How many fans were there?
Schlueter cited the story on the Dodgers first game of the season, which said the team's win was "in front of 56,000 fans at Dodger Stadium." The report on the Angels' opener referred to "a crowd of 49,596." (That same story reported the Twins' home opener in 1993 "drew 51,617.")
It makes sense that a season opener is sold out or close to it, but what of a soccer story on Guatemala's defeating Mexico that referred to the "crowd of 19,368"? Or the soccer story that referred to 78,500 in attendance? As Schlueter concludes in his e-mail, "If The Times is reporting the number of tickets the team sold, it seems a little deceiving to use phrases such as 'in front of' and 'the crowd of.'"
Mike James, deputy editor of Sports, agrees that nailing down how many people attended a sports event is difficult: The attendance figures given by the stadium management are not necessarily the same as the number of fans who showed up. And he and Sports Editor Randy Harvey agree that the various ways that game stories have reported attendance in the L.A. Times recently have been, at best, imprecise.
Why do the numbers matter? For one thing, the more fans in attendance, the better for teams, which
presumably can charge more to those who advertise in the stadium. Editors don't want to be a part of that process, but they also don't want to bog down a story with details about what the numbers mean.
A five-part series by The Times in 2005 on attendance in sports went into some detail about the reasons that teams might not want to say how many people actually show up. The first article, on Aug. 23, 2005, included this: "The Times no longer routinely includes attendance in sports stories, because of the discrepancies between actual and announced attendance." The story went on to cite a memo sent by then-Sports Editor Bill Dwyre to his staff: "In effect, we're intentionally presenting inaccurate information while attributing it to the home team," wrote Dwyre in announcing the change.
Schlueter's question prompted Sports editors to reapply that guideline. From now on, says James, stories will report the figures only when the number of fans in attendance is itself newsworthy (as in the Feb. 18 article of UCLA's women's basketball team loss to USC that said, "the fourth-largest crowd to attend a women's game at Pauley Pavilion"), and can be verified by a count of how many fans went through the turnstiles. Otherwise, stories will say if the numbers are provided by the team in terms of tickets sold -- and even then, says James, a reporter will note if the stadium appears to be partly empty.
Links to the entire 2005 series:
Photo above (by Ben Cheng-US PRESSWIRE) shows the Angels hosting the New York Yankees on July 23, 2005 in Anaheim, California.