The editor’s opinion from Marketplace, Northeast Wisconsin’s business magazine. (Obligatory disclaimer: Most hyperlinks go to outside sites, and we’re not responsible for their content. And like fresh watermelon, peaches, pineapple, grapefruit, tomatoes and sweet corn, hyperlinks can go bad after a while.)

April 11, 2008

The “anti-April,” part 2

How bad has the weather been this spring?

Consider that the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are supposed to be playing game number nine of their season tonight*, based on their original schedule. As of today, despite the best efforts of Carl the Rain-Hating Camel, the score is Postponements 6, Played Games 5, and based on the forecast for this weekend, I wouldn’t bet on a game before Sunday, which forecast features a high of 42 and winds blowing in at up to 25 mph.

Sometimes I wonder how anyone other than the retractable-roofed Brewers can sustain a baseball program at any level in this state given our typical spring weather. Before I moved into the business media world, I covered high school sports in three different places, and for my money, there are few things colder than attending a high school baseball game in April or May. (And actually, if it wasn’t for the wet grounds and rain, games would probably be played on a day like today.)

This is particularly an issue for college baseball, whose regular season runs from late March to early May. The University of Wisconsin, my alma mater, terminated its baseball program in 1990 due to the financial issues affecting the entire athletic department. It was not as if there were that many fans to miss the end of Badger baseball, but Wisconsin is now the only Big Ten school without varsity baseball (though it does have a club baseball team). The only Division I baseball team in the state is at UW–Milwaukee, which is scheduled to have its first home game Saturday (Milwaukee Saturday forecast: 80 percent chance snow, high 40, winds gusting to 30 mph), after 27 road games to open the season. In 12 home games in 2007, UWM averaged 177 fans per game. The state’s only Division II school, UW–Parkside, also has yet to play at home this season.

The more successful baseball teams, average attendance-wise, are the teams that play most of their schedule in the summer, including, obviously, the Timber Rattlers and the Green Bay Bullfrogs (average 1,030; Northwoods games averaged 1,818 per game in 2007).

Wisconsin high schools have the option of playing a spring or summer baseball schedule; the sports have separate postseasons. Minnesota high schools and colleges have the option of playing at the Metrodome, at least until it presumably goes away when the Twins’ new stadium (incredibly, it will be an open-air stadium with no roof of any kind) opens in 2010 and the Metrodome lease with the Vikings expires in 2011 (the Gophers are leaving in 2009 for their own new stadium).

My first stint here at Marketplace included two bits of sports-related sturm und drang: The Brewers’ effort to get Miller Park built, and the Packers’ attempt to get their Lambeau Field renovations funded in part by a 0.5-cent sales tax in Brown County, approved by voters in September 2000. I would argue that both Miller Park and Lambeau Field, as controversial as those projects were (the Brewers much more controversial than the Packers project), have already paid for themselves in spades. In Miller Park’s case, if you want to go to a Brewers game, you have a close-to-100 percent certainty that the game will actually be played (one game was postponed in 2001 due to a power outage at the park); before Miller Park was built, the possibility of weather cancellations was a severe drag on attendance and on the Brewers’ efforts to market the team outside Milwaukee. In Lambeau’s case, the stadium not only gets more fans in the door for games, but also has become a 12-month place for visitors to spend money.

If you are a baseball fan in Wisconsin, I’d suggest rooting for global warming; this old prediction says that by 2100 global warming could increase Wisconsin temperatures by about 4 degrees in winter, spring and fall, with 15 to 20 percent more precipitation in winter, summer and fall. That scenario would be vastly preferable to this past winter and “spring.”

*UPDATE: Tonight’s game has been postponed and scheduled as part of a doubleheader Saturday (forecast: 2 inches of snow, high 37, wind blowing in from left field at up to 28 mph) starting at 1:05 p.m.

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