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What’s keeping Dodgers fans away from Camelback this spring?

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How do Los Angeles Dodgers fans feel about the upcoming 2011 season? Judging from the turnout at the team's spring training ballpark in Glendale, Ariz., their collective outlook might not be too positive.

As Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times reports, attendance at Camelback Ranch is down 42 percent from last year. Approximately 5,000 fewer fans a game are filling the seats this spring.

Are Dodgers fans that dismayed about Jay Gibbons possibly being the team's opening day left fielder?

Or, is this a show of disapproval over the team's fourth-place finish last season, and how the club's leadership issues might be affecting play?

Though Frank McCourt insisted divorce proceedings with his wife, Jamie McCourt, wouldn't affect the team, drama surrounding the Dodgers' ownership situation became an obstacle. In December, a judge ruled that Jamie McCourt was entitled to half of the team, contrary to Mr. McCourt's argument that a marital property agreement gave him full ownership.

It's not simply because mom and dad are fighting. So why are the Dodgers attracting an average of a mere 6,645 per game at Camelback Ranch? {YSP:MORE}

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• Lack of inspiring offseason personnel moves: The Dodgers spent money on free agents this offseason, but did those decisions improve an 80-82 team? A three-year, $21 million contract for Juan Uribe was one of the most baffling deals of the winter. Matt Guerrier was also signed to provide needed bullpen help, but a three-year, $12 million deal for a 32-year-old middle reliever was a bit of a head-scratcher, as well.

• Salt River Fields forever: The shiny, new Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, another Phoenix suburb, has been the talk of spring training. The success of the new facility has caused an estimated 12 percent drop in attendance throughout the rest of the Cactus League.

Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, whose team shares Camelback Ranch with the Dodgers, endorses this theory. From the Chicago Tribune:

"The opening of the Rockies-Diamondbacks stadium (Talking Stick at Salt River Fields) is definitely pulling people away," Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said before 10,074 fans attended Wednesday's game between the Sox and world champion Giants. "Now you have six teams in the East Valley. Most of the people who come out here with disposable income like to stay in Scottsdale. So if you're a White Sox fan, you can come to Scottsdale and see us play six times without driving out (to Glendale)."

Reinsdorf went on to cite the lack of development in the Glendale area, leaving Camelback Ranch stranded without surrounding restaurants, retailers, hotels and condominiums. That's not what the city and the team had projected when it moved to Glendale in 2009.

Might anything else be affecting attendance? Here are some other possibilities.

• Ballpark size: Camelback Ranch is the biggest ballpark in the Cactus League, with a capacity of 13,000. Perhaps it's just too big to fill regularly. However, that didn't seem to be a problem for the Dodgers last year, when they averaged 11, 589 fans per game.

• Ticket prices: The priciest ticket for a Dodgers spring training game is $47 for a home plate box seat. Compare that to $22 for a field level box seat at Maryvale Park for a Milwaukee Brewers game. Or $25 for infield box seats at Salt River Fields.

• Old traditions die hard: The Dodgers held spring training in Vero Beach, Fla., for 61 years before moving to Arizona. Could there be any hard feelings from Dodgers fans over abandoning Dodgertown? It seems unlikely, since Arizona is such a shorter trip from Southern California than Central Florida.

Did the Dodgers draw more fans at Holman Stadium? During their last season in Vero Beach, the team averaged 6,604 per game (capacity was roughly 6,500) which means today's crowds are roughly what they were at Vero. But did the likes of Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and Maury Wills train at Camelback?

Besides, the Dodgers aren't the only team to spurn the Grapefruit League in favor of the Cactus League. Over the past three years, the Indians left Winter Haven and the Reds bolted from Sarasota. The population of Cactus League teams in the Phoenix is much bigger than it was even five years ago.

The Dodgers have to compete harder for fans' dollars.

UPDATE: True Blue LA would like to raise an objection to Dilbeck's numbers (and did so in response to this post, via my Facebook page). Perhaps some fuzzy math was employed?

My first thought was that it would have been better to compare numbers through the same point in spring training, or even wait until spring is done to compare apples to apples. After all, at the time Dilbeck wrote that, the Dodgers still had seven home games left, many during a week when many people have spring break, plus three weekend games. However, upon further review, the numbers are flawed.

Dilbeck is correct that the Dodgers had 17 home games last spring, but three of those weren't at Camelback Ranch. They played one game in Las Vegas and two exhibition games at Dodger Stadium. Take out those three games, and we have the following numbers:

• 2010 at Camelback Ranch: 14 home games, 8,623 average attendance

• 2011 at Camelback Ranch: 11 home games, 7,144 average attendance (through Monday)

That's a 17 percent decrease, right in line with the MLB average this spring. Let's see what the final numbers are, after the Dodgers play all of their home games at Camelback. But the plummet in attendance may have been oversold a bit.

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