RIP Cooperstown?


This weekend, Andre Dawson, umpire Doug Harveyand manager Whitey Herzogwill be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Not exactly a group that will draw a crowd. And that's Cooperstown's problem.

Debate over performance enhancing drugs haven't damaged the business of the game, but it did jeopardize the business of the small town that hosts its most hallowed halls.

The Class of 2011 won't bring Rafael Palmeiroand no one would be surprised if the Class of 2013 doesn't include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemensor Sammy Sosagetting a plaque.

Huge crowds at induction weekend is key to this business. Take, for example, in 2007 when Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. were inducted. The record breaking attendance numbers made up eight percent of that year's total attendance.

But when the biggest names aren't part of things, it's obviously not positive. Especially when your Hall Of Fame is four hours away from Manhattan, Boston and Philadelphia. You have to be motivated to make that kind of trip.

And the numbers prove that people aren't as interested as they were before. The local paper, the Cooperstown Crier, reported recently that the Baseball Hall of Fame is on pace with last year's attendance. That's not good when last year was the first year since 1997 that the institution drew fewer than 300,000 fans (298,818).

At least publicly Hall of Fame officials aren't aware that performance enhancing drugs are slowly killing the institution they work for.

In 2008, when attendance dropped 14 percent from 2007, Hall of Fame officials explained the falloff by talking about Gwynn and Ripken's weekend. It was an anomaly against a great year before, they said. The problem, of course, is that weekends like that might never come again.

According to the Hall of Fame's Internal Revenue Service 990 form from 2008, the last year that it's publicly available, the Hall of Fame had $9.9 million in revenue, but that wasn't enough to cover expenses. The organization lost $2.4 million that year, according to the form, representing only the second time (2006 being the other) in nine years that the museum lost money.

"When the biggest names aren't part of things, it's obviously not positive. Especially when your Hall Of Fame is four hours away from Manhattan, Boston and Philadelphia." -SportsBiz, CNBC, Darren Rovell

Late last year, when it was clear that the 300,000 fan number wouldn't be crossed for the first time in 12 years, Jeff Idelson, the Hall's president, told the New York Times that it was the weak economy and a colder summer in the Northeast that was the problem. There was also the fact that maybe the rotating exhibits weren't as good as other years. Funny how a $20 million renovation between 2002 and 2005 was not mentioned to counterbalance all the negatives.

But none of those reasons is why the Hall of Fame is suffering.

If the stars, who were caught using PED's, aren't being inducted, people aren't going to show up. It's that simple.

That brings us to the essential question. Will the museum be able to financially hold on until either those stars get in or a new era of clean players get inducted?

Welcoming in a debatable Hall of Fame player, an umpire and a manager every year won't fill the seats at Induction Weekend or the museum year round.

Questions? Comments?