The MLB season is quickly nearing the halfway point. How many games have you watched the Houston Astros play? It’s a question I posed to a group of fans at Minute Maid Park. This poll, clearly not scientific, was my way of discovering who is and who isn’t watching Houston baseball.
I randomly asked 100 people at Minute Maid Park how many games they’d seen other than those they’d attended in person. I asked on every level of the ballpark and fans of varying age groups. I offered 4 categories – none, less than 5, less than 20, less than 40, or I haven’t missed a game. The overwhelming winner was less than 5 with 72%. Right behind that – none with 22%, then less than 20 with 7% and there was one measly fan who replied that he hadn’t missed a game. I still think he was lying.
The most common comment following the reply of "less than five" or "none" was, "because I don’t have CSN Houston." Not surprising by any stretch. The Houston Rockets suffered an entire season being broadcast on a network with serious carriage issues and it seems likely that those issues will persist throughout the Astros and Dynamo seasons as well.
I don’t have CSN Houston at my house. If I’m not at a game I listen to the TV broadcasters via MLB.tv (unless I’m not in the blackout area and can actually watch the game). I used to periodically listen to the games on the radio, but that was prior to the new radio team. Robert Ford provides a respectable play-by-play, but despite my enjoying Steve Sparks analysis on tv in previous years, he falls flat for me on the radio. So what are we left with? No tv, no great radio coverage…it feels like we’re being forced to the ballpark.
But the attendance at Minute Maid Park doesn’t reflect that fans are fleeing their houses in droves because they miss the Astros. In fact, attendance, by average is down again so far this season. In 2012, the Astros averaged 19,848 fans per game – only Cleveland and Tampa Bay had fewer fans show up. To date in 2013 the Astros are averaging 18,117 fans per game – trailed by Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Miami.
Fans aren’t going to games. Fans can’t watch games. I don’t suspect that all the fans are listening to games. The conclusion is that people have backburnered the Astros. They’ll risk being called a bandwagon fan in a couple of years rather than go to the effort and expense to go watch the team that is playing this season. This idea certainly doesn’t help the Astros’ efforts to get CSN Houston carried on basic cable for $3 and change per household.
It’s hard work to be an Astros fan today. You’ve got to really want it. It’s a team that loses…a lot. It’s harder to be a fan than not be a fan, I get that – in fact I live it.But now’s the time to pay attention, not because of the players on the field last night in Houston, but because of the players on the field in Oklahoma City, Corpus Christi, Lexington, Lancaster, Tri-Cities, Quad Cities…you get the picture. There is excitement just a level or two away from Minute Maid Park and although I don’t follow the minors as closely as some, I see what’s happening and I think that those of us who are paying attention now will appreciate the rise from the ashes to come.
But it’s not easy to follow this team. No tv. No great radio. Where do you fall? How many games have you seen? None, less than 5, less than 20, less than 40, or haven’t missed a game?