By Michelle Miller
---- — The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is open year-round, but the majority of business is done in the summer months when tourists flock to the village.
The Hall of Fame has been facing gradual declines in attendance rates throughout the years. The nonprofit organization saw a drop of about 3,000 visitors from 2011 to 2012. Since 2001, attendance to the baseball mecca has fallen by 69,590 visitors.
Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said attendance has mirrored the economy. He said as the economy has down turned, cultural institutions, among many others, suffer equally.
“In this day and age, the state of the economy, gas prices and the viability of the region in which you exist are all important factors; as is the health of the sport. Thankfully the health of our sport today is strong, and that is a positive indicator moving forward,” Idelson said.
According to Idelson, Induction Weekend does not have a massive impact on attendance numbers at the baseball shrine. However, he said a good Induction Weekend will certainly help give it a “little bit of boost.”
“We believe the programs we have in place are allowing our attendance to be as high as it is,” Idelson said. “We continually have an eye on adjusting our business model to ensure that we remain viable.”
For example, Idelson said looking for more strategic partners has helped maintain attendance. He said what has been added within the last five years or so is collaboration with local bed-and-breakfasts and hotels to package an experience as well as hosting sleepovers in the plaque gallery.
Idelson said he believes the overall depth of programming is good and it helps that they run year-round.
“We know a lot about each of the people who come to the Hall of Fame each year. When somebody purchases a ticket we can tell you if they are a member or not, if they purchased it through a discount program, what zip code they are from, so we rely heavily on demographic studies to further make decisions of what we are going to do,” Idelson said.
Looking forward to this year, the president said focus will be put on celebrating New York baseball.
“There are so many New York-centric stories related to baseball this year,” he said. “Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert is being inducted this year, we will be honoring Lou Gehrig, the movie ‘42’ is coming out about Jackie Robinson — there are a lot of different elements related to New York baseball, which will allow us to market in state.”
Outside of New York, the Hall is looking at doing a number of team celebrations during the summer.
According to Idelson, programming will tailor to fans of those teams. For instance, he said since the Giants won the World Series last year, the trophy will be on display during the summer and during a month that will be dedicated to programming featuring the team.
“It will give fans of those teams another reason to come to Cooperstown,” Idelson said.
Scouts will be honored in Cooperstown with a two-year temporary exhibit called Diamond Mines. The museum will unveil the interactive exhibit on May 4.
The exhibit will be featured on the museum’s second floor and have a searchable database of thousands of scouting reports donated to the Hall of Fame throughout the years by hundreds of scouts. Through Diamond Mines, museum visitors will be able to enter the name of a big league player and search for scouting reports filed on them throughout the years. Reports from more than 200 scouts have already been added to the database.
Not having a living inductee this year will mean thinking outside of the box for the Hall of Fame staff.
“It is part of the process, and it becomes incumbent on us to structure our Hall of Fame Weekend to augment that loss,” Idelson said.
Idelson added that many baseball fans come to Cooperstown that weekend to see the returning Hall of Famers and he firmly believes there will be the usual 40 to 50 in town this year.
Umpire Hank O’Day, Ruppert and 19th century catcher and third baseman Deacon White were elected to the Hall of Fame in the Pre-Integration Era Committee in voting announced in December. No player cleared the 75 percent threshold necessary for enshrinement as a member of the Class of 2013 once ballots from the Baseball Writers’ Association of American election were tabulated. There were 569 ballots cast.
This year’s Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, which will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, July 28, at the Clark Sports Center, will pay tribute to 12 individuals previously counted among the Hall’s roster of members but who never had a formal induction because of wartime travel restrictions.
Idelson said there have been talks of honoring those men for a while.
“We have been looking for the right time to do it, and this seems to be the right time to do it,” he said.
The Hall of Fame Classic has been moved from Father’s Day Weekend to Memorial Day Weekend in part of gaining better attendance, according to Idelson.
“Father’s Day Weekend was what we thought a good time to have the Classic with baseball being a family sport. But you know in hindsight perhaps being amidst graduations, not necessarily only locally but everywhere in the state, it may have limited our potential on ticket sales,” he said.
Idelson said baseball has had a long relationship with the military and by hosting the seven-inning game that features legends of the diamond, it will allow the Hall to develop programs to show that relationship.
“It is also a great travel weekend so we may be apt to sell more tickets,” Idelson continued.
Having the Cooperstown Dreams Park nearby is also an added bonus when attracting tourists to the museum.
“The kids who participate in Dreams Park certainly come to the museum once,” Idelson said. “The importance of that is that you hope those kids will one day come back as parents to show their children where they once played summer baseball. We tend to look at it as potentially a future benefit for the community.”
According to Idelson, Hall of Fame membership continues to be strong and ticket prices have not gone up in price in quite some time.
The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. with the exception of summer hours, which is from Memorial Day Weekend to the day before Labor Day when it is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The only days the museum is closed are Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Tickets are $19.50 for adults, $12 for seniors 65 and older, $7 for children age 7 to 12 and free for active and retired military members, children younger than 6 and Hall of Fame members. Group and other discounts are available at baseballhall.org.