The Tigers' Omar Infante (4) congratulates Victor Martinez after Martinez's solo home run in the eighth inning Monday night against Oakland at Comerica Park. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Detroit — For the fourth time in seven years, the Tigers are about to draw 3 million fans. It makes you wonder how grand the numbers might have been with more capacity.
Comerica Park has 41,704 seats. Standing room, which can bring another 3,000 or more into the park on a given night, pushes the ceiling to 44,000-plus.
It’s ironic that Tiger Stadium, which had almost 10,000 more seats than Comerica, only twice in its history drew more than 2.081 million. It happened in 1984, when the team set its season record of 2.7 million, and in 1985, when the Tigers drew a hair under 2.3 million.
Now you have this amazing string of 3-million-plus seasons at Comerica: 2007, ’08, ’12 and ’13, which was secured this week when the team sold its 3 millionth ticket. The actual 3 millionth fan won’t step through the turnstiles until late September, but the tickets have been purchased.
If you build it ...
The reasons why a smaller park has, paradoxically, been better for business have been explored and explained before.
You begin with a team that has played in a couple of World Series since 2006 and tends, each spring, to depart Florida with a chance to win its division.
Banking on seeing victories more often than defeats, season-ticket customers have a comfort level in taking in a night at the ballpark when the home team often leaves them fulfilled rather than frustrated. Those season-ticket buyers are the ground floor for 3 million customers because the tickets are paid for even during cold-weather months when crowds otherwise can be small.
Next, and just as important, people want to see celebrity players. The Tigers are loaded with them. No different than concert-goers pay to see a stage star perform, baseball fans are drawn to names and stars and to these athletes’ allure.
There, in two essential categories, are the basic reasons people flood Comerica Park and so often sell it out.
A third reason is intertwined with a fourth.
The park is comfortable and the location is superb. Comerica Park is fan-friendly. You can wish it had more intimacy and that the seats and decks were closer to the field — as I absolutely do — but the place crackles.
It has wide concourses and, perhaps the neatest of all its design features, it allows you to walk the entire ballpark perimeter. The open-air atmosphere is a plus when, due to a shrewd piece of design strategy, the stadium was cut into the surrounding street grid.
When that same matrix is filled with bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, and landmarks (Fox Theater, Detroit Athletic Club, etc.), visitors and ballpark customers feel as if they are part of something bigger and more vibrant than a single sports venue.
At that point, when the game melds with an upbeat downtown scene, you have an attraction that puts a baseball team over the top in terms of its ability to sell tickets and please fans.
You have a destination.
Suddenly, a Tigers ticket, at the very least, promises a decent return on the entertainment dollar. Because a mainstream seat doesn’t break the average household, the price tends to be manageable. If the team is good, and the pitching match-up is hot, taking in a Tigers game can be regarded as vogue, or even sexy, which is behind a lot of FSD advertising and the aura FSD’s telecasts and the Tigers in tandem love to impart.
... they will come
This year’s attendance will not beat the 2008 record, mostly because Detroit’s spring was uncharacteristically cool. Walk-up crowds were on the light side because the thermometer was on the chilly side.
But once the weather warmed, Comerica began to fill, regularly, leading to a string of summer sellouts and to just as many nights of standing-room patrons who didn’t mind a night on their feet, taking in the scene below, and beside, them.
The team is in first place. The ballpark is inviting. The crowds keep coming.