- By Kevin Lyttle American-Statesman Staff
Two Triple-A clubs from booming Sun Belt cities are battling for the mythical attendance title of minor league baseball. And both clubs are in last place in the standings.
The Round Rock Express, who close out their Pacific Coast League home campaign Thursday night against Memphis, are No. 1 in tickets sold, with 592,403 through Monday. They are ahead of 255 other minor league franchises.
With the Express owning one more home date than the Knights this season, they likely will hang onto the overall lead.
“We’ve been top five a lot, but I don’t think we’ve ever been one or two for all the minor leagues,” Express General Manager Tim Jackson said.
On the field, Round Rock, the Texas Rangers’ top affiliate, is 61-72 and 19 games out of first place. Charlotte, the Chicago White Sox highest-level club, is 61-71 and at the bottom of its division.
“Both franchises are obviously doing a lot of things right off the field,” Jackson said. “It also goes to show one of the differences between minor league and major league ball. In the majors, you’re likely suffering at the gate if you’re not winning.”
Seven of the nine worst fan draws in Major League Baseball, and 10 of 13, belong to teams with losing records.
“Marketing and connecting with your community are the two most important things at our level,” Express President Chris Almendarez said.
Cedar Park resident Juan Castellano, taking in a recent game at Dell Diamond, said attendance a few Express games a year is a rite of summer.
“We bring our kids out here because it’s affordable family entertainment,” he said. “You’ll see players who’ve been in the majors, or who will be, but mostly we come because it’s a friendly place that offers a nice fan experience.”
Round Rock’s overall home attendance number should top Charlotte’s, but media outlets such as Ballpark Digest that track such things consider average per game the deciding factor.
“Charlotte has an incredible park,” Jackson said. “It’s the best skyline I’ve seen at any ballpark. They’ve got a thriving downtown. It’s a beautiful setup.
“We love where we’re located, but there are advantages to where they are.”
The Knights have won three of the last four attendance titles since moving into their new park in Uptown Charlotte. The Express have finished first or second as a PCL draw for 11 years running.
Almendarez said the Express don’t have any tricks up their sleeve for overtaking Charlotte’s home average, although he does expect a big crowd Thursday for Fan Appreciation Night with giveaways and fireworks.
“We close at home before Labor Day weekend, which is traditionally a great draw for us,” he said. “It’s not just that they are school weeknights. In Round Rock, middle school and junior high football are a big deal, and we’re competing with that. Some of those games draw more than 1,000 people.
“We were on the road for Memorial Day weekend, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekend. That holds you back some. But we’re happy with where we are. It’s a tribute to our staff because most of the tickets are sold in the offseason.”