Progressive Field Reinvented Both The Indians And Downtown Cleveland

The Indians Success At Progressive Field From 1947-1993 (parts of 1932, 1933, 1936-1946), the Cleveland Indians called cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium home. Opened in 1931, the Lake Erie facing facility also served as the home venue of the Cleveland Browns, until the franchise relocated to Baltimore, for the 1996 NFL season.

After winning the World Series in 1948 and losing to the Giants in the 1954 Fall Classic, the Indians went into a multi decade free-fall. From 1960-1993, the club finished higher than fourth place on only one occasion (placed third in 1968). The result of this futility involved many years of poor attendance. This issue was amplified by the massive 74,000-seat stadium in which Cleveland played their home games. Even if the team drew 30,000 fans to a game, the ballpark was still more than half empty. When only 15,000 or 20,000 folks bought a ticket, the surrounding environment was downright depressing.

As the years went on, the Indians became the poster child for a struggling team, taking the field in front of few fans, amid a deteriorating stadium and surrounding downtown area.  This widely held opinion of the Indians was best encapsulated in the original “Major League” film, released in 1989. Ironically, the baseball scenes from that classic movie were filmed in Wisconsin, at old Milwaukee County Stadium.

In 1994, as part of an effort to revitalize both the Indians and the city of Cleveland, the team moved into brand new Jacobs Field. Located in the southern tip of downtown Cleveland, the park, along with neighboring Gund Arena (home of the Cavs), were the centerpieces of the city’s Gateway Sports and Entertainment Complex development. In 2008, Jacobs Field was renamed Progressive Field, and in 2005, Gund Arena became Quicken Loans Arena.

Since moving into the new digs, the Indians have reached the postseason nine times (had a 66-47 record when the 1994 season ended due to the strike). These nine appearances in 22 years occurred after the club never even sniffed the playoffs for a nearly 40-year period. 2016 marks the team’s third World Series appearance since moving into the ballpark.

In addition, after so many years of poor attendance at Municipal Stadium, the Indians experienced 455 consecutive sellouts from 1995-2001.

Over the past few seasons, the team did endure the normal attendance ups and downs that correspond with a franchise’s inconsistent play on the field. The team’s ticket sales were also impacted by the state of Ohio’s difficult economic downturn, which occurred as part of the nation’s Great Recession of 2008, as well as the ongoing decline of Industrial Midwest manufacturing jobs.

In an effort to combat the risk of fluctuating fan support, the stadium’s seating capacity has been reduced from 43,000 to a present-day mark of roughly 35,000.

Despite this situation, both the Indians and the city of Cleveland look a whole lot different today, than what used to be the case going back to the 70’s and 80’s. Led by highly acclaimed field manager Terry Francona, the Indians organization is seen as a well-respected, successful baseball brand.

Downtown Cleveland is now the home of three modern stadiums (Browns home park sits on the site of Cleveland Municipal Stadium), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Flats and Warehouse District dining/nightlife areas, as well as a bevy of ongoing commercial and residential development. Since 2000, downtown Cleveland’s residential population has grown by a whopping 79 percent.

1994 very much served as the rebirth of a long struggling team and city. With Game 1 of the World Series occurring the exact same night as LeBron James and the Cavaliers raise their 2016 championship banner (right next door), the world is looking pretty good for teams and geographies that have not always drawn the best hand.

Now, if only the winless and annually inept Browns could ever get things figured out.