Are The Detroit Tigers Endangered?

Upon my return from Northern Michigan over the weekend, I got into looking through the pile of e-mails that is my inbox when I came across one highlighting a number of professional sports teams/organizations expected to disappear soon. On the list were a few things that I expected to see from the start – Jacksonville Jaguars, the WNBA and the New York Islanders. However, I did not expect to see the Detroit Tigers on this list.

Mike Ilitch“For residents of the Motor City, the Tigers’ current season is a welcome distraction from economic hardship. But despite its success on the field, attendance is down almost 30% from last year, with 10,000 fewer fans, on average, showing up for games.

It’s hardly surprising. Amid the shakeout of the auto industry, Detroit’s unemployment rate has skyrocketed to nearly triple the national average. The bottom line: Fewer people have fewer dollars to burn on tickets, hot dogs, beer or Tigers merchandise.” – MSN Money, July 14, 2009

That’s right – mixed amongst the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes and the Bufforonto Bills were the Detroit Tigers who are sporting one of the league’s highest payrolls and sit 11th in league attendance. The reasons fans aren’t showing up this season are two-fold: 1) Tigers fans shelled out big bucks in 2008 to watch a team that seemed to lack effort all season; and 2) as mentioned above, it’s hard to put out cash for a dozen games x 4 people when you don’t know if you have enough money to pay your living expenses.

Crazier things have happened, but I would find it hard to see the Tigers close up shop without a city rallying behind its ball club. If Mike Ilitch said tomorrow that the Tigers were folding, I can imagine the city would try to buy it like Green Bay did with the Packers, or some Detroit philanthropist(s) would have themselves a baseball team. The unemployment rate is what it is in this area – but so is the century-plus passion for baseball in Detroit.