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Mariners' slow start hurting attendance

Poor start to blame for attendance

SEATTLE -- An unexpected slow start by the Mariners this season, along with unseasonably cold weather and a sluggish economy, is having an impact on attendance at Safeco Field.

The retractable-roof stadium, which has lured at least 2 million fans in each of its seven full seasons, including 3 million-plus from 2000 through '03, had its lowest single-game turnout of 15,818 for Tuesday night's game against the Rangers.

"We expected an ebb and flow on this," club president Chuck Armstrong said Wednesday night. "We have not gotten off to the best start, but we've seen cities like Cleveland, which held the record for most consecutive sellouts (455) and their attendance is below ours."

Through 16 home dates this season, the Mariners averaged 26,008, placing them sixth in the American League compared to the 22,902 attending Indians home games. The Yankees are tops in the Major Leagues, averaging 50,890 fans for their 16 home games. They announced last weekend that they already have sold more than 4 million tickets for Yankee Stadium's farewell season.

The attendance for the three-game series between the Mariners and Yankees last weekend drew crowds of 52,199, 52,085 and 53,542.

The Mariners, meanwhile, have played before one sellout crowd, 46,334 on Opening Day. The next largest crowd was 40,845 on April 25 against the visiting Athletics.

"I think once the weather improves here and our win-loss record picks up, we fully expect to be in the race and be there at the end, I think the attendance will be there," Armstrong said.

"Until last night, we were ahead of last year. On a tickets-sold basis, we're still ahead of last year. Last year, we saw a surge when the team started to play well, and I think we'll see it again."

Besides the slow start and lousy weather, Armstrong said the schedule, "Is the worst I think we've ever had. We only have the Yankees, which traditionally is our biggest draw, in here one time and it's after Labor Day. We have the Red Sox in here twice, and I don't think either time it's on a weekend."

The Yankees visit Seattle on Sept. 5-7, while the Red Sox have three-game series at Safeco Field on May 26-28 and July 21-23. Both are Monday-Wednesday affairs.

"The schedule just doesn't work well for us," Armstrong said, adding that this is the month that historically is the toughest time to fill the seats.

"May has traditionally been our worst attendance month no matter who we've played," he said. "It seems like there's so much other stuff going on -- kids soccer games and youth stuff and schools getting out. My seat-of-the-pants feeling is that we draw better in April than we do in May."

As for June, July, August and September, "The secret is to win," Armstrong said.

The mood coming out of Spring Training is that the Mariners had assembled a team more than capable of challenging the Angels for the AL West title. That still might happen, but a 14-21 record on May 7 is nowhere near expectations.

"We've had some good times and seen some good play," Armstrong said. "Opening Day was a special day, and I've seen some excellent play. But to be where we are with the schedule we started with, I'm disappointed. We're all disappointed.

"We have a good team here, and we should be playing better than we are. Sometimes these things happen."

He mentioned that the Tigers, regarded by many as the best team in the American League and possibly the Major Leagues, have an identical record and are last in the AL Central.

"I expect at the end that we'll both have much better records, and I hope that we'll end up in first place in the American League West," he said. "But so far, it has not gone as we had hoped."

Several roster moves have been made, most notably the promotions of catcher/designated hitter Jeff Clement and right fielder Wladimir Balentien from Triple-A Tacoma, but there does not appear to be other changes on the horizon.

"Patience in baseball, I think, is often a virtue," Armstrong said. "But it is a fine line. We've already made moves this year to address what we think were some of the problems. Maybe that'll come back to bite us, but we think we made them in a considerate manner."

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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