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Chiefs See Significant Attendance Drop; GM Says It's ‘No Concern’

Courtesy the Peoria Chiefs

Attendance at Peoria Chiefs games is down around 80 percent from the team’s average in recent seasons, but general manager Jason Mott is not alarmed.

“Are we down? Are we where we want to be? Yeah, no we're not where we want to be,” said Mott. “But going into the season, we expected 25% (of past attendance) on the year. So we set our budgeting and everything to match that.

“Obviously, we’d like to be sold out every game; I think everybody would. But as far as where we're at, it’s no concern.”

After the COVID-19 pandemic canceled last season, Mott said uncertainty about whether they could even play this season clouded most of the offseason, adding that kept the team from its normal routine of pursuing corporate group package sales.

“Groups is a big part of our staple; that's what we do, and when you don't find out until almost March that you're playing, you've got to have that time to book the groups,” he said. “So, it's just now kind of getting going.

“A lot of people, I think, think that we'd show up in April every year, and we just play games. But there's a lot of months there where we're prospecting, and we just didn't get that this year,” he said. “You didn't get that that time, you know, and that was, we're just now getting it. When you find out you’ve got 10 weeks to plan the season, a lot of effort went into the planning side and now the efforts are moving to the selling side.”

With one home stand remaining before the midway point, the Chiefs have a reported total attendance of 16,313 in 23 games (with one rainout) — an average of 709 fans per game. That’s a pace for a season total of 41,831; the team drew 198,545 fans in their most recent season and averaged 214,442 fans per year from 2013-19.

But Mott noted the numbers are beginning to improve, with this past weekend producing two of the season’s three largest crowds: 1,203 on Saturday and 1,149 on Sunday. The Chiefs’ high mark for the season is 1,487 on the previous Saturday.

“It's getting busier and busier every day, so we expect them to continue to grow,” said Mott, noting COVID-19 has still impacted the figures, with capacity originally limited to 25% before Illinois entered Phase 5 of the recovery and many people still hesitant to attend large gatherings.

“I think this year (the goal) was to get as many people as we can, knowing that there were going to be those hurdles for us,” he said. “We planned for them and now that we're open, we can kind of put the foot on the on the gas and get more people here.”

Protective netting project

Dozer Park will be getting expanded protective netting installed, but precisely when that happens remains uncertain.

Mott said the team placed an order for a new net that will span from the ends of both dugouts, but the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed delivery and installation.

“Whenever they get it and they can get here, they'll come up, install it, and it'll be up. But just like everything else, they can't give me a timeframe,” he said. “They're behind, and it's unfortunate. But also, we have to be we have to be understanding because they were shut down completely and now they're trying to ramp back up.”

Mott said the $50,000 netting project was originally planned for last year before the pandemic struck. He said installation this year remains a possibility.

The fan advocacy group Foul Ball Safety Now has cited Dozer Park as having the most inadequate safety netting in minor league baseball.

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.