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Bill Shaikin: How the Padres continue to consistently draw fans to Petco Park

Bill Shaikin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Baseball

SAN DIEGO — The Dodgers lead the major leagues in attendance. They always do. No surprise there.

The team that ranks second in attendance is the one that has a rally towel hanging next to the home dugout, urging the players to "COMPETE FOR PETE."

Peter Seidler lived the final decade of his life transforming the Padres into a team that would compete for San Diego. This is a small market in every way — by population, by geography, by television viewers — and Seidler simply disregarded the facts.

San Diego was not a small market because Seidler said it was not. The Padres spent big because Seidler said they should win.

And, six months after Seidler passed away, his legacy shines every night at Petco Park. The Padres — the small-market Padres — have attracted more fans this season than any team but the Dodgers.

Last year, the Padres attracted more fans than any team but the Dodgers and New York Yankees. In the four seasons since the pandemic hit, the Padres have ranked among the top five in attendance every season, an era in which their roster has featured Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Xander Bogaerts, Juan Soto, Blake Snell and Josh Hader, all of them All-Stars.

 

The warning lights flashed in the minds of fans last winter, in the wake of Seidler's passing, when the Padres slashed payroll by one-third, traded Soto and let Snell and Hader go in free agency.

"It starts to look like, 'Here we go again,' " said Tony Gwynn Jr., the former Padres outfielder and current Padres broadcaster.

"I think it was a little bit more tempered than it was a couple years ago," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who makes his offseason home in the San Diego area, "but I think they have built something here."

On the field, the Padres don't have much to show for all the excitement and all the investment beyond three postseason victories over the Dodgers two years ago. They raised ticket prices by an average of 9% for the 2024 season — after raising prices by an average of 18% for the 2023 season and 20% for the 2022 season, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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