Tuesday I heard an experienced local sports writer on the radio discussing Marlins attendance. He basically said that a new stadium would not significantly affect attendance and that “we’ll look back and wonder why we built this stadium.” I’m not naming the writer because this is not meant to be a criticism, since I believe what he expressed to be the conventional wisdom. There was something missing from his opinion though, quantifying what increase in attendance would constitute ‘significantly.’ The writer went on to note that the Marlins would “never draw 30,000 in average attendance.”
Talk radio is typically a numbers-free zone and it is just made for controversial topics like the new ballpark. Typical is the call from the guy whose voice [a world-weary, former 2-pack-a-day guy] just screams Aventura, ‘they sold us out … that’s why Miami is a banana republic … etc.’
I’d like to ask everyone whose attaches the banana republic tag to Miami to explain the Big Dig to me. How could THAT have happened THERE, most of their immigrants being at least four generations into the process? My point being that corruption and mismanagement are more attributable to how government works [or doesn't], as opposed to the ethnic composition of a particular government.
But back to attendance. Why do we have a conventional wisdom about something we can look up past numbers on and project accordingly? Here’s why I think there is an aversion to numbers. The #1 reason is that numbers can be conversation and controversy killers.
Radio Caller: So and so is a great clutch player!
Radio Host: Ugh no, he’s hitting .238 in late game pressure situations… hello?
Radio Host: Plenty of phone lines open in Miami-Dade County.
The second reason is that if you’re not a numbers person, they’re like … work. Sometimes, not always I admit, but sometimes the numbers or facts can be more interesting than uninformed opinions. I urge my fellow sports degenerates to–in the words of a future saint–be not afraid and visit web sites like Shysterball and Sabernomics.
Look at the attendance numbers in the spreadsheet below–please click on the image to enlarge and/or print out. The numbers are from an ESPN Attendance web site which provides numbers back to the 2001 season. My interpretations are optimistic, but at least they originate from facts.
Question: If the Marlins have had the worst attendance in MLB since 2006, what reason is there to believe that the reason for that is something other than a lack of a fan base in South Florida? Do the numbers indicate that attendance is impacted by non-team performance factors?
- In took MLB attendance 12 years to recover from the Strike in 1994. During a time of significantly increasing revenue, it still took 12 years for the average attendance in 2006 to surpass the 1994 numbers.
- In addition to the Strike, Marlins fans have dealt with 2 additional strike-like events. The salary dumps after the 1997 and 2005 seasons.
- On top of those three significant and measurable events, the Marlins since 1998 have been under the cloud of possible relocation, something which is currently affecting the Oakland franchise.
- Recent Marlins TV ratings [middle of the pack] have consistently been proportionately higher than their attendance [last]. Which indicates that their fan base exceeds what is reflected by their attendance figures.
Question: Even so, why didn’t the 2 World Championships have a greater impact?
- The Marlins average attendance in 1997 was 29,190. It could have realistically been expected to increase the following season, but the sell-off of players began immediately after the 1997 season.
- The 2003 team’s success was obviously unexpected. While the attendance increased 62% [to 16,290] during that season, the preceding season  was so poor [10,038], that it loses any statistical significance. However, we can see the effect of the Championship in that the 2004 attendance increased another 35% and then another 3% in 2005.
Question: Aren’t the Marlins and Rays skewing MLB attendance figures?
- Just like the Marlins and Rays have been having a downwards impact on the average, so do the Yankees and Mets excess of 50,000 skew the numbers at the other end.
- However, average MLB attendance drops only by 1,400 if you exclude the NY teams and increases only by 900 if you exclude the Florida teams.
- Attendance has been typically pretty evenly spread-out, in that the median and average attendance have both been close to 30,000.
Question: Are we going to call any improvement in attendance success? What constitutes an acceptable average attendance for a MLB team?
- For those who claim that the Marlins could never average 30,000 in attendance, they exceeded that in their 1st and 2nd years and averaged 29,190 in their 5th season. Which obviously could have been expected to increase in their 6th season, following the Championship.
- In fact, the Marlins exceeded the MLB average in 3 of their first 5 seasons. The post-strike season, their 3rd, was the first season they did not exceed the MLB average.
- I believe that Marlins attendance in 2005–22,792, which represented 74% of the MLB average–is the most conservative indicator of what to expect in the new ballpark, past the first year. It also represents the percentage achieved by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 5 of their first 6 seasons following their new stadium. That would represent a 43% increase over last year’s attendance–which could obviously increase between now and then. I believe that would be significant.
- Further, I say that 70% of the MLB average attendance is an acceptable attendance for a smaller market team. What say you? But more importantly, why do say what you say?