When it comes to Pacific Coast League baseball, there's no business like Buzz business - even if attendance has dropped each year since the franchise began operating in Salt Lake City.
Crowd sizes have diminished by more than 20 percent after the franchise shattered a 48-year PCL record in 1994 by drawing 713,224 fans.Despite annual decreases, the Buzz continue to lead the Triple-A league in attendance. Salt Lake has done so four consecutive seasons.
Including Thursday's sellout crowd of 15,500, the Buzz have welcomed 2,549,390 people through the Franklin Quest Field turnstiles for 278 games over four years.
Owner Joe Buzas said circumstances and not diminishing interest are to blame for reduced attendance at Buzz games.
"If it were an average town I'd say it would continue to go down year after year," he said. "But this is a sports town."
In a market housing three other professional sports franchises, the Buzz have a season ticket base of 5,000 - growing at a rate of approximately 5 percent each season.
Buzas said the allure of the city's new stadium and the return of Triple-A baseball after a 10-year absence brought abnormally large crowds in 1994.
"I didn't go into shock," he said. "I was in shock - overwhelmed."
Salt Lake drew an average of 10,189 fans in shattering the now-defunct San Francisco Seals' 1946 league attendance mark. Interest in the Buzz was so high, the team held two opening nights.
Buzas said he expected attendance to fall in the second year as the newness of the stadium began to wear off. It did, and by an average of 977 fans per night. Instead of topping 700,000 for the season, the Buzz settled for 637,332.
The third season brought about another decline - from an average of 9,512 to 8,747 each game. Buzas said the third-year totals are figures he expects to attain each year. However, Mother Nature and other factors must cooperate.
They didn't this past season, as Buzz attendance failed to clear the 600,000 mark for the first time in franchise history. Including Thursday's capacity crowd of 15,500 at its home finale, Salt Lake drew 44,220 less fans than it did with one more opening in 1996. Nightly averages dropped 493 a game.
Even so, Buzas isn't all that concerned.
"It's been a great year overall," he said.
Wet weather hurt the Buzz gate in the spring, as did the extended NBA playoff run of the Utah Jazz.
"I'm happy for their success because the people involved are great people," said Buzas, a Jazz season-ticket holder. "I have no qualms. I hope they keep winning."
The creation of the WNBA and its Utah Starzz, I-15 reconstruction and increased year-round schooling also exacted a toll on Buzz attendance.
"It won't dip any more. I'm positive," said Buzas. "Unless the weather is worse."
Attendance woes can't be attributed to escalating ticket prices. Buzz tickets, which range from $3-to-$7 have remained a constant since the team arrived from Portland, Ore., in 1994.
"I have no anticipation to raise ticket prices," said Buzas. "I want to keep it a family-affordable business."
His marketing approach is simple. Buzas doesn't give tickets away. He does, however, "give back" by having three postgame fireworks shows each season and has instituted Thursdays as nights for season-ticket holders to exchange unused tickets.
"The enthusiasm is still there. No doubt
about it," said Buzz manager Phil Roof, who hasn't detected a noticeable drop in attendance. "The bottom line," said Buzas. "I'm predicting this will be a big league city in 10 to 12 years."
No way, added Buzas, is Utah's interest in baseball waining.
Buzz home attendance
Season Openings** Attendance Attendance
1994* 70 713,224 10,189
1995 67 637,332 9,512
1996 71 621,027 8,747
1997 70 577,807 8,254
**Rainouts not included. Doubleheaders count as single opening