Reds Fans Accept Phil Castellini’s Challenge

”Where ya gonna go?” the Reds president asked in April. Three months into the season, fans aren’t showing up to Great American Ball Park like they used to.

During the festivities surrounding the Reds’ home opener, Reds COO Phil Castellini issued a challenge to Reds fans. As I’m sure you remember, Cincinnati radio host Mo Egger posed this question to Castellini: “You have people who say, look, ‘Faith is earned. Fifteen years of ownership and they haven’t won to the extent that we would like. So, you had my faith, but you’ve lost it.’ Why should that fan maintain trust?”

“Well, where are you gonna go?” Castellini said, his comments dripping with contempt for the average Reds fan who might dare question him. “Let’s start there. Sell the team to who? … If you want to look at what would you do with this team to have it be more profitable, make more money, compete more in the current economic system that this game exists—it would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else. And so be careful what you ask for.”

If we’re inclined to be charitable, Castellini’s comments could be labeled simply as tone deaf, given that they came at the end of an off-season in which the Reds cynically slashed payroll after remaining in the playoff hunt late into the 2021 season. I called it a challenge to Reds fans above; perhaps it’s better described as a threat to fans.

Where are you gonna go? Well, we’re three months into the 2022 season, and I don’t know where the fans have gone. But they aren’t going to Great American Ball Park.

Perhaps fans are going to FC Cincinnati games. After all, FCC is averaging 21,355 fans at each match, ninth-best in the 28-team MLS. Perhaps Cincinnati sports fans are saving their money to spend on the Bengals, who announced last week that they have already sold out of season tickets for the 2022-23 season. Or maybe fans are just spending their discretionary income on things that bring joy to their lives, like “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

The Reds, on the other hand, are averaging just 17,825 paying customers through 38 home games. That number ranks 23rd in baseball. For comparison’s sake, during the last year without any capacity limits at GABP (2019), the Reds averaged 21,503 fans per game through the same point in the season. In other words (and numbers), Reds attendance is 17.9% lower than it was just three seasons ago. Oh, and by the way, those 2019 Reds were also in last place through 38 games.

Another comparison: last year, the Reds played the Cubs over Independence Day weekend, and drew nearly 36,000 fans per game for the series. This year, with the Reds facing the defending champion Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati’s attendance was just 25,593 per game. That’s a pretty stark drop!

The number of empty seats was obvious on the television broadcast; even more disturbing was the number of Atlanta Braves jerseys and caps filling most of the remaining seats. (To be fair, there were a lot of Cubs fans in the stands for that 2019 series, as well.) On Saturday, I watched on television as the Reds collected just one hit, but still nearly won the game anyway. My wife was in the other room, but at one point, she heard the loud cheers and poked her head around the corner. “What happened? Did the Reds score?”

“Those were Braves fans cheering,” I reported. “Riley hit a home run.”

It’s really interesting to see Reds fans finally staying away in droves; I mean, it’s not like Bob Castellini’s ownership group just started abusing Reds fans this off-season. They’ve been doing it for years! Before the 2021 season, I made the decision to boycott the team until the Castellinis were gone. Here’s what I said (and discussed in detail on my podcast) at the time:

I’m not giving a single dime of my money to Bob Castellini in 2021. This is my little protest, and I’m not asking anyone to follow me down this road. Enjoy baseball however you like, and if that means you want to go out to GABP and have a coney and a brew and watch the Reds, have a blast. I won’t judge you for it.

But you won’t see me there. I’m going to give this team my attention, because I write about them. … I’m going to watch every game, and I guess some pennies will indirectly go into Castellini’s pockets because of TV deals. I’m going to cheer for the Reds, and I hope they win 162 games.

But I’m not buying a ticket. I’m not paying for parking, or concessions, or merchandise. I’m not paying for gasoline to drive to the park, or an Uber to take me there. Bob Castellini refused to spend a dime to improve his team this winter. I’m going to hang onto my dimes too.

This weekend, my teenage son wanted to head out to GABP with his buddies. He mentioned his plan first to his mother. Her first comment: “Dad’s not going to pay for your ticket.” And I didn’t. The boycott remains intact. (Though I concede that I gave him money for food. You’re welcome, LaRosa’s.)

I don’t know if anyone else is similarly boycotting the Castellinis, but there is no question that some Reds fans are staying away. The Reds are on pace to draw 1.426 million fans this season, one season after posting a winning record and seriously competing for the playoffs. That would be the lowest number since the 1984 Reds drew 1.275 million, after losing 88 and 101 games in the two previous years.

And it could get even worse! What if the Reds trade Luis Castillo or Tyler Mahle at the trade deadline? What if Brandon Drury, who hit his team-leading 17th home run last night, makes the All-Star team and is playing for another team two weeks later? Are Reds fans going to be more likely to attend games in August and September, with the Reds stumbling to the finish line just as kids are going back to school and football season is ramping up?

You have to give Phil Castellini credit. (No, you don’t, but humor me here.) He really motivated Reds fans!

Where ya gonna go? Challenge accepted, Phil.

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