HIGH POINT — The threat of the COVID-19 delta variant. A streak of early evening summer thunderstorms. A late start to the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball season that dragged into the kickoff of football.
All these factors combined to keep fan attendance at home games for the 2021 High Point Rockers season from exceeding turnout for its inaugural campaign in 2019, club President Pete Fisch said. The 2020 season was lost in its entirety to the coronavirus pandemic.
Fisch said that he wishes the team could have posted better attendance numbers, especially because turnout at the gates of Truist Point ballpark stood at a solid pace at the season’s halfway point. The average home attendance for this season was 1,898 fans per game compared to 2,157 for the inaugural season two year ago.
The Rockers played 10 fewer home games this season compared to 2019 because of a pandemic-shortened season that started the first of June instead of the first of May. The Rockers played 60 home games this season compared to 70 home contests two years ago.
At the midway point of the season around the first of August, attendance was trending at a level to match or maybe exceed the 2019 season. For the first 21 home games, the Rockers were averaging 2,021 fans per contest, not far off the pace of the 2,089 fans per game for the inaugural season.
“As I look at the numbers, somewhere around the first week of August — maybe 10 days into August — is when we started to see a dip in our attendance,” Fisch said.
Fisch told The High Point Enterprise that he thinks several factors came into play to stunt fan turnout in the second half of the season.
The threat of the delta variant, a more contagious strain of COVID-19, emerged and escalated as the Rockers’ season progressed, he said.
“When something is in the news every day and affecting everybody, it’s going to have an effect on us,” he said.
Turnout by large groups of fans — such as those associated with a church, civic club or other organizations — tailed off in the second half of the season as the delta variant grew in scope.
“Those groups were not coming or they were canceling,” Fisch said. “That makes a big difference.”
The season’s later start meant that the final month and a half of games was played competing for the attention of fans with high school and college football on Fridays and Saturdays, Fisch said.
“We usually don’t have that when the season starts in early May,” he said. “In 2019, the final game we played was Sept. 25, and that was the playoffs. The final regular season game was Sept. 16.”
The weather didn’t cooperate as well. For example, during the team’s longest homestand of the season Aug. 6-19, it rained all but one day during the period, according to the National Weather Service. Rainfall totaled 3.55 inches for the entire homestand.
Comparing attendance numbers for 2021 to the inaugural season continues to be skewed by the overflow crowd of 5,019 for the first-ever opening game on May 2, 2019. By contrast, the best single-game attendance this season was about 2,800 to 2,900 fans for the Quincy Latimore bobblehead giveaway night on a Saturday evening in late September, Fisch said. Latimore is an outfielder and a fan-favorite player dating back to the inaugural Rockers season.
The Rockers attendance slumped after the midway point despite the team being in playoff contention throughout the second half of the season. And just as in the team’s inaugural season, the Rockers trended toward the bottom of attendance compared to other teams in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.
As of the start of play Saturday for the last weekend before the conclusion of the 2021 regular season, the Rockers ranked seventh in attendance among the eight teams in the league.
The Rockers total attendance was 108,200, according to the league’s website. The Long Island Ducks led in attendance with 216,536 fans, an average of 4,010, more than double the numbers for the Rockers’ average attendance of 1,898.
Fisch said he and the club management monitor comparative attendance numbers.
“While we look and see what everybody else is doing, what everybody else is doing doesn’t affect our bottom line,” Fisch said.
The Rockers had a successful enough season to meet its financial obligations to the city of High Point and other partners, Fisch said.
“We are confident that all will be taken care of,” he said.
While he hoped turnout would have been more robust for the 2021 season, Fisch isn’t prepared to call the campaign a disappointment.
“Considering the fact that 365 days ago we were sitting here lamenting the fact that we didn’t have a season, I would consider it a tremendous success,” he told The Enterprise. “We got through the whole season uninterrupted by the virus. That was a goal of the league when the season started.”
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