Can Yankees Turn Around Sagging Attendance?

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International League President Randy Mobley is in Scranton for opening night for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees at PNC Field.

The aging facility appears to be falling out of favor with baseball fans.

Mobley is concerned that while the team is likely to finish near the top of the league standings, it's just as likely to be near the bottom in league attendance.

As workers ready PNC Field, the team's president roots for a large crowd.

"We're confident that with all the new things we have going, and the field being brand new and in tip-top shape, it's going to be a great year," said team president Kristen Rose.

Last year, 2009, wasn't a great year. Umpires canceled 17 games due to rain or flooding in the outfield. Fans stayed home in droves.

Now International League President Mobley labels the Scranton/Wilkes- Barre Yankees and the attendance-challenge Charlotte, North Carolina Knights as the league's two troubled franchises.

"I think it's something that everybody is in tuned to wanting to know what we do to get that turned around," Mobley said.

Last year, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre ranked 12 of 14 league teams in attendance.

The number of fans fell 16 percent from 2008. It dropped a whopping 46 percent from 2007.

Some blame the aging 20-year-old stadium and franchise management.

"Somewhere along the way they've alienated their fan base," said Morning Call sports writer Jeff Schuler. He covers minor league baseball's Lehigh Valley Ironpigs who play in the International League with the Yankees and the Reading Phillies who play AA ball.

Schuler believes both those teams have fan-friendlier stadiums and more to do than PNC Field, even though Reading's ballpark is 60 years old.

Dozens of picnic tables line right field, complete with television sets so fans don't have to miss their favorite prime-time show. Then there are Jacuzzis for a mid-summer night cool down. All of this is in a stadium that's not big enough for Triple-A baseball yet 70,000 more people attended games there last summer than at PNC Field.

"And I think that's what's lacking up there. People pay their money and get in there. And all they're doing is watching what sometimes can be pretty bad baseball, and they're nothing else that goes with it," Schuler added.

Randy Mobley calls 2010 a critical year for the Yankees. On his watch, struggling teams in Ottawa, Canada and Richmond, Virginia left for other cities.

He sees Triple-A in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre five years from now. "I do, I absolutely do. I hope I'm right. There's no guarantee," said Mobley.

"We're very happy here. I know the Yankees are very happy here," said Kristen Rose. "We can all move forward and get into the season, which we're excited about."

Despite dwindling attendance the bad economy may actually help keep International League baseball in Scranton.

There are no facilities big enough for Triple-A baseball in the northeast or midwest, and with municipal government's strapped for money, no communities are considering new stadiums.