What's behind the decline in attendance at Honkers' home games?
Despite being the most successful team in league history — with five titles — the Rochester Honkers are struggling to put butts in the seats.
The team's attendance is down nearly 40 percent since 2006. With an average home crowd this season of 895, the Honkers rank 16 out of 18 in the Northwoods League, a collegiate baseball league that stretches across the Upper Midwest.
Owners Kim Archer and Dan Litzinger purchased the club in 2003. Since then, they said, the league has doubled in size and spread to larger markets.
"It’s difficult to consider our attendance without also considering the change in Rochester in the past decade," Litzinger and Archer said in a joint statement to the Med City Beat. "If you look at what was available to do in Rochester ten years ago [versus] today, I think you’d find that there are many more opportunities and much larger variety of activities available on any given date during the summer. This is obviously going to create more choices."
Average attendance for the NWL peaked in 2007 before taking a drop around the time of the Great Recession. Over the past few years, however, attendance has stabilized with about 1,700 people showing up to each game.
Crowds for the Honkers, meantime, continue to drop. This season, the club is on pace to have its worst home attendance numbers in 20 years. (The Honkers were one of the original five teams when NWL was formed in 1994.)
Average home attendance
In addition to increased entertainment options in town, Litzinger and Archer attributed the low attendance to factors such as an earlier start to the season and the lack of a four-year university in Rochester.
But the biggest issue, they told us, is the stadium. Built in 1951, Rochester's Mayo Field is one of the most outdated parks in the NWL.
Earlier this year, the Honkers reached a deal with the City of Rochester to make Mayo Field the team's home through 2020. As part of the agreement, the club agreed to contribute $50,000 toward improvements to the field. According to Litzinger and Archer, that's in addition to the $350,000 they have already contributed to renovations over the past decade-plus.
"A major attendance factor and concern is the facility — its lack of amenities, space, comfort, etc.," the owners said." We all know it’s old and has definitely passed its life expectancy. There’s a huge need to have improvements or even a new stadium, which equates to higher attendance due to more comfortable and enjoyable experience for the fans.
"Rochester is the third largest city in the Minnesota and we have one of the worst stadiums in the entire NWL. Rochester deserves more."
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(Cover photo: The Med City Beat)