Shuckers draw far less than predicted

By Steve Wilson
April 10, 2019

Attendance at the taxpayer-funded MGM Park in Biloxi has decreased every year since the minor league Shuckers’ abbreviated inaugural season in 2015.

Those numbers aren’t even close to those predicted when the ballpark was proposed.

In 2018, the Shuckers had 160,364 fans through the turnstiles, an average of 2,259 per game. The team ranked seventh in the Southern League in average attendance. League averages that year were 226,183 fans and 3,388 per contest.

That’s not what a feasibility study commissioned in 2013 by the city of Biloxi predicted. The $25,000 study said the stadium would draw 280,000 fans annually, or about 4,117 per game. Those numbers would’ve put the Shuckers in the top five in the league in attendance.

The Biloxi Shuckers are the Class AA affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers and they play in the 10-team Southern League, which includes teams in Pearl (Mississippi Braves); Birmingham; Chattanooga; Mobile; Pensacola; Seiverville, Tennessee; Jackson, Tennessee; Jacksonville and Montgomery, Alabama.

Those numbers are down from 2017, when the Shuckers drew 167,151 fans or 2,572 per game. That was good for eighth in attendance in the league, which averaged 3,684 fans per game.

Biloxi drew 180,384 fans in 2016, an average of 2,692 fans that put them eighth in average attendance. The league averages were 232,587 fans total and 3,445 per game that year.

In a 22-game home season in 2015, the Shuckers drew 3,252 fans to MGM Park. The team had to split time with its old ballpark in Huntsville, Alabama while its new home was still under construction.

The city of Biloxi borrowed $21 million to help build the $36 million stadium, which was also funded with BP settlement money and tourism rebate money from a state program. The team was lured from Huntsville, Alabama after playing in front of sparse crowds for years at what was the oldest stadium in the league.

Biloxi Baseball LLC could also receive up to $6 million from the state from the Tourism Rebate program. The state also provided $15 million in money from the BP settlement to help build the park.

Not all feasibility studies are created equal. The one for Birmingham’s Regions Field, which opened in 2013 and cost $64 million, predicted the ballpark would draw 255,300 fans in the first year and 240,800 in the fifth year.

The ballpark — which is located in downtown Birmingham — has outstripped those estimates, drawing a league-leading 391,061 fans in 2018 and 391,725 in 2017.

Total league attendance increased slightly in 2018 (2,261,834) from 2017 (2,171,934), but is still down from a nine-year high in 2014 of 2,367,710. Three teams — Pensacola, Birmingham and Biloxi — have built new ballparks during that time.

A fourth new stadium in Madison, Alabama near Huntsville will be the new home of the Mobile Baybears, who are relocating and changing their name to the Rocket City Trash Pandas. The new stadium will cost Madison taxpayers $46 million.

A feasibility study there predicts the team will draw 400,000 spectators in the first year and level off at an average of 350,000, which would put the team second to Birmingham in annual attendance.


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