Monday, April 12, 2010

When's the time to panic?

Not about the season, of course. The team will be just fine, I suspect. But what about the organization as a whole? While he doesn't use the 'P' word--yet--the Long Beach Press-Telegram's Bob Keisser does think it's time to worry. Keisser:

Dodgers fans were so thrilled to have the Fox era of ownership end that they accepted the McCourts at face value even though we hardly knew their faces. They had no baseball background, and it was widely reported that they bought the team on credit thanks to good financing terms from Commissioner Bud Selig.
Now we know. They feathered the nest they're now going to break into pieces, and this will not end well for the team on the field.
It is talented enough to compete for another playoff spot, but less so than a year ago. The team isn't likely to spend for a needed bat or arm down the stretch. If things go south, the team could be sellers, not buyers.
While most of the young players are committed for a few more years because of free agency rules, they're not going to be so quick to stay with a franchise when their time comes if the team is in the dumps and acting like a small-market team. Once Joe Torre retires, there will be a leadership vacancy. And anyone who thinks there isn't a chance of attendance decline hasn't been paying attention to the recession.
Keisser's last point is the crux of it all, and something I've been very curious about. Nothing's going to change if 3.8 million fans are still walking through the turnstiles. People love the Dodgers; at what point does the shattered relationship between ownership and fans start affecting gate receipts? My guess is that it's fairly simple: when the team stops winning. 

For as bitter as fans feel toward the McCourts, we don't show up to spot Frank in the owner's box or Dugout Club seats. We come for what happens on the mound and in the batter's box, and to share traditions with our fellow fans. Like so many of you, I compare all of my baseball experiences with my earliest memories of Dodger Stadium. And none of those memories concern ownership.

As long as the team is winning, the relationship between ownership and the fans will be secondary to the product on the field. Frank had better hope things remain this way; Dodger Stadium is a big, big place that doesn't do well half-empty. 

Keisser also calls out Frank McCourt for his frequent references to the improvements to Dodger Stadium. As Keisser sees it, the bulk of updates serve McCourt more than the fans; newer ways to advertise, more outlets for folks to drop money on food and souvenirs, and new premium seating areas. He's got a point. While fans certainly appreciate more seating options and quicker concession lines, such things are as beneficial to ownership as they are to the fans. 

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