Florida Marlins Attendance: Fact vs Myth

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 [2002] 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?

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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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4 Responses to Florida Marlins Attendance: Fact vs Myth

  1. Robert says:

    Great analysis as always, Jorge. Your conservative estimate is just as you described – conservative. I think it could very well be higher because I sincerely believe South Florida – and Miami in particular – has lots of baseball fans. Lots of latent fans, true. But fans nevertheless. I can’t tell you how many people I know don’t go to games but watch every game on TV. It’s no secret that Marlin TV ratings are high. I don’t have numbers (sorry Jorge) to prove this, but all you have to do is drive by ANY Miami-area park on a weekend, at ANY time of the year, and the chances are very high that you’ll see baseball being played, whether it’s two kids playing catch or a little league game. All the things you mentioned that have limited attendance here can easily be rectified with a stable franchise remaining in the area, a state of the art facility and amenities nearby. Wait and see.

  2. Eric Toms says:

    Wouldn’t dare argue math with you, yours is way better than mine. I do know (as you probably do) though that the attendance boost that clubs receive from a new ballpark has been in steady decline since the HOK heyday of the 90s.

  3. Jorge Costales says:

    Actually didn’t realize that. Why do you think that is? I don’t know but I would guess that the trend towards smaller parks [less cheap seats more suites] helps revenues, while dampening attendance in some cases.

  4. Rancel says:

    Jorge,I enjoyed reading through your analysis and agree with most of your points. However, I’m of the opinion that 1997 is the best historical indicator to gauge attendance in the new ballpark. That was the only year in Marlins’ history (16 seasons) where the team had reasonable competitive expectations coming out of the offseason coupled with a collective ignorance about the meanings of ugly words such as relocation and contraction, which had not yet made it into our vocabulary. I believe expectations leading into 1997 was the primary factor for the 29,000+ that year and not the World Series. Remember, those numbers were achieved prior to the end of the regular season and not after the World Series. I also believe the World Series was more of a factor in keeping 1998 attendance above 20,000 due to pre-firesale season ticket sales. The main talk show theme that year was how everyone thought the official attendance figure was joke because they could “count” the fans at the games during that miserable season.2005 was the only other season with the promise of a competitive team as the Fish signed Delgado in the offseason to complement 2003 remnants such as Beckett, Lowell, et al. However, the lingering black cloud over the team’s future was inescapable.There are numerous reasons why fans haven’t gone to games but I believe expectations and relocation/contraction fears are the top 100 listed over and over again. I also feel the location of Dolphins Stadium and intolerable rain delays played major roles. Sure, Dolphins Stadium is essentially the geographic center of South Florida, but, at the same time, it isn’t very close to large numbers of fans. It’s pretty much a hike for anybody unless you happen to live in Miami Gardens or Miramar. This is not to say the Orange Bowl site is perfect. But, considering the proximity to downtown’s hundreds of thousands of workers and more importantly Corporate season ticket clients, it’s a huge upgrade. Furthermore, if the retail space on the ground floor of the garages is properly used for restaurants and bars, the site will be attractive to early arrivals to catch a pregame meal and/or drinks.The importance of curing the rain delay problems cannot be overstated. As an avid baseball fan, I have repeatedly turned down tickets to attractive match-ups simply because I dread rain delays. The roof is a must. In conclusion, I feel the Marlins will be able to sustain 30,000+ in attendance year after year if they provide the fan base a competitive product. They don’t have to win the World Series, just make September games matter. You can’t expect fans to support a team considered a joke because of its ridiculously low payroll. Go Fish!Rancel

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