This is Michael Lortz’ fifth and final piece as part of his June residency at FanGraphs. Lortz covers the Tampa Bay baseball market for the appropriately named Tampa Bay Baseball Market and has previously published work in the Community pages, as well. You can find him on Twitter, as well. Read the work of all our residents here.
During my month here at FanGraphs, I’ve given an overview of the Rays’ attendance problems, detailed their need to attract millennials, compared them to other small-market teams, and discussed how their marketing strategy differs from local minor-league competition. Today, I want to end my time as June resident by talking about how baseball attendance in Tampa Bay will fare in the second half of 2017.
On June 24th, the Rays played their 41st game at Tropicana Field this year. Their average attendance at that point was 14,930. Of course, this is the lowest average attendance of any team in the Major Leagues, but it is also the Rays’ third-lowest midseason average attendance since 2007. Only in 2007 (when they were still the Devil Rays) and 2015 (the first post-Maddon year) was average attendance lower at the halfway point.
The following graph depicts Rays’ average attendance at Game 41 since 2007.
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This is Michael Lortz’ fourth piece as part of his June residency at FanGraphs. Lortz covers the Tampa Bay baseball market for the appropriately named Tampa Bay Baseball Market and has previously published work in the Community pages, as well. You can find him on Twitter, as well. Read the work of all our residents here.
There’s been a lot of circumstantial and empirical evidence showing winning baseball games has an effect on the amount of tickets purchased in subsequent games. In 2008, Michael Davis of the Department of Economics at the University of Missouri-Rolla (now Missouri S&T) concluded that team success leads to greater attendance. However, Davis’s study had a huge flaw. He limited his study to “only the ten major league baseball teams that have played in the same city for over 100 years. This list includes five National League teams: the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals; and five American League teams: the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees.”
For the sake of determining whether wins matter, that’s way too small of a sample size. Davis might have had enough data points, but his data points were not representative of the wide array of situations with which franchises must contend.
In 2012, Dan Lependorf wrote a post for The Hardball Times concerning the relationship between wins, attendance, and payroll. Whereas Davis went deep in time for a few teams, Lependorf analyzed every team from 2000 to 2011. Lependorf concluded that the relationship between wins and attendance produced an R-squared of .27. There was an even stronger correlation to attendance and wins the previous season (R-squared = .3). Attendance in a season featured an even stronger relationship to attendance level in the previous season (R-squared = .8).
Every sports team in every city will draw at least one fan. In Major League Baseball, we can also guarantee that every team will win at least one game. We can also guarantee a top level of attendance depending on the maximum capacity of the stadium. For the Rays, that would be 40,135 times 81 — or 3,250,935. And, of course, the most wins the Rays can have in the regular season is 162.
Since 1999 (excluding their inaugural season), the Rays have averaged 1.4 million fans and 75 wins per season. They’ve had eight seasons over 75 wins and nine seasons over 1.4 million fans. Since 1999, the correlation between the Rays’ winning percentage and attendance per game produces an R-squared value of .52.
That is almost double the correlation Davis found for teams. So despite the claims that wins don’t matter to attendance in Tampa Bay, they do. To a point.
This is Michael Lortz’ third piece as part of his June residency at FanGraphs. Lortz covers the Tampa Bay baseball market for the appropriately named Tampa Bay Baseball Market and has previously published work in the Community pages, as well. You can find him on Twitter, as well. Read the work of all our residents here.
In my recent interview with Rays President Brian Auld, he stated that a goal of the Rays’ front office was to reach a league-average annual attendance mark. Last year, MLB average attendance was approximately 2.4 million per club. Rays attendance was 47% below that mar. Since Stu Sternberg bought the team in 2005, the Rays have never been close to league average. The closest they’ve been is 23% below in 2009.
Here’s the Rays’ attendance compared to league average since 2006:
And the following table illustrates how far the Rays have been from league average since Sternberg bought the team.
That’s obviously not encouraging. On the other hand, does it make sence for the Rays to set even the modest goal of “average” in a universe that includes major markets such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York? Since 2006, the Dodgers and Yankees, for example, have never been lower than 20% above league average in annual attendance and have been as high as 64% above average. The biggest markets in Major League Baseball skew the average for less populated areas such as Tampa Bay. Those teams would have to severely struggle over an extended amount of time to be anywhere near league average.
This is Michael Lortz’ second piece as part of his June residency at FanGraphs. Lortz covers the Tampa Bay baseball market for the appropriately named Tampa Bay Baseball Market and has previously published work in the Community pages, as well. You can find him on Twitter, as well. Read the work of all our residents here.
According to the old stereotype, Florida is an elephant graveyard where everyone’s retired grandparents go to spend their final years. They drive slow, play bingo on Wednesdays, and clog the roads on the way to their early-bird specials.
The reality, as is frequently the case, is much more complicated.
As I mentioned in my first article, Tampa Bay is a growing region. Not only economically, but also in population. Earlier this year, the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported that the region of Tampa-St Petersburg-Clearwater is expected to top 3 million people by the end of 2017. According to the US census, approximately 330,000 people in Tampa Bay are over 65, or 11% of the population. A significant portion, but far from the majority.
Transplants are a large segment of the Tampa Bay population. In 2014, the New York Times published an article depicting where the population of each state came from. According to the Times, only 36% of Florida residents were natives, 8% were from New York, and 8% were from other Northeast states. We can probably safely assume many of the urban parts of Florida have a higher percentage of non-native Floridians. Which means Tampa Bay may have a higher percentage of transplants than other parts of Florida.
This is Michael Lortz’ first piece as part of his June residency at FanGraphs. Lortz covers the Tampa Bay baseball market for the appropriately named Tampa Bay Baseball Market and has previously published work in the Community pages, as well. You can find him on Twitter, as well.
By most accounts, Tampa Bay is a growing region. There is job growth, revenue growth, housing growth, and billions in development happening throughout both Tampa and St. Petersburg. But one number that is not growing, despite an increase in expendable income, is attendance at Tropicana Field.
Fortunately, the main reasons why the Rays continue to struggle at the gate have become somewhat well known. Most knowledgeable Tampa Bay residents and baseball fans know Tropicana Field is too far from the population center and the gridlock too tangled for enough fans to see the Rays on a daily basis. This media appears to have become aware of these particular challenges: we’ve seen fewer national editorials of late blaming the Rays’ fanbase for lack of attendance. There’s still the occasional tweet, but published commentary criticizing Tampa Bay sports fans for lack of Rays attendance is rare.
Regardless of how often the problem is covered, there aren’t many articles offering solutions. That is a problem. From the outsider’s perspective, it seems the Rays are running out of ideas to get people to the ballpark. While they can only put so much lipstick on the pig that is Tropicana Field, they’ve altered prices, involved their people in the community, and offered a smorgasbord of various promotions with varying results.
The lack of attendance is putting the Rays in a bind: without revenue from attendance and with lower-than-average broadcast revenue, they have to rely on revenue sharing to stay competitive in one of the more affluent divisions in baseball. And there’s skepticism from baseball owners and front-office personnel throughout the sport as to whether Tampa Bay can ever be a successful major-league market — despite the fact that four franchises spring train in Tampa Bay, two others train just over an hour away, and four minor-league teams call the region home.
At my website, I’ve covered Rays attendance since 2007, the last year the Rays had the Devil in their name. Over the history of the franchise (excluding the inaugural season), there have been four different eras of Rays attendance.
As you can see, even with more recognition and more active ownership, the Rays now draw as many people to Tropicana Field as they did during the Dewon Brazelton years. That’s not a good thing.