Win And They Will Come | The Process Report

Win And They Will Come

The recent Kazmir trade post got me wondering about the attendance trends over the last few seasons. My assumption was that the first half of 2008 represents the relative minimum for obvious reasons – the team was fresh off the worst record in baseball and the new parts only looked fantastic to PECOTA and Scott Kazmir himself – with the end of 2008 also representing the relative maximum. I expected the 2009 season to start high and end low and the 2010 season to start low and end high. Here’s how it turned out:

I added nine-game moving average line just to give an idea of the trend as looking at the per game numbers and making a mental trend line is difficult over a 20-to-30 game stretch so it’s a little difficult when there’s more than 240 games presented. It’s probably hazardous that I write too much about this, but what concerns me the most is how this seems to be a feast or famine market.

When the Rays were good –or, rather, the public excited—in 2008 and 2009, the attendance umbers routinely would popcorn between 20 and 30 thousand depending on the opponent and the day of the week and the weekend concerts. In late 2009, the numbers dipped below the beginning of 2008 –a truly impressive and horrifying feat considering the team’s state in September 2009 versus April 2008— before heading upwards, but not to previous highs. The economy is ostensibly the leading factor here, and not a decrease in interest.

The market itself looks rigid, though, when compared to another small market team. The Cleveland Indians went through a testing stretch between 2006 and 2008. The team won 78, 96, and 81 games over those seasons, with 93 coming in the year prior. If you do a similar graph to the one above, you’ll notice that the Cleveland market seemingly sustained its high during the second half of 2007. The Rays experienced a dip during their 2008 season before finishing strong and the 2010 season remained relatively static from beginning to end.

Cleveland has its advantages as a market –a newer (and larger) ballpark, a seasoned history, plenty of recent success, and weak sports neighbors (LeBron James notwithstanding)– but its payroll has been that of a small-to-mid market team for the better part of the last decade. They encroached on (and surpassed) 90 million early in that timeframe thanks to constant sellouts. That time in Cleveland’s history is probably the best-case scenario for a new stadium and local reaction. The comparison has been made before, but the present day Rays are a lot like the Indians of old –check out this graphic Nate Silver created a few years, most of the bullet points are true of Tampa Bay:

Even as good as the Cleveland market looks in comparison, they lack the staying power of bigger markets during tougher times. Look again at the beginning of the 2007 season. The fans didn’t come out, they did around the midway point (and they kept coming out through season’s end) but that was after a season they finished near .500. I would expect this market to continue showing signs of elasticity, which is unfortunate given the Rays’ two largest rivals boast two of the most inelastic fan bases in the league.

The Rays need a new park because a new park would bring new season ticket holders –i.e. sustainable attendance and income throughout a season—which allows the team to counter the negative effects on attendance through a down season. The goal is to win most seasons, but Cleveland and Oakland have shown that’s not always possible. It is plausible for this team in this season. Hopefully the fans will react as such early and often.

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