In my opinion, this is an area Drayton and his boys failed miserably to do. They relied on nothing but winning to get fans out to the stadium. That's why Drayton always tried to act like the Astros were one piece away from making that patented second half run, when the team was much further away than that. Essentially, he was making sure that the average fan was paying to see chicken salad when he was really selling chicken sh*t.
Below the jump are a few things I would do to try and get attendance up while you build the team the right way from the ground up...
#1. Hire some folks from the Dayton Dragons to bring in some new ideas.
In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, the Dayton Dragons are a single A minor league team affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. They are about to overtake the Portland Trailblazers record for the number of home sellouts in a row. Here's an article from the NY Times about Dayton's success in getting fans to the ballpark. This front office had a plan to get people to come to the ballpark and have executed it perfectly.
When I first heard about this team and it's ability to sell out game after game... I thought this must be a winning team. Wrong, this team has finished below .500 in 7 out of the last 8 years. They recently suffered a 24 game home losing streak also. It didn't matter. They're dedications to their relationship with the fans kept the people coming out.
The Dayton Dragons have invested in the community too. Cleaning up the surroundings of the stadium and helping with the overall image of the town of Dayton.
I believe hiring a person or two from this front office could do nothing but help the Astros with ideas on how to get people to the ballpark even if you're not fielding a contender.
#2. Allow people to bring in outside food and drinks.
This is one of the biggest things I hate about Minute Maid Park, and it just screams "greedy ownership." I grew up an Astros fan, but went to mostly Rangers games growing up. My parents loved taking my brother and I to games at The Ballpark in Arlington because it was a shorter drive for us, but mainly because they could bring in sandwiches and sodas in a cooler and they wouldn't have to break the bank feeding my brother and I (who could be bottomless pits sometimes when it came to eating).
I know the front office under Drayton probably felt like they would lose revenue if they allowed this (or they were just plain greedy bastards), but I think that couldn't be farther from the truth. The young professionals and other people who come to the game without kids are probably not going to take the time to plan to bring in food and drink. They will continue to come like they do now to drink beer after beer and socialize. Giving young families the ability to come to the game without breaking the bank on food and drink will do nothing but help generate revenue. Once they are in the stadium they will be more apt to buy some ice cream or a hat/shirt from the gift shop since they didn't have to drop $40 or more dollars for them and their kids to eat.
My thought process here, is do anything you can to get people in the stadium and the revenue will take care of itself.
#3 Promotions, promotions, promotions...
Do anything you can to get people's attention with promotions. Bobble heads, t-shirts, gym bags, garden gnomes, footballs, action figures, replica jerseys (that don't look like crap), etc. Scour the globe for great promotion ideas then advertise the heck out of them. Just a quick google search turned up this link from yahoo sports that listed the top promotions of 2010. The writer took a tongue in cheek look at the best promotions available and the Astros made the list only once for Nolan Ryan bobble head with the author pointing out that Nolan Ryan was a part owner of the Rangers now...
I know promotions are just a gimmick, but why not use it to get people out.
Ideas from the Dayton personnel, allowing families to bring in food and drink, and promotions are way to boost attendance through the rebuild. It's really not a secret or some type of mystery. Show the fans that they are your #1 priority and they will come to the games. It's really that simple.