Honkers winning at home, but not at gate

Northwoods League teams drawing fewer fans in 2009

By Donny Henn

The Rochester Honkers won for the 15th time in 20 home games this Northwoods League college baseball season Wednesday night at Mayo Field, coming back to beat the Green Bay Bullfrogs 2-1 in 10 innings.

One year after failing to play .500 ball at home for the first time in team history, the Honkers are once again masters of their domain.


But the team’s improvement on the field hasn’t translated to improved attendance, and like most of the teams in the league, numbers through the turnstiles are noticeably down in 2009.

With Wednesday’s crowd of 717 on a cool fall-like night, the Honkers have drawn 21,465 fans over 20 home dates. This season’s average of 1,073 per game is running 20 percent below 2007 and 2008, when the average attendance was 1,350 to 1,400.

"I think it’s a weather issue for us," Honkers co-owner Dan Litzinger said. "We had three rain-outs in June, and we’ve never had three rain-outs in a single year before this.

"When it’s not raining, it seems like it’s threatening to rain, and baseball is definitely a good-weather game. When the days are nice, the people are here."

Litzinger said the rain-outs hurt the team’s overall and average attendance, because while the games are made up, they are tacked on to other regularly scheduled games.

Rochester certainly isn’t alone in down attendance. Twelve of 14 teams in the league are drawing fewer fans per game than last season, and some teams are down significantly.

The Duluth Huskies are down 47 percent, averaging just 728 fans after setting a franchise record in 2008 with 1,378 per game.

Wisconsin, Green Bay and Alexandria are all down between 22 percent and 30 percent in average attendance, and even league attendance stalwarts Madison and La Crosse are down over 10 percent.


The Madison Mallards drew a league-record 6,116 per game in 2008, compared with 5,471 so far this season.

League-wide attendance is down 13.7 percent.

This isn’t what league president Dick Radatz Jr. was anticipating for the 16th season. He predicted attendance would flourish despite the recessed economy — or because of it.

"I would make a friendly wager with anyone that we’ll set an all-time attendance record this summer," Radatz told the La Crosse Tribune in February.

"I think our price structure is going to keep us real competitive. I think we’ll be healthy."

Litzinger acknowledged that the dip in attendance league-wide is eye-opening, but said he couldn’t speculate on the reasons at other parks. He also said that he and co-owner Kim Archer aren’t worried about the Honkers.

Litzinger noted that attendance is also down at Major League ballparks this season, by more than 5 percent overall.

"We’ve still got a lot of home games left, and a lot of good promotions coming up," he said. "If the weather cooperates, I’ll bet we come up close to the last couple years. Absolutely."

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