Some more attendance talk…..

I started this post as a comment to the fantastic work that Schmitty started, but it started getting pretty long so I moved it into a new post.  If you haven’t read his post from 10/15 revealing the survey results, please do that first.

I know that I post relatively infrequently, and I’m also aware that most of my posts are either random hopeful moments or commonplace jackassery, but I’ve been impressed by Schmitty’s dedication to this issue of fan attandance and so felt the need to add to the conversation.  To anyone who reads this, please pass it along to anyone and everyone that you can convince to read it and chime in also.  The local and national media have their own platforms, and the Rays administration has views and struggles of their own, but we can use this as a public forum to build into the discussion from the fans’ points of view.  Please join in.  The attendance issue, regardless of reason or fault, is worth addressing if we hope to protect the future of the Rays in the Tampa Bay market.

So here goes (for what it’s worth):

1.  Many of the comments dealt (in one way or another) with the current brass being greedy, cold, wall-street types who don’t care for the community.  I won’t criticize that opinion without knowing how it was formed, and obviously (at least I assume) something created that impression.  On the other hand, while I’ve never met Stu personally, I have met and had conversations on a few occasions with Andrew Friedman and Matt Silverman, and unless I’m a far worse judge of character than I think I am, I hold the exact opposite opinion.  I’ve found both of them to be very personable, community-interested, genuine and open guys.  I expect them to be business men and to be business minded.  Aside from that, I think that they understand the importance of the team to the community and vice-versa.  One comment said “Stu has delivered, fans have not” and I agree, kind of…….

2.  I did a little more research (by little, I mean 5 minutes on Google) and found something else pretty interesting that I though was worth introducing:  http://www.bizofbaseball.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5459:mlb-ballpark-location-and-the-population-around-it-can-greatly-influence-attendance&catid=26:editorials&Itemid=39 and http://www.bizofbaseball.com/PopulationtoMLBBallparks.htm.    There’s plenty of info in there, but here are a couple of the highlights I was able to extract:  The Rays average attandance was just shy of 19,000 per game in 2011, which puts us in a virtual tie with the likes of the Marlins and Athletics, and just a hair under The Nationals, The Royals, and a handful of others near the bottom.  On the other end of the spectrum are the Yankees, Phillies and Giants with averages more than double those on our end, and 6 others at about double.  In a slightly deeper analysis, comparing attendance with population, I chose to do the analysis at the “45-minute from the ballpark” mark just for this example.  For the Rays to put 19,000 in the seats, that’s about 1 out of every 68 people within 45 minutes of the park.  In comparison, the Mets average closer to 30,000 per game, but that’s only 1 out of every 375 for them to achieve that.  In these terms, the Rays are in about 6th place in the league!  For a truly inspirational club, though, take a look at the Milwaukee Brewers (average of 38,000, which is 1 in 38!!).  I’m no economist, and I understand that we could add in half a dozen adjusters to glean more perfect numbers (such as park sellouts where attendance limit is capped) and so on, but the point here is that, all else equal (and it’s not), purely due to population it is a bigger challenge for the Tampa Bay area to fill a stadium than it is for many other areas, in fact only Kansas City and Milwaukee have smaller populations in that 45 minute range than the Rays do.  In terms of pure numbers, though, 30,000 tickets sold is better for business than 19,000 tickets sold, regardless of surrounding population.  The Brewers example leads me to another point, though…..

3.  There are an awful lot of teams in the MLB with long, multi-generational histories (and fanbases).  The Rays are not one of them.  Additionally, Florida in general and Tampa Bay in particular are full of transplants from other areas.  How many of us can say that we grew up in Tampa Bay and have a long-standing sense of local pride?  I know I can’t.  But somewhere like Boston or Philidelphia does have generational fans.  Hell, even those who grew up in Tampa Bay didn’t grow up with the Rays since they weren’t here.  That sort of loyal fan base does not crop up overnight, or even over a decade.  Which plays in to……

4.  Some of the resopnses in the poll seemed to take offense to the fact that Rays attendance is being questioned, even feeling like they were personally attacked, especially since they had attended so many games.  But those that attend even a few games are not the problem.  Those that don’t attend any games are where the real question lies.  Think of it this way (all numbers are completely fabricated and for illustrative purposes only).  Say the goal is to raise average attendance to 30,000.  And 5,000 of those seats are already filled by the die-hard, season ticket types that attend 80 or 50 or 40 games per year.  Then another 10,000 are filled with fans who watch most every game on tv and are able to turn out a few times a year, maybe 10 or 12 games.  Another 5,000 are filled with casual fans who may have an idea how the season is going and they make it to a couple games per year, usually when a friend has an extra ticket or their office is all going together or something like that.  That leaves us about where we’re at now.  So the goal is to reach another 10,000 people per game out of over 1.5 million people (in the 45 minute zone).  Say half of those people went to just 1 game per year, that would be an additional 750,000 total attendance, or 10,000 additional at each of 75 (out of 81) home games.  Not too bad!  It doesn’t seem that tough, so what’s the answer?

5.  And finally (for now)…..  There was a common recurring response which linked low attendance to the high price of concessions, and I concur.  Unfortunately, though, there also seemed to be a misconception that the high concession prices were somehow linked to those greedy, no-good owners, and there’s a major flaw in that logic…but I’ll get back to that.  A few years ago I was fortunate enough to attend a good many games for free due to some very happy circumstances.  Here is how my night went in most of those instances:  Leave work about 5:15 or 5:30, fight traffic from North of Tampa all the way to my home which was close to the Trop; Arrive home about 6:45 or 7, change clothes, and head out the door for my 10 minute wlak to the Trop (no time for dinner if I hope to make first pitch);  Grab a sandwich and chips and bottle of water on my way to my seats ($12);  Finish “dinner” about the end of the first and grab a beer ($9), then another sometime later in the game ($9).  So far the night has cost $30 and I didn’t pay for a ticket or parking, or have a date or kid with me.  Granted, I could bring my own food, and no one forced me to buy a couple beers, but that’s all part of being there and part of what most people expect to be part of the experience of going to the park.  Concessions are expensive anywhere you go, though.  But just because a $9 beer at the Trop is cheaper that a $10 beer at the Forum (or Wrigley Field, or Yankee Stadium) doesn’t make it any easier, just like 30,000 tickets sold are better than 19,000 tickets sold regardless of the population.  And to address the other point (and once again, I understand that this still does not make the concessions any less expensive), few people realize that the Rays organization makes next to nothing on concessions.  As I understand it, the Rays are trapped in a horribly one-sided contract with CenterPlate, the concessions company that holds the Trop hostage.  The Rays do not set the prices and only earn a tiny fraction of the revenue.  And the contract extends for some ungodly amount of time as long as the Rays are in the Trop…..let me say that last part again….as long as the Rays are in the Trop.  Think this might be another benefit of a new stadium?  In fact, the greedy, no-good ownership allows outside food and beverage specifically to make it easier on fans wallets and because they don’t really see the money either way.

Anyway…..it’s late and I’m finished for now.  Please forgive the dozens of typos that I’m guessing are back up there but I’m too tired to go looking for.  Surely I’ve not solved anything here, just wanted to add my two cents to the discussion.  Again, please please please do the same with the comments sections, or email us and we can repost some in “best-of” segments.  Really, it’s worth figuring out…

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3 Comments

  1. Well, you pointed out a fair numbers of things that I have already thought of, but I would like to introduce something that I have not seen been discussed yet.

    Did Stu really believe that attendence was going to increase this year? Think of it from a fan point of view, from a fan that follows ESPN (which usually is biased against the Rays) and newspapers. All of the following takes place during the offseason of 2010. We lose our entire shut-down bullpen, to be rebuilt by rookies and veterans that are supposed to be past their prime, we lost our all-star left fielder, our gold glove first basemen, our amazing shortstop, and our pitcher that pitched a no-no.

    On top of losing half the team, ESPN projected us to not be a factor in contending for the playoffs and that this was our rebuilding year (keep in mind this is before the season started, don’t think of the team making the playoffs yet) Now by just these factors alone, and the poor start to spring training, a fan might think that this might not be the best season to attend that many games.

    How could anyone think that attendence would increase? That does not even include what people thought after the 0-6 start, along with losing Evan Longoria during the SECOND game of the season, the biggest asset to our offense. Then the bat of Manny Rameriz after the SIXTH game of the season (Sure Sam Fuld’s and Matt Joyce’s amazing months pushed us forward, but its the thought of losing two huge parts of a team that is already wilted from offseason trades and free agents.)

    We were in first place for a couple of days, up to around a week I believe. However, during the summer is when the team started to fall in the standings and Boston was on track for 100 wins. Fastforward to September. We were 9.5 GAMES BEHIND FOR THE WILD CARD. It was close to statisically impossible for the team to make the playoffs. I don’t see how anyone could have anticipated higher attendence than last year for any month before September. Hell, the Rays took 3 of the four games from Boston during the second series against them, I don’t see how most of September could have had better attendence than last year. Considering that there was almost no chance of making the playoffs.

    TL:DR No one in the front office should have expected higher attendence than 2010. With how the offseason and most of the regular season turned out., it should have been expected to have LOWER attendence than 2010. If Stu wanted to get more people into the stadium, he should not have sacraficed half of the entire team. What fan is going to go to games when the owner does not seem to care about keeping the big names of the franchise under control unless they are payed next to nothing? Do what Milwaukee does, advertise half off ticket days during the season, give more incentive than “extra large T-shirts for the first 10,000!”, which are basically blankets.

    That is my 2 cents.

    1. Hey T-Rex,

      You make some good points here, and I appreciate you jumping in. Your point about the team’s performace and having some exciting players on the field definitely holds some water. I went back and checked past season attandance to see if I could draw any conclusions relating to your points, and I came up with this:
      2007 average was 17,000, 2008 (W.S. Run) was up to a little more than 22,000, 2009 went up again to 23,000, 2010 kept pace at 23,000 and 2011 dropped down to 19,000. So there’s definitely some correlation there between the bad years beign down and the good years being up, just as one would expect. And you’re right that it really shouldn’t have taken a crystal ball to see 2011 dropping from 2010 with the lack of Crawford, Garza, Bartlett, Pena, Soriano, etc. The better years have better attendance, and though the Rays went to the postseason this year, it looked very unlikely until mid September, which was not enough time for better attendance to pull up a season average.
      But is it a chicken-or-the-egg question? At an average ticket price of $20 (one figure had $18.35 in 2009), an average increase of 4,000 fans per game equals $80,000 per game, or $6,480,000 per year in revenue. Over the years that the fan attendance went up to 23,000, the Rays payroll went from $20 mil to $30, then $45, then eventually to $71, (and in 2011, back to $42). It would take an awful lot of convincing to get me to spend $10 million, let alone $20 or $50 million in order to get $6.5 in return. That math just doesn’t work.
      I’m not going to suggest, or pretend that I have any idea how all the economics of baseball work, but I do see a major gap there that would be tough to overcome in any scenario.
      Unfortunately I think its a cycle that can work for or against you. Seats help afford players and players help sell seats.
      The better years definitely draw better crowds, but only to an extent. So there’s got to be more to the answer than that…..

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