Perhaps this is a somewhat slanted time to ask the question. After all, it's not every week that the Twins are swept at home in a four-game series by the team with the worst record in the American League. But here it goes anyway: Given the way 2011 has gone, what might attendance be like at Target Field starting in Year 3 and beyond?
Target Field is no doubt a magical place -- near the top for many folks (including this writer) when making a list of the best ballparks in the majors. The on-field product (and weather) matched the atmosphere last year. This year, the weather (sometimes) and the team (many times) have not delivered. For some, winning or losing doesn't matter all that much -- those who like to watch a bit of the game, walk around, eat, drink, chat and then go home. A victory is a bonus, but a loss is not a deal-breaker. But does the novelty of eating, drinking, seeing and being seen wear off in year three and beyond?
And what of the people who need at least a relevant on-field product to feel like the tertiary eating and drinking are worthwhile? While there is certainly a chance the Twins will rebound to be competitive again in 2012, it is hardly a guarantee.
Perhaps San Francisco's past offers a glimpse into the future. The Giants had a slight dip in attendance during some ragged years in the mid-to-late 2000s, but overall their jewel of a ballpark has typically held strong with its fan base. It is at 99.9 percent capacity this year, one season after the Giants won the World Series. Then again, San Diego, which was at 88 percent capacity during its first year in 2004, is at 60 percent this year. Similar dips can be found in Pittsburgh and Washington, which have opened parks in the past 10 years but haven't fielded winning teams.
That said, we can't just look at other markets when measuring Target Field and guessing at future attendance. This is, after all, an area that was deprived of outdoor Major League baseball for three decades. It's a market that continued to finance sellouts at a beautiful hockey arena long after the initial charm should have worn off. And it's a team that -- this year aside -- has a recent track record of putting on a competitive, entertaining brand of baseball over a 162-game regular-season schedule.
What we're mostly curious about how much winning will matter when it comes to sustaining a sold out (or very nearly sold out) Target Field, and how soon it will matter. Our best guess -- even after hearing from disgruntled fans lately -- is Target Field isn't close to done with its Honeymoon Phase.
That said, season ticket renewals went out earlier this month. As one friend -- who has a 20-game pack for two years but is no cinch to renew -- declared, "Nothing takes away that new stadium smell faster than bad baseball."