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Chiefs struggling to get fans to the ballpark again this year

For a recent mid-week doubleheader against the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Syracuse Chiefs baseball team announced an attendance of 6,119 at NBT Bank Stadium - a number based on tickets distributed, not people through the turnstile.

The following night an announced crowd of 10,842 came out to the ballpark. A glance around the 11,000 seat stadium on both days would suspect much smaller actual crowds.

Last season the Triple A affiliate of the Washington Nationals drew an average of 5,288 fans to the ballpark, their lowest since the 2004 season.

The Chiefs have been playing baseball for several decades, but have struggled to gain the notoriety of Syracuse University athletics.

"When we play seven or eight days in a row and they play once, we’re almost drawing what they’re drawing. But they’re the major league sport in town," says General Manager John Simone. "There’s no one that can compete with that."

The ball club anticipates this year’s attendance to be below last year's figures, says Simone, whose father Tex owns the team. He blames it on a lot of rained-out home games during a soggy first half of the season.

NBT Bank Stadium, which opened in 1997, did manage to draw 14,000 fans for a game in 2010 when ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg made a start.

The team has made some big upgrades to the stadium. Six years ago it replaced the Astroturf with real grass. A new scoreboard was installed in center field last year.

Simone says the team is constantly revamping its marketing strategy. And he's optimistic attendance will pick up for the last month of the season.

"You got to know where you’ve been. You’ve got to know your market," he says. "You’ve got to know what you’re competing against; things are different than they were 20 years ago."