A miniature zen garden is located between the lockers of Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray in the Twins clubhouse. A small plastic tree and a tiny statue of an Asian garden rest on a white rock pan. Next to it is a fountain with bubbling water, and another larger statue. A small gong is located at the foot.
Ryan suggested that this was Gray’s work. Ryan found it after returning from COVID-19 in June. Gray, a veteran right-hander who was acquired from Cincinnati last winter, stated that he wanted to create a space for his teammates to relax and get away from the pressures of the pennant race and baseball. Gray stated, “I wish that I had gotten real bonsai trees,” before the start of a game earlier in the month.
Fans walked past Gates 29 and found the opposite of serenity and zen: A Hennepin County deputy Sheriff with a black assault rifle strapped to his chest. A half-dozen deputies, three of them with rifles, were in detail providing coverage around the stadium’s perimeter. A deputy stated that “dozens” of fans thanked his presence, but the only ones who were even remotely sketchy were a scalper in casual clothes and a man wearing a headset preaching about Jesus.
Dave St. Peter, the club president, stated that the Twins used off-duty police officers to provide additional security in Minneapolis years before the public safety crisis. However, the perception that Minneapolis is dangerous remains a reason Twins attendance has dropped almost 21% from 2019, the last “normal” season prior to the pandemic and 2021-22 lockout. This despite the club being the American League Central Division’s top-ranked team for nearly four months.
It is not the only or most important reason. Not only in Minnesota but throughout Major League Baseball, it was also a factor.
According to Axios 23 out of 30 MLB teams draw fewer fans in 2019 than they did in 2019. The overall MLB attendance at the All-Star Break was 6.4% lower than in 2019. Sportico also reported that season ticket sales have fallen 10% in the entire industry.
The Twins were ranked 20th in MLB’s attendance list, with an average of 22,291 per game. This is about 10,000 more than Colorado, which was last in the NL West and 1,500 less than Washington who was last in the NL East.
The Twins have attracted 1,400,625 fans through 63 dates. This is a drop of almost 370,000 spectators, or 20.9% from the same date in 2019 (1770,455). According to Axios, the decline has been worsened after the All-Star Break when attendance was 13.7 percent lower than 2019.
The Twins inducted Ron Gardenhire, a former manager, and former players CesarTovar and Dan Gladden into their Hall of Fame. Instead, the games drew 21,781 and 24,802, respectively, in a ballpark that seats just over 39,000. The games attracted 21,781 and 24,802 respectively in a stadium that holds just over 39,000. The Monday night crowd of 18,595 was also the lowest since May 26.
The Twins haven’t seen more than 35,000 people since Opening Day, with the exception of a Milwaukee visit in mid-July when Milwaukee fans packed the place, and Aug. 4, when Cole Swindell performed a postgame concert. This is despite a packed schedule of giveaways and special events. The State Fair is here, school is about to begin, and the struggling club falls behind Cleveland in the division race.
What happened then? St. Peter stated that the Twins were killed at the gate by their inability to sell winter tickets. Ticket sales were also affected by the lockout. Clubs closed down all business operations. St. Peter stated that this would have cost the Twins between 3,000 and 5,000 tickets per night in June, July, and August.
He said, “We went from December 1, to the middle March without a (season) start date.” We were able start on time but we couldn’t go through the normal off-season process around ticket sales. It really was a major setback, not only in Minnesota, but across the country. It has also had an impact on single-game sales to some degree.”
The lockout resulted in no TwinsFest or a cut down Winter Caravan, which hampered fan connections. St. Peter also mentioned the lack of Twins games on many streaming services. Cord-cutters and households with no cable are not able to view them. None of this helped.
There’s no way around safety. Club members who had not purchased tickets by 2022 were surveyed. St. Peter stated that 33% of respondents mentioned public safety, while 20% called it .
Yet, St. Peter stated that 84% of those who attended the games this season felt safe at Target Field, as compared with 6% uninsured and 10% without an opinion. This gives him hope that someday fans will return.
St. Peter stated, “I don’t believe it’s fair to place it exclusively on public safety.” “I’ll be honest and say that I was disappointed with our attendance. I was expecting more people to attend. While there are many factors that can influence our ability to draw more people, ultimately we must look at ourselves.
“We spent a lot time looking at how we price our tickets and our concessions. We also looked at marketing the team. All of these topics are under review and will be considered. St. Peter said that it is incumbent upon us to create an attractive value proposition for fans. The worst thing that we can do is to blame the economy, public safety, gas prices, and lack of games on TV. While they might have some truth, they might also be making excuses. I can assure that this is not the case organizationally.
St. Peter did not mention another factor, something I learned from my Twitter feed and conversations about fans: Blunders in the baseball side that turned potential ticket-buyers away.
Some fans were offended by the club’s inept handling of Byron Buxton’s physical conditions and availability on a particular day. Buxton does not practice batting on the field so there is a possibility that a Buxton fan family from Fargo, Chisholm, or Sleepy Eye could drive for hours to see him. How can you explain that to a six-year old?
This club is not like the charismatic Bomba Squad 2019, but it lacks the big personalities that fans love and the energy they need. Carlos Correa is not Nelson Cruz and Jose Miranda, a rookie, has more RBI. The bullpen is a disaster. It is not worth driving 300 miles to see Emilio Pagan pitch a losing home run.
The June night when the Twins scored five runs off Yankees’ star Gerrit Cole, but still lost, was hardly inspiring confidence. It also triggered memories of the club’s 18 consecutive postseason defeats (14 to the Yanks). Traditionalists are furious at manager Rocco Ballelli for following a game plan devised by baseball analytics. This often means that the starting pitcher is pulled after only two rounds through the lineup regardless of effectiveness or pitch count.
St. Peter believes that the balanced schedule for 2023 with fewer games in each division and series against all MLB clubs will attract more interest. He is optimistic that the Twins will break out of their funk and take on the Guardians, which will encourage more ticket-buying in September.
He said, “I’m bullish.” “I don’t believe in the sky falling approach. I believe that we will gradually reduce the perception of public safety. We will see the economy stabilize and we will hopefully return to pre-pandemic levels of attendance. It has been seen in other areas of the country.