Will Camelback Ranch reach its breaking point?

Over at Big League Stew, Ian Casselberry had an in-depth post on the Los Angeles Dodgers' attendance woes at Camelback Ranch. While the Frank McCourt-Jamie McCourt divorce might kill some of the fan enthusiasm, some of the other reasons extend to their roomates.

The two big ones: The sparkling new Salt River Fields complex that hosts the Diamondbacks and Rockies, and ... wait for it ... ticket prices.

The unfamiliar foe first:

Salt River Fields, the $100 million baseball complex east of Scottsdale, is the big draw so far this spring in the Cactus League, which now has all 15 teams in the Valley. The Diamondback and Rockies left Tucson for the Salt River Reservation.

It appears that the home-team Diamondbacks and the new park have cut into the attendance so far at the other nine stadiums in the Cactus League. Ticket sales are off 9 percent to 33 percent at the other parks.

Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall said the team had projected 8,500 fans per game, but it is averaging 10,344.

In terms of percentages, the Sox could be doing worse. The Dodgers are down 42 percent, but the Sox are only down 6.4 percent. Of course, the problem is that the two teams are tied together on this venture, and even that small decrease on the Sox's side knocks their attendance down back below an average of 6,000. That's about what they drew in their final year in Tucson.

Obviously, the Diamondbacks are blowing away their Tucson Electric Park numbers. So what does Jerry Reinsdorf think? Well, he still points at everything but ticket prices.

 

"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)."

But the Glendale area hasn't developed into what the Sox thought when they decided to move from Tucson after the 2008 season.

"One of the attractions to putting this ballpark here was the plan for what was going to be built around it," Reinsdorf said. "By now, in our third year, we were supposed to be looking at restaurants and retail and a hotel and condominiums. And the guys who were going to do that went broke. So we're sort of sitting out here by ourselves."

Another reason to never make the trip to Glendale? Salt River Fields charges only $25 and $21 for its best tickets, even though it seems to exceed the luxury of Camelback Ranch, which charges $42 and $37 for the same seats. That has to be a big blow to Camelback Ranch, since the Sox and Dodgers tried to redefine the modern spring training game as a first-class experience with commensurate prices.

When you think that the Diamondbacks have the advantage of drawing fans who don't have to pay for travel, you'd think they'd have more liberty to raise prices. But competition must be keeping it down, and that's a major victory for consumers. 

It's also a major loss for the Sox and Dodgers, who are left looking like sad sacks with no selling point for native fans:

"Come to Glendale! Half as much to do for more than twice the cost!"

(Seriously - the Diamondbacks charge $15 for their seats along the outfield foul lines, and the Sox charge $33.)

The Sox and Dodgers did take the rare step of cutting some prices at Camelback Ranch this year, but not nearly enough to stop looking ridiculous. They're operating the gas station that's charging $5.50 a gallon when the rest of the area is competing around $3.75, on the premise that gas prices will eventually reach that point. If Salt River Fields is the crown jewel of the Cactus League and still boasts reasonable prices, how long can the Camelback couple continue to maintain the facade of luxury with a straight face?

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