Slammers in 2018: Strong team, weak attendance
The Slammers are looking for big crowds in the final home games of a season in which the team is in first place in the standings and second to last in the stands.
Attendance has been down this year for the Frontier League team despite good players and a debut season on the new artificial turf at Joliet Route 66 Stadium.
As of Thursday, the Slammers’ attendance stood at 70,772 for the year with an average of 1,726 a game.
With six home games left, the team virtually is assured of being unable to match last year’s attendance, when more than 100,000 people showed up to watch a team that finished the season with a record of 42-54.
The Slammers’ management points to a schedule heavily loaded with games in May and June before the team got hot and when the weather was bad.
The Slammers lost their first five games of the season. However, as of Thursday, the team was in first place in the Frontier League East Division.
“We were very front-loaded on the schedule, which may not seem like much, but we did have a lot of games in May and June, when the weather here wasn’t the best,” general manager Heather Mills said.
If it wasn’t rainy, it was hot – and sometimes extraordinarily hot.
“The heat index was 114 degrees on one of our Fridays,” Mills said, noting that people were being advised in weather forecasts to stay indoors during that homestand. “That didn’t help much.”
The downturn in attendance comes at a time when the Slammers are negotiating a lease with the city of Joliet, which owns the stadium and is looking for ways to generate more revenue from it.
The city wants a bigger role in stadium operations and has talked about introducing a third-party manager taking over some functions the Slammers now control.
City Manager David Hales pointed to attendance as an issue, saying a lease could be set up in such a way as to incentivize the team to draw more people to the park.
“[Attendance] does provide benefit from a regional economic impact standpoint,” Hales said. “Hopefully, you get more people in restaurants and the associated taxes being paid.”
In 2017, the Slammers had an
11 percent increase in attendance
while negotiating a one-year lease with Joliet.
The lease was made short term largely because the city wanted to see what kind of use the stadium would get after spending $1.6 million to install artificial turf in hopes of generating more revenue because the field could sustain more activity than grass.
Attendance has been strong in July and August, Mills said, pointing to “crazy numbers for weekdays” in recent games that drew as many as 3,000 and 2,700 visitors, respectively.
Earlier in the year, attendance on some Fridays was below 2,000, which team owner Nick Semaca described as being “unheard of.”
“When it’s pouring rain all day, nobody’s going to come out,” Semaca said.
The team with the lowest attendance in the Frontier League is the Windy City Thunderbolts. The team plays in Crestwood. The Thunderbolts have attracted 64,866 visitors, but they have played fewer games at home and have an average attendance of 2,218 – higher than the Slammers’.
Semaca said he expects the Slammers to move up in attendance now that the team is playing for first and other teams drop out of the playoff race.
“I would expect we’re going to move a few positions up,” he said.