BEAT BY THE HEAT
Attendance at AT&T Field suffered this season amid sweltering conditions:
YEAR - TOTAL - AVG.
2006 - 231, 421 - 3,306
2007 - 242,104 - 3,459
2008 - 236,639 - 3,480
2009 - 224,157 - 3,346
2010 - 217,469 - 3,246
Note: The Lookouts had 70 home openings in 2006-07, 68 in '08 and 67 the past two seasons.
Rising numbers on the thermostat this summer resulted in dwindling numbers at AT&T Field.
The Chattanooga Lookouts lost to Jacksonville, 9-4, Sunday afternoon in their final scheduled home game of the season. The Lookouts had a total home attendance of 217,469 and an average attendance of 3,246, with each of those figures marking the lowest in the 11-year history of the facility.
"The heat was very damaging to our business," Lookouts owner Frank Burke said. "It made for a very difficult second half of the season. We were very fortunate that the people who did come out did, because there were a lot of those days where if it wasn't my job, I'm not sure I would have been here."
Before the summer swelter, Lookouts crowds were thriving.
AT&T Field sold out the second night of the season (April 9) when a Friday audience of 6,308 watched the Lookouts beat Huntsville, and it sold out two Fridays later when 6,438 saw them defeat Montgomery. Chattanooga averaged 4,043 fans for its April home games and 3,565 in May, but attendance was 2,921 in June, 3,021 in July (aided by a July 4 sellout) and 2,814 in August.
"I think we would have had a special year," Burke said. "People still like the affordability, but when it gets that hot, it not only becomes difficult but also dangerous for some people. At least we would get five-, six- or seven-day breaks when they were out of town, but these kids have been playing all summer in incredible heat.
"I've got records of every game we've played since I got here in 1995, and I looked over them a few weeks ago. In 1995, we had a stretch of about two weeks, but we've never had a summer like this."
The heat has taken its toll on the entire Southern League. With a week left in the season, only Jacksonville and Mobile are on pace to post higher attendance averages than a year ago in the 10-member collection.
"We were on pace to exceed last year's attendance, and when the heat wave struck, I think it definitely hurt," said Lori Webb, the league vice president who oversees operations. "Unfortunately for Mobile, they've had so many rainouts that they may lose eight or nine home openings. Between the rain and the heat, our attendance will feel it."
There was no better example of Lookouts fans feeling it than on Aug. 13. Lookouts officials held a "Bat Night" promotion before the Friday night game, and there were fireworks that followed.
Yet there was also a temperature of 103 degrees at first pitch, which explained the announced attendance of 3,352.
"I remember Joe Engel saying that the two things that can ruin baseball are air-conditioning and television," Burke said. "I certainly thought about that quote from time to time this summer, but I am thankful for the people who did come."