Two years ago, Mets EVP and Chief Revenue Officer Lou DePaoli started to notice that visitors to Citi Field were reacting well when the team shared the spotlight with superheroes.
On July 22, 2017, New York worked with Marvel to create a Thor bobblehead centered around pitcher Noah Syndergaard. With first pitch scheduled for 7:10 p.m., fans lined up hours beforehand – and by 5:40, all 15,000 bobbleheads were handed out.
That success in driving attendance led the team to look to deepen its partnerships with other relevant pop culture brands.
“If you partner with something culturally relevant to people, you have a win-win recipe regardless of what’s happening on the field,” DePaoli said.
Another successful way the Mets engaged with their fanbase was through Marvel’s iconic Spider-Man character. Given his Queens roots, Citi Field hosted Marvel Superhero Day on July 7 – where the first 25,000 fans received a limited edition Spider-Man bobblehead. Based around the July 5 movie-release date of Spider-Man: Far From Home, an event like this is what maintains the Mets’ local connection with its fans – even if they haven’t found consistent on-the-field success.
“I can’t control what happens on the field,” DePaoli said. “It’s up to us – as the business people – to ensure that we’re providing the right combination of entertainment value that keeps fans coming here for those inevitable lulls and then to maximize their attendance when things are red hot.”
During the first half of the 2019 campaign, the Mets’ theme nights featured collaborations with WWE, HBO, Star Wars, Stranger Things, Seinfeld – and of course, Marvel. These unique events are what DePaoli says helped the team sell out seven games and eclipse 40,000 in attendance this season.
Those theme nights, paired with a strong finish to the season on the field, helped the Mets achieve an 8.4% increase in attendance year-over-year, which was the fourth-biggest attendance rise in MLB this season. Only three other teams – the Phillies (+26.5%), Twins (+17.4%), and Padres (+11.6) – saw more growth year-over-year.
In total, the Mets had 2,442,532 fans come out to Citi Field, an average of 30,531 per game. That compares to 2,224,995 and 28,164 total and average home fans in 2018, respectively.
“I think the Mets have done a good job because they haven’t necessarily been the most historically successful franchise in terms of World Series victories,” said Sam Yardley, senior vice president of consulting at Two Circles, WPP’s property-facing agency. “They’ve had to cultivate this fan base – and the sense of belonging that I think is quite unique to [Flushing Meadows].”
After an encouraging start to the 2019 season, the Mets entered the All-Star break at 40-50 – closer in record to the last-place Miami Marlins than the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves.
From there, DePaoli and his staff started emphasizing more fan-friendly ticketing and promotional deals – unsure of what it’d lead to. When the Mets wrapped up their year with a 7-6 win over the Braves on Sept. 29, they finished with an MLB-leading 27-10 record after the All-Star break.
Of course, DePaoli knows that team performance ultimately carries the most weight when it comes to attendance fluctuation. As New York went on its 27-10 run to end the season, rookie slugger Pete Alonso emerged as one of the biggest stories in MLB. By the All-Star break, he had smacked 30 home runs and was named as a participant in the 2019 MLB Home Run Derby on July 8.
On that nomination alone, DePaoli unveiled a ticket offer tied to Alonso’s performance that night. For the remainder of the season, fans had 50% off discounts to certain Mets games. But with every home run that Alonso hit during the Home Run Derby, New York would add a 10% discount to those tickets.
Alonso then responded with 57 homers to the 2019 MLB Home Run Derby over Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays. Luckily for DePaoli, the Mets capped the total game discount at 80% in various areas around Citi Field. With Alonso ending 2019 as the league-leader in home runs with 53, it gave people – regardless of their baseball interest – reason to attend Mets games.
“People – whether they’re a Mets fan or not – wanted to go out to Citi Field and they want to see [Pete] Alonso,” MLB EVP of Business and Sales Noah Garden said. “They wanted to see what everybody’s talking about, the power on display. It has an effect not only with the people that had a strong affinity to the Mets and their core fans, but also folks coming in from out of town wanting to see what everybody’s talking about.”
Another factor that led to the Mets’ gradual increase in in-stadium traffic was diversifying its ticketing packages. One new plan rolled out in 2019 was the Amazin’ Mets Pass – a digital-only monthly subscription. For $39 a month, it gives fans access to Citi Field – on a standing-room-only basis – to any game during the season except Opening Day and the Subway Series with the New York Yankees.
It became so popular that DePaoli says it added significantly more recent customers to the Mets’ sales system. By seasons end, nearly 90% of Amazin’ Mets Pass subscribers were new to their database, he added.
“People were starting to figure out: even though the team wasn’t playing well, they liked what they saw,” DePaoli said. “They liked Pete [Alonso], they liked Jeff McNeil, they liked JT Davis, they liked where we were going.”
While DePaoli satisfied with what he saw from the Mets’ 2019 attendance, challenges lie ahead. The 2019 MLB season experienced a double-digit rise in single-game ticket sales, but season ticket sales have been trending downward. It’s not only an issue afflicting the league, but teams as well – and something he doesn’t want the Mets to suffer from in future years.
“Season tickets are the lifeblood of your franchise,” DePaoli said. “Ours is still a solid number – but it’s dipped the last couple of years and we need to make sure that we’re turning that back up in the right direction.”