Seattle Mariners||$94.71|
|30. Los Angeles Angels||$47.60|
|29. Los Angeles Dodgers||$55.10|
|28. Arizona Diamondbacks||$57.93|
|27. Colorado Rockies||$59.30|
|26. Minnesota Twins||$60.40|