Indians poised for third attendance record in three seasons

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The Indianapolis Indians are smoking-hot this season, and I’m not talking about their win-loss record, although that’s not too bad either.

The AAA minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates is on course to set another attendance record. If it does, it will be its third in three years.

Through 40 home games this year, Indians attendance is 27,000 ahead of last year. The Indians last year set a high watermark, drawing 662,536 to Victory Field on the west edge of downtown. That bested the 2014 record of 660,289. Prior to 2014, the previous record (659,237) was set in 1998.

So far this year, the Indians are drawing 8,691 per home game compared to 8,014 during the same period a year ago. That’s a year-over-year increase of better than 8 percent, an improvement any ticket-sales executive would welcome for a team that already has an established fan base.

Attendance tends to tick up toward the end of the season, so it’s not unrealistic to think the Indians could average close to or even more than 9,500 per game. Last year, the team had a per-game attendance average of better than 9,300.

With attendance on the rise, it’s no surprise sponsorship revenue is too. That line item is up $500,000 so far this year from $3.4 million last season, according to team officials. That’s about a 15 percent increase from last year.

The Indians have increased attendance each of the last six years, and unless the team somehow goes defunct—or several monsoons or arctic cold fronts roll into Indianapolis—it appears the tribe is on its way to No. 7.

The season concludes Sept. 5, with the last home game set for Sept. 3.

The Tribe’s schedule looks promising for a strong finish at the gate. The team has games on seven of the 10 remaining weekends, with a total of 13 weekend home games remaining.

“Despite a wet spring and early summer, Indianapolis Indians games have been well-timed to avoid significant rain,” Indians General Manager Randy Lewandowski told IBJ in an email exchange. “Overall, everything looks positive. Advance ticket sales and group sales look strong for the remainder of the season.”

It’s difficult to say exactly why Indians’ attendance has taken off since 2009, when it was 549,552 for the season. Of course, Victory Field has long been known as one of the nation’s best minor league ballparks, and the Indians have done a masterful job of marketing that and maintaining the facility.

Some sports marketers surmised the Great Recession pushed sports fans to lower-priced venues and events. Going to an Indians game is certainly cheaper than a lot of other sports and entertainment options in the city.

The Indians in recent years also have become more aggressive in their marketing.

This year, the Indians are celebrating their 20th season at Victory Field and leveraging the hashtag #VF20 on social media, said team spokesman Jon Glesing.

The Indians and its marketing agency, Borshoff, this year changed the team's ad campaign and tag line from “Make Summer Something”—which had been in use the last couple of years—to “Where Legends Grow.” Team officials said momentum has built behind the new campaign.

Lewandowski also credited downtown Indianapolis’ increased vibrancy for the continued attendance growth.

“Downtown is as active as ever, and all boats rise with the high tide,” he said. “Indians baseball remains a summertime asset, amenity and driver of outdoor, memorable, and affordable family fun for locals and visitors to downtown Indianapolis.”

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