Thursday, October 16, 2008

Quick Look at Attendance

Now I have neither the time nor the resources to do a comprehensive examination of MLB attendance in 2008. But I'll do what I can with the information available to me:

(First number is raw attendance figure; second number is % change -- increase or decrease -- from 2007 season)

American League
1. New York Yankees -- 4,298,655 (0.6% increase)

2. Los Angeles Angels -- 3,336,747 (0.8% decrease)
3. Detroit Tigers -- 3,202,645 (5.1% increase)

4. Boston Red Sox -- 3,048,250 (1.7% increase)
5. Chicago White Sox -- 2,500,648 (6.8% decrease)
6. Toronto Blue Jays -- 2,399,786 (1.7% increase)
7. Seattle Mariners -- 2,329,702 (13.8% decrease)
8. Minnesota Twins -- 2,302,431 (0.3% increase)
9. Cleveland Indians -- 2,169,760 (4.7% decrease)
10. Baltimore Orioles -- 1,950,075 (9.9% decrease)
11. Texas Rangers -- 1,945,677 (17.3% decrease)
12. Tampa Bay Rays -- 1,811,986 (30.6% increase)
13. Oakland Athletics -- 1,665,256 (13.4% decrease)
14. Kansas City Royals -- 1,578,922 (2.3% decrease)


  • 1. The Yankees will be seeing a decrease in raw attendance next year, which usually happens when a team moves out of a 50,000-seat cavern. But -- and we'll discuss this again -- raw attendance figures do not correlate perfectly with revenue. The Yankees will draw fewer fans, but will likely make more money, as their average seat prices rise. You'll also find in new ballparks either new ways to generate revenue (restaurants, luxury boxes, gift shops) or more fiscally efficient ways to maximize revenue from traditional sources (concessions, parking, merchandising).
  • Here's a quick suggestion that isn't about attendance, exactly, but it's an idea I had. The Yankees (or the Mets) need to come out publicly and announce a reduction in ticket prices at the new stadium. Make it a big press conference and make sure everyone in all five boroughs knows about it. You can make some price cuts that sound big but won't hurt you in the long run, especially since you're, ya know, rolling in dough. And it will win you a big PR boost in New York in the middle of bad economic times.
    Face it -- you're going to have to lower ticket prices eventually, if the current economic crisis is any indication -- so do it on your terms. I think it was Benjamin Disraeli (or maybe John Gaherin) who said that "the deal you make for yourself is always better than the deal someone else makes for you".
    And extra bonus points to whoever does it first, because you'll make the other team look like crap. If economics don't motivate you, maybe spite will.
  • 2. The Angels' slight decrease shouldn't be too concerning. Teams that win over a lengthy period of time can sometimes see a dip in attendance as fans become accustomed to winning, especially if it's not coupled with success in the postseason. It's hard to get fans excited about teams in the regular season if you know they're just going to blow it in October.
    But the biggest reason for the Angels' decline in attendance is the utter lack of competition they faced. They were winning the AL West so well and so early that they weren't playing high-leverage games very often.
    Still, you can't look a gift Angel in the mouth; if you draw 3 million+ every year, all the other stuff is just semantics.
  • 3. One of the biggest surprises on this list is to see the Detroit Tigers -- a last-place team -- finishing 3rd in the league. Now, the Tigers have been winning and drawing well for a few years now, so we should expect some carryover. But this team finished behind the Royals. What gives?
    The best explanation I can come up with is the excitement that greeted this team before the season. They made the blockbuster trade of the Hot Stove season by acquiring Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, and that's always good for selling season tickets. And season ticket revenue is the gift that keeps on giving; it's there for you when walk-up sales go dry.
    Plus, the Tigers were still vague contenders throughout most of the summer, even if was from a distance.
  • 4. The Red Sox keep squeezing Fenway Park as much as possible for all the revenue it can generate, and they're doing quite well. They have what the Yankees want: a smaller capacity to drive up demand, thereby enabling the team to raise ticket prices. And a couple World Championships always help . . .
  • 5. The White Sox' 2005 World Series victory really raised expectations across the South Side. That may be why their stock fell this year, even though they made the postseason. They did have a bad year last year, and they were competing against a Cubs team that was (supposedly) destined for glory. But really, it's all good; if you're ranking 5th in the league in attendance, it doesn't matter so much if you're still the second-best in your city.
  • 6. It's promising that the Blue Jays -- who play in a foreign country on artificial turf in a park that is no longer space-age -- can still draw despite their eternal bridesmaid status. Maybe the fans saw that this year's team was better than its record.
  • 7. The Mariners are a lucky team; they tend to draw in Seattle even if they're losing (which is ironic, because before they arrived, everyone believed that baseball would never draw in Seattle). But 100 losses and shattered expectations have put a serious dent in their numbers. The goodwill is still there if they can hire the right people to get thing re-started, but don't underestimate what a terrible season this was for the Mariners.
  • 8. The Twins suffered from, I think, a certain amount of fan apathy. Now before I get flaming e-mails from Twins fans, I'm aiming this at the casual fan who only goes to one or two ballgames a year. The Twins got rid of two of their big-name stars (Luis Castillo, Torii Hunter) and were widely perceived to be giving up on 2008, or at least screwing up the clubhouse chemistry. And I think that the malaise that this cast over the fans -- combined with low preseason expectations and a "somebody's got to win" AL Central chase -- is what depressed their numbers this year. It's all about perception.
  • 9. The Indians haven't recovered their Jacobs Field every-day-a-sellout swagger, even with the success of the team last year. So when they stumbled out of the gate, they were consigned to the bottom half of the attendance rankings (even though a late-season surge put them at 81-81). That and their reputation as chokers down the stretch may still hurt them in the future, even if they start winning again.
  • 10. The Orioles' 10% drop in attendance was one of the more puzzling numbers on this list. My first reaction was "A drop? A drop from what?". But it may be that, whereas in years past the team always talked about being competitors, they were pretty honest that 2008 was a rebuilding year. That, and there were no illusions of contention, not even in early April.
  • 11. The Rangers' drop may be similarly explicable. They made big noise in past offseasons that they were contenders, even if their moves (the dreaded Kevin Millwood contract) were terrible decisions in the long run. But now they're in full rebuilding mode and haven't made any real decisions to hide it (as if they could, after the Teixeira trade). Ironically, though, the little-heralded deals for Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley were far more valuable than anything Millwood ever did, but it apparently had little effect on attendace. And the theory that fans will come to see offense -- even if it's not supported by pitching -- is not supported by the 2008 Rangers.
  • 12. During the season, pretty much every announcer who called a game there bitched and moaned about the fact that Rays fans weren't selling out Tropicana Field and coming to games in droves.
    I'll make this simple, so that even the morons in the audience can understand: if you sell burgers that taste like shit for ten years, don't blame your customers if they don't come rushing back in year eleven to test your new formula. Any business that's screwed over its consumers for ten solid years should be thrilled -- thrilled -- at a 30% increase. And it's only going to get better next season.
  • 13. The decrease in Oakland is understandable, especially when you consider how their season withered and died, due in part to gravity and also due to trading away Dan Haren and Joe Blanton -- a sure sign to the fans that there was no reason to give a damn about 2008.
  • 14. There are signs of improvement here, but with the Rays skyrocketing upward, the Royals are all alone as the one eternally hopeless franchise in the AL. That's great for competitive balance, so long as you don't live in Missouri. Yes, the Royals are getting better, especially with their pitching, but silver linings don't sell tickets.
National League
1. New York Mets -- 4,042,045 (4.9% increase)
2. Los Angeles Dodgers -- 3,730,553 (3.3% decrease)
3. St. Louis Cardinals -- 3,432,917 (3.4% decrease)
4. Philadelphia Phillies -- 3,422,583 (10.1% increase)
5. Chicago Cubs -- 3,300,200 (1.5% increase)
6. Milwaukee Brewers -- 3,068,458 (6.9% increase)
7. San Francisco Giants -- 2,863,837 (11.1% decrease)
8. Houston Astros -- 2,779,487 (8% decrease)
9. Colorado Rockies -- 2,650,218 (11.5% increase)
10. Atlanta Braves -- 2,532,834 (7.7% decrease)
11. Arizona Diamondbacks -- 2,509,924 (7.9% increase)
12. San Diego Padres -- 2,427,535 (13% decrease)
13. Washington Nationals -- 2,320,400 (19.4% increase)
14. Cincinnati Reds -- 2,058,632 (0.01% increase)
15. Pittsburgh Pirates -- 1,609,076 (8% decrease)
16. Florida Marlins -- 1,335,076 (2.6% decrease)

  • 1. Don't shed any tears for the Mets; like the Yankees, they're on top of the league and only going to do better in their new home.

  • 2. Don't shed any tears for the Dodgers, either. They ranked second in the league in a year when they won less than 90 games and snuck into the playoffs.

  • 3. The Cardinals are a franchise that is two years removed from a World Championship and one year removed from stepping into a new ballpark. They've also been one of the best overall franchises in baseball for over ten years now. And they've got the best player in the league. Life is good, business-wise.

  • 4. The Phillies are fourth! Finally we can admit that Philadelphia really is a big market. And to be fair, they're taking advantage of it; they led the division early and then fought a close fight with a hated rival before coming out victorious. That's the formula for a 10% increase in ticket sales. And it will be even better next year, even if they don't win the World Series (see the Rockies, below).

  • 5. The Cubs are a lot like the Red Sox; their seating is limited, but they're maximizing revenue. And even after all these years, they're still finding new ways to cram people in that park.

  • 6. The Brewers play in one of the smallest markets in baseball. Sixth place might as well be first for them. And they finally broke through and got a spot in the postseason, which should give them a good head start for 2009.

  • 7. Are we missing Bonds, San Francisco? Their colossal failure to build around Barry is a terrible baseball decision made even worse when you consider the impact on attendance when the fans get a good look at this bunch. They're not going to contend anytime soon, so the Giants need another star; another reason for Bruce Bochy to take better care of Tim Lincecum.

  • 8. If they can keep overachieving like they did this year, then the Astros' descent into mediocrity will be much softer on their pocketbooks. But that's where they're headed, and a couple of 90-loss seasons should drive their losses into double-digits.

  • 9. The Rockies pretty well sucked this year, but this is proof that a winning team -- especially a pennant-winning team -- sees the biggest improvement in ticket sales in the following season. That's due in part to season ticket sales during October, but also due to greatly elevated expectations across the board.

  • 10. The fall of the Braves continues . . . :sigh:

  • 11. Now this is odd. The Diamondbacks reached the postseason last year, entered as strong contenders this year, and led the division for most of the first half. They weren't eliminated from contention until the final week of the season. So why no people?
    Some people say that Arizona, while a growing metropolis and huge market, just isn't a baseball town. I've heard that argument before, and it's usually B.S. The numbers suggest that they still haven't recovered from their disastrous 111-loss season in 2004. They drew great numbers in their early years, fuelled by their status as an expansion team with big-name free agents and a World Championship in 2001. But they've dropped precipitously since then.
    And what has there been to draw them back? Several good seasons, but exactly zero great seasons. Their best season since was a 90-win campaign in 2007 that was due in no small part to good luck. They've been, fundamentally, an 85-win team ever since 2005, and that doesn't draw much.

  • 12. You lose 99 games, and there goes the neighborhood. The Padres are still doing fine, despite a rather abrupt and dramatic setback in 2008. In fact, it's worth pointing out that the rankings here aren't absolute. There's little shame in being 12th out of 16 in an industy where even that ranking indicates strong profits and promise for the future. So even though there are 30 teams listed here, less than five of them are in any sort of serious trouble. So being ranked 25th isn't quite as bad as it sounds.

  • 13. The Nationals' 19% increase was tops in the NL. That's understandable for a team in last place. But that still ranks them 13th in the NL. And with the team in the shape it's in, and the ballpark no longer new, they're going to be trending downward. If 2.32 million is your absolute best-case scenario, then you've got problems that go beyond concrete and steel.

  • 14. The Reds, like the Pirates (below) have never been able to capitalize fully on their new ballpark, and so they're now trending downward so far that the ballpark isn't much of a factor. The ballpark is nice, and it's right on the riverfront, but a ballpark isn't what wins games. The Reds have had four general managers compared to zero losing seasons since moving into the GABP. This is what the Nationals have to fear.

  • 15. Imagine the Reds, but with everything else much worse. That's the Pirates.

  • 16. Imagine the Pirates, but being run by Leona Helmsley. That's the Marlins.

I hope this has been as enlightening for you as it has been for me. I can't wait for the World Series to begin. As much as I sometimes root for the Red Sox, it would be great for baseball to see the Rays make the Series (ratings be damned).
And how 'bout 'dem Phillies?

No comments: