October 10, 2010

A season ticket holder every year since 1979, Phillies diehard Sue Thomas had been through "all the ups and downs" and was now relishing her team's dynastic run at the top.

"This is a wonderful time for everyone," said Thomas, 53, of Northeast Philadelphia, as she waited for her 24-year-old son, Josh, to join her for what would be the memory-making-for-the-ages opening game of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"When you're here, you forget there's a recession," she said.

Indeed, the Phillies and, more tellingly, their legions of followers have shown that despite lingering high unemployment and an economic downturn in which consumers have cut back on their discretionary spending, fan devotion and a winning team trump tough times.


While overall Major League Baseball attendance for the 2010 regular season was down 0.4 percent from 2009, the Phils' total attendance was up 1 percent, according to figures released Monday by Major League Baseball. Similarly, the Phils' total attendance last year was up 5 percent from 2008, while it was down 6.6 percent for Major League Baseball.

For the fifth straight season, the Phillies set franchise records in home total attendance - 3,647,249 - and average attendance - 45,028 per game - for the 2010 regular season.

And for the first time in franchise history, the Phillies sold out all 81 of their home games and finished the season with 123 consecutive sold-out crowds at Citizens Bank Park. The streak began July 7, 2009.

"At the end of the day, what we've seen overall is that when teams have a lot of success, a great ballpark and have exciting players, they attract a lot of fans," said Matt Bourne, spokesman for Major League Baseball. "That's what's happened in Philadelphia the last couple of years."

A successful run through the postseason for the fourth straight year could generate more than $23 million in associated spending for the local economy, according to the city's Department of Commerce and the Philadelphia Sports Congress, a division of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. That estimate includes visitor spending and direct city taxes only, and does not incorporate additional spending by area residents.

So why isn't the sluggish economy hurting attendance?

"There's discretionary spending, and then there's Phillies spending," said economist Joel Naroff, of Holland, Bucks County. "Basically, even in tough times, people need things, such as amusements, to take their mind off of what's going on.

"Even though the Phillies aren't cheap, people are more than willing to spend something on an event that makes them really happy, and the Phillies make them really happy," he said. "That's why they are doing so well under these circumstances."

John Weber, vice president of sales and ticket operations for the Phillies, said the organization does not release demographic information on fans. However, he said, the Phillies were drawing from a cross-section of ages and income brackets, and while the audience was largely male, more women and younger fans (ages 18 to 30) were buying tickets since the 2004 opening of Citizens Bank Park.

Phils fans say the rate of return on their investments keeps them coming back.

John Iannaco, a stock clerk from Winslow Township who makes a little more than $50,000 a year, said he averages about five Phillies home games a season. He's gone to one playoff game the last two seasons.

Iannaco, 42, forked over $105 for a ticket to Wednesday's playoff game against the Cincinnati Reds, something he said he saved for during the regular season.

But last week's inflationary prices were not lost on Iannaco, who munched on potato chips with boyhood friend Dave Pantalone, 43, in the stadium parking lot two hours before game time.

"You come here, and there is no recession," he joked, referring to his paying $15 for parking, $7.25 for a 16-ounce bottle of beer, $8 for a program (which goes for $5 during the regular season), and a sandwich from Bull's Barbecue in the stadium for $7.50.

"Prices double for these games," he said.

That became more evident the next day. After Roy Halladay's no-hitter, Stubhub tickets for Game 2 of the Divisional Series on Friday rocketed, starting at $170 a ticket to $2,040. Standing-room tickets went from $60 to $120.

Not surprisingly, the two previous World Series champions, the New York Yankees and the Phillies, led their leagues in total attendance this season and were among the nine clubs that drew more than three million fans. The others were the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Anaheim Angels, Minnesota Twins, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, and San Francisco Giants.

"Phillie fans are loyal diehards. It's a sports city," said Mary Kobal, 53, of Schnecksville, near Allentown, a fifth-year season ticket holder. She sported red fingernail polish and said her toes were the same. She even wore red-striped sneakers to Game 1.

"Realistically, we are one of the most cost-efficient stadiums," said Thomas, the social worker, who makes about $45,000 a year. "It's about family."

During the regular season, there were more than a dozen " Phillies Affordable Ticket and Family-Friendly Offers" to attract fans. They included discounts for groups of 25 or more (a $2 discount off regularly priced tickets), Phanatic Value Days for groups of 50 or more (a $4 discount), and a $5 military discount.

Doug Dilliplane, 50, and daughter Dana, 22, of Pottstown, were able to snatch a pair of Division Series tickets for Game 1 for $50 each since the family had the 17-game package for two seats for $800 during the season.

Credit the Phils for their victorious ways, said John Clauss, 44, who runs a marketing company out of Warrington and makes more than $125,000 a year.

Clauss, who has been a Phillies season ticket holder since 1998, took his two sons, ages 13 and 5, to Game 1, and his younger brother to Game 2 on Friday. For the 2010 regular season, he had the complete 81-home game package for two seats for $8,000.

"Because we're winning," he said of why the Phils keep packing them in. "It's that simple.

"Winning the World Series two years ago definitely had momentum."

Conversely, Clauss said, he just dumped his Sixers season tickets for the first time since 1996.

"They're not winning," he said. "I can't give those tickets away."

Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or sparmley@phillynews.com.