Giger: Curve will stay AA for the long haul

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kickoff to summer, and it’s also the unofficial start of widespread interest in attending Curve games.

From this point on, the Curve will average roughly 50 percent more fans per home game. They’ve pulled in average crowds of 3,252 so far, and if history is an indication, that number will be about 4,800 per game the rest of the season. The end result will be an average of about 4,300 per game for the whole year.

It’s become obvious over the years that no matter what the franchise does, it’s virtually impossible to lure big crowds night in and night out in April and May.

It’s too cold. The weather is too unpredictable. And most importantly, school is still going.

With the school year about to end, it’s certainly more enticing for families to head out to a ballgame. That’s true at all levels of baseball and is in no way specific to Altoona or the Curve.

One specific question the franchise could face at some point in the future is whether being in Double-A is the right fit. If most fans aren’t going to show up until summer, would there be merit in dropping out of Double-A and becoming a short-season team that starts in June?

“No,” general manager Rob Egan said without hesitation Sunday. “We’ve really never talked about that.

“I don’t see it as long term going that way just because we do have enough fans that support this team, not just June through August. Certainly that is when most of our fans come out, and that’s not uncommon. The same is true for Reading and Richmond and Trenton and some of the other larger populated areas.”

The bottom line for remaining Double-A is, well, the bottom line.

The Curve, Egan said, are better off financially for several reasons as a Double-A franchise than they would be short season.

“The number one thing you’ve got to look at is franchise value to the owners,” the GM said. “Beyond that, you look at June, July and August, certainly your revenues would be solid in those months if you’re short season, and your expenses would be less. But then you do have things like sponsorship sales and so forth, you wouldn’t be able to make that in a short season because sponsors wouldn’t see as much value in fewer games.

“The same thing with merchandise and concessions – you have fewer opportunities for fans to come out and do those things.”

There are intangibles, too, to remaining in Double-A, even if many April and May games only draw a few hundred fans (actually in the park as opposed to paid attendance).

Prestige is one. Being known as a Double-A franchise and town bring the Curve and Altoona more notoriety. You can’t put a price tag on that.

Having the players around town making public appearances at schools and other events in April and May serves a valuable purpose. That’s one of the more overlooked virtues of having a minor league team in a city, not to mention how awesome it must be for school kids to be able to take in the occasional morning games.

Also, as Egan pointed out, the Pirates prefer to have their Double-A players develop in a colder environment in the spring, simply because that’s the kind of weather they’ll be playing in if they get to Pittsburgh. The Curve serve that purpose for the Bucs.

As long as Curve ownership choose to remain in Double-A, about the only thing that could affect that would be Peoples Natural Gas Field deteriorating over time while other new parks spring up.

“People know the reputation of this place, that we take care of it and it’s a good facility,” said Egan, who also pointed out the taxpayers helped out a few years ago by paying for the new playing surface.

The city of Altoona pulled a major upset when it was awarded a Double-A franchise in the late 1990s, becoming one of the smallest markets in the country to be home to a team in the high minor leagues.

The Curve’s success over 15 seasons has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that the city can support a Double-A club, even if it doesn’t always appear that way with the small crowds in April and May.