Why are the Ottawa Champions striking out with baseball fans in the city?
1 baseball fan said the size of the stadium hurts the atmosphere at games
The Ottawa Champions are struggling to fill seats at their ballpark.
Its average attendance of 1,632 after Tuesday's home game is below the league average of 1,825, down about 200 fans per game from last season and 800 from its championship season in 2016 — making this the lowest average in its five-year history.
Earlier this summer, the minor league baseball team was forced to give up its exclusive lease of Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park after racking up more than $400,000 in unpaid rent to the City of Ottawa.
Slumping interest in the team is a curious problem, said Mark Keeping, a baseball fan and coach with the bantam and midget-level Ottawa Patriots.
"If you look at the grassroots level of baseball in the city, it's never been more popular," he told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning this week.
"The desire for baseball in Ottawa is there, but we're struggling to get people to go to a pro park to watch this quality of baseball."
The Champions are an unaffiliated team, meaning they have no connection to any Major League Baseball franchise. That has added to the city's disenchantment with the team, Keeping said.
But there are other factors likely at play, as well, said baseball fan Andrew Caudwell. While the level of competition is satisfying, the experience of going to a game hasn't quite lived up to expectations, he said.
There's also a lack of public transportation to the team's 10,332-seat ballpark.
"The atmosphere unfortunately is not there, because of the size of the stadium and the number of fans that are there," Caudwell said.
"The game is not just about what's happening on the field, but everything else that's happening around it."
He drew a comparison to the Ottawa 67's, the city's Ontario Hockey League team, which managed to build attendance at TD Place Arena last season during a run to the league final.
"That atmosphere felt really great," Caudwell said.
In a "perfect world." he added, the Champions would tear out some seats to make room for a kids play area, which might attract more families to games.
Currently, though, the experience of attending a game is not enticing enough to draw fair-weather baseball fans to the park, Caudwell said.
It's also somewhat difficult to get to the park from downtown.
In a recent memo, City of Ottawa staff said poor attendance could in part be due to LRT construction delays.
Right now, the ballpark is only accessible by car, with no city buses going directly to the park (though there's a pedestrian bridge from the Transitway's Tremblay station) and many cyclists having to navigate the busy Vanier Parkway.
If the Champions "can somehow survive" until the LRT is complete, it might make a difference, Caudwell said.